Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Understanding the Bangladesh Factory Collapse

In this article Ingrid discusses the Rana Plaza collapse, explores the history of industrial accidents and the concurrent rise of trade unionism and argues that the Rana Plaza collapse as well as being an awful tragedy is a unique opportunity to push for trade union rights in Bangladesh.

What happened? 
On the 24th April 2013 an 8 story building collapsed in Savar, Dhaka, killing 1,127 people and leaving 2,500 inured. This is one of the deadliest incidents in garment factory history, and the deadliest accidental structure failure. As investigations began to find out the causes of this fatal industrial disaster, it became all too clear that this could have been avoided.

The factory in question was located within the Rana Plaza complex, and manufactured clothing for popular brands like Mango, Primark and Walmart. The Plaza was originally built 4 stories tall, to house shops, banks and offices. The further four floors of the factory were added without a building permit, and were structurally unsound. In the days leading up to 24th of April, cracks emerged in the bottom floors of the building, leading many of the lower floors to close. However warnings were ignored by the owners of the garment factories, who instructed staff to work despite unsafe conditions, or have pay withdrawn. As it was nearing the end of the month, and many of the workers had already spent their meagre wages from their last pay packet, this threat was enough to ensure the majority worked.

At 9am the building collapsed, and a suspected 3,122 workers were thought to have been inside at the time. More than half of these workers were women, with children in the buildings nursery facilities. Following the building collapse the owner went into hiding, with many workers emphasizing his moral culpability and calling for the death penalty. Following this disaster a wave of protests have swept Bangladesh, with workers rioting, blocking motorways, shutting down other garment plants, and using May 1st (international workers day) to highlight the needlessness of these workers deaths. Leading brands have been urged to sign the Fire and Building Safety Accord in Bangladesh, which wants to ensure “no worker need to fear for fire, building collapse, or any other accident which could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures”. Only a small number have signed this, those who have not have claimed they believe there are better ways to help the cause. Irish brand Primark is in negotiation with trade unions to compensate the families of workers, yet they are offering a minuscule sum of money in comparison to the profits they make from these factories. Compensating families is a short term solution that does nothing to tackle the inherent flaws of the garment factory system in Bangladesh, and suggests that these brands believe money is an adequate compensation for the loss of a life. One of the most high profile companies refusing to sign the Fire Safety Accord is Walmart. Who are instead following a different safety initiative in Bangladesh. Yet this agreement does nothing to inspect building structure and safety, which is key to preventing similar events happening again.

A short history of factory disasters
Building collapses and mass tragedies within factories have always been a dark footnote on our industrial history. We tend to associate these disasters with places like China and Bangladesh, something that can lead to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. Yet these events, in which the health, well-being and lives of workers are sacrificed for profit, occur in both sweatshops and in advanced capitalist countries. Around the same time as the Dhaka factory collapse, a fertilization plant in Texas killed 17 people, and injured 180. Demonstrating that poor industrial conditions are a deadly issue around the world. They will continue to happen as long as the corporate profit making system continues.

If we look at similar, previous disasters we can see patterns emerge. The 1860 Pemberton Mill collapse in Massachusetts has been described as “one of the worst industrial calamities in American history” with 145 left dead and 160 injured. Many of the conditions leading to this factory collapse mirror Dhaka 2013. The building was structurally unsound. And due to a drive for profit, the factory was overfilled with heavy machinery, leading it to buckle under pressure. Just like in our garment factories in Bangladesh today, where 90% of workers are female, in 1860 most of the workers were women, who had migrated to work in the factory. Eye witness accounts of the event describe faces in the rubble “crushed beyond recognition” and emphasize the needless loss of human life.

In 1911 in New York the ‘Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire’ killed 146 garment workers; mostly Jewish and Italian migrant workers aged 16-23. Again many of the most horrifying details of this 1911 disaster were mirrored 102 years later in Bangladesh. Many of the fire escapes and windows in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory were locked and barred, because manager’s believed that workers would be tempted to steal. Many of the workers on the 8th floor of the Rana Plaza could not utilize fire escapes, as they were locked for similar reasons. The New York building had no adequate fire alarms, and the accessible fire escapes were poorly built, and collapsed under the weight of the fleeing workers. There is a post-apocalyptic quality to the 1911 factory fire, as the majority of the workers on the 8th-10th floors jumped to their deaths. In factory fires in Bangladesh, many workers jump to from roofs, as opposed to burn, in the hope that their families will be able to identify their bodies. One reporter from the 1911 factory fire wrote “I learned a new sound that day, a sound more horrible than description can picture, the thud of a speeding body on a sidewalk”

These horrific events in America also resemble the modern Bangladeshi factory collapses in a more positive way. After the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire the International Ladies Garment Workers Union was formed. Both events were used as a linchpin for unionization amongst factory workers. In Bangladesh now factory workers and the proletariat are feeling similar emotions of anger and fury at the conditions they have been subjected to. The working class of Bangladesh are fighting for fairer working rights, and unionization is key to their success in this struggle. In 1911 Trade Unionist Rose Schneiderman argued “I know from my experience it is up to the working class people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is a working class movement.” This is just as relevant now. After 1860 and after 1911, workers vowed that nothing similar would ever happen again. Yet in 2013 we are still experiencing similar horrors. Now we are presented with a fork in the road, and it is up to us to decide if we allow similar events to happen again.

The problem with garment factories
This 2013 factory collapse was not unique; a string of factory disasters has plagued South Asia in recent years. An eye witness to the 2012 Dhaka Factory Fire, which killed 117 and injured 200, wrote that “Deaths in modern garment factories tend to be different from plane crashes, or many other catastrophic traumas in the slow motion extravagance of their pain.” The blame for these events has been shuffled around, with a common scapegoat for these crises being the factory owners themselves. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh argued that the factory owner Sohel Rana was entirely responsible, and despite acknowledging that an estimated 90% of the buildings in the country were unsound, made no plans to tackle the issue.

The economic model enforced on the garment factories creates hostile and cruel working environments. Factory owners are not inherently evil, but are subjected to a system which forces them to cut corners. They are paid as little as possible from multinational corporations, and many have to divide a large chunk of this towards paying bribes from politicians and gangs. Many have little spare money to prevent the inhumane conditions in the factories; which leave many workers blinded or physically disabled. One worker in Dhaka described her day “the machine used for making sweaters has to be paddled with the right leg continuously for 12 hours a day, with a lunch break of 30 minutes, because of this my whole right side is in constant movement whilst my left side is idle, leaving me disabled.” Working in poorly lit factory floors to sew tiny, precise designs on garments can leave workers blind, and the majority of working class in Bangladesh have no medical insurance. With this we must consider the psychological effects of working 12-16 hours a day, most of the week.

Yet we must recognize that the problem is inherent to the garment industry in Bangladesh and the capitalist model it adheres to. The Western consumer industry has developed around a fast fashion model, which ensures clothing is being produced quickly and cheaply. This is great for shoppers in the West, but not so much for workers in South Asia. The fashion industry today has been shaped by short product cycles and flexible supply chains. This means that suppliers in the garment industry rarely have contracts for more than two seasons, and aim to create clothing as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to secure future work. One of the reasons the owners of the Rana Plaza garment factory would have been unwilling to close would have been the threat of ‘contract termination’. In our ‘fast fashion’ industry clothing brands drive to have new stock in store weekly, and factory workers recognized that two days in Rana Plaza without production would have been detrimental to this target.

It is clear that multi-national brands do not care about the conditions in the factories they are sourcing labour. Most of the source companies do not advocate independent monitoring of factory conditions. Other brands such as Walmart boast there ‘Social Corporate Responsibility’ by waving around the fact that they only use factories that have passed audits. Yet these audits are corrupt, recently Rana Plaza passed two.

This event will not be the last of its kind, as long as global corporations continue to push for profit. Multinational brands operate through a complex system of subcontractors, ensuring that they are adequately distanced from the production process, and also making it harder to directly blame them. Following the factory collapse, many of the companies expressed ‘shock’ and ‘sadness’ at the event, yet this cynical response did little to hide the fact that corporations knew what conditions were required to produce garments at their demanded price.

The Bangladeshi garment industry brings in American $20 billion a year to the country and the government fears that securing higher workers’ wages and better rights will drive companies to search for cheap labour elsewhere. Eighty per cent of its exports are from the garment industry, and the government is desperate to maintain the countries competitiveness. The average worker in a garment factory in Dhaka is paid US$38 a month. Yet studies held have demonstrated that better workers’ rights do not need to undermine company’s profit margins. Richard Locke, a political scientist of M.I.T recently studied two Nike suppliers, one which Nike worked with directly to ensure workers welfare, and one they employed a hands of approach. The one Nike worked directly with had better conditions and pay, but was also significantly more productive. We have seen before that positive change is possible within the garment industry. In Indonesia in the 1990s workers managed to improve conditions without increasing unemployment, whilst in the Dominican Republic, we have witnessed an overhaul of corrupt and incompetent labour systems, in order to secure better working conditions and productivity. Most significantly is the improvement of factory conditions in Cambodia, in which both workers’ rights and export numbers were increased. These reforms in Cambodia happened despite unstable governmental systems, if Cambodia can do it - why can’t Bangladesh?

The shift of cheap labour to increase profits is easy to trace. Once US workers in the garment industry for brands like Walmart were working for $10.20 per hour, now in Dhaka workers are paid as little as $14 a month, leaving a huge profit margin. Capitalists argue that it is futile to remove business from Bangladesh, as workers will be left unemployed, and corporations will simply go elsewhere. Already businesses are searching for alternatives locations for productions, with Burma and Sri Lanka being cited as suitable alternatives. Both have strong military presence and strict governmental regimes, ensuring that workers would have little opportunity to protest safety regulations. It is clear that capitalist corporations relentless drive for profit will undermine health, safety and living standards in whichever country they enter. The key to this issue is thus to push for a world with no alternatives. It is not a viable model for businesses to shift production from developing country to developing country in search of cheap labour, Capitalists can continue to look for ‘The Next China’ the ‘Next Bangladesh’ but we do not have an infinite supply of workers prepared to be exploited. Key to solving the immediate problem in Bangladesh is the atmosphere amongst the workers. Workers have been subjected to 72 hour weeks for very little pay, with few days of and no public holidays. What retailers have underestimated is the power of the Asian working class, which has proud revolutionary traditions. This awakening of workers is clearly worrying multinationals, over the last 10 years sporadic protests and strikes have given employers a taste of the proletariats power in Bangladesh. The sit ins across Dhaka in May 2006 had a negative effect on exports, whilst on 22nd of June 2010 hundreds of thousands of readymade garment workers closed key export processing zones in the city, which had a direct effect on the brands Walmart and H+M.

The 2013 factory collapse is evidently not going to stimulate multinational retail corporations to make much needed changes. Yet this cycle of exploitation and cheap clothing production can be broken if the Bangladeshi working class are effectively organised into unions. Lanca Compa writes in the Washington Post “a real trade union can provide the vigilance and voice that workers need for sustained decency at their place of employment, including a workplace that is not a death trap.” The problem workers in Bangladesh face here is immense. It is clear from local media that police will be employed to stop workers' unrest whenever possible. And with an estimated 80% of the local police corrupt, and an inherently corrupt political system, the unions titanic struggle is undeniable. Yet in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse workers in Bangladesh and those in solidarity around the planet are presented with a historic opportunity to press for an end to the suppression of trade unions in Bangladesh; and it is essential we do not let it disappear.

-Ingrid M. SA.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Their system is broken - It's time to get organised

The factory collapse in  Bangladesh is a horrific tragedy and an important opportunity to grow an international movement for workers' rights. 
More than 1100 mostly female clothing workers wiped off the face of the earth in Bangladesh. Crushed under the rubble of their factory which the day before they had been forced to work in, despite protests about cracks in the walls. The deadliest industrial accident in the history of the garment industry. We are hearing louder voices around the world demanding an eradication of unsafe sweatshops and enforced safety accords that hold multinational clothing retailers to account.

For the first time in human history the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is above 400 parts per million. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology at Penn State University has said, "We have to go several million years back in time to find a point in Earth’s history where CO2 was as high as it is now. ... If we continue to burn fossil fuels at accelerating rates, if we continue with business as usual, we will cross the 450 parts per million limit in a matter of maybe a couple of decades. With that amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we commit to what could truly be described as dangerous and irreversible changes in our climate."

In New Zealand the National Government has committed itself to new attacks on the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively. Nurses in our public hospitals, who will be most affected, are calling for trade unions to co-ordinate a campaign against the law changes.

For the first time in New Zealand in five years workers in a major fast food corporation, McDonald's, are engaged in a major campaign to win a living wage and guaranteed hours. At the same time right across the United States fast food workers at places like McDonald's are standing up and fighting back.

Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott Israel co-incided with the launch in Auckland of a co-ordinated boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting companies like Veolia and asking for the SuperFund to divest from corporations involved in the construction of illegal Israeli settlements. Jess Ghannam, on the  organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. “This is a real turning point, in terms of bringing attention to this issue.”

Turning points and tipping points in the struggle do not come every day. Indeed opportunities such as these cannot be squandered.

Yet turning these opportunities into making progress on workers' rights or defending the environment requires the left in this country and across the world to get stuck in. The potential for making very real gains on these issues exists.

If the boycott campaign continues to gather momentum, if pressure on Israel continues to grow, the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip will become untenable. If workers demand more trade union leaders commit to join the fight against National the attacks on union rights could be stopped, if not in Parliament then in the workplace and on the streets. If environmentalists ramp up pressure on metropolitan councils for free public transport and on national governments for action on climate change we can still stop climate chaos. If students and young people protest and picket the major fashion stores until they sign up to eradicate child labour, allow collective bargainning and safety inspections in factories in Asia then we can give an enormous lift to the Bangladeshi labour movement.

All of these are possibilities not certainties. They require of the left in Aotearoa and around the world to go out and build movements with hundreds of thousands of people. Winning change requires hard work and people who refuse to ignore the suffering of others.

It requires anti-capitalists, trade unions and human rights organisations to co-ordinate anti-sweatshop protests in cities across the world. It was through these types of actions replicated around the world that the powerful global justice or anti-globalisation movement was built.

It requires the efforts of dozens of volunteers and activists committed to building trade unions in workplaces where there is no experience of unions or strike action. But it was these types of campaigns that built the union movement in the first place. When farm workers in England in 1834 were being transported to Australia for daring to demand better pay and conditions.

It requires demonstrations in the street that force governments to act on climate change and a confrontational direct action approach to raising these issues into the public debate. It requires public meetings and petitions. It's a strategy that works. In the 1970s dozens of environmentalists would go and live in trees across Aotearoa to stop the felling of native forests.

It requires protest campaigns that highlight the human rights abuses and the apartheid reality of Israel's occupation of Palestine. It requires stalls on university campuses and petitions and the lobbying of student associations. The same types of protest campaigns organised around the world in the 1980s that targeted apartheid in South Africa.

These opportunities come once in a decade, sometimes once in a lifetime. There is a possibility for an upsurge of union protests, environmental campaigns, anti-war and human rights movements right across Aotearoa and around the planet. These movements if built have the potential to end exploitation, ecological plundering and poverty locally and globally. These movements could put revolutionary socialist alternatives to capitalism and war on the agenda for the whole planet.

However if we miss these opportunities, if these movements are not organised from the smallest of beginnings then we face the certainty of another century of capitalist exploitation and the absolute destruction of our planet.

The Aotearoa is Not for Sale movement involved literally tens of thousands of people protesting against asset sales in cities and towns from Invercargill to Kaitaia. Yet at its core was Socialist Aotearoa, a small organisation of socialists who said we need to start stand up and fighting back. Some people, including Members of Parliament told us it was not possible to get more than a few hundred people marching on Queen Street. But we got nine thousand marching in April 2012, three thousand marching in July 2012 and fifteen hundred in April 2013.

The world is in crisis. People are angry and fed up with the capitalist system. We can all see it is broken. But winning change requires the left to get active, to get angry and to get organised.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We support the fare dodgers

Auckland Transport is cracking down on fare dodgers on the rail network. Inspectors caught 113 people in one day and the council controlled organisation is hoping new legislation will in June allow it to begin dishing out $150 fines to dodgers.

Why are people not paying their fares? Is it because they want to deprive the council of funds for new trains? No, of course not. Many people genuinely cannot afford to pay as public transport fares soar year in and year out.

Rather than address the rising cost of living and workers and students genuine inability to pay for the cost of moving around the city the council is instead making it even harder for us to live.

Fuck that. We support free public transport in New Zealand. Not just to ease the pressure on working people and students already struggling with rising food, gas, rent, electricity prices and unemployment but to give people an alternative to using their cars. Less cars = less greenhouse gas emissions and less air pollution in Auckland. And less money going to Veolia Transport, a company complicit in the construction of train systems for Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.

According to the Transport Blog it would cost around $150 million a year to fund free public transport in Auckland. Just over double the amount the National Party gave to Warner Brothers' in tax breaks for The Hobbit. And Auckland socialist Roger Fowler runs the excellent FareFree New Zealand blog with links to articles about cities all around the world with free public transport. It's an idea whose time has come.

In a city that keeps growing and with traffic congestion, climate change and a growing cost of living problem now's the time for the city council to give us free public transport. But if they won't then the people should take it themselves. Can't pay, won't pay! Socialist Aotearoa 100% supports all fare dodgers. Buses and trains should be free!

-Socialist Aotearoa

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A community rebellion

On the morning of Saturday 11 May, 200 protesters gathered in Manurewa against a store selling synthetic cannabis drugs. The confrontrational protest united teachers and children, parents and Labour MP Louisa Wall against the selling of synthetic cannabis. [Stuff Report | Herald Video]

The protest comes as part of a massive wave of mobilisations across the country against the sale of these harmful synthetic cannabis products.

In Turangi locals are circulating a petition, Tokoroa has a one-woman campaign and Oamaru has seen dairy owners turn a water blaster on mums who have witnessed synthetic cannabis harmful effects. In Invercargill there are angry sounds from vets who have seen dogs poisoned. In Dunedin, an ex-synthetic cannabis addict is picketing those selling legal highs. These groups are mimicking the highly-successful community campaign led by parents and the community newspaper in the Auckland suburb of Devonport.

The nationwide uprising is a spontaneous surge of resistance that is beginning to drive dairies to commit to stopping the sale of synthetic cannabis products. It's the sort of unstoppable rebellion that is the backbone of people power in this country.

The health effects of legal highs are well documented with five people taken to hospital with kidney failure in the last two weeks. Episodes of psychosis and seizures are common.

People who recreationally smoke natural marijuana will tell you that smoking legal highs is way worse and gives an effect completely unlike natural marijuana.

Emergency room nurses privately say that the synthetic cannabis products are doing significantly more damage than natural cannabis.

The Government's response to the community rebellion is the Psychoactive Substances Bill, a law that will require synthetic cannabis manufacturers to prove their products are low risk before they are allowed to be sold.

The law is a step in the right direction. We wouldn't allow highly addictive chocolate that causes psychosis and kidney failure to be sold in the dairy after all. But it won't solve the whole problem

Critically the law skirts a wider problem of natural cannabis prohibition. Unlike synthetic cannabis, natural cannabis is smoked by around 70,000 New Zealanders every day. These people come from all walks of life and include teachers, journalists, health professionals, politicians, farmers, builders, engineers and so on. Around 10% of New Zealanders or 400,000 people smoke cannabis each year.

Unlike synthetic cannabis, natural cannabis is already known to be low risk and in America states such as Colorado and Washington have legalised cannabis in the last year. Across the ditch in Australia marijuana use is decriminalised in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Yet despite the relaxation in the United States, here in New Zealand the state spends $100 million a year enforcing prohibition of cannabis and 6000 people are prosecuted by the police each year. By keeping safe, natural marijuana underground the police are in fact driving young people and children towards these legal highs with their much more violent and anti-social effects on people.

This is what no one is saying in the debate on legal highs. Why has it become accepted for New Zealand shops to legally sell artificial cannabis? Why is it not accepted for New Zealanders to legally buy natural cannabis? If society accepts the use of recreational drugs to be sold legally if they are low risk why will it not allow the use of cannabis?  To most people this makes no sense. But capitalism is a system based on profit. Drug companies can very easily make a profit on a drug that requires manufacturing and marketing through stores. In New Zealand where people could grow marijuana at home easily it would be very hard for corporations to make a profit out of it. This is the madness at the heart of the debate over legal highs.

Socialists need to stand both with the communities fighting against dangerous, artificial drugs and also with those fighting for the legalisation of natural marijuana. Community control over what can be sold in the local area is an important principle of democracy whether it is over pokie machines, alcohol stores or synthetic cannabis. So too is the right of individuals to responsibly use low-risk to no-risk drugs recreationally without fear of criminalisation. Joining up these struggles would pose a powerful challenge to those who profit from cannabis prohibition and the sale of untested, harmful synthetic drugs in our neighbourhoods.

-Socialist Aotearoa

McStrike protest report and photos

Last night on Friday 10th May, McDonalds workers and their supporters held a picket outside the Britomart McDonalds store. Striking workers were joined by members of the Mana movement, university students, Socialist Aotearoa and the Meat Workers Union of Australia!

A group of about 30 people created a physical picket line across the two entrances of the store, holding banners and placards reading '25c wont pay the rent', and 'McStrike'.


 Unite has come out fighting in support of migrant and gay workers who have faced discrimination in their workplace. Workers have had their hours scaled back and faced threats of disciplinary action if they stand up for their rights. Managers at the Britomart store had told one young gay worker to stop talking so gay, and if he turned anyone else gay at the store he would be disciplined!

 Homophobic and discriminatory behaviour like this has no place in New Zealand workplaces! Last nights picket was well supported within the gay community with supporters coming down to support the 'camp' themed picket. Supporters were seen kicking their legs out can can style and YMCA actions featured prominently as they danced to the impromptu sound system camped right outside the entrance of the store. This upbeat and boisterous picket was obviously effective as a strong and imposing police presence made itself felt not long into the demonstration.

 For a picket of 30 odd people, the presence of 25 police was a massive waste of police resources. On a busy Friday night, would it not have been a better use of their time patrolling the streets or working on unsolved criminal cases? Their commanding officer was seen many times 'discussing' the picket with Unite national director Mike Treen, unhappy about the doorways to his favourite being blocked by striking workers. When it was clear that picketers were having an effect on the business inside, police took control of ensuring McDonalds continued operating stationing uniformed police officers at its doors.

 The New Zealand police should not be involved in providing private security for a multinational corporation. Especially not when that same company is in dispute with its workforce. Since when do we pay tax dollars for a police force that protects the rights of businesses to discriminate and intimidate their workers. Unite is completely within its rights under New Zealand law to demonstrate against this company and at no time was there any illegal activity going on. The police have no place being security guards for McDonalds.

 A brisk march up Queen street to visit other fast food outlets and to the Queen Street McDonalds, saw the police migrate up the this store and create a physical wall of blue in front of the entrance. Striking workers and their supporters were kept well away from the store and forced across the road with many people being pushed and shoved by police. This reaction by the police clearly demonstrates which side the police are on. They are there to protect the interests of multinational corporations and the profit the make. Shame on the New Zealand police for supporting homophobic and discriminatory behaviour in the workplace!

 Unite is planning a nationwide campaign against McDonalds now that talks have broken down. This fight isn't over, it's just getting started. Because 25c won't pay the rent of hardworking McDonald workers and wont support their families. Over the coming weeks and months as this campaign gets bigger, McDonalds workers and their supporters will be coming out in force to challenge this company and fight for better wages and conditions. Because after all, as our closing chant demonstrated on Friday night. 'We are family'!

-Nico, SA

Sunday, May 05, 2013

McStrike: Interview with Unite delegate Sean Bailey

Sean Bailey is a Unite Union delegate at McDonald's who recently made international headlines after he was told not to act "gay" at work. Socialist Aotearoa talked to Sean before the story broke about organising at work.

What's the mood in your store?

Everyone is always different. But the majority do want better pay. For the job that they do is a lot more stressful and they think the money they are getting is not worth it.  They don't think the minimum wage is enough.

How are McDonald's workers organising to fight the company?

People are organising to sign up new members. And let people know that a stronger union presence in the store and the company makes the head office aware we won't tolerate low wages and forces them to listen to us. At the end of the day its the staff that makes the store operational not the bosses. Without the staff the company can't make any money.

Are we going to see strikes in the coming months?

Yes. People are angry about pay and also about not getting their rest breaks. Health and safety issues are also a problem. Broken equipment isn't being fixed. Stuff like air conditioning not working. It's all adding up.

What can the community do to support the McStrike campaign?
Write letters or phone the McDonald's head office. Join the strikes and pickets when we come out. Write letters to editors of newspapers. Help us raise awareness of the campaign so we can increase public support.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Join the protest this Friday at 8pm at Britomart, McDonald's Auckland to protest homophobia and low wages at McDonalds. Facebook details here

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Nakba - Auckland protest against Veolia

In the Arabic language Nakba means catastrophe. Nakba Day is marked by Palestinians every year on 15 May and remembers the 1948 war and the creation of the state of Israel which has left millions of Palestinians as refugees.

It is a day for resistance and protest and continuing the struggle for peace and justice in Palestine.

In 2011 on Nakba Day protesters, many Palestinian refugees spurred by the Arab Spring and the revolutions in the Middle East marched tens of thousands strong to the Israeli borders with Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank.

This year a demonstration organised as part of the international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel will take place in Auckland targeting Veolia Transport.

Veolia Transport, in a French multi-national corporation which was awarded a contract to run Auckland's rail network on behalf of the council.

Veolia also runs train, bus and landfill services for the Israeli government in the occupied Palestinian territories.

John Minto of Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) has written to Auckland Transport on behalf of the BDS campaign asking for them to break their contract with Veolia. In a letter, Minto wrote,
Our purpose in writing to you is to formally request Auckland Transport to break its contract with Veolia Transport Auckland (we understand it is currently proposed to run to 2016) in protest against the actions of this French multinational company and in support of the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign called by Palestinian organizations. Ending links with Israel and those companies which assist Israel to breach international law is the best way to bring pressure for it to abandon the apartheid policies it operates against the Palestinian people. 
There is a growing list of transport bodies around the world which are ending or not renewing contracts with Veolia and we see no reason why Auckland should not be amongst them. For example within Ireland council which to date have taken such steps include Sligo, Galway, Castlebar, Dublin, Donegal, Fingal and Cork.

Auckland Transport responded to GPJA saying, 'It would not be in the best interests of Auckland Transport or of Auckland ratepayers for Auckland Transport to ‘break’ its contract with VTA. Auckland Transport has no intention of doing so. I have, however, forwarded your letter to VTA for their comment.'

BDS Aotearoa and GPJA is calling for all supporters of the Palestinian freedom struggle to join a picket this Nakba, Wednesday 15th May 2013 at 5pm outside the Veolia offices in Customs Street (Citibank Building also the US consulate). 

This Nakba come and join the international movement against Israeli occupation by joining the protests against Auckland Transport's contract with Veolia.

Some background notes courtesy of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Veolia’s illegal operations in occupied Palestine

Jerusalem Light rail
In 2003, Veolia won a $500 million contract to build and maintain a light railway that will run across the city of Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem and the illegal settlement in the West Bank. The light railway project violates international law, not only because it is built on occupied Palestinian land, but also because it is an extension of Israel's illegal settlement enterprise and the Apartheid Wall. Through its subsidiary Connex, in Israel, it is one of the companies in the CityPass consortium, contracted to operate the light rail project in Jerusalem. The project plays a key role in sustaining the illegal settlements and ensuring they became a permanent fixture upon Palestinian land, while at the same time maintaining a system of Apartheid that isolates Palestinians and limits their mobility.

Tovlan Landfill in occupied West bank
Through its subsidiary Veolia Environmental Services, it also owns and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, using captured Palestinian land and resources for the needs of the illegal Israeli settlements.

Bus services to the illegal settlements
Veolia's subsidiary, Connex, also operates regular bus services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank,
including Beit Horon and Givat Ze'ev along road 443, which is an apartheid road. Palestinians are not
allowed to travel on these buses or on these roads in their own occupied country.

Why are Veolia's operations illegal under international humanitarian law, human rights law and UN

The Irish Government and the United Nations do not recognise Israel’s annexation and occupation of East Jerusalem and have repeatedly stated their views that the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank contravene international law and numerous UN resolutions.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights
Due to the proximity of Veolia's operation in occupied Palestine they are clearly in breach of several articles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ongoing occupation of Palestine is in contrary to Articles 2, 3 which states that everyone is entitled to the right to life, liberty and security of person and that no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, juridical or international status of the country to which a person belongs. Article 17 confirms the right to own property and it cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their property. Article 13 confirms the right of freedom of movement within their country, the right to leave and the right to return. Article 25 confirms the right to enjoy a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and family.

The Fourth Geneva Convention
The settlements violate Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which provides that the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies as well as Article 53, which forbids destruction of property. Articles 146, 147 refer to 'Grave breaches' of the Convention amounting to war crimes as they involve appropriation of Palestinian property not justified by military necessity.

These grave breaches are being facilitated by Veolia’s participation in the construction and future of the tramway serving the settlements. In addition the tramway will discriminate against Palestinians as they will not be allowed to travel on it. This discrimination is no different to the apartheid South African 'whites only' system of discrimination.

International Court of Justice
The ICJ ruled in 2004 that the apartheid wall was illegal as they considered it to be an attempt by Israel to annex Palestinian territory contrary to International Law and that it interfered with the right of Palestinians to self determination system. The ruling is quite clear that all states are obliged to ensure compliance by Israel of UN Charters and International Law. Veolia, too, are obliged to abide by these laws and charters and should not be to rendering aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by the wall nor should it be profiting from the ongoing human rights abuses of the Palestinian people.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2000)
Veolia are in contravention of these guidelines which state that enterprises should “Respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments”. Palestinians land is being illegally taken, homes demolished, farmland confiscated and olive groves destroyed to build the tramway.

The UN Global Compact (2000)
The United Nations Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The origin of Principles One and Two of the UN Global Compact is in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The aim of this Declaration was to set basic minimum international standards for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual. The fundamental nature of these provisions means that they are now widely regarded as forming a foundation of international law.

Veolia is a member of The UN Global Compact which states that businesses should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses. However it activities in occupied Palestine clearly in breach these fundamental principles.

A few of Veolia’s lost contracts and legal actions –

  • June 2009: Reports indicate that due to international pressure Veolia is withdrawing from the light rail project however this has not been confirmed. Alstom remains involved in the project.
  • June 2009: The city of Melbourne, Australia stripped Connex of their contract to run Melbourne's trams and Hong Kong's MTR.
  • June 2009: The city of Tehran announces that Veolia will be excluded from bidding for key contracts in the city's transportation services.
  • April 2009: Galway City Council voted not to renew or enter into any new contract's with Veolia as a result of the operations in occupied Palestine.
  • April 2009: A French Court agreed to hear the case that launched against Veolia and Alstom by Association France-Palestine Solidarit√© and the PLO in 2007. This case could set precedence for taking legal actions against corporations in their home countries for international law violations they commit in Palestine.
  • April 2009: Veolia loses a contact worth 750 million Euros in Bordeaux, France.
  • March 2009: The Swedish National Pension fund divested from Alstom as the reported human rights abuses regarding the company's participation in a railway project in Jerusalem made it not suitable for pension funds investments.
  • February 2009: Sligo County Council, passed a motion not to renew any further contracts with Veolia as a result of the operations in occupied Palestine.
  • January 2009: Veolia loses 4.5 billion dollar contract to run the subway in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • November 2006: ASN, a Dutch bank, breaks off financial relations with Veolia "Due to the direct nature of Veolia's involvement, we are of the opinion that Veolia's activities in Jerusalem are in conflict with UN Resolutions. Therefore, on this current information Veolia will be removed from our investment universe."
  • August 2006: Irish Trade Union forces Veolia to cancel plans to train Israeli drivers and engineers in Ireland. They were to be trained on the Dublin Luas, that is nearly identical to the one being constructed in Jerusalem.

Name the Date - Stop Work / Stop National

20,000 union members rally on 20 October 2010 to protest the first round of National's attacks on workers' rights.
On Thursday 16 May the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) National Affiliates Council meets in Wellington. On their agenda will be the latest attacks on workers' rights being pushed through by National and the CTU's newly launched campaign Why Cut Our Pay.

The cuts are targeted attacks on specific unions. The removal of the obligation to collective bargaining will first be used to allow Ports of Auckland to break off negotiations with the Maritime Union and break down job security for hundreds of wharfies. The removal of collective agreement protections for workers in the first 30 days of their job is an attempt to further casualise the service and retail industry workforce and allow unfair dismissals of workers starting off. The attacks on multi-employer bargaining will be used against nurses to break up their nationwide collective agreement.

The CTU represents some 350,000 members in over 35 unions. It is the single biggest democratic organisation in the country and its members work across the country in positions as diverse as bus drivers, nurses, scientists and fire fighters. Without the physical and intellectual labour of these workers the country would grind to a halt. Prisons, schools and hospitals would be unstaffed. Airports, ports and transportation networks would be shut down. Government departments, retail stores and cleaning companies would find their work hobbled.

The unions which must take the lead on these attacks are the three unions that will be first and most severely affected. The Maritime Union, the Nurses' Organisation and the three main service and retail unions, First Union, SFWU and Unite should all push the CTU on 16 May for a national day of action to fight these changes and commit to a joint stop work to  rally the fight against National's employment relations policy of cutting workers' rights and pay.

The union movement needs to stop mucking about and get its members organising again to fight the government. The Nats are happy to pick unions off one by one as long as workers don't start generalising their workplace problems with others and start realising their very real power. Teachers worried by charter schools, doctors by lengthening waiting lists, building workers facing poor health and safety, supermarket workers facing youth rates need to rub shoulders in the streets.

Between now and joint union action we need a massive co-ordinated education campaign by the CTU unions not just explaining these attacks but arguing for a new deal on employment relations with industry awards from a centre-left government after 2014. But the focus of this education campaign must also be mobilisation that defends our current work rights but also builds and mobilises union power.

What unions do now against the government will set the scene for 2014. Defeating the Nats is going to need the support of thousands of mobilised union members who can enrol their friends and whanau to vote,  get them to the polls on polling day, give out leaflets, put up posters and talk politics with their workmate. This cohort of experienced activists cannot be created from thin air. It has to be built over weeks and months. In Australia it was the union movements Your Rights at Work campaign that brought down the John Howard's right-wing government in 2007. But it wouldn't have happened without sustained education and mobilisation of union members from the beginning. Without the aggressive campaign workers' rights in Australia would have been severely weakened.

That's why the CTU's National Affiliates Council meeting on 16 May naming the date for a stop work meeting to stop National and committing to a sustained campaign to destabilise the National government is absolutely essential.

These attacks if allowed to proceed will inevitably lead to understaffed hospital wards, precarious ports and casualised casinos. The fight back must begin from there and when John Key asks the public 'Who runs the country?' the union movement must answer, 'Not you mate.'

- Socialist Aotearoa

Friday, May 03, 2013

Why are we not allowed to fight our enemies?

In times of economic crisis, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the gap between the two increases. Why then, is it so hard for people to pick a side? It seems simple, either you support the rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, the planet's biological and cultural diversity and now increasingly the climate as well. Or you support and defend the rights of working people to decent jobs, decent pay and a decent standard of living in a healthy environment. If you haven't decided which side you are on, you should.

Recently I've been having more and more conversations with well educated, intelligent, politically engaged students at Auckland University who seem unable not only to distinguish that there are two classes in struggle against one another but also who argue that we should not take any action without popular consensus. This argument is fundamentally flawed both logically and ethically.

Logically, if we accept the premise that we want to improve the world around us, then the argument that you shouldn't use your subjectivity to analyse a situation or your agency to act to change something but instead that you need a popular mandate to do anything at all seems totally insane. You do not need permission to change the world and you simply cannot if you are always waiting for the majority of people. To put simply, you can't lead if you are following.

Ethically, it is totally immoral to knowingly occupy a relatively privileged position in the world (such as a university student in a developed nation) and do nothing to fight the attacks of the powerful on the powerless. Water, food, shelter, power, education, healthcare, jobs, self-determination, dignity and respect are human rights. Those are things that I qualify as human rights and I do not need permission from anyone to fight for them. We define our rights through our willingness to fight.

Yesterday I was told by a political activist on campus that I was authoritarian for using my elected position as a student rep on AUSA to support a campaign against the privatisation of our publicly owned electricity companies. The argument was that I lacked a popular mandate from students and not only was I authoritarian but apparently I mirror the type of behaviour we see from politicians like John Key when he ignores a referendum against asset sales. I was dumbfounded. There I was trying to do my bit to stop asset sales and there's John Key doing his bit to push through asset sales and somehow this student is telling me that we are doing the same thing? Actually, no, what I do directly clashes with what John Key does. We are on opposite sides of the class struggle.

The interests of the ruling class and the interests of the working class (students included) are diametrically opposed. Rich kiwis, like they have in the past, will continue to benefit from the sale of state owned enterprises. They will be able to buy large amounts of shares in companies that give them a very high rate of return and then if they want they can sell on their shares for even more to foreign investors. They won't miss the public income because they already use private hospitals, dentists, schools and transport, and, of course they already own their own houses, bachs and spa pools. They won't care if their power bills go up because they barely notice them anyway and the huge stacks of profit they will make from their share purchases will allow higher power bills to fade into insignificance on designer coffee tables across the country.

The working class (unemployed included) will not benefit from the sale of publicly owned assets. The $1000 minimum share price for Mighty River Power already ensures that anyone who doesn't have a spare grand lying around is unable to benefit at all. On top of this, working class people already benefit from lower power prices and government income from SOEs which can be spent on housing, healthcare, education and transport. We benefit more from cheaper power, public services and facilities than we will from buying a few thousand dollars worth of shares. For most working class people, moving savings from the bank and using them to buy shares will not allow them to send their children to private hospitals when they are sick or private schools when they want to learn. In fact, the return on investment from the minimum $1000 share option probably won't even cover the increase in your electricity bills.

The privatisation of our state owned electricity companies will only benefit the rich. Anyone who tells you not to fight to defend your public assets is serving the interests of the rich, the powerful and the selfish.

Shane Malva
National Affairs Officer AUSA