Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Working Class Heroes of the 1913 Great Strike

Socialist Historian and Playwright Dean Parker tells Unite Union's  2013 National Conference  about some of the working class men, women and childen who lived through the revolutionary moment of 1913 in New Zealand, one hundred years to the day after they clashed with the might of the State on the streets.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Raising the Retirement Age?

There are now more people retiring than ever and less people working, so there are not enough people to pay taxes to cover the cost of the retirement pension. We are all living longer say the politicians... Yeah right... Who's living longer? The politicians? The capitalists? The lawyers? The lazy bastards who sit on their arses and do nothing are living longer; the people who have the money to pay for expensive surgery or drugs to keep them alive; those who are educated about healthy eating and lifestyle; those who have the time to swan about in saunas and gyms and health spas may be living longer.

If you look at life expectancy for various groups, in particular manual workers, Pacific Island workers, Maori workers, you will find that even though these people pay most of the taxes in this country, they seldom live long enough to collect the pension. Meanwhile their peers in the middle to upper class, mainly salaried professionals, or the real bludgers – politicians and wealthy people who live off their capital – do little or no productive work and pay little or no tax and are the ones who live longer and end up in expensive nursing homes going on into their nineties, half of them gaga but still claiming the pension and bludging off the state health system that they did nothing to contribute to in the first place. The staff looking after them are paid a wage they can't even live on.

When John Key got into power the first thing he did was to give huge tax cuts to the rich, and so now it's a bit rich saying that we can't afford for workers to retire. In 1984 the top tax rate was 66 cents in the dollar; now it is 33 and we cant afford for workers to retire. They quote the statistics comparing people working to those retired and say we can't afford for workers to retire.

We have 7% unempoyment – throw that into the mix and the statistics don't look so convincing, then think about the people who are under-employed and see how that effects the statistics; then there are all those who work hard in the most important jobs such as being mothers or working for charities and think how it would be if they were being paid, paying taxes and featuring in the statistics, and see how that affects them. Then there are all those who are criminalised by our increasingly punitive society and who have to be housed in prisons at the expense of the taxpayer instead of being productive workers and taxpayers themselves. And the list goes on.

If you look at it on an international scale, you will see that hundreds of millions of people are unemployed and denied the right to participate in society. They would jump at the chance to work and pay taxes. I could go on all night ABOUT THE WAY THIS NEOLIBERAL CAPITALIST system is flawed and corrupt from top to bottom, but at the end of the day what it is really about is exploiting the workers all their lives and then ringing the last drop of blood out of them before they are thrown on the scrap heap.

Forcing people to work longer means there are fewer jobs for school leavers and university graduates. It means there is more competition among workers, which forces wages down. Labour announced at the last election its policy to raise the retirement age to 67 over a gradual period. The National government has reintroduced a lower youth wage, which actually squeezes out older workers and does nothing to help the young ones. Now estimates are being quoted that by the year 2050, 25% of New Zealanders will be over 65 (compared with 13.6% estimated in 2012). That difference could be made up by the numbers currently unemployed, under-employed and doing unpaid work. The rest could be covered by reinstating a more progressive tax system. The Labour Party should be representing workers, not the employers who benefit from worker competition.

Under the guise of 'responsible government', the Labour Party, who were responsible for the tax cuts in the 1980s, are trying to pander to the notion that there's not enough money to go around and therefore everyone must sacrifice equally. This is nonsense: there is enough money to go around if we stop giving the highest earners a free ride; everyone does not bear the burden equally (many of the lowest paid workers don't live to see retirement age); and there is nothing responsible about it. Productivity has increased a hundred fold over the last century, which should translate into more leisure time for workers and universal access to essential services. The real picture is upside-down.

As a manual worker myself, I am nearly 60 – the age at which people retired when I entered the workforce. Basically my body is worn out, my shoulders are fucked, my knees are fucked, my brain and nervous system are malfunctioning due to exposure to solvents in the workplace, and the government is saying I have to keep working, and if I cant do the work I am trained for and experienced in, I am expected to do some other unskilled job that wont even pay a living wage.

We need to fight Labour and National's attempts to screw down workers, young and old.

-Doug R., SA 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Century of Resistance- Auckland Wharfie speaks

 “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction”.  Eric Fromm.

Modern society is plagued with workplace pressures unseen for many a year. The craving of wealth by the few at the expense of many comes at a huge cost to the average family. Capitalist greed and the inbred need to have a class system is out of control but consistently gets fed by legislation with laws that introduce work climates unseen since the early nineteen hundreds.

 The average worker in this country should be paid a living wage but instead is working in excess of 60 hours a week simply to make ends meet because they are on minimum wage with no additional payments for extra effort. The ability to run a household on such an income is next to impossible because the cost of living out strips the money coming in. Wouldn’t it be an eye-opener to put our politicians on minimum wage just to see how quickly things would change?

 Rights at work are being eroded by a government and a Labour spokesman who has no conscience and no real understanding of what it takes to survive in the real world. Bridges “The Tauranga Pup” is fixated on two words, flexibility and fairness and basically doesn’t give a toss or more likely doesn’t comprehend the impact or consequence of the law changes he is promoting and will push through. The attitude towards workers in this country by the National Government is summed up by Tau Henare’s statement on television when asked about the plight of the government cleaners. “If she doesn’t want the job, she should give it to someone else”.

 The 8 hour day, the 40 hour working week, the weekend, annual leave, worker’s rights and safety in most quarters of the capitalist ideology are a thing of the past and irrelevant because they assume it stagnates the ability to accumulate wealth. These are union won conditions for all society to enjoy and should be protected at all costs. Too often we see large companies pushing the barrow of wealth; they call it productivity.

 Increasingly at negotiations employers put forward claims for unfair hours of work so they have the right to impose and determine when employees work, none of which are recognised or rewarded with appropriate payments. Work-life balance in their mind is a myth and should be purely the domain of those that can afford it.

In New Zealand, apathy and the “she’ll be right mate” mentality is responsible for the position we find ourselves in. Kiwi would rather watch a bloody boat sail around in a foreign country manned by rich pricks than stand up and fight for fairness and decency. We hear every day the stories of poverty, starving children and people struggling to put a roof over the heads of their families. You would think in a modern western styled society none of the above would exist, sadly it is growing and until working-class stand-up make a stand and bring capitalism to heel there will be no balance in our society.

The union movement is changing to gain the required skillset to take on global corporates and right-wing governments at their own game when it comes to the preservation of workers’ rights. When your union calls on you to become part of any struggle that protects the working-class, take the time to look in the mirror and ask yourself am I doing my bit?

 Don’t let the apathy I alluded to earlier be the driving factor you didn’t get involved. It is too easy to allow others to fight and win the gains. Don’t ride off the back of struggle enjoying the benefits you don’t deserve, be a part of the outcome.

This is where the presence of well-resourced militant unions comes into play. Organising, education and promoting activism to protect what belongs to us is a key to any future balance. Capitalism has a firm hold in modern society and is changing the world to suit the need to feed the greed.

This year celebrates the 100th year since the Great Strike of 1913 where 16000 workers took to the streets of New Zealand to fight for fairness and dignity. These weren’t workers backed by well-resourced unions but miners, water-siders and seafarers led by a small group termed agitators who were eventually defeated after almost bringing New Zealand to the brink of civil war.

Attacked by Police and the volunteer Massey’s Cossacks on horse-back, they fought heated battles on the streets. They faced machine gun postings and naval war ships. These were working men with a just cause but lacked leadership hence the uprising failed. Even in 1913 the capitalist knew he had a means to undermine workers for a few silver dollars, it’s the tools they continue to use today, the scab and propaganda. Even though it was lost we need to take a leaf out of the book of our forebears and fight for our rights even if it be by means of hard protest.

Contemplate the lot of the individual who attempts to go one on one with his or her employer. Worksites that don’t have union coverage are at the will of the employer. Fire at will with no rules of fairness and very limited work-place rights. Union presence is vital and a reliable defence in opposing government and capitalism . Globally unions are setting standards for all society and will always remain fundamentally opposed to the oppressive ideology of the greedy corporates.

by Dave Phillips, socialist and MUNZ Activist

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Roastbusters - The creation of a sexist society

Many people have been rightly horrified by the news that has come out in the past week of young girls being raped and the failure by authorities to act to prevent further harm. Particularly disgusting has been the police response, beginning by blaming survivors for not coming forward, then, under pressure, finally revealing that they had received complaints two years ago, but still had not laid charges.

It is both right and heartening that people are appalled, but we should not be taken in by the fake outrage of those in power. This National government has made huge cuts to services for survivors of rape including making it harder to access counselling from ACC, failing to properly implement the recommendations of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, and refusing to ensure that rape prevention and rape crisis services receive sufficient funding. The government has also failed to fix the problems with sexuality education in our schools identified in a 2007 report by the Education Review Office.

We should also not be surprised that the police will not protect women by enforcing sexual assault laws. Slow progress has been made the recommendations of the Bazely report, also from 2007, and the police seem to have learned little from the Louise Nicholas case, despite her and other campaigners’ tireless work. The police do not seem to understand the basic law that says in New Zealand it is an offence to have a sexual connection with a person under the age of 16.

People working in the area of sexual violence know that the failure to prosecute perpetrators is not new. It is estimated that only one in every hundred sexual offences result in a successful prosecution. Police claim today to be ‘the good guys’, yet they have failed to safeguard young women from this gang’s activities for the past two years, failed to act on complaints, and failed to create an environment where more young women felt supported enough to come forward in the belief they would protected. What is important about the current debate is that it exposes the contradictions in our society, the reality of the oppression that women face, and the way capitalism distorts all of our relationships, including our sexuality.

The majority of men are not rapists, and most people rightly condemn sexual violence. Yet we are all adversely affected by capitalism. Young women are pushed into becoming sexualised from an early age. We are constantly bombarded with media and advertising that tells us how we should look, how we should dress, and how we should conduct our relationships. Young men are taught to treat sexual relationships as conquests to be bragged about. Sexuality is subverted and sold back to us packaged up as liberation when in fact it actually limits our ability to learn about and express our true desires.

Tamihere and Jackson have sickeningly demonstrated another contradiction in society’s attitudes – where women are blamed for the sexual violence perpetrated against them. This graphic shows succinctly my response – there is no justification for rape.

What now?

Vigilante action against individuals is not the solution. We need to work with the widest possible number of people to build a campaign that calls for the following demands:

• The police do their job properly and protect women from violence
• The government properly funds sexuality education, rape prevention education, and support services for survivors, and re-establish the sexual violence action taskforce with proper resources to implement the recommendations made in 2009.
• Immediate action in schools across Auckland and the rest of New Zealand: counsellors, rape prevention education, sexuality education, relationship training, and properly funded support for anyone involved to come forward.

- Mary Hill, SA

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Generation of Anger - Looking for answers and change

In this talk given at Socialism 2013, Bevan M. discusses the global 'Generation of Anger', the challenges it faces and the possibilities of the moment in which it comes to age.

I have been asked to talk to you guys about the international rise of a generation in anger. For those of you who I haven’t met I’ll just give you a bit of background about who I am. It’s not impressive or anything like that – I just give it to give you some context, so you see where I am coming from, and why I hold my opinions. My name is Bevan, I’m from Auckland but for the past few years I have been living overseas – I lived in New York for a year starting in September 2008 right as Lehman Brothers were just starting to tip the first dominos of what would be become the recession that we are all still feeling and paying for. During this time I also saw the rise of optimism surrounding Obama that while unfulfilled in many ways, was an incredible grass root movement that turned the American electoral system on its head. It was one hell of an election night I can say that much.

I came back to New Zealand for a bit to pay off debts and plan next trip, and this time I went to the UK for two years. This was a whole different experience again from the USA, as this time I was trying to survive and make a living in austerity Britain. I worked in Britain for a radical booksellers called Housman’s who initiated many meetings, and was located in this old building in King’s Cross that opened before World War Two and was the publishing HQ for Peace News. The whole thing was a radical bookstore, non profit, co-operative, and it was my favourite place in the whole city. And through this I got involved in activism etc, etc, so that’s me, and why I am commenting on these countries.

As I said I would like to just talk about this idea of a generation in anger for a few minutes, and what I mean by it.

For the first time in most western capitalist countries worldwide, since World War One a generation is going to be left worse off than their parents, and thus will probably leave the generation after the worse off, and so on, and so on, and so on. It hasn’t been a global war like last time that has caused it – it has been short term, share market inspired economic policy, and an incredibly hawkish and outdated neo-conservative realist foreign policy that have combined to leave a generation in trouble. This lifestyle that has been lived is impossibly unsustainable and understandably many young people are pissed off about being sold an impossible future. Many can now finally see that the Tory approach to economic policy has been like a plumber borrowing washers from one part of the house to fix a leak in another, and then when this didn’t work, cutting the pipe out altogether and pretending the flood isn’t there, while the customer’s children drown in the ensuing damage – in other words the effects have become impossible to ignore.

The following are just some of the international trends that this shift has caused, which have led to the creation of a generation of anger, and are worth briefly looking at:

Privatisation of education. Young people are told almost daily that they need an education and that they will need to go to University to get jobs. This has a twofold effect. First we have an indebted generation. In the USA there is currently 1.2 trillion dollars worth of student debt that has been privatised and is building profit for financiers. In NZ it’s growing by a billion dollars per year. In the UK it is set to grow as student fees have increased by hundreds of percentage. People can’t fight or organise under these conditions. They have a mortgage before they even attempt to get a home. In the UK universities fees have increased thousands upon thousands of pounds, after the students elected the Liberal Democrats to the coalition government, and Nick Clegg to the Deputy PM's job purely on the platform of no more increases. This is the reality – the system has abandoned the youth of the USA, the UK, and NZ to face mortgage sized loans before getting a mortgage. This of course works out beautifully for employers, because people who are completely dependent on their employment to survive will not stir any waves, and will do anything they are told to do out of fear of not being able to eat. We stifle creativity and innovation by doing this also – when people are tied into a job that is not utilising their skill set to the optimum level, they will not search for opportunity or look for change. Their focus will be on maintaining the status quo, which helps enforce the notion of the employee as ‘human resource’ rather than ‘person’.

Secondly our best and brightest go into actively destructive fields like finance and banking rather than going into truly public services such as the sciences or medicine. And if they do go into these fields, they can make exponentially more money in the private sector, rather than in the public sector so they go there anyway. Essentially we reward people for completely and utterly the wrong things – case in point somebody like John Key for example.

The Puzzle of Home Ownership. In New Zealand we have adopted a very Anglo-Saxon model of home ownership. We love to buy houses and we have been led to believe in the quarter acre kiwi dream, in the falsely construed narratives we imbibe continually. However, private home ownership is becoming increasingly more out of reach for more and more working kiwis. Along with the student debt, the credit card debt, and the financier debt that has been accumulated due to the fact that most working class kids are making what their parents were on thirty years ago, a 20% deposit is increasingly out of reach. Furthermore the National government are destroying the very concept of a retirement fund by encouraging people to reach the unattainable goal by giving them access to Kiwi saver – a system originally instituted so that people would not have to rely on their home for their retirement. Such a short sighted band aid perspective is what got us into these situations in the first place.

This has been seen overseas even more dramatically. In the USA the subprime mortgage crisis swindled literally millions of people out of their homes. Probably double the population of New Zealand had their homes taken from them by bankers. They were sold dodgy loans, by fraudulent lenders who broke the miniscule amount of rules there were in place, to transfer the wealth of collective home ownership of the working class, to the very rich. This is unprecedented in our history everybody. It was the largest single transfer of wealth in our history, and it was probably the easiest and most unpunished theft in all history. This has understandably annoyed a few people.

The Stripping of Benefits. This is the big one. Kids today are being told that all benefits are evil, and that anyone who seeks assistance is asking for a handout. We are seeing a generation that is being ruled by a bunch of people that used government assistance to further their own skills and drive to succeed in life, as is the very purpose of it, take this gift away from the next generation. It is being taken by men like John Key – men who don’t have to worry about public facilities because they are wealthy enough to afford private facilities for their own children, such as their daughter who is currently studying art in Paris. Benefit has become a dirty word, as has union, and has until recently, Socialist. There is one generation who are being told they have to work that much harder than their predecessors just to struggle to break even.

The UK is currently facing this in a very real and bombastic way presently. According to the Trade Union Congress

  • On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.
  • On average people think that 27 per cent of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, while the governments own figure is 0.7 per cent.

The Chancellor George Osborne has used this brainwashing to make as many deep cuts to as many poor social services, including the privatisation of the famed NHS in ways that could never have been imagined by Nye Bevan. A new era of suffering is being undertaken by the poor of Britain who are inevitably the first to feel the brunt of these substantial cuts. People are being told to see these essentials as ‘benefits’ – that dirty term that means freeloader. Yet once upon a time these state services were seen as sacrosanct. A young generation in the UK are going to enter adulthood knowing that their healthcare blanket and thus their basic dignity will no longer be intact.

As for the USA we saw very explicitly how this clash played out on a national stage at the end of 2012, where much like with our own PM, we saw Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, both men who have used government assistance to make exceptional gains in life rather than merely being unproductive freeloaders, attack those that attempt to use assistance to make something of their lives. Romney’s infamous 47% speech crippled his campaign as slowly the American left started to act outraged as opposed to just feeling it.

No rights in the workplace. Young people today are either currently working in, or are about to enter a workplace where they have no rights. The luxury of working eight hour days, with a salary to support a family, with a pension at the end is a luxury no young person has seen or will see on this trajectory. I won’t touch on this too much as there are others who know much more about this than me and will talk about it.

Freedom of Information. This is two pronged and again, I know others will be discussing this more so I will only touch on it briefly, but essentially you have the strange situation of there being a generation who have unprecedented instantaneous access to information and current events through the internet which moves revolutions and movements in ways never seen before. On the other hand though there is unprecedented clamping down on this freedom, to the point where the NSA has become an all encompassing, all snooping presence on the daily lives of everyone. They are trying to brainwash a generation into thinking this is normal, and that constant surveillance is for their own good. The seemingly endless ongoing revelations about the NSA clearly demonstrate just how much the US government has lied to the world over and over again, and just how badly they have abused the trust of the international community. This is rightly causing resentment, and the grossly disproportionate punishments for computer hacktivism will eventually become too mainstream and too common to continue.

This is just a minute sampling of some of the big issues that are disaffecting a massive body of youth worldwide. It isn’t taking into account demographic changes, social evolution, cultural evolution, artistic trends, and the millions of other tiny factors that have all been affected also.

Now this all sounds admittedly quite bleak and pessimistic. But it doesn’t have to be. We can use this moment to finally take back control.

Capitalism has made the world a better place in many ways. This can’t be doubted. Even in Marx’s time he spoke admiringly of capitalism and all the wonders that it had already, and would give to the world. Marx’s view of a socialist revolution was totally global so that the nation state could be destructed once and for all, and that wealth and resources would need to be predistributed and redistributed for the benefit of all. And largely due to capitalism we are currently in a period of unsurpassed wealth in the world, and this is important because it makes revolution feasibly possible.

It has raised the living standards of countries internationally. It has globalised the world to the point where borders have started to dissolve, and have become more and more ambiguous.

But Marx argued it was unsustainable and after the events of the past thirty years, this is a point that can no longer be disputed. We now know that unhinged capitalism does not work other than for a very few.

Capitalism has still produced extreme wealth though, and it doesn’t need to be concentrated in the hands of the 1%. The only reason they get to hold it is because we say so. That’s all there is that holds the system in place. When people know that the system is broken, and they can make the connection – despite all the misinformation they are bombarded with on TV, Radio, school books, etc – that it is this very system that is responsible for their struggles and for the ongoing fighting that is their live, they get angry and want to change.

We have a generation currently who will be looking for answers and looking for change once it eventually reaches them just how badly they have been screwed by neo-liberalism. We must be ready for this, and we must be ready to occupy this power vacuum with ideas because otherwise we all know that the far right will jump on this. We have a leftward movement currently going internationally, and we live in a wealthy, increasing borderless world. This is the start of the crumbling of capitalism, and we need to be there to help the generation of anger see that there is an alternative to the status quo, and a future of happiness awaiting them.

Protest Saturday

Monday, November 04, 2013

McStrike - A Delegate's Tale

Taylor M. is a seventeen year old west Auckland McDonald's worker, Unite Union delegate and Socialist Aotearoa member. This is her account of the McStrike campaign.

On April 29th, negotiations between Unite Union and McDonald’s broke down over the renewal of our existing collective agreement. A collective agreement is the agreement workers are moved onto after joining the union, which takes them off their individual contracts. Unlike the original contract you’re given when you start working at McDonalds, this agreement allows for negotiation and improvements in future as the union takes into account worker’s requests and complaints when redrafting the agreement for the following year and adding their voices in.

This year, additions put forward by Unite Union to be added into the agreement included security of hours, rostered breaks at reasonable intervals, a decent pay of $15 an hour minimum wage, overtime pay after 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, a free meal on any given 30 minute meal break on shift, union member benefits, life insurance for staff and finally, an end to favouritism and discrimination within the workplace.

McDonald’s declined all of these requests and offered only a 25c pay rise to $14.00 base rate pay. This was rejected by the Union and triggered a heavy string of strikes for the following 4 months. A settlement was not reached until the early hours of the morning on August the 24th after much effort. Discussion with workers, strikes every week, meetings and regular contact with everyone involved made it an exhausting process for both parties.

All ideas put forward towards the new collective agreement were reasonable requests and many are already given to workers at other fast food chains. KFC workers after 6 months work are moved onto $14.73 minimum wage compared to McDonald’s at $14.25 after completion of your CCO’s, which is a heavy folder with hundreds of sheets that need completion before you’re granted your certificate, and often your records are “lost” after completion and the process has to be done again. McDonald’s makes more money in profit than any other fast food chain, but has paid its workers minimum wage. KFC workers are also given time and a half pay after 8h a day or 40h a week, are entitled to a free meal on shift, union member benefits and $5000 life insurance.

Security of hours was a key feature in the push for the new collective agreement, as there had been numerous cases of workers with hours cut or given to others with no warning. This was another example of favouritism within the workplace, as hours are given to manager’s ‘favourites’ without consultation or offering the existing hours to other crew members. Staff working 40 hours a week and then suddenly having their hours cut in half were frequent complaints to Unite and a real problem within the workplace. The new collective agreement was finalized with security of hours, but so far that has not been followed through within all worksites. Last week a worker at McDonald’s Lincoln Road was given zero hours for one week with no notice at all, and then when an explanation was requested from the franchise owner, was told to find his own shifts or ask to cover other crew members. Not all workers at McDonalds are part time students, using the money as extra cash on the weekends, a majority of full time workers within the stores own houses or have children and rely on their pay to cover everyday living costs and support themselves or their families and live on a payslip to payslip lifestyle. Without this security, they can find themselves with little money the following week and in turn, are forced between feeding themselves or paying to keep the roof over their heads. Within my own workplace at McDonald’s Lynn Mall, workers are commonly asked to take their only half an hour meal break less than one hour into their shift, or denied their breaks altogether because the workplace is “too busy” or managers are understaffed. These are common excuses across all McDonald’s worksites and workers are often not given their compensation money for missed breaks.

In response to the company rejecting Unite Union’s requests to improve the renewing collective agreement, the McStrike campaign was formed. The goal of the strikes is to put pressure on the company by making them lose money and customers. This is achieved by having existing crew on shift leave the work floor and come out on strike. During the strikes workers picket the drivethru and entrance and ask potential customers to eat elsewhere, explaining the reasons behind the strike. This costs the company thousands of dollars as they become understaffed and unable to keep up with the initial queue of customers they’re faced with, and then end with a deserted store as all customers have been turned away, sometimes even discontinuing customer loyalty to the corporation. The first official McStrike was done at Panmure McDonalds on June 7th, lead by store delegate Michelle Hooper. Originally, workers were hesitant to come off their shift to participate in a strike out of fear of being bullied or punished by managers especially with no hour security protecting them. However, after assurance from Unite organizers and encouragement from fellow staff, the strikes picked up speed and spread to West Auckland on June 13th, hitting both Lynnmall and New Lynn McDonalds. This was my first strike and the overwhelming support from customers and staff was amazing, after strong support from West organizer Gary Cranston, I perked up the courage to talk to a car about to go through the drive thru “Good on you guys. I’m never eating here again” was the response I received and I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to expose the company’s lies and serial law breaking.

McDonald’s worker Sean Bailey of Quay st McDonald’s was sacked from his job after accessing the time and wage records and calculating that in the past 5 years, McDonald’s has stolen roughly $8million in unpaid breaks and wages. This was after they had told Unite Union that no records were kept electronically and if they wanted these records, they would have to fly to Sydney Australia and print off the millions of pages and afterwards, arrange for them to be shipped back to NZ before any calculations could be made and Unite would be expected to cover these costs. This was a lie and franchise owner Mark Rush held onto the video footage of Sean allegedly printing off the records for up to five months, after Laura Thompson, the Business Partner and HR manager for had previously told Unite that video footage was not held on to for more than 2 weeks when we wanted an allegation of assault investigated. It is our belief that McDonald’s deliberately withheld disciplinary action against Sean until the dispute between the company and Unite had been settled.

From this experience, I’ve learnt that too often workers in the lowest paid jobs are overlooked and treated as machines rather than humans. McDonalds is a large, multinational corporation and their workers have little to no job security and safety. Without us workers, there would be no company, yet we’re being undercut for our efforts. I started my job at McDonalds looking for experience and found it in the most unexpected ways. I learnt that the police, who are meant to be there for you would rather protect a serial law breaking company than its workers and their fellow citizens. I learnt that if the boss is faced between ensuring staff are well looked after or ensuring sales are high, they will choose money. I’ve learnt how to organize strikes, and that there’s a huge difference between saying you support your workmates and proving it by showing up at a picket line. I’ve learnt that there’s power in numbers and solidarity is one of the most important things we can achieve. The strikes for a better collective agreement may be over, but the strikes in solidarity with our fellow worker and delegate Sean Bailey have only just begun. After learning of the mass violations carried out by McDonalds on a regular basis and experiencing unjust treatment of staff, I’m unable to remain apathetic towards the case, and I hope after hearing our story, nor can you.

Speeches from the Socialism 2013 Conference

Lisa Gibson, SA and Chair of Mana Tamaki Rohe 

John Minto, Mana Mayoral Candidate for Auckland 

Shane Timmermanns, SA and Mana on Campus at Auckland University 

 Mike Treen on the Socialist Action League in the 1970s and 80s. 

Joe Carolan, on 5 years of Socialist Aotearoa.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Red Feds and the Great Strike of 1913

Exactly 100 years ago New Zealand was experiencing its largest ever industrial dispute.

The Great Strike of 1913. In the end the 16,000 strikers and their United Federation of Labour were defeated, the employers, the reform government and their fascist "specials" (volunteer special constables) known as “Masseys Cossaks” had won. But that is not the full story - the class consciousness and confidence which made the Great Strike possible were earned and honed through the unifying organisation of the Federation of Labour known as the "Red Feds" in the years 1908 to 1913. This new mood was to have a profound effect for years to come."

Lessons of 1890
To understand the great strike we first have to look at the defeat suffered by the workers in Maritime Strike of 1890 and its aftermath. That defeat had convinced many in the union movement that strikes don’t work, political power and arbitration are the only weapons workers can use, and the only goals we can hope for are incremental improvements in pay and conditions. The first major challenge to this lesson was the Blackball miners' strike on the South Island's West Coast in 1908, which was also the first major strike in 17 years.

Blackball socialist group circa 1910

When socialist miner Pat Hickey and 6 other miners were fired in February, the union stood by them and demanded their reinstatement with missed pay. They had gone to the Minister of Lands to complain about poor safety and violations of the Coal Mines Act. There was also a dispute over meal times, which was only 15 minutes, the union had decided they should have 30 minutes. Because they were registered with the Arbitration Act, the law required they beg for a change to their award from an unsympathetic judge.

The miners instead chose to act! They would take their 30 minutes! When Hickey was ordered to return to work after 15 minutes he refused, was prosecuted and eventually fined.

The striking men refused to go back to work until their growing list of demands were met. Their demands were:

  • 30 minutes meal break.
  • No more 10 hour shifts – 8 hours only.
  • The men would be reinstated with pay.

The company dragged the union before the Arbitration Court which imposed a 75 pound fine, and ruled that the company could fire whoever they wanted to. But the union held firm, and - they also added a demand that the company pay their fine for them.

Unions throughout the South and North Islands gave financial support, which was also illegal under the arbitration act. Finally in May after 3 months of struggle the union won, the company directors agreed to all the unions demands.

This was a massive result, a huge turning point. William Massey the leader of the opposition Reform Party and enemy of the workers was outraged and said: “The act was openly defied, the decision of the court disregarded and the judge insulted”

Evolution of the Red Feds
After success at Blackball and the solidarity the strike received, the union movement grew more confident. Later in May Auckland tramwaymen struck, in June Wellington bakers struck. There was talk of starting a Federation of Labour. The American Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) influence was growing, the "wobblies" as they are known spread the message of One Big Union, Class War, Industrial Unionism and direct action.

Blackball Miners' Union and the State Miners' Union were two of the driving forces which helped create the new “Federation of Miners”. When it began in August 1908 it represented 2300 miners. Their motto was :
“THE WORLDS WEALTH FOR THE WORLDS WORKERS” - which was taken from the Wobblies.
The Federation of Miners grew rapidly in strength and numbers and won some battles along the way. At the 1909 conference the name was changed to “THE NEW ZEALAND FEDERATION OF LABOUR” and  it was no longer exclusive to miners. The miners were leading the workers of New Zealand towards One Big Union.

Over the next few years the Federation grew to include a long list of unions, many of whom left the arbitration system. Many of the leading Red Feds were heavily influenced by the Wobblies, and Daniel de Leon (who was a prominent Wobbly). According to DeLeonist theory, workers should simultaneously organise a socialist industrial union and political party. Union and party would help each other, the party would gain political power and the unions would take control of the means of production which would be run by workers' councils. The political party would form a government with the sole purpose of replacing themselves with a new government elected from the socialist industrial unions. In New Zealand the Federation of Labour and the Socialist Party were intended to fill these roles.

However, in 1908 the IWW in Chicago repudiated all political action. This was to cause one of the big debates which shaped the federation over the next few years. If the IWW was on the left of the Federation, there was also a tendency on the right who urged caution and did not see the Federation as a step towards revolution, they saw it as a means to increase the bargaining power of their unions. Debates about the nature, direction and tactics of the Federation went on, but they did not come to a head as long as the Federation was gaining ground and winning easy victories.

Miners during the Waihi strike of 1912

In 1912, The Auckland General Labourers Union, a Federation affiliate, lost their long battle with the Auckland employers' union, later that year the Federation lost another decisive battle in Waihi at the gold mine. Fred Evans a striking stationary engine driver was murdered by police and scabs as they broke into the union hall, they then violently drove the rest of the striking men out of town, ending the 6 month strike. After these crucial losses the debates from the left and right had to be settled. A Unity Conference was held with 32 affiliates of the Federation, 40 other unions, and 2 Trades and Labour Councils. The United Labour Party, the Socialist Party and the Wobblies were invited, ULP and SP did send delegates but Wobblies did not. The Unity Conferences were successful, the United Federation of Labour (UFL) and the Social Democratic Party were founded. Both organisations were dominated by DeLeonites of the old Federation and Socialist Party.

Timeline of the 1913 strike
The Red Feds did not plan or execute the strikes of 1913, but they did lay the groundwork and played an important guiding role. In fact the red fed leaders were not looking for a big confrontation yet – the timing of the strike was favourable to the bosses, both seasonally and strategically - it was spring, a quiet time on the docks and coal mines, and also a quiet time on the farms, which meant farmers could be persuaded to leave their farms and go to the city to smash the skulls of striking workers. Strategically, neither the UFL nor the SDP had yet built enough strength for a major confrontation. With the benefit of hindsight and some wishful thinking, my personal opinion is that had the confrontation happened a few years later after inspiration of the Russian Revolution and after the senseless imperialist slaughter of WWI, it could have resulted in a successful socialist revolution in Aotearoa.

The great strike started with two unrelated disputes in Huntly and Wellington.

In Huntly the Taupiri Coal company sacked 16 Red Fed workers, three of whom had just been elected to the union executive. The union struck for their reinstatement and requested the UFL take control of the dispute.

In Wellington shipwrights were in dispute over traveling time and their right to join with the wharfies' union. The wharfies had a stop work meeting to discuss the shipwrights and refer the situation to the UFL, when they returned to work they found that their jobs had been given to other men. 1500 watersiders struck with the demand that their men be reinstated.

The employers had wanted to split the watersiders from the UFL and force them to register under the Arbitration Act. The watersiders handed the dispute over to the UFL. In Auckland 28 October, the watersiders handling coal stopped work to support the Huntly miners, next day all the watersiders stopped. Watersiders and coal miners around the country struck in support.

Attempts by the UFL to defuse the situation were knocked back by the employers. The employers federations wanted to crush the UFL, and the new Reform Party Prime Minister Massey was keen to help.

He aimed to bust open the wharves with a combination of violence and scab labour. A police union had briefly been active recently and Massey doubted their loyalty. He called up the volunteer special constables and also heavily armed troops, and had gunboats stationed off Auckland and wellington. The specials which became known as Massey's Cossacks, and were mostly drawn from the country side. Mostly on horseback, their purpose was to terrorise and brutalise the striking workers.

There were pitched battles on the streets and wharves of Wellington between striking workers and the Cossacks, at one point troops with bayonets and machine guns took the waterfront. Thousands more specials arrived in Wellington, The Royal New Zealand Artillery took Buckle Street and stationed heavy machine guns at each end. The Sydney Herald reported “A sort of modified civil war” in Wellington. The armies of the rich were showing the workers where they stood.

On the 5th of November the Cossacks and police used force and violence to open the wharves and bring in scab labour. Harry Holland, Peter Fraser, Bob Semple and Tom Young of the UFL and Tom Barker of the Wobblies were arrested for sedition. The strike in Wellington was losing.

In Auckland the Cossacks were recruited and organized by the Farmers Union - patriotism, religion, contempt for workers and dairy products rotting on the wharves were all used to motivate the farmers of the Waikato.

The Farmers Union did not just provide these fascist troops, they also used their power to ensure that no negotiations or agreement would be made without their say so, a resolution wasn’t what they wanted, they also wanted the UFL to be crushed!

The wharves of Auckland were forced opened by the Cossacks and police on November 8th.

Straight away the IWW who had always been stronger in Auckland successfully pushed for a general strike throughout the city. Between 6,000 and 10,000 workers struck. Red Fed unions and arbitration unions took part. Next the Wobblies appealed to the rest of the country to


The UFL also called for a 1-day general strike throughout the country. The calls for a nationwide general strike got a mixed reception, the Wobblies didn’t have the same influence outside of Auckland. Auckland's general strike lasted 2 weeks and the last of the striking wharfies went back to work in January 1914.

So, The Great Strike of 1913 and the Red Feds had been crushed. Workers were forced to accept arbitration unions. The employers backed by Massey and his Cossack thugs had won. But even after this defeat, the process of organizing and fighting class war had produced a new unity among the workers, who were now much more class conscious than before. The workers knew they were working class and they knew who their class enemies were.

Nobody who opposed the strike remained a labour leader, in some unions no-one who opposed the strike could get work in the industry. Federated Seamen's Union had a stamp on their card saying “LOYAL MEMBER 1913 STRIKE” If you did not have that stamp, good luck trying to get work.

Masseys Government had brought in the Labour Disputes Investigation Act which destroyed the Red Fed tactic of unions leaving the arbitration system. New tactics were needed, and so arbitration unions were taken over by Red Feds with massive support from the rank and file. And by 1914 all union leaders were self declared socialists.

During the strike it had been shown that an arbitration union could with sufficient solidarity and bargaining power completely disregard the legal system, after the strike the rank and file had acquired the unity and discipline to act without their union officers. The Red Feds had not succeeded in breaking the chains of the Arbitration Court, but they had learned to wriggle out of them.

The Department of Labour wanted all arbitration unions who struck to be prosecuted, but Masseys Goverment and the Arbitration Court did nothing. They were afraid of the consequences. The UFL itself faded away over the next 2 years, eventually the Alliance of Labour succeeded it followed by the Federation of Labour.

Until 1950s the membership card of the NZ Labour Party was a real socialist party and listed their one essential aim as “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.

The SDP which had been formed at the Unity Conference, became the New Zealand Labour Party in 1916, and immediately started to poll respectably, In 1935 the Labour Party was elected to government with former Red Feds at the helm.

-Eoin, SA

Parallels with Dublin lockout Dublin experienced a similar but more protracted and brutal industrial dispute. Employers feared the growth of industrial unionism and were willing to kill workers and sacrifice months of profit for the goal of eliminating the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. The motivation and attitude of the bosses in Dublin was very similar to the employers federation in NZ.