This dispute is rapidly coming to a head. It was reported yesterday (January 9) that Ports of Auckland is set to proceed with a proposal to contract out its labour force. A counter offer tabled on January 6 by the Maritime Union (MUNZ) was rejected by Ports of Auckland, with chief executive Tony Gibson claiming that the union’s proposal “failed to deliver the rapid improvements needed in work practices and productivity”.
Gibson’s continual demands for “flexibility” heralds the reimposition of casualisation on the waterfront, a rotten inhuman condition that past generations of watersiders fought to remove. In plain language, the employers are seeking this: that workers will turn up on site as and when required with no guarantee of paid employment.
Gibson said he expected the majority of affected employees to continue working at the port though most likely employed by a contractor if the proposed changes go ahead. With the port having recently lost Maersk shipping and Fonterra Cooperative Group to Port of Tauranga, Gibson says the situation has changed dramatically and Auckland is making plans for redundancies.
The Port of Tauranga features company unions, inferior wages and conditions and an ugly industrial accident record. In the last 15 months, industrial accidents killed three Port of Tauranga workers. This is the future face of Auckland docks if the wharfies lose this battle.
The Ports dispute is rapidly becoming a stark challenge to the rest of the working class. As noted previously on this blog, the wharfies have long set the bench-mark for many of our conditions and a defeat for them would be a defeat for all of us and a victory for them a victory for us all. (See here.)
Past struggles have shown that one small section, however militant, can be defeated if they fight alone. The government destruction of the Boilermakers Union in the 1970s is just one such example.
Today the wharfies are with their lawyers, seeking a legal solution. I wish them well in this, but past history does not offer much hope down that avenue. I cannot recall a major dispute ever being won for workers by their lawyers.
The only proven firm ground for workers to fight and win on is the tactic of solidarity action.
Will what remains of the union movement realize their class duty and provide the wharfies the active support they deserve and need?