Wharf boss suddenly for women’s lib?

by Daphna Whitmore

Tony Gibson, the Ports of Auckland CEO, wants more women working on the docks. Are we to believe that Gibson’s a great guy who wants to promote women’s rights? Yeah right.

Gibson’s vision is of women working in a casual capacity on a wharf where labour is contracted out. Cheap, flexible (for the boss), insecure jobs are what he has in mind.

The man who says he’s going to sack the existing wharfies and replace them with casual/contract labour is no friend of women workers.

No, Mr Gibson, women don’t need more casual, insecure, low-paid work.

We need secure, well-paid work with a real say in the hours worked. The sort of conditions that you get on a unionised worksite. Barriers to women working on the wharves can be sorted through workers’ solidarity, not by smashing existing conditions.

Mr Gibson’s concern for women is rather like that of George Bush and the US Administration’s concern for Afghan and Iraqi women’s rights.  When the boss class are at a loose end for something to weight their case they have an occasional and limited quickening of the heart in the direction of those suffering women.

There’s only one thing Gibson genuinely believes in: profit.


  1. The wharfies, in the form of the Waterside Workers Union, was demanding equal pay for women over 60 years ago, when bosses were totally outraged at any such suggestion.

    In Australia, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation, a male, hardcore blue-collar union, fought to get women jobs in the building industry, went on women’s liberation and gay liberation marches right back at the start of the 70s when it was hard to do those things. The union was led by communists.

    In NZ, women like Viv Porszolt, a Marxist, pioneered getting into the meat works, as did a lot of Socialist Action League women. Pat Starkey, a Marxist, was also one of the first women timber workers – again it was the bosses not the male workers and union she mainly had to fight.

    The experience of the SAL women – and I’m talking about dozens, not just the odd one or two women – was that the biggest obstacle to women getting into (what were then) high-paid blue-collar jobs was not unions or male workers but the bosses. Of course, back then it was simply not possible for bosses to use women as low-paid casuals in those kinds of jobs because of the nature of the job and the strength of the relevant unions.

    In Oz, a Marxist political current organised a campaign to get women into the steel works in Wollongong. Again, they found that the big obstacle was the bosses, not the male workers.

    This isn’t to pretend that there aren’t backward attitudes among male blue-collar workers, but that the backward attitudes aren’t any worse there than anywhere else and, with a strong union, those attitudes are often weaker than in many other parts of society.

    It’s always funny to see right-wingers pretending to care about women’s rights, when the right-wing fought tooth and nail against any and every advance by women. Right-wing yuppie women seem especially contemptible as they are more than happy to take personal advantage of all the advances won by long, hard struggles carried out by left-wing women (and often left-wing men too), while disparaging the left and acting as if they got where they are purely by their own effort/merit.

    Philip Ferguson

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