by Philip Ferguson
Late yesterday afternoon dozens of members of MUNZ and the RMTU (Rail and Maritime Transport Union) protested in Lyttelton over the attacks on the Auckland wharfies and the use of Employment Court injunctions to make it illegal for workers at other ports to refuse to unload ships which had passed through Ports of Auckland. The picket coincided with the Employment Court in Christchurch hearing an application from the Lyttelton Port Company for an injunction to prevent port workers here from boycotting the ship Lisa Schulte. The ship stayed out at the harbour heads while the court case was being heard.
Lyttelton Port Company head Peter Davie had claimed in a media release earlier yesterday, “We have a good relationship with our people. Over the past eighteen months we have all worked together under trying circumstances to give service to our customers and secure our future at the Port. This is a dispute that originates in Auckland and my hope is that we continue to have good relationships with our people.” In the next sentence, he declared, “Today at 4:30pm we are seeking an interim injunction from the Employment Court.” So, the “good relationship” certainly didn’t prevent Davie going for an injunction which would mean that those of his employees who stood in solidarity with Ports of Auckland workers by refusing to touch the Lisa Schulte faced arrest, fines, confiscation of assets and imprisonment!
The MUNZ and RMT members just taking part in the protest picket were told to get off the waterside or face arrest.
In the evening about 30 people, including union organisers from the EPMU and PSA, turned up for a community support protest in solidarity with the Lyttelton workers. We went down to one of the wharves where several security men who are union members came out and thanked us for the display of solidarity, offered us refreshments and use of the toilet but not access to the wharf. We marched down onto another area by the harbour which RMT and MUNZ members had been forced to leave hours earlier and around Norwich Quay and London Street. Libbi Carr, secretary of the Lyttelton branch of the RMT, thanked us for coming and said that RMT members had no option but to obey the injunction. While the consequences of ignoring the injunction are certainly considerable and can’t be treated lightly, the problem is that the employers have unions and workers bound up in state machinery that essentially prevents us taking any sort of effective action to defend jobs and conditions. Moreover, it is also illegal for workers to engage in secondary or solidarity industrial action. That legal leg-iron comes courtesy of the last Labour government, which created the Employment Relations Act, which punishes solidarity strikes with fines and imprisonment. Unless unions, at some point, are prepared to defy National and Labour and their anti-union laws and courts, the union movement may just as well wind up and become some sort of charitable movement.
This afternoon there is a joint RMT and MUNZ stopwork meeting, which is open to all supporters of the port workers. We’ll get up a report of this meeting as soon as we can, but we’re not holding our breath that effective action will come out of it. What this dispute is increasingly showing is how unions and workers are crippled by a combination of respect for industrial laws weighted against them and for the anti-worker Labour Party. Until unions break entirely with Labour and with the legal leg-irons both National and Labour have imposed on us, we’re on a never-ending downward spiral.