by Don Franks
Below the froth and glitz of political party parading, New Zealand workers are getting a hammering.
Last August Air New Zealand announced the impending sacking of 180 skilled engineering staff.
September saw Fletchers, the country’s largest building company, plan to lay off scores of North Island workers.
In October the 86 workers at the Shannon fellmongery were told one afternoon that the plant was to close, taking their jobs with it.
This month, NZ Post forecast sweeping postal worker reductions.
That is just some of the carnage today’s capitalism wreaks on working people and their dependents.
Wholesale job destruction is dispiriting, and so is the lack of union resistance. For some time, the prevailing union mindset has been that job losses are some sort of act of God. The bosses very are lucky that union fatalism has become so entrenched.
But surely unions can’t do anything if the whole workplace is shut down ?
Such situations are very challenging, and at first glance appear impossible. Even so, I believe with a class attitude, there is always productive action workers can take. Below is my contribution to a 2011 Workers Party discussion on fighting redundancies.
I don’t have a problem in principle with unions calling on the government to intervene on redundancies.
It’s a call that can come up from the floor of union meetings.
If I had a say at such a meeting I’d say, well, I don’t expect the bastards to do anything, and the history of both parties shows that they’re unlikely to help now. However,we’ve got nothing to lose so if you want to put it to them, it can’t hurt to try. I’d couple that with specific concrete demands related to the specific situation, to try and forestall any unwanted type of government help, such as counselling. It certainly is inadequate and a betrayal for union leaders to call on the government for help and leave it at that.
Redundancy situations show the limitations of unionism. If you accept capitalism, then the idea of redundancy as some sort of natural act of god follows quite logically.
New Zealand unions don’t have a happy history of fighting redundancy and that is not likely to improve much in todays low union density/ low struggle times.
We can only do our best and I think should try to insist on at least the following points.
* When redundancy threatens, turn on the loudest meanest biggest possible fuss and wherever possible, occupy the workplace. You may save the jobs; at the very least, you’ll get a bigger payout to shut you up.
* No cooperation with the employers when redundancy threatens. ‘Working together with the management’ in such cases can only ever be a way of easing the outflow of workers for the boss.
* Wherever possible and on the basis of conscious understanding on the job, reject bosses’ offers of ‘counselling’ for redundant workers. We don’t want them to be reconciled to their sad fate, we want redundant workers to be angry and prepared to lash out at those who are doing them harm.
* Fight for every job. That means having no truck with so called ‘natural attrition’. Ideally, if a worker goes, she or he must be replaced. ‘Natural attrition’ is really a weasel expression for shrinking job numbers.
* Voluntary redundancy is in a similar category to ‘natural attrition’. It sounds fair, but it is also another way of shrinking job numbers and thereby weakening the working class. Jobs belong to the working class.
* Every redundancy struggle is incomplete without anti-capitalist agitation. While fighting for every job we need to tell workers that capitalism can’t provide job security and we owe it to our kids to fight for workers’ rule and a planned economy under socialism.
All those points are close to the opposite of what happens in New Zealand today. That doesn’t make them wrong, or make it wrong to raise and argue for them.
See also: More job losses – but where’s the fightback?; for an alternative see Greek lessons: workers occupy factory, continue production and also Workers’ self-management the only solution: interview with factory occupation representative