Stockton miner at Westport meeting where new job cuts were announced

Stockton miner at Westport meeting where new job cuts were announced

by Don Franks

Solid Energy are set to kick 137 staff and 50 contractors out of  their jobs at the Stockton coalmine near Westport.  Today the company told staff  that it planned to cut production at the opencast mine by a quarter over the next financial year in response to low international coal prices.
“We feel for the staff and their families and for the wider Westport community who will be affected by this, but by reducing activity we believe we can keep the operation viable with the continued benefits for the community,” Solid Energy chief executive Dan Clifford said.
Translation: ” A few bullshit words for the workers and continuing profits for us.”
The company will make changes to rosters and training to increase the number of employees who could carry out a range of jobs at the mine. 
Translation: “Harder work will be loaded onto the remaining workers, at a time when they’re just relieved to be in a job.”
The company proposes to stitch all this anti-worker package up tight  in the next fortnight.

What can be done?

Labour State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove said today’s job losses followed another 700 lost because of Solid Energy’s “disastrous” management.  He said SOE Minister Tony Ryall and Finance Minister Bill English were “warned repeatedly” about the problems facing Solid Energy, but took no action.
“Tony Ryall is responsible for every one of these job losses,” according to Cosgrove.

Big claims Clayton. 

Would Labour restore “every one of those job losses if elected later this year?


When it comes to redundancies, Labour MPs are good for one thing only, deflecting workers’ anger.  Oh, and using the workers’ plight to advance their own personal careers.

Faced this such well-worn political failure to assist them, workers should be able to turn to their union for something better.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union offer Stockton workers two things. 

One, an echo of Labour’s self serving words. 

Garth Elliot, EPMU union organiser for the Stockton miners, said the Government allowed Solid Energy to rack up debt and overvalue itself in the hope that they could “flog it off” as part of their asset sales programme.

Two, Elliot promised to work with Solid Energy to ensure any redundancies were made as fairly as possible.

Not to oppose or fight the redundances, but  to help facilitate them.
Time after time, wholesale job losses  take place irrespective of parliament. 
Time after time, union officials do nothing more than echo the worthless words of MPs .
Isn’t it time to get off the capitalist merry-go-round and ask some basic questions about how we could better react to redundancies?
  1. Susanne K says:

    Just when is the last straw going to be? When will redundancies like these finally be resisted? No-one expects much from the EPMU, but the willingness of workers to go along with what is being done to them is rather depressing.


  2. Don Franks says:

    It is depressing.

    I’m sure there will be a turnaround at some point.

    In a way I’m encouraged by the way all the authorities and political bullshitters and the mainstream media rush into action at each big redundancy.

    The workers get prompted to say how “gutted” they are and the counseling and crappy “job” alternatives are wheeled out quicksmart amid a general flurry of activity showing how society cares about this sad but unavoidable “natural disaster”.

    The capitalists are well aware they’re only one decent rallying cry away from a real problem at redundancy time. Our side’s consiousness is slow to catch up, but it will.

  3. John Kerr says:

    So Don, what would you do to fight thrse redundancies if you were the local EPMU organiser? Secondly, what would you do do to fight these redundancies if you were the EPMU National Secretary?

  4. Don Franks says:

    John, if I was the local EPMU organiser I would be bound by the wishes of the workers on the job within the framework of EPMU union policy.
    If I was the EPMU National Secretary I would be equally bound, with the added restriction of having a significant employment position of my own to protect.

    The significant thing here is that the vast majority of the NZ union movement is currently in the grip of ideological malaise.
    We’ve been conned into capitalist thinking. First and foremost, “our” law must be obeyed. Briefly challenged occasionally, but never broken. Redundancies here today are accepted and treated as if they are acts of god. We didn’t always think like that.

    If I was a worker on the affected site I would argue against accepting redundancies. I would call on the remaining workers to strike in our support. I would argue for workplace occupation. I would demand wider union support from other unions and workers. If such calls were taken up and acted on there is an outside chance of saving the jobs. There is also the chance of getting more compensation to shut us up.

    I accept that the chances of such tactics being taken up in the present climate are low.

    I hope I may live to see the day when they are a little higher.

  5. PhilF says:

    I think the other point is that not fighting at all simply strengthens the ideological malaise of “there is no alternative” but to go on accepting all the crap.

    And not putting forward *any* fighting perspective is even worse.


    • PhilF says:

      Here’s something a friend of mine who teaches at a community college in Chicago wrote about the Chicago teachers Strike of 2010. This was a group of workers not exactly known for taking action. It provides an alternative to simply giving up without a fight.

      The CTU Strike of 2012 By Sean Noonan

      Our fellow educators in the CTU have been under assault for years. In addition to teaching in some of the poorest neighborhood schools in the country, CTU teachers have been faced with eviscerating budget cuts, and the growth of selective enrollment and charter schools (undermining neighborhood schools). Then the state passed SB7, a law specifically designed to make it harder for CTU to strike (requiring a “yes” vote from a 75% supermajority of all members before going on strike) and requiring a mechanistic testscore driven teacher evaluation procedure.

      K12 educators throughout the country have been told that corporate “school reform” was unstoppable and that merit pay had to be accepted. Locally, commentators in the chattering classes assured the viewers and readers of mainstream media that the public would never support the CTU if they decided to strike. In response to these manifold assaults and obstacles the CTU embarked on a campaign of schoolbyschool grassroots, ranknfile organizing across Chicago, producing a strike vote where 90% of CTU members voted to strike in June, a vote that the conventional wisdom (and the leadership of our local, 1600) had predicted was impossible to win.

      Then, after continuing to negotiate over the summer, the CTU finally went out on strike September 10th. The CTU held together a powerful strike by 25,000 educators for over one week. At schools across Chicago teachers and supporters marched, chanted, sang, and made some of the most creative picket signs I’ve ever seen. Then in the afternoons, up to 30,000 people crammed the street at CPS headquarters on Clark Street and marched around the Loop bringing even more public attention to their just cause. Although by law the CTU could not strike over classroom issues the CTU was masterful in making the connections between teacher working conditions and student learning conditions. The CTU brought attention to the large class sizes CPS teachers have to deal with as well as the lack of libraries, air conditioning, counselors, and arts curriculum across the CPS system.

      Consequently, polls conducted during the strike found that over 60% of parents with kids in CPS
      supported the teachers strike. By midweek the Tribune SunTimes, WGN and some segments of
      national media were turning on Emanuel.

      Late in the week CPS came back to the table with a contract the CTU could probably live with. Then, rather than accept the contract without specific contract language or time to discuss and debate, the CTU delegates defied the conventional wisdom again and voted to stay on strike for two more days so delegates could meet with the membership and discuss the proposed contract. In insisting on a democratic and meaningful discussion about ending the strike the CTU demonstrated that it is the most genuinely ranknfile driven union of any size in the United States. The strike, pickets and street protests got results. The CTU stopped the CPS Board from imposing merit pay, and preserved the steps and lanes pay scale when the politicians and press predicted that the CTU would be compelled to accept a COLA or worse, pay increased tied to the consumer price index (CPI). The CTU also held the line healthcare costs, won at least of a modicum of recall language for teachers that have been laid off, and pushed the percentage of teacher evaluation tied to high stakes testing as low as allowed by law.

      Overall, the victory of the CTU concretely demonstrates the efficacy of an organizing model of
      social unionism, where organizing the rankandfile in order to advocate and (if necessary) fight for the interests of educators and public education. The CTU organized and led one of (if not) the most important strike in the labor movement of the United States in a generation. The CTU strike was a defensive victory that beatback some of the most vicious attacks against organized labor and the profession of public educator in the country. As the chant during the protest goes: When education is under attack: Teachers stand up and fight back!

  6. PhilF says:

    The impact that the Chicago industrial action had on members of the union is also interesting. Sean and his partner, Stephanie Farmer, did a number of interviews with rank and file members of the union and produced this:
    A research report for the Chicago Teachers Union (the caucus that runs the CTU is a mix of Solidarity(US) and ISO folks) based on interviews with rank-n-file members about the experience of the 2010 contract campaign and strike.


  7. Malcolm says:

    When the Fisher and Paykel manufacturing plant in Mosgiel closed down in 2008 there was barely a whimper from the EPMU. Andrew Little was said to be ‘scathing’ in the newspaper but there wasn’t even a token protest organised. And F&P made a $61m profit the year before.

    Don is right though. Any organised opposition to redundancies, concessions, etc., can only come from the workers themselves. We can only rely on ourselves and should expect any real resistance to be stifled and managed by union officials. As long as any effective methods are outlawed I can’t see organisers and other officials promoting breaking the law. It’s not in their interests. If you are an organiser who does want to challenge the status quo then the least you can do would be to help facilitate rank and file organisation, freely share information instead of trying to control it, and refuse to condemn workers when they do take militant action.