Good and bad from Andrew Little

Posted: January 30, 2015 by Admin in Labour Party NZ, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Poverty & Inequality, Unions - NZ, Workers' rights

by Don Franks

Labour leader Andrew Little’s recent State of the Nation speech has been slated as long on rhetoric and short on specifics.little

Yet Andrew got one fact dead right.

“The social inequality we suffer today, built up over the last 30 years or so, must be the driving force for the change we need to make”

Those last thirty years included two double-term Labour governments. It’s refreshing to see a Labour leader frankly acknowledge the party’s role in building up social inequality.

Reading further down the speech Andrew Little got specific again, offering an example of how change might be effected.

“The best changes happen when we bring workers and businesses together, so that everyone can win.

“During the time I was a union secretary, Fonterra embarked on a project to increase the productivity of their plant and machinery. They realised that for every 1% increase in plant reliability — that is, the time that the plant is operational — they could add an extra $100 million to their bottom line.

“At the EPMU, we worked alongside Fonterra to help them change the way they managed engineering maintenance to deliver better results. It wasn’t about cutting wages, or insisting on longer hours. The upshot was they gave frontline maintenance engineers more responsibility and they increased the incomes of those workers. The jobs were actually more satisfying at the end of it.

“Maintenance crews saw their pay increase substantially and they lifted plant productivity to levels even the plant manufacturers thought weren’t possible. But working together, we did it.

‘That meant Fonterra was getting world leading levels of productivity. That meant better pay-outs for farmers, better staff retention, and more security for the families of those staff.

‘Everyone came out better off.”

In almost fifty years as an active unionist I have never known of  any world leading  deal making farmers, factory bosses and workers all substantially better off, with no downside or disadvantage. It’s like the official soviet history of Stalin’s Five year plan.

Oddly, the EPMU has been keeping the details of that groundbreaking deal tightly under wraps.

Indeed, a glance back through the union’s magazine reveals Fonterra as more of an enemy and a nuisance than a benevolent partner. Especially when it comes to “security for the families of (its) staff”

For example:

23 July, 2014

Today’s announcement from Fonterra that up to 110 jobs will be cut at its Canpac facility in the Waikato shows the dangers of relying on dairy exports to China to sustain our economy, says the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

The announcement follows a downturn in business over the last five years.


26 March, 2007

Fonterra’s decision to endanger decent Kiwi jobs by shifting its coal contract to an Australian supplier shows a lack of loyalty to New Zealand and its workers says the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

The dairy giant recently decided to shift its business from Solid Energy to the Australian-owned Eastern Corporation, leaving Solid Energy with no other choice than to scale back its Ohai operations.

EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little says that even though Eastern Corporation will also be mining in Ohai the move is likely to mean the loss of decent jobs.

Around the same time, the NZ Council of Trade Unions complained:

 “In New Zealand, food prices have gone up by 6 percent in the last year. Grocery food prices are up by 9 percent. This is particularly hard on low income families as food expenditure is relatively inelastic…

Numerous responses have been suggested. In a global sense there are huge issues around trade rules, food security, aid and development, climate change, food monopolies and so forth. In a New Zealand context, there surely should be questions asked of Fonterra. After all, a special Act of Parliament ensured it could be established, it is the prime beneficiary of any trade negotiations, and is enjoying record sales. Just why is it a golden rule that all domestic sales have to be at the international price? “

(NZCTU economic bulletin 2008)

There appears to be some discrepancy in union assessments of Fonterra.

Is Fonterra really a friend to the working class, or just another corporate obstacle to the revolution?

The same could be asked about Andrew Little.

  1. Phil F says:

    Another case of Little/EPMU collaboration with bosses who wanted to maximise production (ie profits) was Pike River. Little was enthusiastic about them too, with horrendous consequences for 29 workers.

    Re the Labour governments – one of them was a three-term government. Of the last 30 years Labour and National have each been in power for 15.


  2. Chris Rigby says:

    Don I could dig up some specific details if you like? I think the example he is referring to falls between the 2007 and 2014 example you’ve found. It will apply mainly to the Trades as the DWU represents the wider Fonterra workforce.

  3. Don F says:

    Cheers Chris, I would be interested to read the fine print. I have never come across a deal such as the one described above, a deal with no union concessions which gives workers higher pay, more security, more job satisfaction and no extra hours. A deal which, presumably does not disadvantage any other related group of workers.

    Like a claimed cure for cancer – if this deal was so great why can’t all workers do likewise?

    Andrew says “The best changes happen when we bring workers and businesses together.”

    Most shop floor unionists I know believe just the opposite, the best changes happen when workers are strong enough to wrest some gain from an unwilling boss.


    • Margaret says:

      Men and women of good conscience who truly love their country will want the best for the citizens. This means sitting around a table and finding common ground. You owe no less.

      The last election in 2014 left me sick at heart knowing there was rot at the core of NZ. What have we done to deserve this? Nothing. Time for accountability, payment is due.

    • Chris Rigby says:

      Don, I’ll see what I can dig up for you this week. I know there was a booklet printed. Haven’t seen it in a while though. I think that you need to take into consideration one major factor that isn’t being mentioned by anyone. NZ’s Dairy industry is a highly profitable primary industry i.e. bigger than usual crumbs for the workers.

  4. Phil F says:

    I think there are three points about productivity deals.

    The first is that whatever the workers might get out of it, the capitalists get more. This means they actually widen the wealth gap. At the end of productivity deals, workers are *more exploited* – ie they get back in wages a smaller percentage of the total value their capacity to work has created.

    The second problem, and I think this is the worst thing about them, is that productivity deals blunt class consciousness and tie workers even more to their exploiters. They kind of become complicit in their own exploitation.

    The third thing is that they generally have the effect of increasing, or at least cementing, divisions within the class.

    I’d recommend the great Irish workers’ leader James Connolly – his stuff on unions is fairly easily accessible – and also a book by Mike Freeman called Taking Control: a handbook for trade unionists. Freeman’s book lays out the arguments around issues like productivity deals very clearly. Also, there’s an interesting interview on Redline with Irish union organiser and veteran socialist-republican Tommy McKearney:

    At the end of the day the issue is this: are we for workers’ self-emancipation, which means trade unions need to be schools of class struggle, or are we for what Rosa Luxemburg called ‘the surface modification’ of the system, which means simply trying to get a slightly better deal for workers – or some groups of workers – in the context of the continuing exploitation of workers as a class?