One of the unions in New Zealand that has been noticeable for defending pay and conditions on the job and solidarising with other workers in struggle has been the firefighters. They have had some tough battles of their own, but also supported the Auckland port workers in their fight to defend jobs and conditions and, most recently, Auckland health workers. The NZPFU (New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union) is also the only union to have succeeded in getting a referendum on workers’ rights. In their case it was about defending jobs.
Firefighters gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures in order to force the government to hold a referendum in December 1995 on the question: “Should the number of professional firefighters employed full time in the New Zealand Fire Service be reduced below the number employed on 1 January 1995?”
It is interesting that larger unions have not managed to achieve this. For instance, over a decade later, Unite failed to get sufficient signatures to force a referendum on the minimum wage.
The turnout for the firefighters’ referendum was depressingly low – a mark of the widespread political apathy that resulted in no small part from how workers were smashed by the fourth Labour government and then again in the first term of the fourth National government. However, the firefighters won the referendum by a landslide, with almost 90% of those taking part voting ‘no’ – ie in support of the union’s position.
Some of our most hit-on articles have been on firefighters’ struggles. At the time it took place, their 2012 dispute briefly became the most hit-on article on Redline, which had come into existence just six months earlier. Hundreds upon hundreds of firefighters came to the blog and read our main feature article on that struggle, with many also clicking onto articles such as how capitalism works which, among other things, explains how government spending affects private profit rates.
Today, three of our twenty most-read articles have been about firefighters, while one of these articles became the most-read piece on the firefighters’ own facebook page.
Below are pieces we’ve run on the NZ firefighters and their union: