Locked out mill workers deserve more support

by Don Franks

Not content with imposing a lockout during a wages dispute, Kawerau paper mill bosses are now demanding over half a million dollars from their workers and their union.

Company lawyer John France’s specious justification is that a strike held on July 27 this year had been notified to start at 12.15pm that day, but instead began an hour earlier at 11.15am.

“Therefore, the strike is unlawful because it commenced before the date and time specified in the strike notice.”

France claimed that the strike and breach of contract had caused financial loss of at least $542,852.

The Kawerau Mill – where workers have been locked out since August 9

The company, Asaleo Care New Zealand,  was now seeking “penalties from each and every second respondent … arising out of the…breaches of their terms and conditions of employment”. The Pulp and Paper Union is the first respondent. More than sixty factory workers make up the second respondents.

Union secretary Tane Phillips said the union would be defending the lodging “vigorously”.

For political and economic reasons, other workers must not stand back and leave Tane Phillips and his union members to fight this injustice alone.

Politically, the shitty bosses’ tactic of seeking damages from striking workers is a dangerous threat. It should be throttled before the practice becomes routine. Seeking damages is a blatant act of intimidation aimed at preventing future industrial action. The legal action should be fought outside the courtroom by means of supportive strikes. Courtrooms are employers’ natural habitats, there, they are more likely to win.

Economically, the outcome of this dispute will affect every worker in New Zealand. The paper mill lockout was imposed by the company after bosses refused the union’s claim for a pay rise equal to the rate of inflation. Annual inflation is 7.3 percent, meaning anything achieved in wage negotiations is a pay cut. A win for the paper workers here would raise the bar for all workers.

The appropriate response to the lockout and demand for damages is a meeting of all unions passing a resolution of industrial action in defence of the besieged paper workers.

If the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions was doing its job properly, they would have already convened such a meeting.

4 comments

  1. Yes Don. A fighting, class left central labour organisation would have called for solidarity support action and for financial assistance by now.

    Pulp and Paper Workers members have been very generous in the past with financial support and solidarity for other working class struggles. In 1988 at the “Nissan Way” car industry strike in South Auckland they put in well over $10,000 which was a lot back then, and helped sustain families and keep the action going till the successful end.

    • That was a very impressive solidarity action in 1988. It was the year before that Labour introduced legislation that allowed employers to impose damages against unions and even individual workers for taking strike action.

  2. The NZCTU has today – August 31st – emailed a call for donations, it will require more than that to win this struggle I think. Since the failure of unions to strike against the Employment Contracts act and the dissolusion of the Trades Councils working class solidarity has waned. It may need to be rebuilt outside the present existing union structure.

    • Oh well, at least a call has been made I guess. Heh, Scandinavian social democracy is the holy grail for some, yet look at this particular company shafting NZ workers.

      It is the old story, try and re focus the NZCTU onto a class struggle path, or take alternative action? No one says it is easy, but as long as there is capitalism, finance capital and labour, there will be class conflict.

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