Questions for Richard Wagstaff

by Don Franks

A tough strike and lockout struggle against their employer won Kawerau pulp and paper workers an increase to the company’s initial offer. In a welcome resurgence of working class solidarity, embattled Kawerau unionists were assisted by financial support from other workers. 

Instead of building on this positive development to go forward, the New Zealand Council of Trade unions wilfully misrepresented it as a victory for nationalism. NZCTU President Richard Wagstaff’s press release argued:

“At issue in this dispute has been whether foreign companies making hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profit should be able to lump the cost of rising inflation on their workers by asking them to take an effective pay cut. That approach has failed in this dispute.

“The fact the company has had to back down in the face of a united workforce, solidarity from the wider union movement and outcry from the public is a win for working people and sends a strong message to foreign companies who attempt to bully their workforce – Kiwis won’t stand for it.” 

The NZCTU leader’s stance suggests that it is not capitalism that is the problem but foreigners. Richard Wagstaff might feel more at home working as a functionary for New Zealand First.

Unionists whose fees pay Richard Wagstaff’s salary might want to ask him a few questions.

What difference does it make if workers are exploited by foreign or local companies? Is it solely “foreign companies” who attempt to bully their workforces? Was it “Kiwis” across the board who would not stand to see  Kawerau workers bullied? Is it acceptable for local companies making hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profit to lump the cost of rising inflation on their workers?


  1. It would be interesting to know how many working class people would know who Mr Wagstaff is or what he represents. As a lifelong politics participant; the formation of the NZCTU seems a significant class error of the late 20th century. As a site delegate and union exec member at the time I was a fence sitter–it felt wrong, but sounded good, uniting the private and public sector unions. A union organiser mate of mine was always against on the basis of “unity at all costs…costs the working class”.

    And so it has turned out.

    Which is exactly why we need a reconstituted class left, fighting, central labour organisation in this country.

    Workers locked out for 6 weeks, on strike, picketing, battling Uber in court, show that class struggle is a happening thing and we need to assist the new gens to fight and win.

    • Someone at this newsletter (or perhaps the lads at the N.C.P.A or W.I.S.S.E) should write up an obituary and commentary on the recently departed S.U.P. and N.Z.C.T.U leader: the late Ken Douglas.

      “Red Ken” must have been the only M.L. leading an entire national trade union movement, anywhere in the West (including both Moscow and Beijing “liners”).

      One can only imagine what would have happened if he’d called a general strike to confront Roger Douglas, when the mass rallies were erupting, and union membership was still compulsory. Could the country have remained as an industrialised nation, full of manufacturing jobs on closed-shop award rates?

      Given the place now resembles one giant Rust Belt of low wages and utter hopelessness, it’s a long, long way back now.

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