Archive for the ‘Lockouts’ Category

Police violence against locked-out workers sparked the formation of a workers’ militia

Constance Markievicz, founder of first republican paramilitary organisation of 1900s and a founding leader of the workers’ militia


by Philip Ferguson*

Described by Lenin as the world’s first Red Army, the Irish Citizen Army was formed by members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and other trade unionists in Dublin in August 1913.  Socialist and therefore also republican, the ICA was not, however, the first working class paramilitary organisation to be formed in Ireland in Ireland in the early 1900s.  That honour goes to Fianna Eireann, a predominantly working class youth organisation founded by Constance, Countess Markievicz who would go on to be a key figure in the workers’ militia.

The Fianna

James Larkin and James Connolly

Markievicz, a militant left-wing republican, was moved to form the Fianna in August 1909 for two reasons.

One was that, while new to Irish republicanism – she had thrown herself into it just the year before – she had already decided that any serious political movement for Irish freedom would, sooner or later, have to confront Britain in arms.  Her reading of Irish history had taught her that if you built a serious political movement, at some point the British state would confront you with its military force.  Unless you were armed and prepared to fight, your movement would end in ignominy, confusion and demoralisation.

The other reason – and this was the immediate factor in the formation of the Fianna – was the arrival of Baden-Powell in Ireland to start an Irish wing of his boy scouts movement.  Markievicz noted that his aim was to get Irish youth to support the British empire and oppose the liberation of their own country and their own class, the working class.  Her and friends such as Helena Moloney went recruiting for na Fianna in working class areas of Dublin.

Having come from the aristocracy, Markievicz knew about shooting and had a great interest in things military.  She wrote the Fianna handbook, taught the boys to drill and to shoot and, later, how to blow things up.  The Fianna were also sent out to rough up the Boy Scouts.  This ‘ruffianism’ was guided by two ideas: (more…)

Meatworkers' protest 2012. Photo: Martin de Ruyter

Meatworkers’ protest 2012. Photo: Martin de Ruyter

by Malcolm Deans

Since 7th September up to 150 New Zealand Meat Workers Union members at AFFCO’s Wairoa shed have been refusing to sign draconian new Individual Employment Agreements (IEAs) that AFFCO are making a condition of re-employment at the plant in the new season. This is the latest epsiode in a long running saga of bitter industrial conflict at AFFCO (Auckland Farmers Freezing Company) since that company was taken over by the Talley’s Group in 2010. Already, union members at three other AFFCO sheds, Rangiuru, Imlay and Manawatu, have signed these IEAs, rather than lose their employment. The NZMWU lost an Employment Court bid in June to impose an interim injunction on AFFCO arguing that the employer’s take-it-or-leave-it offer to its long term employees returning in the new season constituted an illegal lockout. Union members at these sheds made a collective decision to sign the IEAs and maintain their union membership and ability to fight the employer on the inside.

Big concessions demanded

The collective agreement between the NZMWU and AFFCO expired on 31stDecember 2013. Despite the union initiating bargaining 60 days prior to the CEA’s expiry date initial negotiations did not take place till February 2014 due to employer stalling. The union’s major claim was for a
two-year deal with a 5% increase in the first year and 2% in the second year. AFFCO demanded major concessions: a half-hour increase to the ordinary working day, slashing the minimum weekly pay from $536.18 to $400, an end to the meatworkers superannuation scheme, halving accumulated sick leave limits, and cutting shed-negotiated overtime rates by as much as 34%. For this insult they offered 0.5% in each year of the agreement.

Unsurprisingly bargaining stalled. As well as a core CEA covering all AFFCO sheds there are also (more…)

by Philip Ferguson

Many people are aware of the 1951 waterfront lockout, when the National Party government of Sid Holland brought in draconian legislation and imposed six months of strong-arm state tactics to defeat the wharfies and their allies who comprised the vanguard of the organised labour movement and wider woring class. Much less well-known, however – even though it was very much one of the precursors of 1951 – is the 1949 Auckland carpenters’ dispute in which the union was deregistered by the first Labour government as part of its sustained assault on the most progressive sections of the union movement.

The following article is based on Roy Stanley’s 1950 pamphlet Fighting Back: the true story of the 1949 Carpenters Dispute. Stanley was the national secretary of the Carpenters Union and, like a section of carpenters at the time, was a member of the Communist Party.  His consistently principled lead contrasts sharply with less committed and principled union officials.  As well as being an attack on worker militancy, the Labour and bosses’ attack on the carpenters was an attempt to crush and sideline the CPNZ in the context of the developing Cold War.  Labour’s position has always depended on attempting to destroy forces to its left.

Issues for carpenters

Ironically, Labour and the bosses’ assault on the Auckland carpenters came not in a period of recession and austerity, but at the start of the long postwar economic boom.  However, as noted above, it was also the start of the Cold War, and Labour was utterly committed to the pursuit of that war.

The assault initially took the form of an attempted (more…)

In order to have an effective trade union movement, we need to break the chains that bind any unions to Labour

In order to have an effective trade union movement, we need to break the chains that bind any unions to Labour

Since we began this site in mid-2011 we have argued that Labour is a capitalist party.  Before this site, we argued the same position in the Anti-Capitalist Alliance/Workers Party and, before that, in the original WP and revolution groups which came together to form the ACA (subsequently the new WP).

Events since 2011 have simply confirmed our view.  For instance, the Ports struggle in Auckland where Labourite mayor Len Brown certainly proved to be no friend of the workers.  Yet, almost unbelievably, the port workers union, MUNZ, one of the more radical unions at that, had donated to Brown’s election fund.  They may as well have just gone to the board of directors of the Port company and handed them over the money directly!

As we think about MayDay and workers’ struggles of the past, we need to reflect on the state of the union movement and the working class in New Zealand today.  It’s not pretty.  And a big part of that is due to unions not seeing through Labour, although many individual workers have.

The political subordination of the unions, or certainly their leaderships to Labour, was a crucial factor in the massive defeats suffered by the working class during the fourth Labour government of 1984-1990.  Because Labour suffered a massive defeat in 1990, it was left to National to finish off the job and codify the defeat of the class in the Employment Contracts Act of 1991.

Today, a campaign to disaffiliate unions from Labour could serve as an indispensable part of recreating a movement of unions of, for and by workers.  One not subordinated to any party that manages capitalism, one that stands for the political independence of the working class as a class.

See the following pieces on unions and the Labour Party:

Union movement gathers for fairness at work, Labour gathers missionaries

Ports of Auckland fight shows futility of unions giving money to Labour

Workers, unions and Labour: unravelling the myths

Labour’s legal leg-irons

And our history of the Labour Party:

Kirk's cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

Bitter enemies of the working class: Kirk’s cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

by Philip Ferguson

While pretty much everyone on the left views the fourth Labour government (1984-1990) as obviously anti-working class, illusions remain about most of the other Labour governments, especially the first and third. The Labour prime ministers of the third Labour government are often still seen in a very positive light compared with the National government that followed, led by Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon and the fourth Labour government which gave us ‘Rogernomics’. Norman Kirk, who swept into power in a massive victory in late 1972, after 12 years of conservative National government, is still viewed by Labour supporters of the time as Labour’s last “working class hero”, a nostalgia all the more poignant as Kirk died in office in 1974. Bill Rowling, who took over from Kirk, is seen as the gentlemanly politician who was overthrown in a coup by Roger Douglas’ wide boys, respectably fronted by David Lange.

Talk about Kirk usually revolves around his working class roots, how he left school at 14, how he built his own house, how he was largely self-educated, how he ended compulsory military training, provided support for ohu (rural hippy communes), stood up to the French over nuclear testing at Mururoa, and began to seriously address Maori land issues.

What is often lost is that both Kirk and Rowling were absolutely committed to the maintenance of capitalism and thus inevitably prepared to take whatever measures were necessary to protect it. Since the third Labour government coincided with the end of the long postwar boom and the onset of years of recessionary quagmire, their commitment to managing capitalism could only mean (more…)

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