Archive for the ‘Unions – general’ Category

( Third of a series, see also Unions need “much larger systemic change” and Three suggestions for the NZ Council of Trade Unions)

by Don Franks

A recent union survey found workers’ incomes falling behind the cost of living and workloads increasing. What might we do about this?

CTU President Richard Wagstaff concluded: “Last year’s employment law changes will have made a small difference to working people, but we need much larger systemic change to fix this problem. This needs to be a top priority for Government in 2019.”

Workers’ welfare isn’t Labour’s priority.

The government’s first year saw New Zealand billionaires rise to a record of 13 and 683,500 people below the poverty line; Labour’s budget remained capitalist business as usual.

Low-paid toilers’ fortunes keep falling, along with the relevance of the labour movement.

To avoid sinking further workers need to take stock of how we got down where we are and how we might rise.

In 1985 union membership reached an historic high, with half the workforce unionised. Over the 10 years that followed, total union membership fell by 320,000. March 2015 saw 137 registered unions in New Zealand with a total of 359,782 members.

Union activity has declined along with union density. Back in 1988, the number of days of work lost to industrial activity was 81,710. By 2014 this was down to just 1448. 

There have been bright spots. Last year workers’ struggles delivered some union resurgence. The Public Service Association union reached a 30-year membership high in 2018 after a year of large, drawn-out industrial disputes. The year also saw mass strikes of teachers and nurses. Both groups of workers shared similar interests, but they fought separately. In each case there was rank-and-file grumbling at the settlement’s quality. A campaign of the two unions together would most likely have won greater gains.

A united campaign of the whole union movement for better pay and working conditions would have had even better prospects and attracted attention from un-unionised employees. At present, united anti-establishment action is not core union culture.

Nurses

Nurses stood strong, but union head office has counselled giving up. Pic: Matthew Tso/Stuff

Unionists today have a choice. We can continue the familiar path of overall decline, appealing to the authorities from a weak position. Taking the inevitable consequences: lower real wages, less job security, fewer rights at our workplaces. Less fun out of life for us and our kids.

We can alternatively reorganise to  (more…)

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by Don Franks

It’s summer time, but the living’s not easy.

A New Zealand Council of trade unions cost of living and income survey done last week uncovered distress. Of the 1195 respondents, 70% reported their incomes weren’t keeping up with the cost of living. 

Increased workloads were reported by 55% of respondents. 

CTU President Richard Wagstaff said: “We’ve known for a long time that work in New Zealand and our employment law aren’t up to scratch but on every single metric we surveyed on we’ve found that many more people think it’s getting worse than better.  While Kiwis’ low incomes and their high cost of living are standout issues, people are also reporting concerning levels of workload increase, loss of work/life balance and low job satisfaction”.

He concluded: “Last year’s employment law changes will have made a small difference to working people, but we need much larger systemic change to fix this problem. This needs to be a top priority for Government in 2019.” 

It’s time unions got real. This Government is not about making much large systematic change in favour of workers. Grant Robertson’s first budget made this clearly evident. (more…)

by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

Belisario Betancur, the ex-president of Colombia (1982-1986) died in his bed on the 7th of December, 2018.  He corpse hadn’t even time to go cold before he received and avalanche of eulogies from politician, ns and the press.  El Espectador gave over various pages to him and the magazine Semana did likewise.  They are all in agreement, the man of peace has died, but unlike Salvador Allende, the real Man of Peace in Benedetti’s poem, he did not die under fire from the bullets, warplanes and tanks of the Empire, but rather he died in peace and will be buried in the midst of a wave of praise.

The eulogies from the press are not surprising.  Betancur was, after all, one of them and social etiquette is to speak well of the dead, especially if he happens to be a president of the country.  You only have to look at all the liberals praising the recently deceased president of the USA, George H.W. Bush, the man who brought new vigour to conventional warfare and also to the death squads in Central America.  Death pardons everything.  It would seem scientists can discuss whether we are born with a blank slate, but without a doubt the press and the powerful give a kind of blank slate to some when they die.  It is hardly surprising.  But, what has the reformist left in Colombia to say for itself?

Reformist view

There are two tweets that embody a certain vision of Betancur and the issue of (more…)

The increasingly parasitical nature of capitalism today is reflected today in a number of ways.  One is the artificial nature of share ‘values’ and how workers’ jobs, pay and conitions are affected by this.  Below is a piece dealing with the latest round of massive layoffs by GM in the United States and how these layoffs reflect the increasingly parasitical forms of capital/ism today.  It is the editorial from the latest set of fortnightly workplace bulletins produced by The Spark, a US Marxist workers’ current.

General Motors is closing down five plants and laying off 14,500 workers.

That announcement – shocking because it comes in the midst of so-called “good times” – was justified by one lie after another.

No one wants cars, says GM. Not true. In 2018, six million cars will be sold. The problem isn’t car sales. The problem for GM and the other two “American” companies is that cars produce less profit than do trucks and SUV’s. GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler have now decided to hand over the car market – except for the biggest, most profitable luxury models – to Japanese companies.

Remember, the three companies did this once before, when they ceded the market for small cars to Japanese and German automakers.

Ford, GM and FCA are now throwing away the whole car market. They don’t give dealers many choices, and they push consumers to “step up” to an SUV or even a truck – all the while counting out more profit.

GM expects these job cuts to provide it with 4.5 billion dollars (US) more profit by the end of 2020.  But, says GM, the auto industry is changing rapidly, and GM needs to accumulate more profit to invest in electric cars and self-driving vehicles.

Well, if that were the issue, GM already could have been investing – and many times that much. It had the money, but instead GM gave it away to Wall Street. Over the last three and a half years, GM bought back stock to the tune of 10.6 billion US dollars, and put in motion plans to buy back almost four billion more – 14.5 billion US dollars.

Stock buy-backs do nothing but (more…)

by Don Franks

protest

Concessions by Labour to its coalition partner New Zealand First have further reduced workers’ rights on the job. Legislation will be in the form of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, now a formality to become law. 

The two recent concessions to the bosses, via NZ First, concerned union access to the workplace and the multi-employer collective agreement, or Meca.

Employers have a responsibility to enter into Meca bargaining but will not be compelled to settle an agreement. (more…)

by Daphna Whitmore

Today, iwi-owned company Go Bus locked out close to 100 bus drivers in Hamilton. The drivers have been in negotiations since March 2017 and want a living wage of $20.55 an hour. Many of the drivers are paid less than $18 an hour, some as low as $17.30, and are struggling. They have rejected a 1.9% pay increase offered by the company.

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 2.13.51 PM

First Union members block buses leaving the depot

The drivers belong to First Union and announced a partial strike to start 19 November. It was to be a fare strike with free rides for passengers on Go Bus in Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga and Katikati. The company have responded aggressively by locking out the union members hoping to force submission.This is the biggest lockout of First Union members since 2006 when 500 employees were locked out by the supermarket giant Progressive Enterprises.

Go Bus is owned by Tainui and Ngai Tahu iwi, and despite giving lip service to supporting a living wage their companies are hard-nosed profit-driven entities. Ngai Tahu is the wealthiest iwi and the largest corporate land-owner in the South Island. In 2017 their net worth increased by $89m to $1.36b.The second in wealth of the iwi is Waikato-Tainui which has assets of $1.22b. The lockout shows that today’s iwi are capitalist enterprises and bear little resemblance to the iwi of classical Maori society before colonisation. (more…)

Militant (and illegal) strikes by teachers and other school employees in the US won major gains earlier this year; it’s an example worth emulating. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

by Don Franks

“In 2018, we’ll be making the message loud and clear – It’s Time. Time to lead, teach and learn. This means freeing teachers to teach so every child receives the personal attention they need to learn and thrive. It means freeing principals to focus on leading and it means ensuring we have enough teachers by attracting more people to teaching, by respecting them as professionals and paying them properly.

“We currently have a growing teacher shortage crisis already showing itself in our schools, which looks set to worsen with growing student numbers and less (sic) people training to become teachers.

“Our students come to school to learn all the skills and abilities that they’ll need to grow up healthy, happy and productive in the 21st century. Our nation can afford to ensure every child receives the education they need to succeed in life, and for every educator to be trusted and resourced to make that a reality. It’s simply a matter of priorities.

“As we go through negotiations for the Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement this year, we’ll be standing together for our students and for an education system that values, attracts and retains the amazing teachers who are entrusted with the education of our children.”

So says the New Zealand Educational Institute, the union for primary school teachers.  It’s the NZEI union office lead piece on the teachers’ impending pay struggle. 

The  campaign title page carries no target figure, no specific claims argued, no bottom line. Payment is barely mentioned in passing.  NZEI’s “loud clear message” is an abstract empty slogan “Time to lead, teach and learn”.

The original claim of 16% over two years appears further down, inside the document, beside the government counter offer of 3% over three years .

The union office does not make any defence of the original offer. It says in relation to the counter offer:

“Do you think the increase offered is sufficient to address the recruitment and retention issues?”

“Do you think there is enough benefit in the current offer to accept a 3 year term?”

Reasonable negotiation or the thin end of a sell-out?

Does it matter if the NZEI choose to waffle like this? (more…)