Archive for the ‘Workers history’ Category

by Don Franks

The Vietnam war continued.  Muldoon was yet to dominate New Zealand’s parliament, there was no internet and the Waitangi Tribunal did not exist.

 1974 was a different world.

My main memory of ‘74 was being elected to represent my workmates on the Wellington Trades Council.  Getting elected wasn’t very difficult.  Although it was a time of active unionism, few workers liked attending evening meetings, the leftist car plant union was happy for me to be a council delegate.

The Wellington Trades Council was the local assembly for affiliates of the nation-wide Federation of Labour.  Forerunner of today’s Council of Trade Unions, the FoL connected most private-sector worker’ unions.  Once a month, accredited representatives gathered for an evening meeting at the Trades Hall in Vivian Street.

The hall was – and remains – a dingy grey edifice in Wellington’s red light area.

Only a small union presence remains in the now multipurpose building.  Previously, however, Trades Hall was the union movement’s business and social centre, a place affecting thousands of workers’ lives.

Once a month at 7pm thirty to fifty delegates streamed down the passage leading to the meeting hall, running a gauntlet of hopeful paper sellers: Socialist Action, Tribune, Unity, People’s Voice.  Wellington’s marxist left was (more…)

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by Don Franks

Some things don’t change much over the years. A thousand union hours lobbying MPs is still worth less than five minutes organising on a job.

The reason for unions existing at all is to advance workers’ interests and at their own workplace is where workers are best able to do this.  I feel fortunate to have done my union apprenticeship at a time of relatively high workplace union activity.  When ordinary people routinely did extraordinary things.

For example, one such incident. The Wellington Trades Council had called an all-up support meeting of Hutt Valley workers at Randwick race course, to support
out-of-town unionists on strike. It might have been a Kinleith mill dispute, or the Mangare Bridge battle, I can’t recall. What I do recall clearly from that afternoon is seeing the mass of men and women from the Gracefield industrial area; from the oil stores, the bottling plant, the car plant and the little metal working
shops tucked away from the main road.  Together we all packed out the race course stadium

The officials made a report and there was a silence. Then a guy in the crowd stood up and doffed his grubby beanie. “I reckon those guys on strike are gonna need  some money. I’m gonna  put a dollar in this little purple hat and pass it along for the rest of yous to put in too.”

The hat bobbed along the rows, making its swelling way to the men at the microphone.  Whether that guy who set the tone of the meeting got his (more…)

( 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…)

Pic: Der Spiegel

Today, January 15, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the murder of one of the finest revolutionaries of all, Rosa Luxemburg.  She and fellow revolutionary workers’ leader Karl Liebknecht were executed at the behest of German Labourite heads.

On Redline, we have a range of articles about – and some material by! – Rosa Luxemburg.

Rosa Luxemburg’s political legacy

Rosa’s last article

Rosa Luxemburg on Marxism, class struggle an the fight for women’s right to vote

Rosa Luxemburg in the 21st century

Thousands turn out for Luxemburg and Liebknecht commemoration

Rosa Remixed Up: 100 years after The Accumulation of Capital

Erin Polaczuk and Rosa Luxemburg

For a range of Rosa’s work, check out the Rosa Luxemburg library on the Marxist Internet Archive, here.

Pic: NDTV

by The Spark

As the US government shutdown enters its third week, almost a million workers have been sent home or are working without a paycheck. “Essential employees” – about 420,000 – are working without pay. Another 380,000 have been placed on unpaid leave. Millions more may be impacted as “business as usual” grinds to a halt in sectors touched by the shutdown.

The Congress, on a long weekend break, continues to be paid. In fact, top government officials will be given a ten thousand dollar a year raise in pay, which was not automatically frozen. This on top of six figure salaries and matching perks: limos, expense accounts, etc.

The president is, as usual, (more…)

by Don Franks

Fellow workers may have a similar email from Richard Wagstaff, President NZ Council of Trade Unions:

 “Don – I just wanted to wish you a happy and rewarding New Year and to say thank you for being part of the CTU’s online campaigning arm… we want to hear your thoughts about what the year ahead means for you, for your pay-packet and how you’ll get by. 

“Don, together we can make 2019 a great year for working people. Let’s start by making it clear what we need to do to get there”. ( Then follow some questions; has my income and quality of working life has gone up or down, do I think workers conditions look better or worse in Australia?)  

And then “What other comments do you have about cost of living and incomes in New Zealand?”

Here are my comments.

Richard, thanks for the email. Just before we get into New Year, some workers are still reeling after Christmas. Not from over indulgence, from hunger.  (more…)

What follows are two editorials from weekly workplace bulletins of the revolutionary working class organization Lutte Ouvière in France. 

The “yellow vests” worn by protesters are hazard vests required for all drivers in France. They have become the symbol of the economic distress of the protesters. A new fuel tax planned for January sparked the protest. Gasoline in France costs roughly $NZ 9.60 a gallon and with the new tax, prices at the pump would go up!

In France, workers get only one paycheck a month. The rising cost of living has eaten into wages and retirement benefits. Halfway through the month, many lack money for food and skip meals. The gas tax increase was the last straw in a worsening situation.

The editorials have been translated into English by the US Marxist group Spark.


After the November 17 Protests: Let’s Fight for Higher Wages, Pensions and Social Benefits!

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 2,000 rallies across France. The November 17 protests were a success despite the tragic death of a demonstrator in Savoie (a region in the Alps) and the injuries caused to some at different roadblocks. In some places the protests continued the next day and the following days as well.

For many demonstrators, these protests were their first experience of collective action. The rallies were organized at grassroots level and not by unions or political parties, as is usually the case. The politicians who pointed out the absence of clearly “identified organizers” were actually lamenting the fact that they had no-one to negotiate with to put an end to the movement! For the workers, the problem is different: it’s about getting involved in the struggle and organizing it according to (more…)