Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Afghanistan: the Mission is the Atrocity

[Iraq war veteran Phil Aliff wrote this for the U.S. socialist website Socialist Worker earlier in the week. As the current round of NZ SAS meddling in the region draws to a close, it is of particular relevance here. We also recommend the SW articles “A warthat guarantees atrocities” and Helen Redmond's “An accepted part of the occupation”]

THE LAST few weeks have been catastrophic for the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan.
Days of violent protests against the U.S. military followed the burning of Korans at a military base in late February, leaving scores dead and injured. Then, 38-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales left his outpost before dawn on March 11 and murdered 17 Afghan civilians.

The news of this tragedy evoked memories of incidents such as the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and raised new questions for Americans about whether the war in Afghanistan can really still be called "the good war."

The atrocities committed by Bales in Kandahar province, the historic home of the Afghan Taliban, cost the lives of four men, four women, two boys and seven girls in two villages.
Since the massacre, the U.S. military has struggled to contain what it considers a "public relations" nightmare by focusing the blame on this individual soldier who suddenly "snapped"--as if the problem of overstressed soldiers is limited to a "few bad apples." This is the military's common refrain in previous instances in which soldiers have committed atrocities as part of the "war on terror."

But this is merely a smokescreen used to avoid addressing the fundamental questions that such atrocities raise about the role of the U.S. around the world, as well as the pattern of utter disregard for people touched by these conflicts--whether Afghan or American--that U.S. officials have repeatedly demonstrated.

In order for the occupation to be carried out, dehumanizing Afghans is a necessity of U.S. military strategy. Islamophobia and disregard for the Koran are mainstays of military life. This is exacerbated by the fact that occupation inevitably breeds resistance, which explains why the U.S. easily toppled the Afghanistan's Taliban government more than 10 years ago, but now faces the prospect of humiliation in the longest war in U.S. history.

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IN THE first chapter of The Forging of the American Empire, author Sidney Lens explains that the idea that the U.S. is a benevolent superpower is based on the "myth of morality":

America the benevolent, however, does not exist and never has existed. The United States has pilfered large territories from helpless or near-helpless peoples; it has forced its will on scores of nations, against their wishes and against their interests; it has violated hundreds of treaties and understandings; it has committed war crimes as shocking as most; it has wielded a military stick and a dollar carrot to forge an imperialist empire such as man has never known before.

This has never been clearer than now. The war in Afghanistan has cost thousands of lives and destabilized Central Asia. Yet U.S. officials trumpet the military occupation of a country half a world away as a mission in the service of human rights, democracy, the liberation of Afghan women and the protection of Americans from terrorism--all while creating conditions that lead to tragedies like the recent massacre.

U.S. officials celebrate their "close collaboration" with "our allies in Afghanistan"--while subjecting Afghans to drone attacks, violent night raids, increased poverty and dehumanizing interactions with NATO occupation forces. It's the white man's burden all over again--bringing civilization through barbarism, destroying the village in order to save it.

This is bound to generate a growing fury, and yet the U.S. military can't seem to understand why Afghan soldiers and police might vent their resentments on their "benevolent masters."
It is this clash--between the official rhetoric about Afghan allies on the one hand and the reality of despair and anger among actual Afghans on the other--that creates the strain on U.S. soldiers, a constant anxiety that any Afghan man, woman or child might be the enemy. And if anyone and everyone is a potential enemy, then anyone and everyone is also a potential target.

As the call for war intensified in the days after September 11, the U.S. looked to Afghanistan as the first step in a grand military campaign to reshape the Middle East and Central Asia.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was motivated by far more than just revenge. It was meant to secure one of the world's key oil pipeline corridors and demonstrate U.S. power in a region close to China and Russia, the two most powerful competitors to U.S. imperialism.

In order to maintain the occupation, the U.S. has relied on President Hamid Karzai, who is now known as the "Mayor of Kabul" because of the inability of the central government to exercise any significant control over Afghan territory beyond the nation's capital.

Karzai, who was one of the mujahedeen's chief fundraisers during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and a CIA contact, has done nothing to increase social and economic mobility for Afghans. Instead, he has absorbed warlords with a long list of human rights abuses into his government and overseen one of the most corrupt countries in the world--all with U.S. backing.

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THE SITUATION is bleak for most Afghans--particularly women--caught in the vise of a decade-long war with no clear end in sight. According to a 2010 UN study on poverty in Afghanistan, 36 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty, while another 37 percent lives just above the poverty line. This is despite an estimated $35 billion in aid that flooded the country between 2002 and 2009.
According to a Thomson Reuters poll in 2010, Afghanistan is ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for women. This is despite the justification that the U.S. is occupying Afghanistan in order to liberate women. According to an Afghan government report, 2,300 women attempt to kill themselves each year, mainly due to factors such as poverty and domestic violence.

Indiscriminate air strikes are another characteristic of the increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan. The use of drone aircraft and airstrikes has increased dramatically under the Obama administration and routinely affects women and children, such as the bombing of civilians in May 2009, which killed up to 120 people in the province of Farah.

The last decade of warfare has not only produced a horrific situation for the people of Afghanistan, but also for U.S. service members who are facing a mental health epidemic.

According to a Pentagon study, the number of service members hospitalized for suicidal thoughts increased by 7,000 percent between 2006 and 2011. The number of soldiers diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rose six-fold between 2003 and 2008.

Despite the statistics, many soldiers are repeatedly deployed with mental health issues, increasing the likelihood of tragedies such as the massacre in Kandahar province. The blame for the mental health epidemic in the military also cannot be attributed to a "few bad apples"--unless, of course, those bad apples are sitting in the Pentagon.

The Army systematically ignored the health of Sgt. Bales, who was on his fourth deployment. Bales clearly needed care for PTSD as well as a traumatic brain injury reportedly suffered during an earlier deployment.

The idea that this is an isolated incident only deflects blame from the military leaders and the Obama administration, who have ignored this epidemic for years.

The Koran burning, pictures of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, the bombing of wedding parties and the massacre carried out by Bales are related. The dehumanization of Afghans, along with the mental health epidemic in the U.S. military, has created the conditions for these atrocities to occur.

The only way to end the ongoing commission of atrocities in Afghanistan is a complete withdrawal of all NATO forces from the region. The decade-long war has been a nightmare for Afghans and U.S. soldiers alike, costing thousands of lives and creating fundamental instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Every day the U.S. remains only exacerbates this already bad situation.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Nationalise Oceania!

Low paid aged care workers and nurses were out on strike again on 19th March. The action was at 22 out of Oceania’s 57 homes, which are run on public money for private profit. They have our full support. Their stand is an example to other workers, and shows that workers in all industries can stand up and fight back. 

Oceania pay their care givers an appalling basic rate of just $13.61, a smidgen above the minimum wage that will be $13.50 from April. Qualified nurses are paid more of course, but less than in the public sector. They only get $8.33 on top of basic when they work a weekend shift.  Oceania’s latest offer is a miserly 1.72% increase, but only from February and not backdated to last June when the last collective agreement expired. But the offer is worse than even this because Oceania want to cut overtime rates.

As paymasters the government are partners in this crime. Oceania got a 2.6% increase in their public funding last June but refuse to pass it on to staff pay. In a labour-intensive service industry John Key is effectively capping pay to below inflation levels.

What should be done? For starters the union movement should raise a storm of protest and not leave the Oceania unions SWFU and NZNO to battle on alone. The SWFU and NZNO strikes are an inspiration, and have drawn others into the  union and into struggle. Two SFWU delegates from Oceana spoke to a Unions Wellington meeting last Friday and talked of the determination of union members on the picket lines. But the care givers left to fight by themselves have little industrial power, and illegal solidarity strike action by workers in sectors with greater power is unrealistic. However, the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and all unions could back the strikers’ public protests to the hilt by calling on members to join in. We marched with the watersiders, we can do the same in town after town with the Oceania workers and the elderly folks’ families.

It is not only the greedy Oceania owners who need to be exposed. The politicians are responsible for the elderly care service being run for profit. Quite simply Oceania and the other private outfits should be nationalised without compensation. The public already pay for the care for the elderly. Why should profit be skimmed off at the expense of poverty pay and minimal standards? Those false friends of workers, the Labour Party, could make nationalisation a manifesto policy and pledge to make elderly care the quality public service it should be. Keeping the status quo means condemning women care workers to poverty pay indefinitely, because that is what privately contracted publicly funded services are designed to do. Only as a public service could women care workers ever get the recognition they deserve for a demanding job that, let’s face it, few men have the skills to do. Unless Labour, and the Greens, take up the call for nationalisation their support for the care workers is nothing but hogwash.

There is another false friend abroad, and that is the call for New Zealand ownership. Bryan Gould wrote an otherwise excellent piece on the dispute, but lamented that Oceania was Australian-owned (New Zealand Herald, 14 March 2012).

“Like most overseas owners, Oceania have little knowledge of and even less interest in the welfare of their New Zealand workers - to say nothing of New Zealand customers and taxpayers.”

“The real goal of privatised companies is profit, not service. We cannot prevent privatised firms - despite the government's obfuscation on this issue - from falling into foreign hands. Enterprises owned overseas have little concern for the interests of their workforce. New Zealand workers are increasingly at the mercy of hard-nosed employers.”

Quite frankly this all-New Zealanders-together nationalism is nonsense. The for-profit elderly care service is a made in New Zealand construct. It operates under New Zealand made anti-union labour laws. There is no evidence at all that New Zealand employers are better to their workers than Australian; in fact it would be easy to make an argument to the contrary. But it is not a question what set of employers have better morals because all capitalists have the same immorality, to exploit and make the most profit possible. The New Zealand ruling class is as greedy as any and gets away with it more than most. The main enemy is at home. The real question Bryan Gould should be asking is how do we build a workers’ movement powerful enough to get rid of the profit system.

Pay the Oceania workers’ 3.5% claim today!

Nationalise the elderly care service and pay women a living wage tomorrow!

[Photo Credit: Service and Food Workers' Union website. Look out for details of how to support the strike action coming on Easter Thursday, 5th April]

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Justice for the Urewera Four!

The most expensive case in New Zealand history, and for what? Millions of dollars have been spent on a vindictive and farcical prosecution, at the cost of untold stress, emotional harm and upset for the people of Tuhoe. In February we called the treatment of the Urewera Four an “anti-democratic outrage”, and stand by that today. The police case continued for reasons of malice and political mischief – there were gains to be made in creating a ‘terror’ threat. Tuhoe, yet again, have borne the burden for that.

A police officer responsible for the case was quoted on National Radio this morning as saying he ‘wasn’t hung up’ on jury decisions. Well he might say this; in 2007 the police tried to make out that they had busted up an imminent terrorist threat. As the months and years went on plank after plank of their lurid War on Terror fantasy fell away. All that is left now are a gaggle of firearms charges, and even many of those were thrown out by the jury.

Commentator Morgan Godfrey gets it right:

The government and the Police owe Tuhoe an apology. Ruatoki was attacked, and I deliberately use the word attacked, as school buses were searched by armed police, kaumatua and kuia were illegally detained, men and women were man handled and mistreated all for a few firearm charges. Charges that are so remote from what the Police were alleging. It’s a sorry affair.

Hone Harawira calls the decision “justice denied”, and reminds us of vital context:

Yesterday should have been about the triumph of justice, but it wasn’t. All we got a sad and sorry end to a tragic raid into the heartland of the Tuhoe because after all the drama, the high expectation and grainy videos, yesterday the jury could only return guilty verdicts on firearms charges. That’s all we got after a four year campaign that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, divided the nation, and gave people genuine reason to fear the police.

Because today, justice is still denied to the people of Tuhoe.

Today the case may finally be over but not for the people of Tuhoe. There has been no apology, no compensation, no change in police operations and no new engagement policy initiated as a result of the litany of errors we now know as Operation 8.

Today we remember those who have passed on since 2007. Today we remember the pain and suffering brought upon the people of Tuhoe by the state … again.

Today I commit the energy and the support of the MANA Movement to standing against those who would use the Terrorism Suppression Act and the Search and Surveillance Bill to crush independent thinking, to force us to fear what we say and to hide what we do and to stop us from choosing freedom over oppression.

And today I salute Tame Iti and his comrades for their dignity, for their courage, for their passion and for their love for this land.

This trial was the latest in a long history of frame-ups and politically-motivated prosecutions aimed at damaging and disrupting the movement for Tino Rangatiratanga. Attacks in the past have never succeeded in destroying that movement. This one won’t either.

Tuhoe deserve full compensation and an apology from the government and the police for the outrages carried out in Ruatoki.

The struggle continues.

Monday, 19 March 2012

David Shearer - National-lite?

by Martin Gregory

David Shearer’s long-awaited first major speech on 15th March since becoming Labour Party leader in December signalled his taking the party in a rightwards direction. So far the new leader had been strangely lacklustre in opposition to the government and silent on Labour’s post-election policies. He had been hiding behind the fiction that he was on a mission to listen to the people before making policy. Shearer’s difficulty is that as a right-wing leader, practically foisted on the Labour Party by the bourgeois media, he has to tread carefully so as to avoid rebellion in the ranks. That bunch of careerists, the Parliamentary caucus, is not so much a problem, but Shearer needs to keep the electoral machinery of the party, the active members, on side. Hence it has taken him three months to make a speech of any note.

For last November’s election campaign Labour had a policy of making the first $5,000 of income tax-free. It was a policy that reduced income tax for everybody, but proportionally would help the low paid the most. Another election time policy was to remove GST from fresh fruit and veges; another tax cut proportionally benefitting the poorer end most. But that was then when Labour turned a little to the left. Shearer made clear that these pro-poor policies will go. He also signalled a tough line on beneficiaries, using that hackneyed rightwing mantra “rights and responsibilities”.

The most remarkable bit of the speech was an attack on “bad teachers”, code for the teaching unions.

The bourgeois press loved the speech, hailing Shearer taking Labour to the right. The Dominion Post posed the question “Will Labour be National-lite in 2014?” Incidentally, during the Labour leadership election in December the Post’s chief political writer Tracy Watkins told us that David Shearer was the candidate from central casting, now she tells us “He is not a naturally gifted politician.”

The New Zealand Herald was equally chuffed that Labour was sensibly coming to heel. Their political chief, John Armstrong, wrote:

“In the midst of one of the most bitter industrial disputes in recent history, here was the leader of the Labour Party addressing the employer clients of a Wellington lawyer in a hotel which not that long ago was home to one of the capital's more refined gentlemen's clubs. That will not go unnoticed in some quarters of the party, especially given the time Shearer took to come off the fence with regard to the protracted battle over union rights at the Ports of Auckland. But what better way to underline the message that Phil Goff's excursion into territory on Labour's left is over and the party is shifting back to the centre.”

Once again the Labour Party is showing us that it is first and foremost a capitalist party, albeit that it relies on working class votes. It is the great deceiver. 

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Striking back against casualisation: why we support the Maritime Union

[Dave Keirns gave this talk to the ISO Dunedin branch earlier in the month, and before yesterday’s injunction was reported.]

There is an industrial dispute at the Auckland Port between Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) and the port workers, who load and unload ships, represented by the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ).
The person speaking on behalf of the company is CEO Tony Gibson, who has held management positions in several overseas shipping companies, spent three years as the managing director of Maersk NZ (an international, Danish based container shipping operator, which was recently fined $31 million for overcharging) and has been POAL CEO for eleven months. He receives $750,000 per year.

The person speaking on behalf of the workers is MUNZ National President Gary Parsloe, who earns $66,000 per year. The base rate for a wharfie is $57,000.

This article will cover three aspects - A report on events to date and a comparison with the 1951 waterfront lockout.

A discussion of the stance taken by political actors (the Auckland Citiy Council, Act and National, the Maori Party and united Future, Labour, the Greens, Mana and the Alliance) and by the union movement, including the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) and rank and file union members (from a quick survey of attitudes at Hillside engineering workshop).

Strike Action on the wharf

Workers at POAL are employed through a collective agreement, negotiated on their behalf by MUNZ. Their collective agreement expired on September 30, 2011, so a few weeks prior to that, on September 6, MUNZ and POAL began negotiations to renew the collective.

Because of the 24/7 nature of the port, and the uncertainty of shipping schedules, there is a lot of flexibility already built into the collective agreement. It allows for up to 25% of the workforce to be casual employees (current level is 20%). They are not guaranteed any work, are employed shift-by-shift and their only job security is that if they are called in they are guaranteed 8 hours minimum.

The contract allows for 27% of the workforces to be employed as “P24s” - permanent workers who are guaranteed at least 24 hours per week (3 x 8 hour shifts).

The remaining 53% of the workforce are full-time permanent employees, entitled to 40 hours per week over 7 days. They are able to stipulate one preferred day off per week, otherwise they must work any day, at any time of day.

The ability of the company to employ a mix of full-time, part-time and casual staff means they can easily meet the requirements of shipping schedules.

The 2010/2011 annual report and 2011 annual review of the Port notes that container and bull cargo volumes increased despite the depressed economic circumstances and that all time best crane rates were achieved that year, up 4.1% on the previous quarter.

Interconnect, a Port magazine for customers said staff hours per container had decreased 16% since 2007.
A Ministry of Tranport investigation into container rate productivity of New Zealand ports rated Auckland as comparable or better than other international ports. Of the 6 main container ports in NZ, Auckland, Tauranga and Otago were rated as the best operations.

An existing bone of contention was that during the term of the last agreement, management contracted out driving of four container shuttles, despite the job being covered by the union members' collective agreement.
This was followed by a “consultation period”, which I have come to know through the process at my workplace as “listen and ignore”. It ticks the box for engaging in consultation but it's not real. It is entered into with a predetermined result.

Disagreement led to the union's first strike notice. This strike was not carried out, as the parties went into mediation in January. The union agreed to more roster flexibility including changes to the overtime roster, greater use of part-timers and other concessions.

Management said at the time these concessions addressed their major concerns but shortly after, didn't want to settle the agreement and came back with a list of demands that were a “final offer”.

They included the complete removal of restrictions on the balance of permanent, casual and part-time workers (ie all employees will be casual); the minimum guaranteed shift to be 3 hours not 8 hours; and random drug testing and bag and body searches (which raises human rights and equality issues – e.g. will Gibson be strip-searched for cocaine?).

Something hardened in the POAL attitude here. There stance changed from being a predictable arsehole to a position that required the union either to submit completely or to adopt a confrontational attitude.
After some partial strikes, the union called an all-out three week strike on February 24. After a week and a-half, the company declared all union workers were “redundant” and there would be no more negotiation with MUNZ.


In the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, the National government and shipping companies were able to manufacture a dispute over pay by offering a lower pay increase to wharfies than was given to most other workers at the time. Overtime was essential to the operation of the ports because then, as now, the companies consistently refused to employ enough workers to allow the work to be carried out in a 40 hour week.

When the Waterfront Workers Unions withdrew overtime, the employers locked them out.
Emergency regulations were passed. The military ran the wharves, censorship was introduced and police powers increased. It was made an offence to assist the strikers. The government was prepared to starve families and children. Wharfies had no income, no food and no help. Like now, the Labour Party leadership (under Walter Nash) was silent. When some Labour M.P.s did move, it was too late because they were banned from publicly supporting the union by the emergency regulations.

Whether more repressive regulations are introduced by the Key National Government is yet to be seen.
They may not have to because they have set the scene already, through employment law. For business owners to attack workers.

The Key government has introduced further restrictions on union access to the Clark Labour government's already restrictive employment law and plans to reduce workers' access to justice by reducing the status of the employment court.

Furthermore, the Auckland “Supercity” laws mean the the owners of POAL, the people of Auckland, need not be consulted if privatisation were planned.

It would be interesting to look at accident statistics before and after the 1951 lockout.

Who is saying what?

The Auckland City Council, led by “left” Mayor Len Brown has not come out in support of workers. The council had, in fact, before the dispute demanded a doubled return from POAL of 12%. There have been some honourable exceptions, like the left-wing councillor Cathy Casey. Councillor  Richard Northey's motion backing the wharfies was voted down.

The Labour Party is scarcely to be seen. David Shearer has kept his distance. Labour relations representative Darien Fenton (a fierce opponent of reinstating the pre-1991 right to strike) has been on the picket lines though. Labour has said National's planned employment law changes have emboldened bosses to attack wages and conditions.

National, not surprisingly, have denied having an anti-worker agenda.

Act and the Maori Party have not been involved, but are effectively lackeys of Key.

The Greens have criticised management and claimed there is an agenda to privatise the port.

Mana has taken a radical stance, challenging parties to support workers struggle and action, with MP Hone Harawira calling for mass civil disobedience.

Internationally, the International Transport Federation has come to MUNZ's support and the Maritime Union of Australia has pledged $130,000.

Rank and file workers, however, seem to have limited engagement. An informal survey of 6 workers at Hillside engineering workshop showed:

most were unclear on the issues of the dispute

all agreed it would have a wider effect on wages and conditions

all agreed MUNZ should be supported in principle,

not all agreed the industrial action was good, but only one thought there was any other option

Only two would strike in support of the Auckland workers

all would donate to a strike fund

What is a socialist perspective?

This issue forms part of a class war fought by working people who create the wealth. When you consider the setting where this takes place, and the vesated interests of the parties involved, it becomes clear to see what is behind the words of the ruling class.

If they, the owners, who represent the ruling class of capitalist society, keep wages low through casualisation and by creating competition for work make jobs insecure, they get bigger returns for shareholders, eg the Auckland council. Then it becomes attractive to private owners, and leads to a power imbalance between owners and workers, aided by employment law.

The government and business have been successful in drawing the public and workers into accepting a capitalist point of view, based on workers disengagement.

We need to raise awareness and show that the many struggles have common causes, and what those causes are.

There should be collections in every workplace and campus to get funds to the struggle. We need collections everywhere, particularly workplace collections. Every union should have printed official collection sheets by now and organised weekly collections on every work site. Anybody can start a collection anywhere. There are details of how to donate on the Save Our Port website.

Donations can keep strikes going but do not win them. Real solidarity action - sympathy strikes - are the way to win. The most powerful weapon is picketing. The bosses hate it with good reason. Picketing at the Auckland wharf and flying pickets to other ports, particularly Tauranga, is key. Rank and file workers talking to rank and file workers is the best way to win solidarity action, whether that is truck drivers turning round or sympathy strikes. That may mean breaking an unjust anti-working class law - so be it.

[MUA - here to stay! A still from "Bastard Boys", a 2007 TV dramatisation of the MUA struggle]

It was mass pickets of the wharves in Australia in 1998 – drawing in thousands of supporters of the MUA there – that stopped plans to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia. The MUA faced media demonization, allegations of ‘violence’ and all sorts of dirty tactics by the Howard government and the bosses, but stood firm, and kept and built wider community support. The British miners won in 1972 when thousands of engineering workers struck and supported the miners' mass picket. They lost in 1984-85 because there were no sympathy strikes, only massive financial support. The informal survey at Hillside shows there are obvious differences between those situations and now, but we are going to need to re-learn these lessons if we are to defend our unions.

Monday, 12 March 2012

They're right to strike

Andrew Tait

Labour's spokesperson for labour issues, Darien Fenton, has called the Ports of Auckland dispute "some of the worst industrial action we've seen in New Zealand for a decade".

That pretty much sums up the difference between those who want to manage the capitalist system, whether Labour or National, and the interests of the working class. The worst industrial action of the last decade is all the strikes that NEVER happened. The Ports of Auckland dispute is the best fight our side, the working class, has put up in decades. 

Check out this graph – it shows clearly that belonging to a union is the best way to build a fairer society. But belonging to a union means nothing if you can’t go on strike. Check out the period from the latest 1970s to the mid ’80s. This period saw the most people on strike in NZ history, but workers’ wages and conditions were better than they are now, and poverty was nowhere near as entrenched.

Strikes are good. Strikes are necessary. In one sense, they are no big deal. Workers should strike every pay negotiation just to remind the boss of the value of our work. In another sense, strikes can change the world. As Lenin said, one general strike is worth ten general elections.

 Now that the workers have been laid off, Len Brown wants to "move on" and it’s only a matter of time before Darien Fenton joins in, encouraging workers to give up on this fight and wait to vote Labour back in 2014. But check out the graph again - union density starts falling in the 1980s, under the Lange Labour Government.

"We're different now," Labour MPs like to say.

But tell that to the port workers at Wellington, Lyttleton and Timaru. They will be ordered by the court to handle scab ships because Labour's employment law - the Employment Relations Act - bans sympathy strikes. The POAL bosses have just sacked 300 workers for trying to bargain collectively.  Any supporting strikes are illegal under Labour’s own law.

What else can port workers do but keep fighting and smash an unjust law?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Save Our Port: Auckland workers strike back

Report and photos by Cory Anderson

Over 3,500 workers marched in Auckland on Saturday in support of Auckland wharf workers who have been on strike since February 24th.  Members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) from ports around the country marched alongside workers from other unions including the professional fire-fighters union, the RMTU, PSA, SFWU, NZNO, NZEI, Unite and others, as well as representatives and members of unions from overseas, including the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) from North America and the Electrical Trades Union of Australia.  Locked out meat workers from Affco also attended in an impressive show of solidarity.

Flags from around the world featured as the marchers made their way from Brittomart Station to Fergusson terminal, the site of the dispute.  The noise was tremendous as cars, busses and trains tooted in support, while the workers chanted “Whose port? Our port!”, “Tahi, rua, toru, wha; Port of Auckland has gone too far!” and “Stand up, fight back!”.

Much of the marcher’s anger was also directed at the ‘left-leaning’ Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who has refused to back the wharfies, claiming he is “powerless” to intervene in the affairs of the city-owned port.  Protestors were clearly fed up with the Mayors spineless stance, some carrying placards saying “Len Brown: scab” and “Browned-off voter supporting wharfies”.

The strike and protests are in response to the Port of Auckland’s attempt to casualise its workforce and force and replace full-time jobs with contractors.  Under a contracting model, security of hours and security of earnings for port workers would be eliminated.  Port workers currently get every third weekend off – the port wants to change this with only 24 hours notice.  Likewise, shifts could last anything from 3 to 12 hours, and could be changed at only 5 hours notice.  Workers would have to wait by the telephone, waiting to be called up – a modern version of the old-fashioned ticket scramble.

Casualisation would also weaken union solidarity by forcing workers into competition with one another, opening the way for the port company to dismantle hard-won gains in pay and conditions.  Unions internationally are worried about the threats casualisation poses to workers.  Maritime Union of Australia members marching alongside their Auckland colleagues expressed concern that if contracting was introduced into Auckland, Australian ports might follow.  MUA workers have supported Auckland wharfies by striking to stop the unloading of ships loaded by non-union labour in Auckland.  Support has also come from further abroad, with Ray Familathe, the representative of the US-based International Transport Workers Federation promising that workers in ports across the world would “look at all means of support possible”.

If workers internationally have been quick to support the Auckland wharfies, the same cannot be said for the local Labour Party.  Labour Party leader David Shearer has for the past two weeks equivocated over the issue, describing the dispute as “disappointing” – despite the fact that MUNZ is one of the few unions to remain affiliated to the Labour party.  While Shearer and other members of the Labour Party caucus did in the end attend the demonstration, the Labour Party leader was heckled by workers during a speech that drew only timid applause.  And deservedly so, for he had nothing to say about the conduct of fellow Labour Party member Len Brown!

Both Brown’s paralysis and Shearer’s equivocation share a common root.  While they might oppose asset sales and Shearer offers token support to wharfies, the Labour Party remains committed to the profitability of New Zealand capitalism and wants a fight with employers almost as little as National.  So when the port company complained it wasn’t able to deliver returns comparable to its competitors (in China, Hong Kong and Africa), Len Brown was quick to comply.  Len Brown wants POAL to pay the biggest profit he can get, so even if he does make good on his offer to mediate the dispute, the result is unlikely to be favourable to the workers unless the company is made to give in.

But there is an alternative to the mealy-mouthed speeches of politicians.  Bosses have gone on the offensive around the country, but the can be stopped by action from the workers.  Workers realised the power they had when the reached the Fergusson terminal, to find it blocked by only ten security guards.  Many just laughed.  There was a rousing cheer as the meat workers arrived on the scene, still in full voice.   By taking the fight to our workplaces and the streets, we can defend our pay, our rights and our public assets.  The demonstration in Auckland is only the start.  It must be followed by pickets and strikes at wharfs around the country to stop scab ships being unloaded and deny the Port of Auckland its income.  Already the container ship Maersk Aberdeen which was due in Nelson has turned tail and fled.  Workers have been made to pay for crisis and recession for long enough – it is time to hit the bosses where it hurts: in the pocket.

Whose Port? Our Port!

Josh O’Sullivan

“There must be over five thousand people here!” - that’s the text I got from Gerry Cotterell, a TEU member I’d arranged to meet today, and he was right. We came in our thousands to show our support for striking Maritime Union members. Firefighters, teachers, public servants, supermarket workers: the sea of banners and flags showed the union movement out in support of the wharfies. And, as well as these, there were the flags of Australian and US wharfies’ unions too, the brothers and sisters of MUNZ joining the struggle.

The size and energy of the rally were inspirational, and a sign of the potential strength of our side.

The mood was defiant and political. “Whose port? Our port!” was the most popular chant. “Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha: the Ports of Auckland has gone too far” went another chant. Ports of Auckland have picked a fight, for sure, and it’s one that links to an issue that affects all workers: casualisation.  A classic slogan was chanted today, and we can make it a reality: The workers, united, will never be defeated.

Home-made placards drew links with older struggles:

If blood be the cost of your cursed wealth then by God we have paid it fair

1951 to 2012: Support the Wharfies

Others pointed out the hypocrisy of Port bosses talking about the need for worker ‘flexibility’:

The directors get paid $14 000 per meeting: greedy bastards.


One member of Local 13 explained the way the basic issue in the conflict - the wharfies’ right to protect their conditions, and to have regular, stable work - is being confused by the company and the media:

"Tony Gibson has been making these broad brush statements with no substance what so ever, he reads a 10 page article and will quote 3 sentences out of it, all out of context. They are contracting out our workforce - and that has been the plan all along - and these companies that are getting the contracts - our work - are also owned in large part by senior staff at the Ports of Auckland. Some of the directors and major investors of these companies are on the board of the Ports of Auckland. This is so wrong and that’s why we have to fight."

All of the watersiders we spoke to made the link between casualisation in their industry and casualisation in other areas. This is a fight that can unify workers’ struggles.

“We have 1700 meatworkers locked out by Talleys and they are facing the same problems,” a MUNZ member said. “We also have the Oceania workers in the same situation.”

International Solidarity

There were union contingents from the MUA in Australia and the watersiders’ union in the United State here to show their support. In an inspiring display of solidarity, MUA members in Sydney struck today to prevent scab-loaded ships from Auckland being handled.

This international solidarity can build the struggle here, and it inspires us to keep up the fight.

Gary (MUNZ - “unionist until he dies”) told us “it has been good mingling with the comrades from across the ditch. The Australians have a harder attitude towards these scabs - these scabs are stealing the food from out of our families’ mouths.”

Russell, an MUA member over for the rally, told us how wide the reach of this union international support went. He’s ready for an ongoing battle:

"Any community picket that MUNZ workers put up will not be crossed by any member of the MUA, there is international solidarity with workers from around the world. The Dutch, France, Italy, the States, Australia, South Africa, even Egypt where they are having a meeting next week to decide whether to blacklist ships from the port of Auckland. You see that the similarities between the wharfies campaign and the lockout Affco workers are facing.

“This is a fight against casualisation and the fight is worldwide. We can’t let the most militant union in the country fall."

One of the ILWU leaders from the US expressed similar sentiments in one of the main speeches:

"American dockworkers supports MUNZ to the hilt. This is a fight against the flood of casualisation and temporary work, and this is where working people take must take a stand and fight the insane levels of inequality.

“All the leaders of the different branches of the ILWU have come from the states to support the wharfies… the media has been asking us well what are you going to do? Well, what do you think we are going to do!"


Labour leader David Shearer spoke, but got an unenthusiastic reception, and was even heckled by some parts of the crowd. (“Stop sitting on the fence!” was heckled often). His boring and waffling speech, which was short on detail, did not fit the mood of the day -- most of the protestors we spoke to were disappointed at Labour’s almost total silence on the issue. Everyone was disgusted with Len Brown, the mayor for “all of Auckland” who claims to be able to do nothing to stop the sackings. 

Helen Kelly from the CTU called this a “fight we have to win - that we will win,” while Garry Parsloe from MUNZ called the Ports’ plans “an absolute disgrace and a sham”.

Mick Doleman from the MUA used his speech to tear apart the bosses' lies about what 'flexibility' and 'efficiency' mean. These are just code words for greater exploitation, and they fit an international pattern:

"We did not fight fascism and imperialism just to become commodities. This is all about decreasing the unit production cost, and so they are attacking the workers. This battle against casualisation is worldwide...We have brought 30 delegates over here and to show our support we are donating $100 000 to the Local 13 branch of MUNZ."

"This fight is just beginning and it will only continue. You do not walk alone -- workers from around the world support you and your struggle."

Dare to Struggle! Dare to Win!

I came away from the rally feeling buoyed by its show of strength. There is obviously big support for the campaign.

All of the MUNZ members interviewed were determined to fight. It’s up to the rest of us to back them.

Marching with the rally gave us all a sense of what union power means. This YouTube clip captures some of the day's size and energy:


Earlier in the day in Dunedin our comrades were involved in a solidarity rally called by Unions Otago for Ports of Auckland workers. Around one hundred people marched and there was representation from a number of unions, including the PPTA, PSA, and Unite, and over $300 was collected for the fighting fund. In a sign of the depth of support for the workers, even the Otago Daily Times conceded that "most of the lunchtime crowd appeared to support the marchers"!

[Derwin Smith contributed to this article. Josh Lee from Socialist Alternative in Sydney provided the photograph of the community picket there.]

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

International Women's Day

by Shomi Yoon

Today - March 8th - is International Women's Day. The demands of the Women's Liberation movement - for free, safe, and legal abortion on demand; for free contraception and women's rights to control their bodies; for equal pay; for liberation from sexual oppression and discrimination - have lost none of their relevance today.


while Joyce Stevens' History of International Women's Day in Words and Images has much useful information. This week's Socialist Worker (UK) carries an interesting interview with Cathy Porter about the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai, socialism, International Women's Day and liberation. Find out about the history of International Women's Day.

Sandra Bloodworth argues here on the connections between women and revolution, while Sarah Garnham makes the case that sexism is systematic. There is an archive of sociaist articles on lesbian women's struggles for liberation here.

Janey Stone has written on the 'Real History of International Women's Day'

Get Active

We need to fight sexism in the here and now - in our own lives and in society - and to look for collective action to push for women's rights.

Strong unions need strong women: support our sisters in the Maritime Union of New Zealand today by backing them in their fight, with their male workmates, to Save Our Port, and donate to their campaign here. There are women workers in the Meatworkers' Union currently locked out or on strike in support of their locked out brothers and sisters -- they too need solidarity.

An international union federation for food and allied workers' groups is using International Women's Day to promote their campaign to stop Nespressure, against Nestle's treatment of women workers and unionists in their factories around the world. You can find out more here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Stand by Affco workers!

by Cory Anderson

Affco workers have been locked out of their jobs as bosses try to attack the rights of workers around the country.  776 union members employed at Affco-operated freezing works in the North Island were barred from work from the 29th of February.  In a show of solidarity, more than 400 other workers walked off the job in solidarity with those that had been locked out.  The company retaliated by extending the lockout to a further 250 workers in a plant that had not previously been locked out.  The locked-out workers cannot return to work until the dispute is resolved.

Using a dispute over pay as the pretext, Affco is attempting a direct assault on the union.  Non-union members and new employees are not subject to the lockout.  Affco is attempting to limit the union's influence for what management refers to as "critical commercial reasons".  Under the company's proposals, the workers at Affco would be expected to work faster, processing more carcasses per hour, without an increase in their pay.

 Workers at Affco have already seen their pay slip to some of the lowest levels in the country.  Additionally, the company is facing accusations from workers that Affco has compromised on safety to undermine the union.  The proposed speed-up will only exacerbate safety issues at Affco plants.  Employees at Affco, however, are already amongst the lowest paid workers in the country, some earning as little as $35,000 per year.  

Meanwhile, Affco is owned by the Talley family - one of the richest families in New Zealand.

The lockout comes as bosses are putting pressure on workers’ pay and conditions across the country after the National Party won another term in office.  Encouraged by the election of a party dedicated to looking after the needs of business, employers have been emboldened to recover profits lost during the recession by attacking the pay and conditions of workers.  Unions stand between employers and that goal.  By enabling workers to negotiate collectively, unions place workers in a better position to protect what they have, and to win more, which means a more equal society.   Over the past year, movements for an equal world have rocked the globe.  By escalating the dispute through solidarity actions, and refusing to back down, Affco workers have shown they’re willing to fight to defend their union rights, with more solidarity strikes even as the lockout was extended.  It’s this kind of action that builds strong unions and strong communities.

[We gratefully acknowledge this union photostream on Flickr, from which we've taken the image above]

Monday, 5 March 2012

Crafar Farm Sale: whose land is it anyway?

[This article is from the latest issue of our magazine, Socialist Review]

John Key’s phrase “tenants in our own land” has become a political cliche, picked up by almost all parties commenting on the Crafar farms sale. Echoing Key, on January 27th the Dominion Post quoted David Shearer describing the sale of the farms to Chinese business interests as ''open[ing] the way for more New Zealanders to become tenants in their own land''. Shearer, who has had nothing supportive to say about the Maritime Union’s campaign at Ports of Auckland, has been vocal in his opposition to the sale. The Greens pitched in too, describing the sale as “short-sighted”, while for Winston Peters, predictably, it is “treasonous.”

The farm sales have aroused a lot of indignation, and still more confusion. But workers – whatever the power of nationalist ideas amongst our class currently – have no stake in the populist passions being generated at the moment. This case taps into – and revives – old, and powerful, racist currents in New Zealand politics, currents that serve to divide our class, and to make us look to so-called foreigners as enemies, instead of focussing on the real divisions within New Zealand society.

Aotearoa is Māori Land

The irony is lost on bourgeois politicians.  New Zealand,  a capitalist settler colony, was founded on the sale of land to foreigners – white, British foreigners. Sometimes that land had been bought from iwi; more often, it had been stolen.

The idea that more recent foreign ownership will make us “tenants in our own land” is nonsensical. Māori already are tenants in much of their own land, and it has taken decades of hard struggle to win back what land rights some iwi now have. And how many Pakeha workers own, like the Crafars did, 7892 hectares of farmland? The outcry about the Chinese-backed bid has nothing to do with self-determination or democratic control. It is a racist distraction, trying to make us feel like we have common interests with our rulers.

Labour and the Greens have tried to put a left-wing spin on this anti-Chinese argument. Greens spokesperson Steffan Browning argued that "foreign ownership of the Crafar farms means that the profits will flow overseas." Other politicians have suggested that foreign ownership is somehow more of a threat to Māori land rights than ownership by New Zealand citizens.

But Māori have had to fight local businesses and big farmers for their rights in the past, and it is hard to see how the situation would be any different with Chinese owners.

And  the idea that profits will “flow overseas”  does not match with how capitalism operates. Plenty of major New Zealand capitalists, from Fonterra to Cater Holt Harvey, invest profits abroad already. And companies within New Zealand don’t exploit us for profits in order for those profits to ‘flow’ to the rest of us! Profit goes towards the pursuit of more profit, to the expansion of business production. It is workers’ labour that makes this profit for the bosses, not their generosity in living amongst us that keeps it around us.

With friends like these…

Any idea that New Zealand capitalists would be better owners of farmland than Chinese capitalists should explode when we stop to consider just who those prospective New Zealand buyers were. Michael Fay – famous for his role making money through New Zealand’s deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s – is estimated to be worth over $700m. In 2002 Fay and his business partner David Richwhite agreed to pay  agreed to pay $20 million to settle an insider-trading case over their sale of shares in Tranz Rail shares. When facing the heat over other tax deals, Fay relocated to Switzerland! Is this really a figure likely to help ordinary people?

Anti-Chinese Racism

New Zealand capitalism was founded on land theft and the attempted destruction of Māori society. For that reason white society has always been characterised by a paranoid, anxious racism, insisting that we are “one people” while forever trying to suppress and forget the details of this history. For most of the last century Asians, initially the Chinese and then the Japanese, were the scapegoated “Other” for this paranoid nationialism.

This is the context in which we need to understand the noise around the Crafar sale. When John Campbell – as he did through January – leads stories with questions about whether “New Zealanders will be able to keep the farms in Kiwi hands” or whether they will go to “the Chinese”, he is encouraging the revival of this vile racist tradition. Worse, a poster on the Labour-supporting The Standard blog described a supporter of the sale as an “enemy of the people” and a “traitor to this country.”

In 2011 two Thai women were abused both physically and verbally in Nelson, a couple set their dogs on a Filipino man and Japanese student in Christchurch, a man in New Plymouth attacked his Indian neighbours' car with a machete, and a Chinese student was assaulted at an Invercargill petrol station. These are some of the physical and verbal attacks on Asians reported in the Human Rights Commission’s review of discrimination and harassment. According to the Commission’s survey, 75% of respondents named Asians as the most discriminated against group in society currently.

Racist populism not only distracts us from the real divisions facing workers, it encourages a climate where attacks like this can take place. That climate is a real problem for all workers. This dispute about ownership is the side-show.

Dougal McNeill