Aussie Rules: Mass, nonviolent picketing on the Melbourne docks encouraged the Australian judiciary to find in favour of the Maritime Union of Australia. Without the mass action, however, the 1998 Patrick's Dispute may have ended very differently. If our own watersiders are to win their present fight with Ports of Auckland Ltd they will need to organise a similar injection of people power.
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE sometimes, the sheer mendacity of our fellow human-beings. Hard to believe and all-too-often deeply dispiriting. We ask ourselves, if someone is prepared to do something like that – what are they NOT prepared to do?
I’m referring, of course, to the leaking of confidential information about MUNZ member, Cecil Walker. This latest development in the Ports of Auckland dispute has sickened a great many of us. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what it was intended to do. POAL and its surrogates have made MUNZ and its supporters the targets of a carefully calibrated campaign of psychological warfare. It has only one purpose: to make them give up the fight.
The “internal” legal advice from the Auckland City Council “staff”, suggesting that no Councillor has the right to table any resolution tending to limit or undermine the “independence” of the directors of council controlled organisations, may or may not be part of POAL's campaign, but its effect is the same. Ordinary people are encouraged in the belief that they, and the democratic institutions in which they place their trust, are powerless against the power of the employers and the laws which protect them.
POAL and their secret supporters in the council bureaucracy know that the moment the members of MUNZ and those who stand in solidarity with them cease to believe that they can win this fight, then they will lose this fight. That’s why it’s so important they reaffirm their conviction that, in this dispute, surrender is not an option.
This dispute will be won. And people power is the force that will win it. Every other tactic must be secondary to the goal of mobilising mass support for: 1) the workers and their families, and 2) the democratisation of the Port’s ownership structures. Nothing else matters. Even if the union wins its arguments in court, POAL is bound to appeal. The wheels of our legal system grind extremely slow and unbelievably fine. Those who seek justice in the courts are almost always disappointed: justice and law are very different things.
Besides, the courts do not exist in a social and political vacuum. As the Maritime Union of Australia discovered in its 1998 dispute with Patrick’s on the Melbourne docks. If the alternative to the courts coming up with an acceptable compromise is massive and on-going civil unrest, then the courts are usually smart enough to come down on the side of compromise. The court which delivers a judgement guaranteed to further inflame an already fraught situation risks transforming a straightforward industrial dispute into something altogether more intractable.
Immoveable Objects: The MUA's hundreds-strong picket-line on the Melbourne docks.
The key element in Melbourne: the factor that made some sort of compromise imperative; was people power. Mass protest on a scale well beyond the capability of everyday law enforcement to control. A protest that left the authorities facing two, equally unpalatable choices: backing-down and losing face; or ramping-up the use of force and quite possibly losing lives. That’s what made the courts step in with decisions favouring the MUA. Without the mass action; without the palpable fear of serious violence; those judicial interventions may have been much less favourable.
So, while Saturday’s splendid march and rally made a fine beginning, the right-wing bloggers were quite correct. Five thousand people are nowhere near enough to defeat POAL. The only winning strategy is the one which steadily builds the numbers of people coming out in support of the port workers, their families, and a democratic ownership structure for Auckland’s municipally owned assets. That can only be achieved by increasing both the frequency and the disruptive effect of the solidarity campaign.
The picket-line confrontations of Monday morning (12/3/12) gave POAL a taste of things to come. But the numbers involved were too small to achieve anything more than a token level of disruption. But just imagine 500 picketers sitting down in front of each gate. Faced with that many people, and without resorting to considerable violence, the Police and POAL’s security guards could not keep the Port functioning.
The CTU needs to issue a call for volunteers to form mass, non-violent, flying pickets: people ready to assemble quickly and committed to providing the human mass necessary to shut down all access and egress from the Port.
And I really want to emphasise that word “nonviolent”. I love you like a brother, Willie J., but talking about bashing scabs’ cars with placards only makes it harder to recruit the numbers the union needs to win the fight. It is vital to retain the high moral ground in this dispute: to let the employer and his supporters throw the first punch.
If history is any guide, that moment will not be far off. The bosses reaction to staunchness and solidarity both here and overseas is to recruit a “security” force to intimidate (and, if necessary, assault) strikers and their supporters.
One hundred years ago, in the gold-mining town of Waihi, that’s exactly what the employers, backed by the Commissioner of Police and the right-wing Reform Party Government of Bill Massey, decided to do. They were not nice people: prize-fighters, ex-convicts, violent bullies looking for a bit of sport. A century later, I would not be surprised to see such “goons” (as the Americans call them) again – most likely wearing the uniform of some private “security” firm.
The American activist, Gene Sharp, has quite literally “written the book” on how to win political and industrial struggles without resorting to physical aggression. His three volume survey, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, sets out the nature of power and struggle, along with the methods and dynamics of nonviolent action. The CTU and MUNZ should read Sharp’s book. They should also call upon 1981 Springbok Tour veterans John Minto and Sue Bradford to act as “advisers” to novice picketers. Like the Springbok Tour protesters, the pickets must be prepared for “nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action”.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time to arrange all this. POAL’s stevedoring companies are nowhere near ready to begin working the wharves. The training of those foolhardy enough to take the bosses’ thirty pieces of silver is going to take weeks.
In the meantime, MUNZ and the CTU need to prepare a schedule of activities designed to retain and build the numbers participating in their solidarity campaign. Pickets and protests have their place, more effective, however, are the sort of mass demonstrations we witnessed on Saturday. Aucklanders, and MUNZ supporters in other centres, need to be given the opportunity to show Mr Key, Mr Brown and POAL’s directors that the employment relations practices they have chosen to employ are not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders.
The sixteenth-century French writer, Étienne de La Boétie, in explaining the power of tyrants wrote: “He that abuses you so has only two eyes, has but two hands, one body, and has naught but what has the least man of the great and infinite number of your cities, except for the advantage you give him to destroy you.”
It is time to cancel POAL’s advantage. Power requires obedience. It is time to say “No!”
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.