Wednesday 21 July 2010

Memorandum No. 1

Never again!

FROM: Chris Trotter
TO: The CTU National Council
RE: The Future of the CTU
DATE: Wednesday, 21 July 2010
FEW INDIVIDUALS or institutions are given the opportunity to put right a great wrong. Tomorrow the CTU National Council has that opportunity.

The CTU’s failure of leadership in 1991 condemned hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders to a working life without effective union protection. Its refusal to heed the clear call of its own affiliated membership – which was to take direct action against the National Government – allowed Bill Birch to pass the most draconian piece of anti-worker legislation in the democratic world. The result was a catastrophic fall in union density – especially in the private sector.

The union leaders most responsible for the CTU’s failure in 1991 were those "representing" public sector workers. Over the past 48 hours rumours have begun circulating throughout the wider labour movement that, two decades later, the leadership of the public sector unions are again attempting to preserve their own positions by selling-out their brothers and sisters in the private sector.

If these rumours prove to be correct, the CTU will strip itself of whatever residual moral authority it possesses. In such circumstances there would be no ethical, tactical or strategic justifications for any private sector union remaining within its ranks.

If the public sector union leaders once again refuse to stand in solidarity with the workers of the private sector; and if behind-the-scenes machinations are set in motion to blunt the fightback against the National and Act parties' renewed attack on workers’ rights; then the only ethical alternative available to the leaders of the private sector unions will be to get up and walk out.

The President of the CTU, Helen Kelly, along with the national and regional leaders of the EPMU, the SFWU, the NDU, MUNZ, AWUNZ, the dairy workers, meat workers, railway workers, building trades workers, Finsec and Unite must make the consequences of cowardice and obstruction crystal clear to the leaders of the PSA, the NZEI, the PPTA and the Nurses Organisation:

"Refuse to fight again – and the CTU is finished."



Anonymous said...

"The union leaders most responsible for the CTU’s failure in 1991 were those "representing" public sector workers."

Be accurate - and consistent. As you've publicly pointed out many times, the union leader most responsible for the CTU's failure in 1991 was Ken Douglas.

Chris Trotter said...

True, Anonymous, but he couldn't have done it without the card votes of the public sector union leaders - nearly all of which were cast without a clear mandate from their rank-and-file. Indeed, if you read the letters columns of the "PSA Journal" issues from that period it's very clear that a great many public servants were more than ready to stand alongside their fellow unionists in the private sector.

Madison said...

I'll mention that the rank-and-file didn't give a mandate because almost 40% of them appeared to be members against their will. Why is it ok to force people to join a Union against their will? Why is it that a major leader claiming this destroys worker's rights fired one of his own employees without due process, a fair and just procedure or his so called natural justice. the EPMU fired an EMPLOYEE, not a member in 2008 for registering as a list candidate for ACT. This had no bearing on his work and he had a clean record, but when he mentioned it to his boss and that he would need some time off to campaign he was dismissed on the spot.

It is all well and good to claim you are defending worker's rights but if you refuse to give those rights to your own employees I have to find you reprehensible and a failure. If the NDU can negotiate benefits and then include the option to preview other employee's contracts to ensure they don't get near Union rates I find this not protection of Union Benefits but a big brother invasion of privacy and price fixing.

Andrew Little will oppose this law but he will campaign to remove negotiating options for employers as in 2008 he suggested a push in parliament to legislate the powers for Unions to force employers to be bound by previously negotiated MECAs whenever a Union so desired. He mantions, and it has been repeatedly reinforced in the Employment Court that the threshold for "Good Faith Bargaining" means the employer MUST make concessions and for a Union it means they must appear at a negotiating table. Enjoy the double standards.

Should we protect employees from abuse, yes. Should we make holding a job for life even if you don't perform, appear or are abusive and destructive? No, but that's what most of these protestors desire.

Tiger Mountain said...

Chill Madison, your rants are dizzying as well as way under informed.

• Union membership has been voluntary in NZ for several decades.
• The EPMU has procedures for staff that may wish to persue political office. Such leave is not automatically granted to anyone in the organisation. Do you know of any employer facing a request for such time off from an employee that would just gaze up benignly and say “see ya round”? I don’t.

“Card votes” exactly Chris, it was technical democracy. In 1991 I personally observed thousands of state workers in Auckland with their arms enthusastically in the air in favour of a national stoppage. That was the message coming from some of their internal forums too. Old news now but with a potent message. No one is calling for a national stoppage in this environment but a flexible tactics, targeted campaign with judicious use of short sharp stoppages, consumer boycotts and media stunts along with data base of 90 day abuses would be a good start!

Madison said...

Yes, membership in Unions has been voluntary since 1991, that's almost 2 decades. And yes, I can rant, so can those who are fighting the 90 day law, who worry about what could happen instead of helping fix what is happening.

For one it would be good to look at the way National is able to push this law through with a party vote. Democracy is heavily limited in parliament by allowing parties to force a party vote instead of allowing MPs to vote their constituency or their conscience.

I think Unions are necessary and in quite a few cases very useful, but having been on the end of personal abuse from one I am very wary of their actions when they say they know what's best for me.

ak said...

Nice picture, but the real '91 bayonet was in the back. With workers still dazed and reeling from the greatest act of political betrayal in history from 4th Lab, and Gentleman Jim still on his "decent society" honeymoon, Ken may have been right: it could have been an embarrassing fizzer.

Not so now. Three decades of dog-eat-dog and the promised Switzerland of the South Pacific is rapidly becoming a decile one ghetto of Australia. Our mokopuna the new boat people.

You're onto it Tiger - flexible and nimble, anything to crack the mesmerising stare of the smiling snake. NINETY DAYS OF ACTION. 0800FIREDATWILL?. NATIONAL SICK DAY. etc.

Gerrit said...

One really needs to ask why the Labour party (funded by the trade unions) for nine years did not reinstate the provision for workers to have to belong to a union.

The Labour party did nothing for worker rights.

So while right to attack the NACT for attacking worker rights, remember for nine years the political wing of the unions did what again??

I cant really see a time in the future that compulsorary unionism will be feature of employment relations in New Zealand.

The political will is long gone as is I suspect the desire to go back to it by the general workers.

Perhaps if unions modernised (perhaps in the USA style where the union actually bids for work for its members on the open market - and runs the training schemes for the apprentices)
and lost its cloth cap image it might actually attract new members.

Have a look here for ideas people.

Unions dont need compulsion, just better and brighter ideas to gain membership. Starting by taking on the responsibility of training of people for their industry (currently run by employers).

Ask yourself what is the union movement doing today to increase the income and conditions of its members and is it the only method available?

Throw away the cloth cap and put on a hard hat if you want relevance in todays society.

Bomber said...

Well said Chris!

Kirsten said...

To say there's a split between private sector and public sector unions on at this time is a pretty big and I would think inaccurate call Chris. Where are you getting this from and what's the motivation for your comments?

It's a pretty interesting tack to take to slagg off NZ's biggest union at a point when unions are under fire from the government.

Maybe you're just laying down a challenge but most people have by now laid these now very old ghosts to rest.

The whole thing seems a bit retro. Dare I suggest that the union movement today is not the one you invoke - one defined by battles of the boomer era - but rather a vigourous and evolving one shaped by a different global and economic set-up and different players who have either moved on from the split you've resurected or have been born/entered the movement since.

And is there an assumption underlying all of this that public sector workers are not real unionists/real workers? That to be a real unionist you have to weild a shovel or work on a boat? Also a bit retro....

Sorry, not sure

Chris Trotter said...

There is much more I could say about what is going on, Kirsten, but I shall wait to see whether the rumours (and my worst fears) are proved correct before responding more fully to your questions.

I hope that I am proved wrong. Nothing would please me more than to be able to publicly rebuke myself for allowing the shadows of the past to cloud my judgement.

We'll all know more by tomorrow (Friday).

Robert Winter said...

I appreciate both the fact that we disagree and that you took the trouble to write at length, and courteously, in response.

Anonymous said...


You're American arent you? Your usage of American terms ('concessions' etc), betray your nationality.

Anyway, the way that I see it, is that 95% of workers should not have to bear the brunt of changes designed to deal with 5% of the workforce who are proving not up to the task.

Its not so much the changes themselves, is the fact that bosses are increasingly seeing workers as expendable. To be only hired if they can be thrown away without too much hassle.

That is what this 'package' underlines and ingrains.

Folks, you are *nothing* to your employer. He has absolved himself of any loyalty to you.


Madison said...

Yes, I am american, but I don't want workers here exposed completely the way they are in the US. I'm not a total fool. However, as many have said that this legislation is set up to view all workers as lazy, incompetent or worse the current legislation is set up to treat all employers that way. While the ultra-left still thinks this is not going far enough and those like John Minto think anyone who turns a profit should be punished, the reality is that employers need some lee-way to deal with toxic employees.

What is going on is a fight over the middle ground. The reactions here and at the CTU are showing a serious case of fear-mongering just as when the ERA was passed and the right was doing the same. As the CTU is already playing hard and fast with statistical terms and mis-matching words I expect to see the PS battle grow quite nasty before anything is sorted. With Union leaders pretty much having completed their takeover of the Labour party that began in 2004 I really think that most of these worries could be sorted by the Unions uniting behind Labour, who would repeal this legislation.

Anon says that 95% of the workforce shouldn't bear the brunt of the 5%, but currently that's what the employers are dealing with. I mentioned earlier, even the EPMU got caught in the knot and didn't have a way out without the ris of damaging their office and probably damaging the trust with their members. I don't think the 90-day law is the best answer but the current attitude of telling employers to 'just deal with it' is far too far off to the other side. The current prohibitions on probationary terms lead to a 4 month process for a 'fair and just' dismissal, but you can't get anyone to agree to a probation longer than 3 months, rendering the probationary period nonexistent except in extraordinary circumstances.

What I would really like to see most is real proposed solutions. I know good employers don't like being treated like bad and don't like to be implicated when a crappy one causes problems. Much the same way most Union employees rabidly despise the total troublemakers who abuse Union powers at a workplace and work to make the Unions look terrible.

I have been treated extremely well by my employer who kept me on and increased my pay above inflationary rates during the recession, I've been lucky. But currently my employer is about to come under attack by a Union who spent 2 years proclaiming that the best practice means the employer suffers in bad times and all profits go to employees in good times. Their claim was that the financial performance of the employers shouldn't affect the pay of the employees. Now that my employer is back in the black they have done a total reversal and I'm feeling that they are pretty ungrateful for someone who took real care of them and agreed to all their demands during a pretty crappy economic time.