Former Socialist Unity Party member Jackson was recently quoted as saying that "illegal immigration is a problem for NZ industry in that it drags wages and conditions down, making it harder to develop skills which end up going across the ditch (Tasman Sea)". Such sentiments are not new. The fear of loss of jobs and conditions to ‘foreign workers’ has become a mantra trotted out by the right wing and phony left of the union movement.
The phony is left represented partly by the neo-Stalinist S.P.A. (Socialist Party of Aotearoa) whose President and second in command are NDU President Bill Andersen and Mike Jackson respectively. As adherents of the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ (see box below) it is hardly surprising that the non-internationalist position taken by such leaders is to the fore on the illegal immigration question.
Labour parties by their very nature try to con workers into believing that the bosses’ state can protect their jobs. The labour bureaucrats have taken a protectionist line in guarding the local conditions of workers not as a benevolent measure in the workers’ interests but as a means of putting the lid on any attempt by workers to rise up in the event of crises affecting their work conditions.
This is done first by ensuring that all key union positions are occupied by social democratically minded or phony left leaders. Their only interest is to guard their bureaucratically controlled high perches where they stand as intermediaries between bosses and workers. This union bureaucracy was called the labour lieutenants of capital by Trotsky because they control the workers as "troops" for the bosses.
The other measure which is being called for by the top union leaderships is the reintroduction of trade tariffs which amount to nothing more than a subsidy (profit top up) that goes into the bosses’ pockets and not the workers. More importantly tariffs act as barriers that stand between the workers internationally and can escalate into wars were workers are sent to fight workers to defend their bosses profits.
Rare international solidarity actions such as the MUA (Maritime Union of Australia) ban on handling military supplies to Indonesia over East Timor and the US Longshore Union support of the MUA over the struggle against scab labour on Australian wharves, are exceptions. But they were still limited by their bureaucratic leadership who continue the national chauvinism that stifles true internationalism.
‘Socialism in One Country’.
The defunct and discredited Stalinist concept of ‘socialism in one country’ bears responsibility for a large part of the current union attitude on illegal immigration. It recognises that imperialism holds predominance in the world today as it did in the days when Stalin dreamed up the whole idea after the failure of the revolution in Germany in 1923. By cutting deals with the imperialists who threatened to invade the Soviet Union, Stalin promised that socialism would not spread beyond its borders. In order to demonstrate this and appease the imperialists, he systematically eliminated all communist opposition including most of the Bolshevik central committee. Any attempt outside of the Soviet Union to organise workers was crushed. Marxist internationalism was replaced by flag waving nationalism placed under a workers banner to sell the illusion to workers that they had strength against imperialism. Many in key positions in unions today still hold to this conservative idea, particularly in the NDU and AWU (Amalgamated Workers Union) where Stalinists and their social democratic lackeys still hold sway.
A recent internal memo distributed by the Amalgamated Workers’ Union dated March 2000 continues the nationalist line. It states "Remember every illegal immigrant who takes a job is prohibiting somebody you know from working…We must continue to pursue this matter in the interests of NZ workers." The AWU’s total defence of NZ workers hinges entirely on the 1987 Immigration Act which states that employers who knowingly employ illegal workers shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding NZ$2,000.
A paltry sum says the AWU. In fact the only thing paltry is its bureaucratic credibility when it fails to realise that by subordinating the unions struggle to a statute of bourgeois law it removes any pretence of being in charge of workers’ interests. The AWU bureaucrats rely upon the bosses’ state to defend "our" jobs from illegal aliens.
But to rely on the bosses to protect jobs puts one in the camp of the class enemy. To polarise workers around nationalism only serves to lend comfort to racists and bigots whose attacks on ‘legal’ immigrants have been on the increase in recent years. Fuelled by populist politicians like Peters and Prebble and the ratings driven tabloid media, the union bureaucrats have dragged themselves and the movement into the invidious position of being bedfellows with these low life reactionaries. The chauvinist defence of jobs and wages against foreign workers which relies on alliances with national bosses ultimately leads to wars were workers are sent to kill other workers in the interests of their bosses.
Without an international perspective and without support of the so-called ‘illegals’, the chance is lost for building sympathy and solidarity with foreign workers who are now all in the same global economy being exploited by the same multinational bosses. Solidarity with ‘illegal’ Asian workers in NZ could forge important links with the Asian masses are engaged in major struggles such as in China, Korea and Indonesia.
Bosses not workers cause low wages.
On the question of ‘illegals’ taking jobs and lowering wages and conditions, the bureaucratic line needs to be studied more closely. It turns out that it is not ‘illegal’ immigrants forcing down wages, but the failure of workers to join forces to stop the boss paying low wages that is the problem. Lets take the example of the market garden workers.
A former market garden worker recalls 20 years ago while working for one of the biggest vegetable growers in the Pukekohe region of South Auckland, wages and conditions were so low that most of the garden workers could not afford to pay even the minimum market rent for housing and so were forced to stay in company owned accommodation units on the garden work sites.
These dwellings were very often poorly maintained by the bosses whose only interest was to have a cheap workforce immediately on hand at short notice. At the time, with the exception of the boss and managerial staff, the vast majority of workers were Maori, but for the sake of argument, local. Their poor wages and conditions could hardly be blamed on ‘illegal’ immigrants. Poor wages and conditions have always existed in certain work sectors and always at the bottom end.
To fill the jobs at the bottom end bosses have historically had to rely on migrant workers who form a ‘reserve army of labour’ who are tapped into when needed and thrown on the scrap heap when surplus to requirements. 50 years ago it was Maori moving into the cities. 40 years ago it was Pacific Islanders looking for work. 20 years ago Maori working in the market gardens began to be replaced by seasonal and ‘illegal’ migrant workers. Today bosses are using ‘illegal’ migrants in the clothing and building industries because they are able to get away with paying low wages and bad conditions.
By employing workers from ‘third world’ or underdeveloped countries who do not meet the entry work requirements, bosses are able to use threats such as withholding passports to force them to work for low pay and substandard work and safety conditions. ‘Illegal’ workers are almost slaves as they have no normal rights as citizens. They are driven out of desperation to live and work under such conditions and cannot be the cause of any threat to NZ jobs, wages and conditions.
The AMU bureaucrats are right on one thing. A NZ$2000 fine is paltry compared with the large profit margins being made employing migrant workers. The bosses couldn’t care less about ‘illegal’ workers. Laws against foreign workers were enacted in the past by the bosses as part of deal with the unions where the bosses got industrial peace in return for keeping foreign workers out. This was the "White NZ" immigration policy that largely restricted official migration to skilled British workers.
Both unions and governments turned a blind eye to illegal migrants from the Pacific after World War 2 when jobs were plentiful, but when unemployment hit in the 1970’s both turned on these same migrants and labeled them ‘overstayers’. In other words the bourgeois state is forced to act on the issue of illegal migrants on pressure from the unions engineered by the union bureaucrats who play on workers fears that their jobs are under threat.
The situation got much worse under the ECA (Employment Contracts Act) of 1991 which had a huge impact on union membership driving it down to around 20% of the workforce. This has prompted a large part of what motivates the union bureaucrats drive against ‘illegals’. In order to show that it is fighting for the rights of local workers, it is running a campaign internally to encourage its members to act as eyes and ears against ‘illegals’, in the hope that the results would impress workers who are not members of unions to join up.
Work sites have been ‘targeted’ by unions who have called on their members to act as police spies reporting to immigration and police resulting in raids that have led to mass arrest of the ‘illegal’ workers, victims of the bosses. When occasionally the bosses are prosecuted this does not stop the practice. By using unionists in this way the bureaucrats are pitting local workers against foreign workers (‘illegals’) in support of the very state forces that have been, and will be again, used to crush workers struggles at home. This cynical attitude of the bureaucrats makes a mockery of the international workers slogan - "Workers of all countries unite!"
Because of its diminished support base, the union bureaucracy seeks to use its crude and underhand drive against ‘illegals’ to consolidate its position of privilege as the 'labour lieutenants' of the bosses by sacrificing the integrity of the workers’ movement. The rank and file must be made aware that what is being done in their name serves only to destroy them in the end. The NDU call last year to wage war on illegal workplaces in defence of ‘legitimate’ jobs in ‘legitimate companies’ backs the call that it supports an 'illegitimate' system.
This is part of the CTU "good boss/Bad boss" syndrome. But in reality the ‘sweatshop’ label being applied to the so-called illegal work places, should also be applied to the so-called ‘legitimate’ work places as local workers are forced to work longer hours for less pay by both NZ and foreign-owned companies. So while the bureaucrats set about looking for new definitions of legal and illegal workplaces, it is time for the rank and file to rise up and take their rightful place at the head of the workers’ struggle against the whole rotten system.
Workers answer to exploitation is international solidarity
At the dawn of a new century the rank and file must be made aware of the importance of their place in the international struggle in order to appreciate the need to support workers who have been labelled ‘illegal’ by the state and the union bureaucracy. Workers must debate among themselves the need to organise themselves into rank and file structures based on the principles of democracy and international solidarity.
This means that among the rank and file, the most lowly skilled worker has as much say during a debate or argument about union policy as the more highly skilled. This is on the clear understanding that the democratic decision arrived at on the basis of an informed vote must be accepted totally by all to ensure that the union acts as one to implement its policy.
The most fundamental groundwork of these structures has to take place on the worksite itself. Workers must organise to form a union were these do not exist and elect delegates who represent them and are held accountable to them. The delegates should be the best unionists with the ability to do the job well.
As communists we fight to get elected as delegates standing on a programme that links the unions to the struggle for socialism. This means that the site delegate must take responsibility to inform workers of the need for a revolutionary angle on all matters affecting workers' conditions, especially the world situation that for most workers don’t appear to play any part in their lives. By so doing, this raises the level of their international understanding, thus better preparing them for the task of international solidarity action in the event that should crises arise anywhere both here and abroad, the response would be immediate and automatic.
So while the delegate acts to represent the views of the rank and file, the delegate should also be prepared to act as a leader until the rank and file becomes more politically aware and eventually class conscious. The rank and file will then become actively part of the wider revolutionary movement. That is why Trotsky called the trades unions "schools for revolution".
In the meantime, the site delegate has the valuable task of making links with his or her counterpart in other worksites fighting for the rebuilding of the unions based on the principles of rank and file democracy and international solidarity. It is important to state that the rank and file movement is representative of ‘all’ workers irrespective of the industrial relations law which creates a charter for the union bureaucracy to exclude the rank and file (see article on the new Employment Relations Bill). This, and not any social democratic legislation, is the key to real workers strength in crushing the cycle of misery brought about by the capitalist system that has long outlived its use-by date.
The rank and file movement is a start to revolutionising the unions. There are signs that this has begun in Australia where some key positions in the Community and Public Sector Union (equivalent to the PSA) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, have been taken over by militants. But unless this movement is led by communist delegates around a revolutionary programme, it cannot hope to gain any significant strength beyond the laws of the land that it currently yields to. Yet it is a concrete first step that workers in Aotearoa/NZ can follow and eventually begin to make links with on the road to workers of all countries uniting in a new revolutionary communist international.
Designate all worksites as sweatshops.
No! to all anti-immigrant police raids.
For solidarity with all workers designated "illegal".
No! to the bosses’ immigration laws.
Workers of all countries unite.
From Class Struggle No 32, April-May 2000