Workers answer to APEC [June 1999]

In the last issue we covered some of the history and background of the APEC forum now we look closely at the imperialist character and further develop a workers approach to such international groupings.

The APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) forum is dominated by the imperialist interests of the U.S. and Japan. These are both competing for access to resources (raw materials, cheap labour) in the member countries.

Meanwhile the big union 'worker' leaderships try to get a social clause into APEC. A social clause means some minimal labour rights, 'justice', and doesn't exploit the workers too obviously.

CTU begs at the APEC table

The CTU (Council of Trade Unions) has further revealed just how rotten it is. Angela Foulkes (CTU secretary) has lined up for the Prime Minister's promotions team to hype APEC. The media over-kill is business as usual. They paid Sean Fitzpatrick to "hock the family silver" (in the promotion of the sale of the Auckland International Airport).

The CTU obviously thinks that it can 'reform' APEC with these proposals so that it is not hostile to workers interests. But it is naive of the CTU to think it can tame capitalism by participating in APEC. However, it is not surprising given the rightward drift of the whole traditional Labour leadership. For example, just remember the so-called "Labour" Party showed itself as a bosses' party between 1984 to 1990. Another example was the CTU's refusal to lead a fight against the Employment Contracts Act.

However as workers we remain tied into these rotten leaderships, and one of our first tasks has to be to show up these mis-leaders so they can be removed and replaced by accountable representatives. Then workers will be able to strike out in a progressive direction.

For democratic fighting unions: Unions that are run by the members and fighting to defend wages and conditions, in the first instance.

We also need a party of communist workers to provide a lead to militant workers. Otherwise, the union movement will remain tied by the "labour bureaucracy" to the capitalist class. The labour bureaucrats are the paid workers of a union. Their interests are to protect and preserve their own wages and privileges. Therefore, they do not raise a challenge to capitalism; their role invites them to negotiate with capitalism.

TUF oppose APEC

The Trade Union Federation (TUF) is working in opposition to APEC under the slogan; "Fair trade before free trade". TUF have a set of demands, some of which are worth supporting, and are part of the opposition to APEC.

The Trade Union Federation says:

APEC does not represent the interests of democratic governments in the region but of Trans-National Corporations. The lack of democratic structure and process in APEC supports the dominance of a narrow and destructive business agenda.

1) Aotearoa/New Zealand should withdraw immediately from APEC.

2) Aotearoa/New Zealand should call for the dissolution of APEC.

3) The Government should provide a full and objective National Interest Analysis of existing trade and investment policy, to be subject to further submissions before the select committee and full parliamentary and public debate.

4) Aotearoa/New Zealand should advocate the establishment of a properly constituted forum on regional economic co-operation and development comprised of member nations. This forum would produce a constitution based on the promotion of democratic control, social justice and self-determination amongst member states. It would consider the impact of globalisation and World Trade Organisation initiatives on member states in the light of these principles, including such questions as the relationship between investment flows and trade barriers, the equitable distribution of income both between and within member states and the role of trade in the national development of member states. Its first priority would be to commission a comprehensive empirical study of the impact of trade liberalisation over the last twenty years in the Asia Pacific region and assess the evidence of this study in terms of a wide range of social and economic criteria.

5) That the Government immediately adopts a policy of national economic development. That should include the specific goal of moving the Gross National Product to the level of the Gross Domestic Product within the next three years.

6) That the Government immediately announces the freezing of 1998 tariff levels until the year 2005 and a review of all other APEC "commitments

However, "fair trade" like the promise of a "level playing field" is bullshit and the TUF won't get "fair" trade under capitalism. Trade is based on the sale of commodities produced by labour and unless all the value of the commodity goes to the labourer or producer there can be no "fair trade" any more than exploitation can be "fair".

So what is wrong with "free trade" is not hat it is unfair but is based on the same lie as the "free market" under global capitalism. There is nothing "free" about the market when one group of sellers, wageworkers are forced to sell their labour to be exploited or else starve. TUF's position on "fair trade" implies that it thinks that exploitation results from "unfair" wages that can be corrected by state legislation.

The overall character of the TUF opposition is liberal. In effect it wants an international body (global government?) to set the rules for capitalism. They only want it to be a little easier for working people. They have the classic liberal mission before them; to humanise the capitalist system (eg they call for "social justice" and "self-determination"). We say that is impossible under capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system that reduces humans to the profits it wants to extract from us. There is no true "free trade" under Imperialism, and "fair trade" is impossible while the capitalist system of exploitation remains. We need to overthrow capitalism and build a new system.

Build a workers fightback

Workers cannot deny the realities of capitalism eg. concentration and centralisation of capital in giant Transnational Corporations. We know this because it hits out at workers. Whole industries have been shifted offshore, and workers have had to travel to gain a job. In other industries (eg. wood) workplaces have closed or been "restructured" and workers laid off.

Another reality of "free" trade under capitalism is that capital can move more freely (than workers). The TNCs can ship entire plants to whichever economy they wish to site it in, eg. Kenson industries shipped machinery out within days of shutting the workers out.

Against this capitalist programme we say workers need to occupy factories or plants threatened with closure. That forces the question to be asked; is the plant the boss's machines or the workers? It is built and operated and practically lived-in by workers. Or, is it machines, the capitalists' property" which produces value? We would expect that capitalists will defend their property rights with all their might - i.e. the state forces. Then we would need workers self-defence militia.

We also fight for open all borders for all working people: No bars on workers migration. As capital is mobile and does not have to obey immigration laws, so should workers be free to go where there are jobs. We fight for the rights of migrant workers to equal conditions and citizenship. This gives effect to the reality that workers have no country and are part of an international labour force and cannot defend their interests by lining up behind their nationalist bosses to fight trade wars and military wars.

The Struggle against Imperialism

The imperialist powers can trade more freely than smaller (semi-colonial) nations. The size of their companies means they have an advantage, and can reap a super-profit. We describe weak economies as semi-colonies where they are controlled, owned, or otherwise dominated by international capital.

We say that NZ is a semi-colony as the economy is super-exploited by imperialism. Apart from the already high and growing level of direct foreign investment in the privatised state assets in energy (see article on Power to the Powerful), resources (e.g. Timber - International Paper) services (TELECOM, NZ RAIL etc) media (Murdoch and O'Reilly etc) which allows super-profits to be repatriated overseas, NZ is faced with high trade barriers.

A good example is the barrier to NZ lamb going to the US. The US has force NZ to totally remove subsidies from farming, yet it subsidises its own farming industry which is inefficient to buy farmers politically conservative (land-owners often are) votes. Farmers are therefore quite a significant support for the ruling class' so-called democracy.

A second example is the barriers put up against NZ timber going into Japan. When the Asian markets crashed, and the commodity price for timber fell the Japanese protected their own timber plantations by putting a tariff on any imported timber. This clearly shows the major economies of APEC protecting their own inefficient primary production at the cost of a weak semi-colony.

A more recent development is the push by US based TNCs to break up of the NZ Dairy Board. The object is to bring key primary produce export industries to even more under their direct ownership and control (as is already the case in the ownership of Meat and Timber industries).

Dairy industry

Dairy cooperatives are under pressure from world capitalism. The interests of international capital would like to reap a super-profit from this highly efficient industry. They want to buy up sections of the dairy cooperatives and turn them into fully capitalist enterprises. That means they will run them for the TNC owners profits and not for the working farmers shareholders who get a return on the value produced by their own labour.

The industry in NZ has been undergoing a process of concentration of capital into larger and larger cooperatives. We call for a defence of the "cooperative" ownership structure in the dairy industry. Where the cooperatives are growing, working farmers need to fight for the democratising of the cooperatives. The interests of the (smaller) working farmers are being overtaken by those of the larger scale corporate capitalist owners. This means farm managers, share-milkers and labourers are set up to become exploited as cheap labour.


Some of the capitalist class of semi-colonies like NZ may be under threat from foreign capitalists. This may appear to temporarily align their interests with the interests of workers in opposing imperialism. Some layers of workers and capitalists are attracted to a strategy of economic nationalism or protectionism especially as this appeared to work in the interests of workers during the post-war boom.

But this is a deadly trap as national capitalists are unable to survive in the globalised economy without super-exploiting their workers also.

Therefore, despite an apparent common interest in opposing imperialism especially against trade barriers and military attacks, workers need to organise separately, because even while our immediate interests may temporarily coincide, our class interests demand the overthrow of capitalist property relations at home.

Some layers of workers have interests that coincide with the interests of national capitalists in a destructive way. For example, the workers who supply the US and its allies with arms and weapons. Their immediate interests are with the US as global "police" / war-mongers. However their long-term class interests are not.

A recent local (NZ) example of this was the Engineers Union. The executive (bureaucratised leaders) of the Engineers Union wanted the "ANZAC" frigates project. Why? - because they wanted their members to build the frigates. As long as they are paid, and collect union dues, nothing else really matters. They don't mind wasting labour, on building floating targets/tombs for the NZ state forces to sit in. The last edition of "Metal" celebrated the growth of jobs (from 120 to 300+) at "Safe Air", a branch of Air New Zealand. The EU proudly (on the front page) declares that the company as taken over the NZ Air Force maintenance team and contracts. They are proud to be servicing the military of the Asia-Pacific region, Philippines and Australia.

Many workers would be happier if they were building anything other than weapons, but work because they need a wage to survive. Other privileged workers would fight for their owners, to defend their wage-slavery and privilege. At the core of the issue is class. The working class is made up of workers because we need to work in order to survive. If we happened to live in a privileged nation state, our lifestyle may be more comfortable. However privilege cannot stop the capitalist economic crisis hurting us also.

Workers internationalism

We are for the construction of international trade unions. Not just at the level of agreements between union leaders, but also at the membership level. Members would need to fight in their unions for the programme of international unions to take up a progressive struggle.

This will be seen to differ from the programmes drawn up by bureaucratic leaders. The bureaucrats only motive is to try to defend the jobs of their current members, since these members are the source of their salary.

Current international agreements are often based in an imperialist nation or on a privileged (comparatively) workforce. Union leaders are too slow in considering expanding to cover other nations who could be a source of either cheaper labour, or if it came down to class struggle with the bosses, a source of scab labour for the bosses. Workers need to recruit these workers to unionism before the bosses can divide workers and continue to rule with ease.

Trade unions members have an interest in recruiting workers to unions, and building their awareness that our only strength as workers is our ability to take united action. Through truly international unions we can build workers solidarity.

International unions could defend workers jobs by fighting for equal wages and conditions across international borders. This could organise workers in semi-colonies, against super-exploitation by international capitalists. This would begin to improve the wages and conditions of workers in the semi-colonies. At the same time as proving the strength of workers united organisation.

Following from the above progressive moves, it becomes clear why we need to fight against barriers to workers migration. Since international unions would create the opportunities for workers to travel and work with much more protection than migrant workers get at present. This would also allow the spread of workers education in union principles across an international workforce.

The whole thrust would be for the building of worker solidarity, raising labour rights, organising non-union workers and the growth of healthy international trade unionism.

An example is the Seafarers Union. The Seafarers response to the threat of international competition on the seas was to align their interests with the nation state and the stronger Australian union. In NZ they were protected against competition on internal shipping routes through NZ state law. Internationally they had signed an agreement with their Australian counterparts (the MUA- Maritime Union of Australia) protecting trans -Tasman shipping routes.

The above were defensive, protective deals. They show that the trade unions are at most "reformist", trying to reform capitalism for their self-protection. This puts them onto the parliamentary reformist path, where they place their hopes in a new (Labour oriented) government changing the shipping rules.

Protectionist deals are no match for the already global capitalist organisations (the bosses class). What is needed is an international view, which only a truly international organisation can build, and even this would need the revolutionary communist method of Marx.

Fletchers paper mills

Lets take a look at how workers might collaborate internationally within a TNC. Fletcher Challenge was seen as NZ's main TNC (it is now half-owned offshore). Fletchers has had major strikes and lockouts of paper mill workers in a number of countries. However they have been able to continue production by isolating the industrial dispute to one country. For example the mills in Canada were out but the NZ mills carried on running. Internationally pulp and paper workers were not organised beyond appeals for financial support. If they had taken strike action at the same time, in solidarity, them they would have shown their united strength.

For workers control of all branches of TNCs!

From Class Struggle No 27 May-June 1999

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