Union turf wars

It is vital that workers, especially in low-paid casualised jobs, are recruited to unions where they have rank and file control and can unite to build a strong labour movement. When union officials conduct turf wars over union members, it is the workers that will lose out. The poaching of one is an injury to all. Workers need to take action against poaching and for unity!

Air NZ: Ground staff turf wars

Both the EPMU (Engineers Union) and SFWU (Service & Food Workers Union) have members on the ground at NZ airports. Negotiators from both unions began talks with Air NZ management in August – September last year (2004).

Rex Jones of the EU stitched up a deal with Air NZ management back in December last year. Part of this deal is that the EU have agreed to work with Air NZ management on splitting the deal into 3 separate agreements; airports, cargo and retail, etc. After Jones’ promises to management, the EU members were offered an agreement which included backpay (or a bonus). This deal excluded members of the SFWU.

The bureaucratic style of negotiation goes on behind the backs of union members. The EPMU negotiation team stitched up a deal without informing members about what conditions they would lose in the deal. Then the EPMU take the offer to the whole membership.

This style takes the power away from union members and plays up the role of union officials as ‘great leaders’. We say ‘All power to the members’. Members must be fully informed of the progress of negotiations throughout negotiations. This means regular meetings of the membership and the negotiation team and members on the negotiation team. We support the right of members to dismiss and replace non performing delegates or officials.

The SFWU were after at least as good a deal as the EPMU, but with no loss of conditions. They were frustrated by Air NZ management’s lack of negotiation. Air NZ would not offer them the same deal as the EPMU. So the SFWU took strike action. During that strike the EU members continued to work! A divided strike was much less effective at impacting on the bosses business.

ERA adjudication

The SFWU failed to get a deal with Air NZ and went to the Employment Relations Authority for adjudication. SFWU continued to try to get as good a deal as the EPMU, but Air NZ implied that the EPMU was more deserving. ANZ told the adjudicator that they gave the EPMU members a “bonus” (as backpay) because the EPMU was more willing to improve efficiency and productivity (for the bosses) and to make changes and split the contract (into business units).

Class Struggle condemns the actions of the EPMU; bureaucratic dealing, settling first and promoting their “brand” of union above other unions. By doing so the EPMU has undermined working class solidarity.

Turf wars at Casino

Another turf war is going on at the Skycity casino where the SFWU succeeded in unionising most of the workforce. Now Unite officials (supposedly a union for the low paid, unorganised and unemployed workers) have moved into actively recruiting at the casino.

Unite officials have poached SFWU members. A Unite leaflet directly compares fees with the SFWU and then provides a form to send to Skycity payroll, for joining Unite and quitting the SFWU. The West Auckland branch of Unite! condemns those Unite officials’ actions.

All unionists must strongly condemn these actions of Unite officials poaching at the Skycity site. We call for the resignation of the official(s) responsible. Unfortunately most union rules do not allow members to dump rotten officials. Workers need to reclaim control over their unions and change the rules to let workers dump rotten officials.


We have heard that the EPMU is having secret talks with other unions, with the aim of amalgamation. This is another way to recruit members through takeovers. We call on those unions in talks to take proposals back to their members, and for the members to vote on which union they wish to join.

Working class answers to turf wars

Ban poaching! Members must regain control of the unions so they can dump rotten union officials who refuse to work for the benefit of the working class as a whole, and elect delegates and officials who are accountable to and recallable by the membership.

This means fighting for democratic, militant unions that are capable of acting independently of the state and its labour law ‘leg-irons’ which are all designed to make unions work within the bosses’ laws.

To do this we recommend workers stay with their union, and put up a real fight for their demands and for working class solutions, within their union. Only after attempts to raise demands within their own union, have got nowhere, should workers consider dumping one union for another.

End turf wars and unite to fight the employers for better wages and conditions. When workers are divided and fighting each other within different unions, this allows the bosses to screw down wages and conditions by playing unions off against each other.

We call for maximum unity among workers:

· MUCAs (Multi-Union Collective Agreements).

· MECAs (Multi-Employer Collectives)

· All union members to vote on agreements.

· All up meetings – all union members meet to discus the progress of negotiations and offers.

· Open the books: show what the union owns and union officials’ salaries.

· Fighting funds that are used to support striking workers.

· Set wages of union staff at the average wage of workers.

· Allow unemployed workers to be members of the union at reduced rates. 

From Class Struggle 60 March-April 2005

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