The Labour Forum was held in the Auckland Trades Hall on Monday July 10 at 7-30. It was co-sponsored by Waitemata Unite! and the Rank-and-file group.
25 people turned up, rank and file members of 10 unions (possibly more I didnt see) and a few onside organisers. Political groups who had members there (not necessarily speaking for these groups) were Radical Youth, SWO and CWG. A useful step towards building an Auckland wide rank and file group I thought.
Keith of Waitemata Unite! chaired the session where Bill Keats spoke about Howard's Workchoices. Keith made the point that that phrase was exact. Howard chooses how workers should work.
Bill spoke for about 30 minutes. He introduced himself as a delegate from Standup a Sydney based unemployed workers union, funded by another union to visit NZ as a guest of Waitemata Unite!, and not least as a member of the Communist Left of Australia.
Bill explained some of the history and context of the Workchoices legislation, like how some of the rightwing don't like it because it takes away the control of the states (which even under Labor state governments have bad industrial legislation) because they fear that even a right-wing Federal Labor Government might water down Howard's industrial legislation.
He spoke about the actual provisions of the new laws which most people have a basic grasp of since its understood to be similar to our old NZ Employment Contracts Act [ECA]. And that already many employers are using it to sack people, re-employ them on wages as low as $6, etc.
Most interesting and what stimulated a good discussion was the so-called 'fightback' or lack of it rather. Three big union organised rallies so far, well attended, but not raising the need to build strike action. Rather rallying 'wider Australia' around calls for 'fairness' and trying to build support among the better off workers to come back to Labor in the next election so that Beazley would win and repeal the legislation.
Bill said that some left groups and some of the more militant unions were calling for strike action and trying to build support for strike action but the potential for that was as yet untested. This is backed up by other material posted on Aotearoa Indymedia.
Bill's own position was to organise strikes in support of the strongest sectors of workers to pull the weaker sectors in behind them and generalise the strike action with the object of bringing down the Howard Government.
The discussion was mainly around which groups were organising what sort of actions, and what lessons could be taken from NZ's experience under the ECA.
There were a couple of comments along the lines of Aussie workers not repeating the ECA experience but getting the rank and file to initiate actions and chuck out the bureaucratic sellouts in bed with Labor, made by comrades who went through the 80s and 90s struggles here.
This set the scene for a tea-break followed by a discussion on upcoming actions including Mapp’s Bill and organising, chaired by Alister of the rank- and- file group that has been meeting over the last couple of months.
There was a lot of cynicism about the NZ Council of Trade Unions campaign against Mapp's Bill. People were participating in the leafletting and rolling actions but I detected little enthusiasm for the demands, poor organisation and almost non-events. One comrade pointed out that the reason for this slack campaign was that the NZCTU expected the Bill to be dumped on report back to the House.
The general view was that it was important to attend all these 'events' and denounce the Bill, but to raise more direct demands on Labour like end youth rates now, and to concentrate on publicising support for any actual disputes going on, and the need to get active unionists organised across all the unions in a sort of rank and file ginger group.
The next step was to organise an email and phone list so that information, actions and interventions could be coordinated. That was the note on which the meeting ended with the next meeting in around a month.
Next Labour Forum: Monday July 31st 7-30 pm , Trades Hall, 147 Gt North Rd.,
Agenda: Waitemata Unite: Justice for the Kahui family and beneficiary bashing; Defend the right to ‘cluster’. Rank-and-file group: What’s next after Mapp’s Bill? Current Disputes. Organising and interventions.
From Class Struggle 67 June/July 2006