Union Busting : Real leadership for Postal Workers

NZ Posties in the Postal Workers Federation are engaged in industrial action to force NZ Post to negotiate a new collective with better pay and conditions. NZ Post is resisting a new Collective Agreement claiming the old one has expired and that PWF posties have to negotiate individual agreements or join a new union! 90% of PWF Posties have voted to take industrial action. This arrogant union busting attitude of the bosses is made easier by the fact that the EPMU also covers posties. The EPMU does not have a good record in negotiating alongside other unions. We look at the pitfalls of having the workforce split into two unions and ways of dealing with this.

Negotiate together

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) head, Ross Wilson has shepherded the Postal Workers Federation and EPMU into joint negotiations with NZ Post. What are the dangers for union members in this situation?

Settlement of a deal for both unions would be voted on separately, but what happens if one union votes to accept a deal and the other union votes to reject it?

Recent history gives us an example: The EPMU recently got into this situation with the Aviation & Marine Engineers Association, over the deal they proposed with Air NZ. In October 2005, Air New Zealand announced plans to cut 600 jobs from heavy maintenance engineering. The EPMU effectively set up a deal to ‘save 300 jobs’ but to sell out conditions (rostered shifts) of Christchurch based engineers. In effect, the EPMU wanted a smaller union to take a loss in order to save jobs. The Christchurch Engineers rejected the deal (and saved their conditions) but were subject to abuse and ridicule by the EMPU for rejecting the conditions, and making the whole deal fall over. That was considerable pressure on the smaller union to agree to the deal.

That’s why the smaller union must be organised on the shop floor and ready to support its claims with action. Negotiations are only as successful as the organization of workers is strong.

Organise action separately

The EPMU is likely to lead workers into negotiations and offer little other than a legal path. The EPMU delegates’ forums are few and far between. There is little opportunity for delegates to raise issues from the shop floor. The EMPU organisers are expected by their management to run the meetings according to their agenda, so these meetings become top-down rather than democratic.

The Postal Workers Federation can be a real leadership representing the rank and file members, and that would show up the bureaucratic methods of the EPMU officials. PWF delegates can raise issues from the shop floor in more democratic union meetings. The communication back to members about what is being done is important to demonstrate effective union leadership. However organising in the workplace is most important.

Actions such as not signing off “round profiles” shows real leadership over the conditions that matter on the ground. Members and delegates need to be discussing how to implement work-to-rule.

What we can do to prepare to take direct action to support claims?

Communication among union members is essential in order to take united action. Swapping phone numbers and using email and internet are ways to stay in touch. Setting up a telephone tree is a way to call meetings, and letting members know essential information quickly. How else can members be prepared to take action if a union member is victimized by and employer? (eg. suspended or dismissed). Only the solidarity of union members in support of delegates can protect other workers against victimization.

Taking the lead on the shop-floor would force the EPMU members to question their officials and to also put pressure on for real action to support their claims. The potential for united action remains.

Having two unions in the workplace means that ordinary workers are questioning the union leaderships. An effective union leadership will carry the interests of members into all of it’s actions. We would hope that the best leadership would gain the most members and recruit the membership of the other union, which could then fade into deserved irrelevance. At this time the Postal Workers Federation is showing the best leadership by far.

Rank and File Control of the Union!
Put union dues into fighting funds (i.e. strike wages)
For democratic fighting unions!

A Class Struggle Leaflet

From Class Struggle 67 June/July 2006

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