Take Back Air New Zealand, no compensation, and under Workers’ Control!

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The fourth Labour government of 1984-1990, privatised Telecom, NZ Rail and many other state assets. It also set up State Owned Enterprises, a health system based on contracts, boards of trustees running schools, competitive power companies, and put law in place for councils to privatize their services also, through Local Authority Trading Enterprises. All of these changes were based on capitalist program that competition between capitalists created efficiency gains.

The sellouts of the Labour party are continued because the Clark Labour government has not undone those changes, and sits by without intervening, while destructive competition continues to hurt the working class. This Labour government is selling out, and always has.

That destructive competition is clear when companies collapse or sub-contract their workers, when quality is lost, when wages and conditions and staffing levels do not keep up with inflation or previous standards.

In railways it is clear that 10-15 years of private ownership, did not adequately maintain the tracks and the Government had to buy back the tracks and pay for their maintenance. Likewise the locomotives, carriages, etc, are run down and the quality of services has decreased. Staffing levels were slashed but quality has also fallen.

In Air New Zealand the government owns 80% of the company, yet fails to protect workers jobs. The Labour government bailed out Air NZ in the ‘national interest’ and has said it would not sell the airline. To protect the working class, it has to preserve the standards of Airline workers jobs and the standards of airline maintenance. Already Air New Zealand failed in its’ ANSETT company leaving workers unemployed and without redundancy. The government had to rescue it then, with $885 million.

Will we see the running down of the quality of airline services after the massive job cuts which Air NZ are part-way through doing? – already that has been predicted.

CTU negotiates redundancies and increased exploitation

The Employment relations law has the potential for increasing industrial bargaining strength. If unions can force employers into negotiations through Multi-Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs) then these have the potential to set (wages and conditions) like awards, across a whole industry. However, the NDU – Woolsworths dispute has shown that relying on the ERA failed to gain even a multi-site agreement with the same employer. It seems that to force the bosses to accept MECAs etc the workers have to step outside the ERA and use their collective power.

This shows the weakness of Air NZ workers who are trying to defend their wages and conditions in the face of the competition of other airlines. Air NZ management is trying to cut costs by contracting out almost all its jobs. To defend their wages and conditions Air NZ workers need MECAs to prevent other airlines from offering ‘cut price’ services by cutting their workers wages and conditions. That would mean efficiencies between airlines would not be based on lower wages or conditions of workers in the ‘cheapest’ airline.

Air NZ plans to contract out the jobs of staff who load the planes, is the latest in a long list of workers invited to apply for redundancy. Last time it was maintenance engineers who were being threatened massive jobs cuts. The Engineers Union (EPMU) tried to out manage, Air NZ management. Not behaving like a super union – but a super capitalist. They paid management consultants to come up with a counter-proposal to show that their workers could out-produce the contracted out workers and meet Air NZ cost cutting. This allowed some engineers to keep their jobs by agreeing to work harder and smarter, but sacrificed 100s of others. Obviously the EPMU agrees with the principle that the job of unions is to make workers produce more. They trade off job losses for increased exploitation of those whose jobs they ‘save’ doing a better job than the capitalists in screwing the workers to increase profits.

The EPMU has tried the parliamentary road to try to protect workers, spending hundreds of thousands to support Labour Party and get it elected to government. Similarly the Service & Food Workers Union (SFWU) has supported Labour and got it’s own, former bureaucrats elected. This very same Labour government has stood by and will stand by and watch another round of job cuts at Air NZ. Job cuts which are attacks on the organization and membership of those same unions.

Renationalise, no compensation, under workers’ control

Neither of those strategies worked to prevent job losses in the past and they won’t work this time either. An effective strategy to fight job losses can only be found if workers are united to make an effort to protect these jobs. United strike action would need to be backed by pickets to stop management or casuals doing the work. Instead of redundancies all jobs should be shared by reducing the hours of work without loss of pay. Increased worker productivity would be reflected in further reduction of hours without loss of pay. But such a fight for the rank and file control of the union and for job sharing without loss of pay would challenge the rights of the private owners, including the 80% ‘public’ shareholding of the government to cut the losses and subsidise the profits of the private sector. It would then become clear that to win these basic demands, workers would have to take over the ownership and control of the industry.

This would require the re-nationalisation of the airlines without payment of compensation and operated by the workers. If workers really had control of their unions and could force the government to nationalise under workers control the major industries then we would be talking about a workers’ government. Because such a nationalisation would be an expropriation of capitalist property no capitalist government would do this. The fate of the Airline industry then like all industries, banks, etc would be determined by a workers plan. This plan would allocate resources, set wages, conditions, safety standards etc. to meet the needs of all working people, without considerations of cutting costs to meet profits.

Privatising the Ports

Port companies were also left in a rotten position by these Labour governments. Ports have been competing against one another and have cut labour costs by casualising the waterfront workforce and decreasing health & safety standards. Stevedoring companies compete on costs, and it is workers whose wages and conditions are driven down. The working class loses out. Health & Safety standards are not able to be adequately enforced by union members when industrial action may be met by the entire company ‘going bankrupt’ and throwing workers out into unemployment without redundancy, and another company can replace the workforce. The record of the ‘Wharfies’ union is shocking. Not only has it gone along with the privatisation process, it has joined it, now holding shares in a stevedoring company! It is the mark of a rotten union when it goes into business exploiting its own members as workers!

Port Unions get out of business!

For a national rank and file movement to take back control of the unions!

Re-nationalise the ports without compensation under workers’ control!

From Class Struggle 69 Oct/Nov 2006

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