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Unions need solidarity, not nationalism


Almost every day union leaders across different sectors make public comments and statements with which revolutionary socialists disagree. Often we publicly oppose them. Sometimes it is completely necessary to oppose them.
In response to the economic downturn the Engineers Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) leadership has started an information campaign declaring that the recession has brought crunch-time to workers. But it’s not just crunch-time for the workers locked into the struggle for bread. It’s also crunch-time for the union leaderships. Will they stress unity and look to generalise class resistance, or will they identify less worthy sections of workers to be first on the chop-up blocks as part of a crisis-management process brokered by union bosses and ‘the’ bosses?
On March 17 a major New Zealand newspaper - The Press - carried the headline ‘Get rid of migrant workers first: unions’, the TV1 website carried the story ‘Union: Kiwis before migrants in hard times’, and a popular weeknight current affairs show, Campbell Live, ended a segment with Andrew Little - leader of the EPMU - stating ‘We are saying that where the employer is left to choose between New Zealand workers and migrant workers on short term visas then they ought to favour New Zealand workers’.

Both Andrew Little and Graeme Clarke, who is the general secretary of the Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union (M&C Union), have made comments and taken initiatives that have led to the media spike. Their admissions directly contradict a socialist perspective by conceding that the employing class and the state are - albeit under pressure from the union movement - entitled to control the movement of international labour.
The M&C union has made a complaint to the Labour Department regarding the decision of an employer to make 28 New Zealand workers redundant while retaining 24 migrant workers on short-term contracts. The Press reported that the union had submitted to the government that employers should re-prove the need to employ migrant workers and quoted Clarke as saying “Our answer has always been ‘yes, you can import people’, but now we want it proved again that the shortage still exists.” If it is true that Clarke said this, his view of international labour mobility does not clash with that of the National Party’s Immigration Minister Jonathon Coleman who reckons “Temporary visas are more of a tap that can be turned on and off.”
Little has emphasized that it is better for employers to retain New Zealand workers because they will be able to give longer service to businesses whilst migrant workers, employed under two-year permits, will not be as beneficial to firms in the longer term. This is quite a spin, begging the question as to why it should be accepted that workers from other countries should be placed on insecure and temporary permits. Instead of appealing to the needs of migrant workers, Little has appealed to the needs of the bosses.
The cruel irony here is that large numbers of workers still absorb the bureaucratic idea that the employer will treat them better for giving loyalty and service. Time and time again this has proven to be wrong. The competitive nature of capitalism ensures that employers look after their short-term gains, not the men and women who sing the company song and wear the company hat.
Clarke has a strong history of militant unionism and a past association with radical politics. Little has recently become president of the New Zealand Labour Party. Neither have called for the deportation of migrant workers and nobody is arguing that either of them would want to see the return of large scale deportations as in the early 1980s when economic downturn and joblessness was resolved through reaction. However, without being hysterical, it should be noted that the perspectives they are putting forward are not inconsistent with perspectives that finally led to such disgraceful events.
If migrant workers lose their positions with sponsoring employers they are sent back to their origin countries. In the final analysis, the reported position held by Clark and Little can lead to deportation.

Socialists argue that NZ-born workers must oppose attacks on migrant workers and not fall for the left-nationalist position of “kiwi jobs for kiwi workers” perpetuated by some or most union leaderships. Socialists start from the interests of workers as a global class. Socialists oppose national chauvinism on moral grounds but it’s not just about liberal principles. It’s in the actual material interests of NZ-born workers to see things in terms of class and not immigration status, and then act accordingly.
The interests of the international working class take precedence over the limits of capitalism. Capitalist limitations are not natural, they have been socially constructed over centuries. Socialists insist on defending every job - workers should not take or share any responsibility for the woes of the capitalist system. If the goal is to build an anti-capitalist movement then socialists and workers must reject the idea that any section of workers should pay the price of a capitalist recession.
Union officials, even left ones, accept the limits of capitalism and therefore accept layoffs, seeing their job as managing the layoff process. Once unionists (and also workers themselves) start picking and choosing which workers should go, the working class gets divided and redivided; it becomes weaker and less able to defend the rights of any section of the working class.
Further, accepting lesser conditions for migrant workers puts NZ-born workers in the camp of the boss. It means union officials are saying that the bosses’ profits and the state’s ability to manage recession are more important than the rights of a group of fellow workers.
Migrant workers are not only a part of the working class, they bring all kinds of useful things into the working class in NZ. They help make it more cosmopolitan, more international, they bring a range of experiences from their home countries which can strengthen the fight for workers’ rights here.
Impacts on the union movement
It is important to recognise that all actions have consequences.
For unions that are based in the lower-paid sectors, where organising migrants (particularly new migrants) is not an ambition, but is an absolute necessity in order to ‘grab’ these sectors. The last thing that unions in these sectors need is public statements from union leaders who are putting migrants into lesser categories.
In fact migrant workers have been at the forefront of the wider-movement’s ‘offensive’ (not defensive) struggles that have led to increased wages and improved conditions across all sectors.
The EPMU leadership has come under pressure from migrant workers within it’s own ranks to reverse the stated position.
That migrant workers reaction is entirely justified. For the sake of a narrow defensive gain for New Zealand-born workers in their own sectors, these union leaders have disadvantaged other workers and have acted contrarily to the organising efforts of other unions .

The union leaders statements quoted above are not throw-away comments made in back-rooms. They are public statements from leaders who know the power and influence of the media. These signals need to be challenged and stopped before they gain more ground. The alternative is internationalist working class solidarity against capitalist cut-backs.


Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

thanx to who posted this. I'd add that the title is 'Union's can't cave in on Migrant workers - Solidarity needed'. for slightly better viewing of this particular article.

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

All fine and idealistic! Sadly I have met very, very many new immigrant workers being just too happy to work 50 or more hours a week, to take on jobs that NZ workers did not accept because of unacceptable conditions, to undermine unions and any workers' solidarity. So you are talking from a "higher ground" there, lecturing NZ workers to show solidarity with the international workers' movement, when workers (and self-employed contractors) from overseas are in their majority too happy to follow and support the capitalist ideas!?

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

I would of hope that racist nationalism died with NZ First.

The real issue is a lot of NZ workers have low pay, migrant or not. Nationalism ignores class unity.

Re: Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

In what currency should we pay and get paid? How does a NZ dollar fit in with the "internationalist" idea? If instead a new "international currency" gets created, what value shall it be based on? How do you decide who should be allowed to immigrate and who not? Should we not abolish the NZ Immigration Service and treat every person wanting to live here as citizens? Would Tangata Whenua as a whole be happy with such an approach? If workers take over collective ownership of the means of production, how do workers councils for instance operate in a manner to ensure efficient, productive, effective and environmentally friendly operation of factories or whatever? What is your idea about how the "supply chain", exchange of goods and services, trade and so will be conducted in a truly socialist society with internationalist solidarity? Please elaborate rather than simply push your studied dogma from books by Marx and other great revolutionary theorists. I have met many "preaching" and shouting on marches, but few who actually have any practical understandings about the realities in production, transport, economic structures and organisation! I will enjoy to read your ideas, suggestions and "experience" (?) in your further elaborations!

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Nice one Jared and it's nothing new for the Union to play off the workers for their own gain.

The Seasonal Employer Scheme was designed by Labour (read EMPU) so that foreign workers can be deported during economic downturns and not be faced with the DawnRaids of the 1980s.

A govt that has opened UK immigration at the expense of non-UK immigrants, nationalised Ngai Tahu Fishing quota by race to all Maori, and forbid in law the right of Maori to seek to use the Courts is a pretty racist govt with wide support. Helen Clark did say her hero was Oliver Cromwell.

Cheers Michael

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Anon number 2 is happy to lecture militants from hidden ground, but she/he misses the point entirely. Jared's post is not 'idealistic' in the airy fairy philosophical sense; its based on sound union principle and practicality.
Labour unions were first created by workers to overcome the problems of competing for jobs. Since those first origins there have been many dreadful errors in the long struggle for unity. For example, the call to lay off married women first in redundancy, or the practice of denying jobs and union membership to black workers. With hindsight, these errors can be seen clearly as being shamefully wrong. So too one day, will the present erroneous call for 'kiwi workers first'.

Re: Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Militancy in a revolutionary sense can only mean constant and continuous militancy! Once you have a dictatorship of the working class then you already have fertile ground for the new "establishmend" (i.e. the "leaders" in that dictatorship) laid! That will mean temptation for privileges, a leadership or even elitarian thinking to develop. Hence such a state cannot even be allowed in a revolutionary sense! What this means is perpetual revolution is essential for no elites or similar to develop. This though also means that there cannot be any stability of sorts in a social order. That consequently results in anarchy, instability and the inability to have a structured, advanced and in any way developing society. No lasting organisational structure will means a simple, primitive society only can evolve! So forget health benefits, social welfare, etc., because all this can only be the result of an organised and functioning society. It is nice to talk in purely "political" terms about the need for unions, a "working class" identity, social equality, "class struggle" and so forth, but that does not prove that you have a recipe to establish an order that ensures an advanced society able to feed, educate and equip every member of society! So your idea of socialism is somewhat twisted! Besides of that, dear posters, my questions above have not yet been answered!!! This is not a post to support a purely capitalist society, but a post to challenge your thinking and ideology!

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

The EPMU were conspicuous by their silence, when Fisher & Paykel exported the jobs of New Zealand workers, to countries similar to the ones that have provided New Zealand with, migrant workers on temporary visas.

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Nice one Jared

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Just more rhetoric and theoretical grandstanding and politicising. No substance, no true ideas, no solutions to real problems, no pragmatism and realistic political agenda. No wonder the many fringe groups on the "left" in NZ do not get anywhere!!!

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Well, ok anon, we've never claimed to have all the answers. Please do feel free to give us some substance and solutions, and, while you're about it, a name.

Re: Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Yeah - calling for class war, international solidarity of all workers, and so forth, but having no real answers about how to organise society in an effective and functioning manner. That does not sound too convincing to me. Indeed I had asked for some answers, now you want some for me, possibly so you can use and claim ideas for your benefit?? Forget it, you won't get my name for that and other reasons!

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

About finding pragmatic solutions - Little and Clarke's statements are the pragmatic solutions.

Lets see a considered response. I can't be fucked replying to half of this shit on here.

Have fun with your 'true ideas', I can promise I won't steal them.


Re: Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Good - that leaves you without any sensible ideas, which your written article above exposes! Nothing added, nothing taken away from you! Nothing's changed. Good Luck

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

To me, international solidarity of workers is a very practical answer about social organisation.
If I may quote Cliff Richard - from a distance - we are just tiny cheesemites on a little speck of shite out in the cosmos. On our speck there are haves and have nots. Makes sense for the haves to stick together and defend their interests - and they do. Jared and I are simply saying those of us on the have not side of the ledger on the little speck of shite should do the same thing for our side. The details, as always are tricky but not insurmountable. The basic plan makes abundant sense, far as I can see , nothing else does.

ps I'm not writing this as an attempt to debate the various anonymous gutless wonders who will not identify with their words. Life is too short to shadowbox. This post is to try and relate to the casual observer with an open mind.

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Your statement is fundamentally correct.

I would add that the reason Union leaders like Andrew Little get caught up in these kind of schemes (kiwi-saver, buy-kiwi, kiwi-jobs, brand kiwi-X etc.), is because they have abandoned class politics in any meaningful way and only have appeals to nationalism to fall back on.

The IR courts and negotiations with "empathetic" bosses is all else they have to offer.

Little knows the danger of the line he treads.
It was evident in all the interviews he gave that he was trying to kowtow to nationalism whilst at the same time not be seen to be racist or anti-immigrant.

To paraphrase him “ well I can’t comment on this without having all the facts, but on the face of it does seem like kiwis got shafted I favour of immigrants”
But his membership faced with job losses and no fight back will increasingly disregard the subtleties of his "nationalism-lite" position.
(but of course, by then he will be safely ensconced in the halls of parliament)

However, it is not only the TU bureaucracy that is at fault. I would also add that the self-proclaimed political parties and groups of the class-struggle type are equally bereft.

In the midst of what in all likelyhood will be the most severe depression since the 30's, in the wake of the election of an avowedly anti-worker government, and at a time of general attacks on workers conditions where is the socialist fight back, where is the organising?
And please don’t say toddling along after McCarten and UNITE.

Historically economic times like the present have been the ones that precede even more massive historical defeats for workers, their rights and conditions.
And following on such defeats, periods where workers organisations have had to struggle back under very difficult conditions, usually by way of united socialist political platforms and parties.

Yet for the moment, the socialist groups, the anarchist groups and the other forces that talk in terms of workers and class are content to amble on in their own separate ways, their leaders sleepwalking into the abyss content with some exemplary union work on their way over the edge.

Statements of principle and involvement in you local Trade Union is all very laudable for those erstwhile comrades, but this is really all very rearguard stuff.

For those in socialist (and other) GROUPS who purport to be leaders of political opinion: the workers want to know: what are your independent proposals for action, where are you leading us?

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Unite is at least doing some organising and winning some fights. Even the Guadaloupe strikers settled for a pay increase after 6 weeks! Revolution will take some organising.
The leadership you talk about won't come out of thin air.
You should be specific about what is lacking in the various groups in NZ. WP and SA are both involved in struggles and holding organising meetings. Criticisms of them should be directed at what comes out of those.

CWG is involved in an international struggle to build a new communist international. If you look at our last paper (or easier is redrave) you will see we reprinted articles on the recent strikes over British jobs, Guadeloupe, and the struggle in South Africa.]
Our most recent statement on the situation in NZ is here

Agree with your general sentiment that the crisis is unfolding with huge consequences, and that so far the left is sleepwalking to minimalist demands, "people not profits"!

Fortunately we have the recent examples of Greece with several general strikes and the occupations of workplaces etc, and Madagascar where a revolution is under way in which the army has split and supported the removal of the incumbent president bent on selling out the country to imperialist multinationals. The new guy is a populist but as least the workers and military have mobilised and have the potential to throw him out too if when he sells them out.

Our program says that for workers to survive this crisis capitalism must die. For occupations and workers control (not just for redundancy or a new boss) for expropriations and workers governments. To get from here to the revolution we need a transitional program. What do you offer?

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Dave Brown says; "the leadership you are talking about wont come out of thin air".

Correct Dave, but I already know this.

But I don't take the piss out of the WP or your group or sling off at the inaction of the bureaucrats in the unions just for the sake of it. But if people put themselves up as leaders (which they do by dint of establishing a political group) or by assuming a union position then they should LEAD.

By this means they will attract the great unwashed, inactive masses (like myself) to their banner.

The problem I have with these groups are (in reverse order) is:

(1) the union bureaucrats are almost totally legalist (in terms of seeking redress in courts), defensive (in terms of struggles) offer no independent critique, and generally don't even activate their existing members for union business out of work hours let alone run broad campaigns to build support for workers issues or those of the unemployed.

(2) The socialists content themselves with small group politics, meetings and publications and submerging themselves in exemplary union work in organisations controlled by the above-mentioned bureaucrats.

Now I am not against legal approaches where these are appropriate, or exemplary union work, or with groups running their seminars and meetings. These are all essential activities. But where socialist groups set themselves up as a political leadership you would expect their activist viewpoint to extend beyond their own union, beyond their own suburb, beyond thir own city.

The WP in particular makes grandiose membership claims. Fine. But now lets see the action. In my part of the world they are invisible, unless you are on their phone list and like going to small meetings in cold and draughty halls. Like most workers, when there is no action to backup the rhetoric, I don’t feel too inclined to suffer the cold and draughty halls.

Your group Dave, also makes grandiose claims to involvement in the “international revolution”, but if all the groups you are affiliated have as little clout as the CWG does in NZ/A then this revolution really never will be televised.

I also hear a lot of talk and read a lot of talk about the SA, UNITE, Unite (Waitemata) RAM (briefly) VAN etc, etc, but again unless your afflicted with the particular disease that is addiction to Indymedia posts, they are invisible here to the man in the street.

What do I think should be happening?

I think that any socialist groups worth a damn should be doing what I understand was attempted with the ACA several years ago, but which was sidelined. That is drawing the socialist and other class struggle forces into a United Front for action.

Especially in these unsettling times, it is essential that there be a fight-back. Clearly with unions decimated and floundering, and with no current single group with the resources for this, it is a case of disunity at our peril.

I am glad to see that you say “the WP and SA (why not the CWG?), are involved in struggles and coordinating meetings” but I am assuming that these are in relation to strike and union support - which is different than what I am talking about.

If the WP’s (or other activists) main activity is union support work they will inevitable be drawn into the bureaucracy like their well meaning predecessors in the CPNZ (just prior to their collapse) the SUP (who had many rank and file members), the RCL (NUPE) and the SPA. All of these organisations had their own well developed (not saying they were right) critiques of capital, their own networks and newspapers, yet each accommodated itself to exemplary unionism, to bureaucracy and then, (because of their sectarian attitude towards unity) to dissolution, precisely at the time that NZ workers were at their most militant (mid 1990's).

To avoid death by bureaucracy and to present a common front on at least a few points of agreement the class struggle left needs to have a class struggle (United) Front.

At the moment it looks like sectarianism as usual, and (independent socialist) inactivity as a given.

In Solidarity,

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

great help there IWD. you may be taken seriously when you have a wash and get active. ps( the stuck record stuff on this site doesn't count.)

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Yeah we don't think NZ will lead the revolution, it will break over these shores like a Tsunami, so we have to have our ideological water wings ready.
But seriously, we are not claiming CWG amounts to much in NZ (I may be old but I'm not stupid).
But check up our stuff on redrave and you will see that we have comrades in the thick of it and are in 'united fronts' with militant currents like the WIVL in South Africa. And as you know our political record in NZ is so far out in front you can't even see us for the dust in our wake.

Re: Unions need solidarity, not nationalism

Cheers anonymous - I took that shower, and took an active walk to the dairy - but it doesnt seem to have made a difference...

Dave - , revolution didn't wash over the world in the wake of the soviets - what makes you think it will make it this far the next time round?
There also werent many tsunamis around whan cuba did what it did in the 61'.

Don't make a virtue our of recent neccesity.

I may be stupid - but at least I'm not too old...