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"Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

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The National Distribution Union has announced that it's response to 186 of clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin's (LWR) 470 staff being made redundant - (102 in Christchurch, 61 in Greytown, 19 in Pahiatua and four in Auckland) - is to hold a cake stall. LWR is New Zealand's oldest unionised company, a company which in recent years has been forced to endure incompetent management as a result of the break up of Ken and Patricia Anderson, the owners. The bank, Westpac, won't even pay redundancy payouts. The NDU's response to trying to keep jobs in what should actually be a profitable company has been called a "great initiative". It is actually nothing more than a sell out of the people who pay the salaries of union bureaucrats. A real path of resistance would be immediate occupation of all LWR factories and plants and the reorganisation of the company as a workers' cooperative. Even an occupation of a Westpac bank to get the redundancy money is better than baking a cake. The NDU's response has been an absolute disgrace to New Zealand workers.

"Well, with the world economy now looking remarkably like Argentina's in 2001 (and for many of the same reasons) there is a new wave of direct action among workers in rich countries. Co-ops are once again emerging as a practical alternative to more lay-offs. Workers in the U.S. and Europe are beginning to ask the same questions as their Latin American counterparts: Why do we have to get fired? Why can't we fire the boss? Why is the bank allowed to drive our company under while getting billions of dollars of our money?" - Naomi Klien and Avi Lewis in The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!

Video: “The Worker Control Solution from Buenos Aires to Chicago” | The Take -a film about how workers in Argentina took over the factories abandoned by their owners | Facebook group: Bake a cake for LWR workers

Worker's struggle: libcom.org | Anarcho-Syndicalism 101 | LabourStart | Infoshop - Fire Your Boss

Comments

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

No surprises here sadly since management of LWR has got a long reputation as being pompous unitarist despots while treating staff as slaves and like dirt. Management have ruined many employee’s lives before and this is only another example of it.

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

LWR was an awful workplace. Even the supervisory called the place a sweetshop and others in the office called the production floor a battery hen farm. When I was there management use to lock all of the fire exits which I am sure now is illegal. Workers use to know when the fire dept was going to do an inspection because middle management went around unlocking them all. I am glad now that I left this place in the early 1990s and I am now working somewhere else for muh more money.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

NDU's Marie Antoinette, Laila Harre should start fighting for the workers she is supposed to be supporting or immediately resign!

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Where is the fight for these workers entitlements, shame alright

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

maybe we need to make a few pies for the NDU and Westpac! A question though, how do you pie a bank?
jo p.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

witha bottle and a rag

burn their banks

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Window cleaner?

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

It's not clear whether this piece was written by a worker at LWR, but there's certainly a lack of detail in it. I notice links at the bottom of the piece to anarchist websites which commonly present most ordinary, non-revolutionary trade unions as a waste of time. I hope this piece hasn't been written by someone without any real knowledge of the situation at LWR who has just seen a news report and decided to fit it to his or her preconceptions.

What do the workers at LWR think about the company's announcement? As they itching to strike or to occupy their factories, or are they keen to avoid conflict? It can be very hard for the union officials when they don't want to fight. If the workers want to fight and the officials are holding them back, then the officials should be criticised, but I've worked in places where huge redundancies have been in the offing and workers haven't wanted to take a stand, either because they don't feel strong enough, because they think they can get jobs elsewhere, because they're jockeying for new jobs from the same employer, or because of a lack of empathy between different groups in the same worksite.

In these circumstances the union delegates and officials face a hard task - they have to try to encourage solidarity and raise consciousness incrementally. Calling for a strike or even something as simple as a stopwork when the workers don't support it can make the union lose all ceedibility and massively reinforce the boss.

When I was a delegate at a worksite threatened with redundancies I remember doing things like encouraging workers to wear stickers saying 'I'm Union'. Taken out of context, that might seem a pathetically inadequate response to the threat of mass layoffs, but it was one of many small steps which delegates and organisers tried to take to build up consciousness and membership. From small things great things can sometimes come. Perhaps the cake stall can be understood in this way. Without more detail it's hard to know.

I certainly know that there are some very fine officials in the NDU, who give their time and emergy to the cause of serving workers. That doesn't mean, of course, that the union's leadership and policies should be exempt from criticism. Perhaps the author of this piece will give us more information about the situation of LWR, and let us hear the voices of the workers themselves.

Scott

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

At a very minimum the NDU should be saying that its not good enough for workers to wait for their redundancy while the receivers sell the plant and machinery and call in money owning the the LWR.

But of course we know that the NDU leadership is not going to do that because that would be to step outside the industrial relations legislation, the laws covering receivership etc, and there would be consequences like the sequestration of their assets.

So for workers to assert their right to claim the company assets as the leading creditors, they could occupy the plant to make their point and assert their rights as workers, legal or not.

The main thing coming out of factory occupations overseas is that workers themselves take the initiative to take over the plants to prevent the bosses liquidating and leaving them with nothing. In Aussie unions prevented Pacific Brands from shipping plant to Asia.

In Argentina workers can claim ownership of factories in lieu of unpaid wages. Republic Doors and Windows in the US forced the BOA in receipt of millions of bailout money to pay up their redundancy and managed to get a new employer to offer their jobs back.They even had Obama backing their fight.

Visteon in the UK and Ireland has just finished a 7 week occupation in 3 plants and the workers have won a promise (may not be worth much) of redundancy payouts. Check out the several VIsteon support groups on Facebook.

In all of these cases workers don't go into occupations with a socialist or anarchist consciousness, but to claim the pay owed to them by the bosses.

In the process they stand up for themselves, realise that unity and solidarity is all they have, and begin to see that workers can win something.

hey may not get much in their hands, having agreed to sell their jobs, but it opens the possibility to go from defensive actions to offensive actions for workers control and socialisation of all industry and the banks to fund it.

The case of Zanon in Argentina, and some of the nationalised factories in Venezuela, prove that workers are more than capable of running factories without the bosses. They can plan and produce what is needed, and join forces with other recovered factories to work out a plan to meet the needs of workers in their own countries and others in the region.

The current crisis sees the bosses going on the offensive to make us pay for their crisis. The closure of LWR is just one of many in the last 20 years. Its called destroying the forces of production. The LWR workers, 500 of them, with years of knowledge and skill in the clothing industry could with some guts and imagination take a leap into the future.,

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Omar, I thought you were a union bcrat. When you were offered a pathetic 50c for the call centres and you didn't occupy the office, didn't you also sell those workers down the gurgler? Yes a cake stall is lame, but so is 50c.

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Omar has been organising the unorganised, not the *longest organised*. Going forward, not going backward.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

When the Union Boss is eyeing up the Mayorlty of Auckland and has independant wealth. She may not be so inclinded to do her job.
If bad management was the cause, why did the NDU surrender the workers sick pay and now I believe they've not even been paid for last weeks work.
Incompetence, sure and not just the management.
Laila Harre has ambition and the little people of Christchurch etc don't feature in that.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

i always recommend escalating the struggle and using militant tactics. however you cannot make people do what they don't want to do. in the case of LWR however, there seems to have been no suggestion of militant tactics and escalation from the union officials to the workers.

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

thats what you get bro from a bunch of union beauraucrats & reformists

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

People who resort to militant tactics deserve to be shot. Spreading fear from Riots does nothing to help anyone.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Spoken like a true liberal Scott.

Two questions:

a) how can we hear the workers voices, as you say, when any dispute is controlled by the union and union delegates? The nature of unionism doesn't allow for rank and file control of struggle, nor the means for their voices to be heard...

b)why would workers want to fight when the fight is delegated from them by the union? Is it any wonder worker's aren't more militant when a union structure relegates struggle to collaboration and separates it from the workplace/shop floor?

The content/form of these struggles should prove the limits to unions in their current form. The sooner we as workers realise this and move forward, the better.

Solidarity to the LWR workers,

Jared D

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

'A real path of resistance would be immediate occupation of all LWR factories and plants and the reorganisation of the company as a workers' cooperative' Start organising then, i dare you.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

I would have to say that I largely agree with Scott, while I think its fine to attack union officials when they are actively crushing or holding back workers resistance, but I would really like to know more about if that really is the case in this instance.

So like Scott I was wondering if the person who wrote this piece is involved at LWR or knows alot about want is happening there?

While I think its good to raise the demands put forward in the piece its doesn't matter how 'radical' the union official or a delegate is for that matter unless the workers themselves do want to take some action.

Anyway, keen to hear more, maybe the writer of this piece knows more about LWR than I do? If so can you expand on what you have written? But I often think its very easy for us to be as radical as we like in leaflets and on the net but we actually have to engage with real people and am interested more in how we could really spread these ideas for workers to see something like a factory occupation as a viable option, rather than endlessly blaming the low level of class struggle on union officals

dan rae

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

I really don't think it matters who wrote the text, as they make valid points regardless if they speak about or 'for' the LWR workers. The same text could relate to many current closures and still be valid.

Yes, it would be good to hear more of what the workers think, but I don't feel the post is meant to be speaking 'for' anyone, but rather to identify a real and pressing problem within Aotearoa class struggle at the current point of time.

I tried to make it clear in my post that union structure, not unionists, was (and always will be) an issue. And it is also a failing of more radical currents to organise constructive alternatives. This is something we should be thinking about, and if the above post starts that discussion with or without the approval of LWR workers, then I'm glad it was posted.

Jared D

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Another way of looking at it to ask what possible value your post can have if you don't know any of the workers personally, and are just extrapolating from an article you saw on the internet or in the paper. If you don't have a relationship with the workers you're not likely to convince of your opinion, whatever it is, by posting something on the net. The best thing to do is to talk to the people you're writing about -the unions don't operate a secret police, you can roll up to the cafeteria or have a drink in the bar with the staff.

As for the notion that the structure of the unions is the feature which is holding them back - just take a look at some of the uniosn with the most horizeontal structures, eg the SFWU, and consider how many failings they have. The SFWU gives huge weight to the rank and file and to delegates over organisers, but in practice this just leads to the organisers having a very hard time. I don't mean to knock the SFWU by saying this - they are no worse than any other union which has to deal with the problem of the apathy of the rank and file.

The key to a healthy union is an engaged active militant rank and file - structure isn't any where near so important. An undemocratic union with an engaged rank and file will be far more effective than the most formally democratic, 'horizontal' union with a disengaged majority. In NZ at the moment the memberships of unions are disengaged - and this isn't the fault of officials, by and large.

Scott

Scott

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Actually the questions Scott asked should be of interest to both radical and liberal alike. Also, to me they are pretty basic journalistic question.

"a) how can we hear the workers voices, as you say, when any dispute is controlled by the union and union delegates? The nature of unionism doesn't allow for rank and file control of struggle, nor the means for their voices to be heard..."

I assume you mean union organisers rather than delegates. However here's where your analysis falls apart - delegates are democratically elected on a site by site basis normally. There are also other elected positions within unions to represent workers' voices. As well as meetings where all members get to discuss the issues within the workplace. I would love to see cross-site discussions between workers as I think these are where change in terms of developing workers' solidarity can really start to happen.

Yes, often you have to fight against your union's bureaucracy for a host of reasons - a process I'm involved with right now in a union that I'm a delegate in. However, most industrial action/negotiations in NZ is voted on by all members, and from what I've seen debated hotly amongst them.

Trade unions are not a democratic paradise, but they do have flawed (but in my opinion not fatally) democratic structures and they can and are used by members all the time in this country.

"b)why would workers want to fight when the fight is delegated from them by the union? Is it any wonder worker's aren't more militant when a union structure relegates struggle to collaboration and separates it from the workplace/shop floor?"

I imagine it's more because the idea may not have seriously occurred to them, if it did it's also highly illegal, and it's a gamble which would probably ensure they got nothing. Sure, right now, if there were workers occupying factories in the Wairarapa I know where I'd be. And the truth is that every union that I know of would be offering support of one kind or another. The majority of people organising this support would be the union organisers so often derided by the radical left with the blanket pejorative - 'bureaucrats'.

As far as I can see the NDU are taking steps to try and ensure that these workers get something more than nothing, in a really rough economic climate. If they're getting in the way of worker militancy then they deserve a razzing, but I severely doubt that is what is happening, hence my interest in Scott's questions.

"I tried to make it clear in my post that union structure, not unionists, was (and always will be) an issue."

I've got no confidence that you are actually aware of the structure of NZ trade unions or how they operate except in a very loose sense.

"... a failing of more radical currents to organise constructive alternatives."

I'm not sure I'd call it a failing, but I agree with the sentiment generally.

- John A.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

The NDU support Hamas.

I am not surprised.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Hey thanks Scott and John A for you posts. Scott I may have been a bit harsh, sorry.

My analysis does come from a divorced position. We are becoming organised in my workplace but outside of union organising. That said, I feel I am aware enough of tendencies to talk about tendencies (in a general sense at least).

Firstly, I'm not sure if the original post is meant to influence, or speak on behalf of, LWR workers. It seems to be an opinion piece and I took it as such. So that's what I commented to.

"The key to a healthy union is an engaged active militant rank and file - structure isn't any where near so important."

I disagree. I believe that content/form have a dialectical relationship — the content (class struggle) often will determine the form (structure), but certain structures (forms such as unions) directly influence the level of class struggle. Unions, whether they are more or less democratic, still equate to a form that hinders rather than encourages militant struggle. I don't say this as mere theoretical jargon, but as a way to move forward (in fact these ideas are ripped off from Solidarity Federations latest text: http://libcom.org/library/strategy-struggle-anarcho-syndicalism-21st-cen...)

Revolutionary conditions are not just something that ‘happens’ to workers. They are a result of the actions of the workers themselves, and in turn these actions are influenced by the strength of revolutionary ideology and the level of self activity that workers engage in. If this is true, then workers and workplace struggle can directly contribute to the creation of revolutionary conditions. Do permanent, legal entities/forms such as unions, as they are currently, aid or hinder the growth of radical activity?

"However here's where your analysis falls apart - delegates are democratically elected on a site by site basis normally. There are also other elected positions within unions to represent workers' voices."

There is a huge difference between 'representation' and 'self-organising'. A representative is different to a mandated, recallable delegate based on mass assembly and power from the base.

Also, in terms of engaged workers and levels of struggle, "these do not arise from bad leadership, bureaucracy and the lack of internal democracy — rather leadership, bureaucracy and lack of internal democracy arise from the logic of a permanent and mass organisation representing workers as workers."

A way to change this could be through the use of industrial networks, encouraging mass, non-permanent direct action and mass assemblies where possible, ie to encourage engaged activity rather than passivity or simple representation. I'm not sure if unions structures (as they exist now) can do that, but that's just me talking...

Cheers

Jared D)

Re: Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

How long does it take to dismantle workers jobs..?

Obviously a good union structure will facilitate democracy, help members better appreciate their predicament and organise their struggle. Just as obviously, bureaucratic tendencies will stifle them.
That is true by definition.

As the toll of layoffs grows, NZ workers are fully aware that and economic crisis coupled with a more-market government means bad times ahead.

But Union leaders too, better get their heads around the fact that there can be no more "(union) business as usual". Simply negotiating the conditions of surrender (even if you win a "moral" victory in the media) will not inspire anyone to join the unions.
Fresh thinking is required by all unionists (especially officials) to deal with the increasing number of mass layoffs.

On the question whether there is a secret flurry of behind the scenes militant advocacy by NDU leaders that we just don't know about (Scott et al) ...Well that’s the problem isn't it?!. The ABC of unionism is that it's about solidarity, collective strength and cooperation of workers for a common goal.
If there is an industrial struggle brewing at LWR we SHOULD be hearing about it because any official worth their dues would be making sure that ALL OTHER WORKERS knew about it. Especially as almost anyone could have predicted that mass layoffs were on the cards as soon as the crisis hit.

Unionism in one factory is about as tenable as socialism in one country… and we know how that ended up.

Wherever there are more layoffs there should be clear calls by the affected unions for solidarity, clear calls for all-up (cross-union or public) meetings to discuss the issue, clear requests for pickets, and attempts to build campaigns to defend jobs.

If this is done, then the affected workers are able to see the full forces that are willing to rally to their side. If, at this point they decide that they do not have the will to fight for their jobs then there can be no stain on the reputation of the union leader concerned.

But where no such calls have been issued, then we (workers and union activists) are well within our rights to demand explanations of our officials as to why not, because it is clear as the day is cold that the strategy being advocated at the present time are simply not working to defend jobs.

FYI – here is some pictorial evidence of this fact (as observed this morning) at the LWR plant in CHCH. Before the “negotiations” are even completed there is machinery being removed out the back door.

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

i wrote the piece, above. obviously i am a union official but i think it is important that we as anti-capitalists criticise bureaucratic tendencies within unions (especially our own).

i agree with scott, "The key to a healthy union is an engaged active militant rank and file".

that said, where are the healthy rank and file in LWR? and where is the attempt from anarchist and socialist organisers in the NDU to push for something as simple as a delegates committee within LWR to make the decisions around the fightback.

i also think that it is the responsibility of union organisers and delegates to move apathetic/depoliticised/demoralised workers into militant union members. That's what we are paid to do. the best thing that radicalises workers is struggle. nothing like a strike or lock out to turn a fresh union member into a militant : )

sometimes union officials actually have to take the lead and go and do something far beyond the political consciousness of the members. i.e. matt mccarten putting his car up against the door of a call centre in april so scabs couldn't get in.

chur
omar

Re: "Let them eat cake!" - NDU sells out clothing workers

Omar says: “sometimes union officials actually have to take the lead and go and do something far beyond the political consciousness of the members. i.e. matt mccarten putting his car up against the door of a call centre in april so scabs couldn't get in”

Hey Omar , no disrespect man, but if there was a mass picket of angry organised workers at the door – then no scab would dare try and get in in the first place.

My experience is that sometimes individual union bureaucrats can do stuff that appears superficially radical, but often this is as a last resort because they have not organised enough union foot-soldiers on the ground to do the job in the first place.

Every Strike is an experience, but every experience contains a lesson. Proverb