New Zealand: Maximum Support to the Wharfies. Who's next?

The Port of Auckland announced on March 7th, 2012, that it was making the 300 striking workers at the Port of Auckland redundant and contracting out their jobs to scabs (contract workers).

In justifying this decision the Ports Chairman Richard Pearson claimed this would lead to increased productivity improvements resisted by the Maritime Union. Mr. Pearson claims the port will be fully operating in about ten weeks’ time when the contractors from Drake and AWF (formerly Allied Work Force) Group are brought up to standard.

Mr. Pearson went on to add the union will realise they have made a huge mistake with their strike and that competitive stevedoring operations like those at the [non-union] Port of Tauranga are inevitable and should have a chance of working at the Port of Auckland. He went on to state that workers who have been dismissed are welcome to reapply for the jobs with the stevedoring contractors!

Although it is easy for Mr Pearson to say that dismissed workers can reapply for their jobs with the stevedoring contractors. This is a joke in very bad taste. Furthermore, the contracted firms are unlikely to hire union labour because they’ll be seen as troublemakers for demanding decent pay and

Maritime Union national president Gary Parsloe believes the dismissals are illegal because the striking workers were dismissed during contract negotiations that were aimed at resolving issues relating to pay and working conditions at the Port of Auckland. Mr Parsloe remarked the Port of Auckland bosses made little attempt to address the issues brought up by the union and had simply gone through the motions of negotiations as they pushed through their contract changes. Because of this, the Maritime Union is going to the Employment Court to challenge the dismissals.

Mr Parsloe remarked in an article in the NZ Herald: “They have kicked all of us out the door - a competent, qualified, trained-up workforce that [port company chief executive] Tony Gibson thinks are going to all run back in there and work for half the money.”

Both the Greens and the Labour Party have condemned the actions of the Port of Auckland. However, they have also been equally damning of the Auckland Council and Auckland Mayor, and Labour Party member, Len Brown of sitting on their hands for too long and doing nothing.

Mayor Brown responded to the allegation that he sat on the fence and said nothing by claiming that he was unable to do much because of legislation and that it was “absolutely inappropriate for me to jump into disputes or run the port out of the mayor's office''. If he couldn’t do anything practical the act of openly supporting the striking workers would’ve been a major morale booster but, instead, he chose to say nothing when, even from a Labour Party perspective, the workers are in the right. It’s also hypocritical: legislation has never prevented Mayors from taking a stance on issues in the past, as his predecessor John Banks (now an ACT MP) proved all too often.

Even Council transport spokesperson and Labour Party member Mike Lee only offered a mealy-mouthed statement that only time will tell if the Port of Auckland’s tactic of dealing to the workers rather than negotiating better prices from shipping companies was the best approach. With such fighting sentiments I’m sure the bosses are quaking in their Armani suits in fear.

On March 10th, a solidarity rally is being held for the dismissed workers at Britomart in central Auckland where various union leaders from Australia and the United States are expected to lend their solidarity to the dismissed workers by taking action against shipping companies who allow their ships to be unloaded by non-union labour at the Port of Auckland.

For Marxists and an increasing number of workers the situation at the Port of Auckland has become all too typical when it comes to so-called “contract negotiations”. The unions are told what the new pay and conditions are then told to “negotiate in good faith” while the bosses use recruitment agencies like Drake and AWL Group to hire scab workers who are prepared to work for lower pay and lousy working conditions and train them on the side so they can get rid of the union workers as soon as the scabs are up to scratch in the eyes of the management.

Although the Port of Auckland management claim their actions are about improving productivity at the Port the true purpose is to smash one of the few unions that still have clout in the New Zealand workplace. They claim that since the Maritime Union went on strike productivity has improved by 25% and shipping companies have stated that if the Port didn’t change its practices they wouldn’t come back. This is emotive hogwash considering that most goods that come into New Zealand come through Auckland and shipping companies will work with whoever is operating the Port. Whether any of this can be proven is unknown primarily because the New Zealand bourgeois media has never asked the Port of Auckland to prove their claims. Socialist Appeal suspect that these claims do not warrant any serious consideration and are purely propaganda from the Ports of Auckland management put into the right-wing bosses’ papers to discredit the Maritime Union.

The Port of Auckland workers, the AFFCO workers who are having their pay and conditions undermined by the Talley family, and the public servants who are facing major job losses out of an ideologically driven obsession with saving money at any cost need our genuine solidarity. That means standing beside them in the picket lines and during the protests. That means offering them whatever assistance we can to help their families while the workers are out of work. That means not being afraid to stand up in public and sound the battle cry of all workers: “Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose except your chains!” In the modern New Zealand workplace those chains are becoming heavier and tighter by the day.

Socialist Appeal says

  • Maximum Support to the Auckland Wharfies
  • Labour Party members put in remits to Auckland/Northland regional conference supporting the Auckland wharfies and condemning Auckland Council for allowing this to happen
  • Demand Mayor Len Brown sacks the Ports Of Auckland Board of Directors
  • Nationalisation of all New Zealand ports under workers’ control and management