- Tim Bowron and Don Franks
On April 17 manufacturer Fisher & Paykel announced that it would be closing its Mosgiel plant near Dunedin and shifting production to Mexico, Thailand and Italy with the loss of some 430 jobs. Hard on the heels of this announcement came the news that Dunedin textile firm Tamahine Knitwear which employs about 50 workers would also be closing its doors, while in the banking sector ANZ National Bank is to move approximately 500 clerical and IT jobs to India.
National and local body politicians wept crocodile tears over the news; Finance Minister Michael Cullen lamenting that “manufacturing jobs of this sort have been moving, sadly, to third world countries around the world for any number of years” while Dunedin mayor Peter Chin said he was “shocked” and “hugely disappointed.”
Chin nevertheless expressed the pious hope “that Government support is there in terms of the issues that will arise for employees” and then added “I would trust that Fisher & Paykel will deal with their employees in a proper way.”
Mayor Peter Chin leads a council which in recent years has provided millions of dollars in rates relief to Fisher & Paykel bosses; however it is a fair bet that no such generosity will be shown to the soon to be made redundant workers.
Meanwhile it’s not as though political leaders have any reason to be surprised at the outcome in the case of Fisher & Paykel.
During last years Dunedin mayoral election the Workers Party took up the issue of another local employer, Wickliffe Press, which despite receiving lavish subsidies had in August 2007 decided to relocate its business elsewhere - demanding the abolition of such corporate welfare and calling instead “for all those large businesses that are threatened with closure because they are no longer deemed profitable by their owners to be taken over and run by workers themselves.” (see original campaign leaflet here)
So what are the leaders of the union movement saying about this latest wave of redundancies?
Predictably, instead of laying the blame where it belongs at the feet of the employers and the capitalist system, EPMU national secretary Andrew Little could only offer the criticism that “most exporting manufacturers in New Zealand are struggling with a high US-NZ dollar but you expect companies the size of Fisher & Paykel to work hard to keep jobs here.” He also complained that the union had “not been properly consulted on this decision” and threatened that the union might “be looking to the international trade union movement for information and advice about conditions in Mexico and measuring conditions there against conditions here.”
CTU president Helen Kelly expressed the vain hope that a capitalist employer might be prepared to accept a lower rate of profitability in order to retain jobs in New Zealand as she asked rhetorically “with an after tax profit last year of $61 million, how much more money for shareholders does Fisher and Paykel think they really need?.”
As the daughter of former long-standing Communist Party members, Kelly ought to know that under capitalism morality simply doesn’t enter into business decisions and appeals to employers to put the interests of people ahead of profits are entirely pointless and utopian.
Instead what trade unions should be doing is insisting that since workers are the only people in society who create new value that the control and ownership of production actually belongs to them - not the parasitical managers and shareholders. If the managers and shareholders want to relocate overseas that’s fine - but their factories and offices will be taken over and run by the workers themselves (as is already happening right at this moment in Venezuela). Ultimately, the problem of job losses and redundancies has nothing to do with exchange rates, free trade agreements or cheap labour in Third World countries. At the end of the day the fight to keep local jobs is nothing other than a fight against the logic of capitalism itself.
WORKERS PARTY MESSAGE TO REDUNDANT WORKERS
Union leaders facing large factory or office layoffs have a clear choice.
They can take the safe well trodden path of surrender, or stand up to lead their members in a resolute fight back.
Union leaders prepared to do their duty should call all up meetings of the affected workers and blame the company for the threatened layoffs.
They should encourage worker’s demands that the company change its policy.
They should advocate workers occupation of the plant, and organise daily pickets.
Instead of crying about job losses affecting the community, union leaders should get out to those sections of the community who care and get some action going. They should demand nationwide union support, in the form of plant visits, solidarity messages, money collection, public meetings and company office picketing.
Union leaders should tell workers the more defiance they show, the more chance they have of keeping their jobs, or, at the very least, getting a bigger payout to shut them up. Union leaders should remind their members that they’re fighting for their class and that their strong stand today will change public attitudes to redundancy tomorrow and thus help future threatened workers.
That formulae is not ‘realistic’ in some union office terms. It will not help any union official up the ladder to a parliamentary career; it will call down the wrath of the establishment and may even land someone in jail. But the hard truth is, outright active defiance is the best shot the workers have to get a better deal. Workers threatened with redundancy have nothing to lose. Their choice is tame acceptance of dead end legalities or active fightback. Only one of those options has any possible chance of improving their lot.
The Workers Party will actively support any of our fellow workers efforts to defend their jobs.