McDonald’s workers upsize their pay

February 9, 2009

-Daphna Whitmore
The Spark February 2009

After a series of strikes, Unite union members at McDonald’s restaurants have a new collective agreement with improved wages and conditions. Their actions included 50 strikes in dozens of stores from Whangarei to Hamilton and a protest outside the company’s national conference. There was a real fighting spirit at several stores, and the vote to settle was only passed by a narrow majority.

Improvements won include a one-off bonus payment, and significant pay rises for team leaders and supervisors. Staff are to have more secure hours, which was one of the union’s key claims. When additional work hours are available they will be offered to existing staff, instead of more part-time or casualised positions being created.

While the agreement has been settled, the campaign is not over. The starting rates for frontline staff are linked to the minimum wage. So if the minimum wage, which is currently $12 an hour, goes up in March, then so too will their wages. Unite is campaigning for the minimum wage to go up by a dollar an hour every year until it reaches $15.

Kindergarten teachers deserve wider support

February 8, 2009

-Don Franks

The Spark February 2009

Kindergarten teachers are seeking to ensure they don’t cop a 90-day trial period when they start a new job.

The workers’ union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, has lodged the first employment claim in response to the National government’s anti-worker Employment Relations Amendment Act 2008. (Under the new law, rushed through Parliament before Christmas without any public consultation, an employer need give no reason for sacking someone in any work site of less than 20 people within the first 90 days of their employment.)

NZEI’s National Secretary Paul Goulter says the union believes the 90-day probation legislation is unfair and unjust to workers and has serious implications for the education sector where recruitment is a major challenge.

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How capitalism works – and doesn’t work

February 7, 2009

workersresistance09poster1Philip Ferguson

The Spark February 2009

(The following article is the first in a two-part series on the present economic crisis. This part explains how the system operates; the second part, in our March issue, will be an examination of what’s happening right now - and what workers can do about it.)

According to, “In every economic system, entrepreneurs and managers bring together natural resources, labor, and technology to produce and distribute goods and services.” They do qualify this by claiming, “But the way these different elements are organized and used also reflects a nation’s political ideals and its culture.” (They also note Marx’s description of a capitalist economy as one in which a small group of people who control wealth make the key economic decisions.)

It’s important to understand that the idea that every economic system has, or requires, “entrepreneurs and managers” in order to operate is factually wrong. For most of the time that human beings have existed we lived in collective societies, without entrepreneurs and managers. Different social classes only arose about 10,000 years ago and it’s only in the past few hundred years that capitalism has been the dominant global system. Facts, however, have never been allowed to get in the way of capitalist ideology – that is, the set of ideas which seek to justify the present system and usually do so by making it appear that capitalism is ‘natural’ and eternal.

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Free the Cuban Five!

February 5, 2009

Below we republish a statement put out recently by the Christchurch Cuba Friendship Society calling for the release of the 5 Cuban government agents currently incarcerated in the USA for spying on right-wing Cuban exile groups in Miami who are guilty of engaging in terrorist attacks against the island nation:

Meeting calls on President Obama to release the Cuban Five

The Christchurch Cuba Friendship Society (CCFS) has called on President Barack Obama to free the Cuban Five.

The CCFC meeting, held in the city Thursday night, welcomed President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo torture camp and urged that he take the next logical step and abandon the facility altogether to its rightful owner the people of Cuba.

The meeting also resolved to write to Mr Obama seeking justice for the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters held in US prisons for the past 10 years.

“Much has been said on the issue of change by President Obama now is the time for action” CCFS spokesperson Paul Piesse (above) said. “Guantanamo should not simply be closed but returned to the people of Cuba along with the anti-terrorist fighters unjustly imprisoned in the US.” Mr Piesse added.

The five, Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando González were gathering information about terrorist groups that operate on US soil “Their actions” Mr. Piesse noted “helped prevent terrorist acts and protect innocent civilians. Their continued imprisonment is a travesty of justice”

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that the men’s imprisonment is in breach of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Mr Obama” Piesse noted “is now in a position to demonstrate his commitment to ‘honesty, courage and fair play’ - it’s time to walk the talk.”

The meeting also called on Unions, Churches and all those who seek justice to also petition the new US President for the Cuba Fives immediate release.

Deer Hunting with Jesus

February 4, 2009

Dispatches from America's Class War

 Reviewed by Jill Brasell

(The Spark February 2009)

Journalist and blogger Joe Bageant grew up among the working-class people of Winchester, Virginia, and a question has evidently itched him ever since he escaped from (and then returned to) that community. Why do the working class reject liberalism, and instead hold tight to ideas that work against their own interests?

Deer Hunting with Jesus (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2007) is a series of loosely connected essays that attempts to answer that question. Bageant is a sharp observer and the book is a thought-provoking and often entertaining read as he takes a bottom-up look at globalisation, home ownership, healthcare, guns, Abu Ghraib, Christian fundamentalism and what he calls “the American hologram”.

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“Two States” - a Zionist solution

February 2, 2009

Below we publish the text of a talk given by Mike Walker at a recent Workers Party public forum in Christchurch.

If we are to believe the hype true liberation and self determination for the Palestinian people will be forthcoming with what is commonly referred to as the “two state solution”. This supposed “solution” would leave the racist structures of the Israeli state in place and therefore the fundamental cause of the ‘conflict’ also in place. This proposal would confine Palestinians to less than twenty per cent of the land mandated by the British in 1947 and would leave the situation of Palestinians driven from their homes in what is now Israel unresolved. It would render invisible the alienated enclaves divided by checkpoints, barriers, the annexation wall and a brutal military occupation in the West Bank; combined with the Gaza strip, which has been called the largest concentration camp in the world. This represents the Palestinian Bantustan.

It is crucial as we look at the current situation in Palestine to keep in mind the “two state solution” and to contextualise the history with an emphasis on the history of Zionism and the conduct of Zionist leaders since the creation of the state of Israel.

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Make National’s “Fire at Will” law a dead letter!

February 2, 2009


A forum to discuss plans for resisting the new 90-day legislation, the National-led government’s Xmas present to workers, is being held on Wednesday, February 4 at the WEA (Workers Educational Association) building, 59 Gloucester St, Christchurch, starting at 7pm.

Speakers include Andrew Mckenzie (Alliance; and a lawyer specialising in labour issues); Byron Clark (Workers Party; youth union activist); Fay Birch (cleaner and worker-advocate, specialising in personal grievance issues). Other union speakers have been invited.

The meeting is organised by the Workers Party and the Alliance Party.

All welcome!

Review: Teamster Rebellion

February 2, 2009

Teamster Rebellion is a classic, and highly recommended for anyone interested in strengthening the union movement as we head into recession. First in the Teamster series, this compelling account of the 1934 strikes in Minneapolis sheds light on the rewards of worker militancy. Author Farrell Dobbs was one of the central leaders at the time, and he lays out the various strategies and pitfalls of the strike with admirable clarity.

Dobbs makes it clear that the biggest setback for workers in the Great Depression was a bureaucratic union movement. In fact, membership in unions actually declined in the early days of the Depression. Dobbs describes the “business unionism” of the American Federation of Labour, involving strict division of crafts, a minimum of strikes and suppression of dissidence.

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