“A new union to fight for the future of work”

Written By: - Date published: 5:00 pm, August 10th, 2015 - 48 comments
Categories: Unions, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The two largest Labour Party affiliated unions are going to merge. From the EPMU website:

Members of two of the biggest private sector unions in New Zealand have voted in favour of a merger.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, with over 30,000 members, and the Service and Food Workers Union, with over 20,000 members, will become the second largest union in the country, after the PSA.

“This is a huge step forward for all working New Zealanders,” says Bill Newson, national secretary of the EPMU. “A strong union movement is the foundation for good wages, skills recognition, and decent working conditions.

“Too many Kiwis aren’t in a union and don’t see how they can get a better deal at work. We want to reach those workers and help them make a difference through collective bargaining.”

“The nature of work is changing and workers have to stand together against exploitative trends like stagnant wages, zero-hour contracts, down-skilling and insecure work.

“By combining the strength and resources of two unions, our members will be able to fight for a fair share of the profits of their labour.”

The new union will be formally launched, with a new name and brand, on 7 October in Wellington.

“90% of private sector workers have no realistic right to collective bargaining, and are being held back by repressive laws and the casualisation of the workforce,” says John Ryall, national secretary of the SFWU.

“The new union will be a force for change. It will be a diverse, active organisation, fighting for industrial gains and progressive causes and making a real difference in Kiwis’ lives.

“Together, we will campaign for the living wage, for strong health and safety laws, and for the rights of every worker to be treated with dignity and respect.”

48 comments on ““A new union to fight for the future of work””

  1. adam 1

    There is Power inthe Union

    Would you have freedom from wage slavery, D G
    Then come, join* the Grand Industrial band; *(join in the) A7 D //
    Would you from misery and hunger be free,
    Come on!* Do your share, lend a hand**
    *(Then come!) **(like a man)

    There is pow’r, there is pow’r, in a band of working folk* D – G D
    When they stand hand in hand, *(men) A7 – D –
    That’s a pow’r, that’s a pow’r that must rule in every land D – G D
    One Industrial Union Grand. A7 – – D

    Would you have mansions of gold in the sky,
    And live in a shack, way in the back?
    Would you have wings up in heaven to fly?
    And starve here with rags on your back?

    If you’ve had “nuff” of these corp’rate demands* *(the “blood of the lamb”)
    Then join in the grand Industrial band;
    If, for a change, you would have eggs and ham,
    Come on!* Do your share, lend a hand** *(Then come!) **(like a man)

    If you like sluggers to beat on* your head, *(off)
    Then don’t organize, all unions despise.
    If you want nothing before you are dead,
    Shake hands with your boss and look wise.

    Come all you* workers, from every land, *(ye)
    Come join in the Grand Industrial band;
    Then we our share of this earth shall demand.
    Come on! Do your share, lend a hand* *(like a man)

    Joe Hill, 1913, 5th Edition IWW Songbook
    * original lyrics in brackets) (also, see below)

    Noam Chomsky was asked in the May/June 1995 issue of Mother Jones magazine. “What is community?” His response:

    “Community is PR bullshit designed in the thirties by the corporations when they became terrified by the collapse of their society brought on by the Wagner Act and the labor movement. They developed new techniques to control the population and inculcate the concept of living together in harmony; all Americans, all working together: the sober working man, the hard working executive, the housewife. And ‘Them’ – the outsiders trying to disrupt. Community is a bit of a joke. Only labor has succeeded. That’s why business hates unions. Only they can create real community and democracy

    From the little red Song book. http://littleredsongbook.blogspot.co.nz/

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Would you have freedom from wage slavery, D G
      Then come, join* the Grand Industrial band; *(join in the) A7 D //
      Would you from misery and hunger be free,
      Come on!* Do your share, lend a hand**
      *(Then come!) **(like a man)

      Today’s unions aren’t advocating freedom from wage slavery though. Moving towards freedom from wage slavery would always have meant unions in their current form becoming less and less relevant as workers began to own the means of production, and entire businesses, for themselves, co-operatively and democratically.

      Today we are stuck in a model of wage slavery. Where the worker is paid by the boss, is at the beck and call of the boss, and all the worker’s output, creativity and productivity is owned by the boss.

      As the song says – would you have freedom from wage slavery?

      • AmaKiwi 1.1.1

        CV, I tend to agree.

        I have ideas about two different solutions, but have little experience of either.

        1. Cooperatives. The workers own the company.

        2. Mandated union representatives on company board of directors.

        I heard about this from the owner of a medium size German company (1,000 to 1,500 employees). He said German law requires a certain proportion of union representatives on “HIS” company’s board. He hated it, which I took as a positive sign.

        • Colonial Viper

          This US site “democracy at work” has a lot of good ideas


          The Marxian economist Richard Wolff has been a driving force behind the concept

        • miravox

          “Mandated union representatives on company board of directors”

          Austria and Germany have very similar legislated workplace representation. In Austria, it’s Works Council representatives that have board level representation, not the Trade Unions reps. A minor, but important distinction with trade union membership being voluntary but works council membership not.

          Re hating it – I’m aware that even anglo-country lefties at management level sometimes get impatient with the power that management decisions are debated with workers, but have to quietly wait for consensus to come about. It’s quite a different management culture in employment relations. Hard to see how managers in German and Austrian-based companies could find a valid reason for objecting to it though.

          A bit of info is here

          The Chamber of Labour also has an active role in the legislative process, which is crucial to the overall system of worker representation.

          As an aside, I read somewhere (and I can’t find the link again) that Austria has the Marshall Plan to thank for worker representation on company boards. It was either implemented (or re-instigated) after the war due to frustration with the secrecy inherent in the Chamber system of business. Imagine an American project implementing a model like that these days.

    • Bill 1.2

      Hell Adam, you and I both know there is power in the union and we both ascribe to the OBU concept. But when unions are merging in reaction to years of anti-union legislation, well… OBU, it ain’t.

      • weka 1.2.1

        Yeah, I’m wondering why this merger of the unions is a good thing. Can anyone explain? (it doesn’t actually say in the quote).

        • Atiawa

          Unionism isn’t growing. A merger of the countries two largest private sector unions will allow a continued union organising presence in cities and large towns. Small unions do not have the resources required to be effective i.e dedicated legal, campaigns, H&S, comm’s & research teams and membership support ( up to date IT systems, 0800 assistance ) and strategies and resources for growth.
          Lastly, but by no means less – for survival.

      • adam 1.2.2

        I agree totally Bill.

        I had an ironic moment.

  2. Rodel 2

    A private sector union of 50,000 members. We need this to combat the key problem in NZ. Congratulations EPMU and SWFU.

    • Atiawa 2.1

      The EPMU had over 50,000 members in 2005. Don’t rely upon the union movement to combat this government’s obsession with market forces.
      Unions will need 500,000 members to have any chance of affecting change.

  3. Neil 3

    Makes me think of this great song from “The Strawbs” that says it all.

    Part Of The Union.

    Now I’m a union man
    Amazed at what I am
    I say what I think, that the company stinks
    Yes I’m a union man

    When we meet in the local hall
    I’ll be voting with them all
    With a hell of a shout, it’s “Out brothers, out!”
    And the rise of the factory’s fall

    Oh, you don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    Until the day I die, until the day I die

    As a union man I’m wise
    To the lies of the company spies
    And I don’t get fooled by the factory rules
    ‘Cause I always read between the lines

    And I always get my way
    If I strike for higher pay
    When I show my card to the Scotland Yard
    And this is what I say

    Oh, oh, you don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    Until the day I die, until the day I die

    Before the union did appear
    My life was half as clear
    Now I’ve got the power to the working hour
    And every other day of the year

    So though I’m a working man
    I can ruin the government’s plan
    And though I’m not hard, the sight of my card
    Makes me some kind of superman

    Oh, oh, oh, you don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    Until the day I die, until the day I die

    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    You don’t get me, I’m part of the union
    Until the day I die, until the day I die

  4. Ad 4

    Bittersweet, but all power to them.

    I hope, after a change of government, the unions rise again.

    • BM 4.1

      Why would they?

      • Ad 4.1.1

        Whether or not they would, they should. Because my experience of NZ’s EPMU is that they are good people, trying to protect other people who are being deliberately hurt.

      • mickysavage 4.1.2

        Labour will no doubt run a fair process, listen to all views and try to create a system that all parties can live with.

        On the other hand National does not give a fuck about working class aspirations, wants to fuck over the unions as far as it is politically possible and will confuse and distort the debate so that this can occur.

        So the tide comes in a certain amount, rushes out, comes back in a certain amount, rushes out …

        • AmaKiwi

          Micky, did you see my note above 1.1.1

          If a Labour government passed a law requiring union representation on company boards of directors, I think that would be nearly impossible for a future Tory government to undo.

          I want structural changes that are not easily reversed.

          That’s Key’s strategy. He’s ripped the country to pieces and some of it will never be able to be returned to its previous condition no matter how many decades the Left is in power.

          • mickysavage

            Hi AK.

            Union representation on the board would help. As long as they were accountable to the workers.

            The basic problem is the flow of wealth from the poor and working class to the rich. Worker representation will help but the causes are tax changes, attacks on beneficiaries, changes to union laws, corporate advertising …

            • Colonial Viper

              the power of board of directors representation is the prevention of off shoring and contracting out of core work, at the highest levels of decision making. Also preventing restructuring and any other steps aimed solely at destroying workers incomes and conditions.

              Imagine full worker representation on the Fisher & Paykel board – the decision to shift plants to Mexico would not have been taken in the way it was.

              Boards can also greatly limit executive pay levels.

          • millsy

            “That’s Key’s strategy. He’s ripped the country to pieces and some of it will never be able to be returned to its previous condition no matter how many decades the Left is in power.”

            That is the strategy going back to 1984. Key is only the latest. Case in point: You will never get the Ministry of Works back, nor the education boards.

            • Puckish Rogue

              Have you ever worked with any guys from the old Ministry of Works?

              • millsy

                They may have been a bit slow, but we got some half decent stuff out of them.

                The government did an audit of all the schools in this country, and found the schools that were built by the old MOW were more earthquake resistant than more recent designs.

                • Puckish Rogue

                  Well I have and the stories they told me (whether it was true or not I can’t say) makes me glad we don’t have the MoW now

                  Of course a MoW with a different set of guidelines would be a another story

              • Colonial Viper

                Have you ever worked with any guys from the old Ministry of Works?

                They built the infrastructure which powers the country. Your point?

                • Puckish Rogue

                  My point being that you throw enough people at a project and you can build anything but the individuals involved (and admitidly its not a big sample) told me about how there more people employed then was really needed so unless there was change involved, ie if its a three person you use three people not six or seven, then i wouldn’t support it at all and I’m glad its gone

                • Liberty

                  “They built the infrastructure which powers the country. Your point?”
                  Dream on
                  They built a polish ship yard. Fortunately Bob Jones help remove Muldoon in 1984.
                  For a couple of years prosperity. Until Lange lost his nerve. Had a cup of tea.
                  The country once again headed for the socialist cesspit. Nearly saved by Richardson.
                  Then a line up of useless pinkos Bolger,Peters,Clark and Cullen.
                  How bad was that.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    “They built a Polish ship yard”

                    Poland was one of the most advanced, wealthiest Eastern European nations of its day.

                    Ruth Richardson, Roger Douglas et al whom you admire, destroyed far more value than they created.

                    You probably didn’t notice that because all you cared about was a few percent of Kiwis getting rich off the demolition.

                    • liberty

                      “Ruth Richardson, Roger Douglas et al whom you admire, destroyed far more value than they created.”

                      It is true I admire Ruth, Along with Bill English. Simply the best finance ministers NZ has had.
                      I didn’t say anything about Douglas. That was because he was a useless tit.
                      Sure he rightfully stopped the farming subsidies. That was easy picking.
                      What about the bloated public service. Trimmed the odd corner but didn’t have the balls
                      To get rid of TV1, TV2 and radio NZ.etc etc. Then State broadcasting is the bastion socialism In NZ.

      • Atiawa 4.1.3

        Why would they?

        A change of government will most certainly involve the Labour party. Who’s best interests does Labour purport to represent? Workers.
        How did the Labour party come about in this country? Through workers, via their unions, demanding a political voice.
        Who is the leader of the Labour party? A previous National secretary of the countries largest private sector union.
        What has that leader said about alleviating poverty? People need good job’s & wages.
        Who can enable those good wages for workers are secured? Unions.

  5. joe90 5

    Some Dickie.

  6. millsy 6

    People like to talk about how bugger all people join a union these days, but they forget that more people are member of a union than any other voluntary organisation (ie Lions, Jaycees, Rotarians, Ponsonby RFC, etc).

    And it is a common fact, that union members get better pay and conditions than any other worker, and that saves the government money, through less need for government handouts, ie WFF, Accomodation Supplement, etc

  7. Atiawa 7

    So. A new union will be launched in October representing private sector employees in a variety of industries – manufacturing, engineering energy, aged care, food,aviation,hospitality and more.
    It won’t be called the EPMU or the SFWU.

    What is your choice of name or acronym for this merged union??

    Mine is UNITED.

    • A bit close to Unite, doncha reckon? Solidarity? Engage (keeps the EPMU/EU ‘E’ at the front). Kia Kaha? Te Kite? Together? Strike!?

      • Atiawa 7.1.1

        My preference would be Unite. Maybe do a deal with McCarten.
        Not sure about your suggestions – the Solidarity union – nah. The Together union -no thanks. The Strike union – doubt it. Kia Kaha union – not really.
        The Workers Voice union, maybe?

        • lprent

          McCarten is pretty full time being Andrew Little’s chief of staff?

          • Atiawa

            There’s bound to be influence still. Lets face it this merger is as much to do with the future of unionism as it is about anything else and the future isn’t too rosie if we don’t change the government.

      • Tiger Mountain 7.1.2

        TUFA–The Union For All

        Though really there need only be two unions in NZ–the PSA and UNITE, all private sector unions including FIRST, EPMU/SFWU etc could eventually ‘unite’ under that name

        with precarious, agency, contract and unpaid work (internships, jail and NCEA points trade off for work) there is a definite need for a coherent attempt at organising these people too

  8. upnorth 8

    Some interesting questions and thoughts
    1. Head office will need to be streamlined so I guess restructuring will happen
    2. Will numbers go up – all business models show while top line sales may increase the operating costs are generally reduced to improve bottom-lines therefore membership will in theory decrease but subscriptions increase.
    3. annoyed members – some members will resign because they like old way and not everyone can be serviced – how will the new union deal with that?
    4. Why merge – no logical explanation has been put forward yet?
    5. Striking maybe a tool to get change but those processes are still in place so can see any upside there.
    6. New name – much will debated then spent – as a member can I ask how much has been put aside for re-branding?
    7. Donation to the Labour party will now come under higher scrutiny from the public – how will this be managed?
    8. Will the vote for the leadership be diluted?

    My prediction will be that membership will fall back to 40,000 and there wont be an increase – there will be a leadership struggle around the board table and members will suffer

    However not to be all doom and gloom – there is n opportunity for a stronger voice in the regions – this is where it will benefit the most. However I suggest only 30% of the membership are in the regions so not sure if the ivory tower will deliver.

    Now here is something exciting – why doesnt the new union decide to have its new office in lets say Opotiki – would that not be a boost the regions and back up the issue of the day.

    • Atiawa 8.1

      Sorry upnorth but I don’t see anything interesting with your thoughts and questions.
      I would imagine some economies of scale, such as savings in having one office rather than two. Better deals for vehicle purchase or lease arrangements. A single membership support centre.
      The key to success will be to have a membership growth strategy that connects with communities and perhaps away from the workplace – covert initially, without a boss adding his/her beak into workers business. Oh, and a change of government with worker friendly industrial laws as a priority.
      Nowadays something like 500,000 workers rely upon the government lifting the minimum wage to get a pay increase.
      As for Opotiki. Mohammad went to the mountain, and the mountain isn’t in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

  9. Henry Filth 9

    Given the way that the Western world is evolving, I rather think that if you want to see the future of work, you have a look at Kerala (India).

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