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After the shake-up

Written By: - Date published: 3:05 pm, June 14th, 2009 - 16 comments
Categories: democratic participation, workers' rights - Tags:

Ever growing numbers of workers aren’t playing the old game any more. Shawn Hattingh has a good piece over at znet documenting some of the moves permitted in the emerging new game. From ‘bossnappings’ in France to occupations and full workplace takeovers and the adoption of self management systems in places as diverse as Scotland, China, Turkey, Greece, S Korea the list goes on, but not in New Zealand.

Why not?

LWR was after all, a perfect example of a closure begging for a workers’ takeover.

If the answer to the above question is simply that New Zealand is too culturally conservative to even begin contemplating anything other than the old games and the old rules, then yesterday was already the time to quit navel staring and focus on possible future horizons.

If the new game gains an ever surer foothold across the world, New Zealand will increasingly be viewed as a once quaint but now dystopic, stultified anachronism adrift in a sea of radical, positive and ongoing changes.

Where is the discussion in NZ of the practicalities and possibilities so that the next time a LWR comes round we will be able to play the new game too?

Guest Post – Bill

16 comments on “After the shake-up ”

  1. Byron 1

    “If the answer to the above question is simply that New Zealand is too culturally conservative to even begin contemplating anything other than the old games and the old rules…”

    New Zealand has a militant labour history so I don’t think we can blame “cultural conservatism” There has been a consorted effort for that history to be taken out of the mainstream and replaced by the individualistic man-on-the-Speights-commercial view of early New Zealand. There has along side that been a growth of individualistic ideology that means people don’t think of themselves as part of the working class- 85% of New Zealander’s call themselves middle class! (source) despite the fact that 70% of us do believe there is a class system in this country. The blame I think lies here and its only over the past generation or two that this has happened.

    All that said, I’m not trying to be overly critical. Standard, get this guest poster back, this type of stuff is much more interesting (and important) than the parliamentary circus.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      85% of New Zealander’s call themselves middle class!

      Which is quite interesting since 75% of earners earn the average wage (~$55k) and probably about half of earners earn less than half that. This illustrates a problem – people no longer have a clear of what “class” is. If they did people who are obviously in the lower class wouldn’t be putting themselves in the middle class.

      Of course, class itself is a hard concept to define anyway. It certainly can’t be done using dollar values alone. An individual on $40k may think they have a significant income but if that was the income for a household things would look markedly different.

  2. There’s nothing ever stopping workers from taking action.

    The point is that for the large part, most of the left are happier taking pot shots from the safety of the sidelines. They aren’t prepared to put the courage of their political convictions into practice.

    Again, your analysis is trite as you want the radicalism evident elsewhere whilst not acknowledging that there isn’t the same type of problems in NZ. The problem in NZ is that the banks are making too much problem … that ain’t the case in the US or UK.

    Don’t get me wrong. A left perspective is healthy and there are valid issues raised about the quality of some management – the LWR case is as you know quite a different kettle of fish.

    Anyway, i’d encourage you to take over LWR – nothing’s stopping you but a dollar to a donut you won’t do anything about it. Why not?

  3. Quoth the Raven 3

    I think part of the problem is that unions here are sclerotic bureaucracies coopted into the state-capitalist-corporate-plutocratic system. What we need are radical unions. Unions that don’t try to curry favour with the state.

    • Anita 3.1

      Does Unite count as a radical union for you?

      • Quoth the Raven 3.1.1

        From the outside it appears to be better than say the EPMU, but I simply don’t know enough about Unite. I’m thinking more along the lines of the IWW.

        • Morgan 3.1.1.1

          You should learn more about Unite. A lot of militant talk but very little substance from my experience. You know someone’s talking out their arse when they go on about how Unite is the great radical union of the future.

          I’m not belittling their work. They’re dedicated alright. But let’s not buy into the hype so easily. I’d have thought the fiasco at VUWSA would have exposed some of the weaknesses in Unite’s organisation.

          The larger unions (EPMU, NDU, SFWU etc) don’t talk themselves up, they just put the work in and get results for their members. They all have their problems sure, but you know they’re not going to stuff you around.

          I’ve never seen whether a union is affiliated to Labour have any effect on how well they represent their members. It just means they have a stronger voice on Labour’s policy (though this has rarely been used as well as it should in my opinion). It’s actually disappointing to hear left-wingers repeat these right-wing talking points when they should know better.

  4. Bill 4

    Daveski. The problem in NZ is exactly the same as elsewhere. Workers are losing their jobs. End. The solution is to avoid the situation of a commissar (boss) being able to take you out at the knees.

    Self management is a solution. And while collectives still have to operate within the constraints of a market economy in the short term, they can still move towards trading in a marketless economy in the medium and long term.

    What is stopping workers taking action is lack of information and knowledge. That can only be rectified through wide ranging debate of the possibilities and the practicalities involved in taking particular actions.

    So far, it might seem that workers in NZ will settle for cake stalls. But then, there is no discourse to inform them that much more is possible. You are a perfect example of the resulting dearth of understanding. You think I should take over LWR? You’re clearly sailing way over the top of any comprehension of what is being proposed to come out with a statement like that.

  5. Bill 5

    Anita and QtR.

    I hear that discussions are under way to see the IWW re-established in NZ…

  6. Bill 6

    Byron.

    New Zealand had a radical past to the extent that we (workers) controlled the parameters of our various debates/dialogues.

    To be overly cynical, we now suck on corporate pap to such an extent that we have ‘lost’ the ability to think and converse outside of the limits set down for us by their media.

    We need to reclaim our minds and voices and point blank refuse to shut the fcuk up. That we settle for cake stalls as opposed to occupations or takeovers: that to talk of takeovers draws looks akin to what might be cast at the village idiot speaks volumes to the extent that we have been gagged.

    We need to begin to change this abysmal state of affairs.

    Blogs don’t measure up to person to person conversation, but they can perhaps serve to get the ball rolling and get some ideas out of the territory of the ‘unthinkable’ and back into the realm of the thinkable.

  7. Lew 7

    The problem is that when you decide to selectively ignore the rule of law in order to serve your own political or economic ends, you normalise and legitimate similar such behaviour from your political enemies.

    In the case in point, the NZ trade union movement can hold heads high and claim the side of righteousness having been subjected to brutal repression on the waterfronts, having done nothing to earn such a response. The moment they hold a boss to ransom, occupy a factory or otherwise start firing shots from the ramparts, industry has every moral right to call for the full force of state coercion to protect their rights in law, and every economic reason to use all resources to strengthen the measures at their disposal by reform of that same law.

    I’m all for direct action beyond the usual withholding of labour and massaging of public opinion when there genuinely are no alternatives, and when the stakes are high enough. But it’s a tradeoff between the immediate gains from the tactical situations chosen and in the norms of labour-capital interaction on the one hand, and the inevitable long-term losses suffered when the more powerful, wealthier, better-equipped, better-connected capital interests decide to turn up the heat. Essentially, shorn of ideological ambition, the calculus comes down to two value judgements: first, whether the current state of things is so bad as to be worth opening that can of worms; and second, is there the faintest hope in hell of actually succeeding?

    In NZ in 2009, I think both tests fail.

    L

    • Bill 7.1

      Lew
      There is essentially very little difference in the law or culture of Scotland and NZ.

      Prisme Packaging in Dundee is now under worker control and self managed. Legally.

      So why not LWR?

      Well, in Scotland there are a number of pre-existing workers’ collectives that were set up from scratch and have been on the go for some years now. In other words there are existing examples to offer inspiration and knowledge…the dialogue of possibilities is different.

      NZ appears to be locked into a mind set of orthodoxy that consigns certain possibilities to the realm of the ‘unthinkable’. That can be changed, and in my mind, ought to be changed as a matter of some priority.

      • Quoth the Raven 7.1.1

        Strawman much Lew? There is no need for violence and no one said there was.

  8. Lew 8

    Bill, QtR,

    Prisme Packaging in Dundee is now under worker control and self managed. Legally.

    There is no need for violence and no one said there was.

    Prisme wasn’t really what I was objecting to – a peaceful occupation with relatively calm negotiation in apparently good faith. Other actions documented in the linked article and elsewhere are decidedly less civil. Korean protests definitely weren’t , and the absurdly euphemistic “bossnapping” is most certainly coercive and would need to either turn violent or fail if the napped boss was to assert his right to not be held to ransom by a bunch of vigilantes.

    L

  9. Bill 9

    The initial occupation was unlawful. But support for the action was widespread with people in the community delivering food, fund raising and sleeping over with the workers.

    Had there not been the public support, I’d guess the local cops would have been sent down and that would have been that.

    Also, negotiations do not appear to have involved much in the way of good faith. Of the two directors, one resigned the day before the redundancies to avoid liability and the other transferred all his shares to another company. ( Not sure how that worked, anyway…)

    At some point during the occupation, which initially seemed designed to secure redundancy payments etc, the idea of taking the factory over came up and a plan to turn it into a collective or workers’ coop was successfully pursued.

    That final step didn’t arrive out of the blue. There exists a pool of knowledge (albeit quite small) that the workers could draw upon.

    That, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist in NZ. Therefore, workers here have an avenue for potential solutions to closures blocked. There is no excuse for not having the necessary debates and discussions that would tap into and make available the knowledge accumulated by collectives in other countries.

    Once worker control is perceived as a viable option in any given situation, events will unfold on a case by case basis. Maybe public support will be lacking sometimes. Maybe the situation will sometimes become violent. Ultimately some situations will be fruitful and others won’t.

    As of now, it is not even seen as an option. Is it healthy that the Left in NZ see this lack of options as ok? Is the Left even aware of the possibilities and the practical obstacles? If not, why not? And if not, then shouldn’t the Left get down to educating itself on this stuff without delay?

  10. P@t 10

    Republic door company in Chicago is another world famous example of a successful factory occupation.

    This action was so powerful that even president Obama had to take a public stand on it. (He came down on the side of the workers.)

    Republic door workers refused to take their redundancies lying down, and occupied their factory in defiance of the police and city authorities, acting on the behest of the bank and the receivers.

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