Progress on new superunion

Written By: - Date published: 11:52 am, December 18th, 2007 - 33 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags:

The NZ Herald reports the Service and Food Workers Union, the National Distribution Union and Unite have agreed in principle to merge into a new super-union.

The new union will represent some of the lowest paid workers in the country such as cleaners, checkout operators, fast food workers and factory process workers, and encompasses three of the most militant unions in the country.

And while the membership will be a lot less than the 54,000 suggested in the article (by my reckoning the three unions’ combined membership is around 40,000 members), it will certainly be a major new political and industrial force in this country.

As we pointed out in our post back in September, a merger makes real sense. A super-union’s economies of scale makes for a far more effective campaigning and organising machine, and the new union will need that if it plans to make good on its plans to organise the largely non-unionised retail and hospitality sector.

Matt McCarten certainly has big ambitions:

Unite general secretary Matt McCarten, who has grown his membership five-fold in the past two years through a media-savvy “Supersize my Pay” campaign, said he wanted the new union to double its numbers within a year to easily surpass the country’s biggest union, the 55,000-member Public Service Association.

“It’s not just about a union getting bigger. It’s about getting the critical mass,” he said.

“I think what it will become is the catalyst to organise other unions around it with a campaigning union approach around social justice issues.

“In my view I’d want it doubled within 12 months. The others all think that’s ambitious but I think we could do it, easy.

“I think workers don’t have a problem with joining a union at all. What we need is the capacity to meet their needs – that’s what has held us back.”

Of course, as anyone in politics knows, egos and conflicting interests can sink the best laid plans, and as I understand it the deal is nowhere near as certain as the Herald suggests. There’s also the issue of whether the new union retains the SFWU’s affiliation to the Labour Party.

The Servos played a major part in Labour’s get out the vote strategy in South Auckland last election and have supplied a good number of the party’s MPs, but with Laila Harre and Matt McCarten at the helm this issue is still far from settled. I’m sure Labour will be watching the situation closely.

33 comments on “Progress on new superunion”

  1. This is the real problem that Labour has with unions affiliating to it. In return for using its massive power to instruct people to vote and do its dirty bidding on the Party’s behalf–because the Labour Party itself has very little organisational capacity–Labour has to pay back union officials with positions in the Party.

    Historically, the SFWU has made a very poor contribution to the Labour Party in terms of MPs. Look at current MPs in Labour’s caucus from the SFWU background: Rick Barker, Darien Fenton, Taito Philip Field. All of them are also-rans. Expect the SFWU to put up more turgid, pathetic nobodies, which the Labour Party awards with taxpayer-funded privileges.

    The only MP of any value in the last twenty years to come out of the SFWU stables is Mark Gosche. None of the rest of them achieved cabinet rank on merit.

  2. East Wellington Superhero 2

    Great. A super union with powerful leaders aligned with Labour. How accountable do you think this top-down political organisation will be?

    I would argue not very.

    Once this “super union” is formed how easy will it be for competing unions to form and how easy will it be for non-Labour Party supports to disagree with their local union rep?

    This will be interesting. Hopefully the genuine needs of workers will be met, and not the political aspirations of their more ambitious and articulate union bosses.

  3. Sam Dixon 3

    Um, IP,, the name of Labour is Labour… it was set up to be the parliamentary arm of the labour movement, its not surprising they retain strong links.

    And I think you’ll find the grassroots level organsiation of labour far exceeds national’s (which is why national needs the secret donors of course)

  4. Tane 4

    Prick:

    Unions can’t and don’t ‘instruct’ people who to vote for, but they do inform their members about what each party’s policy is on work rights. That’s a core service that you’d expect from a union.

    I’m also not sure what these taxpayer-funded priveliges are you’re talking about. No one’s ever been able to give me a straight answer on what exactly the unions get from the DoL’s contestable funds that isn’t also given to Business NZ and the EMA.

    EWS:

    Great. A super union with powerful leaders aligned with Labour. How accountable do you think this top-down political organisation will be?

    A superunion is what the EPMU is and I don’t see the sky falling over that. What I do see is a Labour Party that makes sure workers get a voice in government and a fair share of the economic good times through higher wages, four weeks annual leave, fairer laws on unfair dismissal and regular increases in the minimum wage.

    Once this “super union” is formed how easy will it be for competing unions to form

    It happens all the time. There are plenty of small unions about that provide alternatives to the larger unions (BUG, M&C and the PWU spring to mind), but by the way you’re talking about unions ‘competing’ I’m not sure you understand what unionism is about anyway.

    how easy will it be for non-Labour Party supports to disagree with their local union rep?

    Union membership is voluntary and Labour Party affiliation is decided democratically, but that’s beside the point. Affiliation doesn’t affect the service members receive in the SFWU or any other affiliated union and I don’t see why a merger would change that.

    This will be interesting. Hopefully the genuine needs of workers will be met

    So do I, and so do the leadership of the three unions involved. Believe it or not, these people are actually in the game to help workers and they understand that you need those economies of scale to make a real difference.

  5. Sam Dixon 5

    East Wellington Superhero – unions are democratic, voluntary organsiations. Their leaders are elected by their members, and the full-time staffers’ roles is to assist and advise the members, not to dictate to them. that doens’t sound very ‘top-down’ to me.

    Competing unions? the whole idea is that unions don’t compete too much (although occassionally some do cover the same work places), they are vehicles for workers to cooperate and pool their resourcs, not compete against each other. If a group within a larger union wnated to set up on their own that would be their right but they are stronger unified (union, get it?)

    As democratic organisations, unions are only affliated to parties with the consent of their members, and there are votes on the issue. Members, of course, may cast their vote as they please – secret ballot and all that too.

  6. …they are stronger unified (union, get it?)

    No, they don’t get it. Not even slightly. That’s why they write in with their cobblers about instructing people who to vote for and being top-down organisations.

  7. East Wellington Superhero 7

    Sam,

    I like how you know about all the grass-roots level of the National Party.
    Would you like to show us proof to back up your statement?

    In regard to unions being democratic – are they democratic like Labour Party Parliamentary candidate selection?

  8. Kimble 8

    Heh, the EFB will mean that a SUPER UNION wont be able to spend as much as three smaller unions in parallel campaigns with the Labour party.

    Sounds good to me. NZ has had enough of these shadowy, hollow, third party organisations perverting our democracy every three years with largess from their overflowing warchests.

    If the Labour party is merely the political arm of the union movement (which has been admitted above) then how on earth can they “inform their members about what each party’s policy is on work rights” in an impartial way?

    The truth is it can’t, and you don’t want it to. Be honest.

  9. The Double Standard 9

    Historically, the SFWU has made a very poor contribution to the Labour Party in terms of MPs. Look at current MPs in Labour’s caucus from the SFWU background: Rick Barker, Darien Fenton, Taito Philip Field. All of them are also-rans. Expect the SFWU to put up more turgid, pathetic nobodies, which the Labour Party awards with taxpayer-funded privileges.

    Here’s a few more for your list – some former MP’s, some current:

    Charles Chauvel
    Lianne Dalziel
    Mark Peck
    Laila Harre
    Matt Robson
    Willie Jackson
    Dave Hereora
    Sue Moroney

  10. Sam Dixon 10

    Kimble – how are organisations that are democratic and public ‘shadowy’? When the unions run campaigns they do so with their names written proud, when they donate to parties they don’t do it anonymously or through secret trusts.

    And your point on the EFB assumes that they would have over $120,000 to spend – three small seperate unions might not have anyhting like that warchest (economis of scale might eman the superunion does). If we’re going to tlak about sizes of warchests – check out how much the unions gave to political parties in 2005 compared to what secret donors gave National.

    http://www.elections.org.nz/parties/donations_summary.html#gen1

  11. Sam Dixon 11

    Kimble – read more closely. The Labour party is not merely the poltiical arm of the union movement, it was set up as that and retains strong links with the unions –

    unions can easily inform their members on work rights policy without having to say ‘oh and vote Labour’ – all the unions have to do is put Labour and National’s records together http://kiwiblogblog.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/super-sizing-the-minimum-wage/ http://www.thestandard.org.nz/?p=883 and any sensible worker will know how to vote

  12. Tane 14

    Nice work Sam D. I also find it hard to believe the NDU, SFWU and Unite have “overflowing warchests”. These are hardworking grassroots organisations that rely on strong delegate involvement and are run on a shoestring.

    In 2005 the NDU gave Labour $24,000 and the SFWU gave $20,000. Unite gave nothing. If that’s any indication I don’t think the spending cap’s going to be an issue for them. We know all this because these unions declared their spending openly, unlike National’s backers.

  13. Amateur Scrabbler 15

    As a workplace delegate (for one of the unions in this article actually) I really have to laugh. 😉

    “Competing unions”.

    Haha. Nice. When people of the right start going on about unions they often betray their ignorance of how unions actually work.

    Competing unions indeed.

  14. Sam Dixon 16

    When your work experience is living off a trust fund at uni until joining daddy’s firm and lazing your way up the ladder, you don’t get to have any idea of the importance of unions to workers.

  15. James Kearney 17

    That competing unions jibe made me laugh too Scrabbler. Unionism is about solidarity not the dog-eat-dog competition so admired by the right. I suspect that’s why a lot of right-wingers fail to understand them.

  16. The Double Standard 18

    “are run on a shoestring.”

    Unite dues are a minimum of $2/week

    If the new combined group charge at least that much, and have 50,000 members, thats annual revenue of $5.2 million.

    Since the unite dues are income linked up to a max of $5.90/week the actual total will be higher. Averaging $4/week would result in revenue of $10.4 million

    Hardly a shoestring.

    The issue is not just how much is passed officially to Teh Party, but also how much is directly spent promoting them outside of the official election spending.

  17. The Double Standard 19

    Having checked the NDU and SFWU fees I think my estimates are a bit light. They will comfortable have income over $10 million with 50,000 members. Pity that they can only spend $120,000 campaigning for Labour eh?

  18. Kimble 20

    I was just using your own fear-mongering language against you. If the reality of the situation doesnt matter to you, then it doesnt matter to me. All that matters is that I can use scarey language to twist the democratic process in my favour. Again, another play from Labours book.

  19. Tane 21

    First of all, the new union will have around 40,000 members, not 50,000. Secondly, you have no idea how much it costs to run a union do you?

    I’ve been involved in several and I’ll tell you the private sector unions have huge costs due to the fact they have to bargain separately at every single enterprise, added to the cost of legal bills, campaigns and research work. They are certainly not flush with money.

    I’m also aware that money is spent outside of the party, but the amount they can afford to donate is usually a pretty good indicator of how much is spent in total. And I can assure you most unions will be well under the $120,000 cap.

  20. Kimble 22

    When your first experience of Unions is seeing their bullyboys knocking your dads teeth out because he had a family to feed and wouldnt stand on their picket line, then maybe you can understand why other people are naturally suspicious of union official supposedly down-home good-intentions.

    Until that time, Sam,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

  21. Kimble 23

    “And I can assure you most unions will be well under the $120,000 cap.”

    So not only does Labour set the anonymous donation cap just above what they expect to receieve, they also se the third party spending cap just above what they expect their union allies to spend!

    Jesus! Corrupt much?

  22. Tane 24

    Okay Kimble, I can see your judgment is clouded by personal issues.

    That’s fine, but if we’re going to talk violence let’s talk Fred Evans (http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/black-tuesday/the-1912-waihi-strike).

    Or we can stick to the issues. Your choice.

  23. Tane 25

    Jesus! Corrupt much?

    Tin foil hat, mate.

  24. Mike Porton 26

    When your first experience of Unions is seeing their bullyboys knocking your dads teeth out because he had a family to feed and wouldnt stand on their picket line, then maybe you can understand why other people are naturally suspicious of union official supposedly down-home good-intentions.

    Unions always look after striking workers financially. It’s called collectivism. Your dad didn’t refuse to picket because of his wife and kids. He did it because he didn’t believe in standing with his fellow workers and preferred instead to help the boss keep everyone else’s families hungry. That makes him a scab, Kimble.

  25. Pascal's bookie 27

    Hoo boy.

    So I guess this isn’t the ‘no hitting zone’ thread then.

    My two words worth: Ernie Abbot.

  26. Kimble 28

    Holy crap you guys are thick! That isnt my story anymore than Sam Dixons masturbatory effort a few comments beforehand. Didnt the link give you genuises a large enough hint?

    You didnt rein in Sam Dixon, did you? You didnt demand he remain on topic, as you did me. Why is that? Could it be that there is a double standard at the Standard? Could it be that you are relentless in your crushing of opposition? What is it you are all afraid of? My arguments must be really hitting home for you to threaten to censor me!

    (To save time, I am mirroring your style in the previous paragraph.)

    What would you call it if National did it Tane? How did Labour come up with those amounts? Is it purely a coincidence? Yeah right!

  27. Tane 29

    Kimble, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Crushing opposition? Threatening to censor you? I’m confused.

  28. Kimble 30

    I am mirroring your style in the previous paragraph.

  29. Tane 31

    Hmmmm. In that case you might want to go do some writing classes because as far as parodies go that was pretty weak.

  30. The Double Standard 32

    Tane

    This from Matt McCarten as quoted in the Herald

    Unite general secretary Matt McCarten, who has grown his membership five-fold in the past two years through a media-savvy “Supersize my Pay” campaign, said he wanted the new union to double its numbers within a year to easily surpass the country’s biggest union, the 55,000-member Public Service Association.

    At least he puts his names to the estimates.

    $12 million dollars buys a lot of influence you know. I don’t know how much running a union costs – why don’t you enlighten us on what staffers get paid (in the interests of full disclosure of course).

    I can’t buy your line that they can only afford to donate a few tens of thousands to Teh Party though. That may be all that goes above the line, but you can’t seriously maintain that more is not spent in other areas. How much did the PSA spend on (legally) promoting a certain party in 2005?

  31. Jon 33

    Size of new union – SFWU has 23,000 members, NDU 20,000 Unite say they have more than 10,000. That adds up to a lot more than 50,000 members. However, in international terms, it’s still a small union, so I don’t know why everyone is getting so excited. Would have been better if the EPMU was in there as well, then you would be talking a union with the real power and resources to organise in the low density private sector.

    SFWU MPs – interesting to note that low paid workers such as aged care workers (SFWU members) and hospital service workers (SFWU members) have all had significant payrises funded by the government this year. There’s nothing ineffective about that.

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