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What have the Unions ever done for us?

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, February 11th, 2016 - 48 comments
Categories: capitalism, employment, socialism, Unions, workers' rights, youtube - Tags:

48 comments on “What have the Unions ever done for us?”

  1. The Fairy Godmother 1

    My husband’s membership of the engineers union now E Tu. Is why he gets a good wsge and our family has a house and have been able to provide well for our children. The unions have done heaps for our family.

  2. ianmac 2

    Brilliant video by the way.
    These days more than ever, unions are a defence against draconian Government persecution. Why has membership fallen so far?

    • mickysavage 2.1

      Concerted attacks by the right over decades. A lot of the change has been incremental but the cumulative effect has been considerable. And it is a multi faceted attack on everything to bargaining power to perceptions of the youth to trade union activity.

      Even now you can see from the latest law reforms and the actions of companies like Talleys that they believe they need to do more.

    • IANMAC .Unionism is not taught in schools , the majority of employer discourage their staff from joining unions ,in fact many even today will not employ young people unless they refuse to join the union. I’m amazed at the young people I have talked too who have no idea what a union is .The unions must address this issue but don’t ask me how.

  3. greywarshark 3

    The Unions represent workers and the workers need them to look out for them so that reasonable conditions are provided and then retained. But workers have to keep an eye on them and control them just like they need to watch the politicians.

    There is a wise rule that we don’t trust anybody implicitly, that we should check what is going on. With unions, don’t let them try to go for the most they can get, needs to be the rule. I was thinking this morning about the regular strikes at holiday times by the cooks and stewards on the interisland ferry. They were no more concerned about their effects on other ordinary people than the bosses who try to unreasonably limit their employees.

    This link’s final paragraph tells how passengers in 2003 after ten years strike free complained as if they were frequent, and thinks it shows how little people know and how fickle. But it actually is an indication of how long memories are, and how the anti-union response from the public was built by union behaviour, which lost the public perception that they acted for the good of the ordinary citizen. This paved the way to an unconcern from the public for harsh union controls.

    This is an example of the way that unions can become as unreasonable and powerful as an employer.

    Toby Hill a controversial union figure in NZ had known all about hard times as a child. His eventful life showed that he survived repression from both business and unions. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5h21/hill-tobias-mcglinchy

    There were stoppages, arguments and strikes by the Boilermakers union over the building of the Bank of New Zealand tower in Wellington. The steel frame stayed erect with no cladding gathering rust. Eventually it got finished. But who got long term advantage from that? Concrete slab buildings became the norm. That sort of delay on finishing a contract cannot be insured against and the ability of a modern country to function would not continue if unions were able to stop something for years over a series of demands. Flowing on from that, not much steelwork. Would the CCTV building have been in concrete if steelwork had still been used? Would the swingeing controls on unions and labour generally have been so bad causing Pike River to unfold as it did?

    The International Socialist Org sees Con Devitt, union rep for the Boilermakers as a hero. He lived to 86, died in 2014.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/opinion/10327735/Unions-paying-for-militancy-of-past (This written by Karl du Fresne a right wing journalist who would give the truth about this controversial figure pulling no punches.)

    We need unions, all of us, to look after the workers. But they need to work in with employers where they can, dig in when necessary, but be able to promise honest work, good skilled work and good time-keeping on their side.

    When we get unions back, we must make sure they do their job properly or put them into temporary coventry when there is a problem and they are a hindrance. Then form a temporary committee to look at the facts and the union demands and take control back until the unions negotiate with the workers to the workers satisfaction. Now that has not been a common occurrence. (I have been in a strike and seen how it unfolds.)

    Workers need to think for themselves, not leave it all to a paid representative, and should make the workplace truly democratic and participate in fact-finding, informed discussion, and then positing different approaches and choosing the best. That takes work for all those who can think on that level, but that would protect all those there, and a healthy union system would be maintained, under watch from the workers.

  4. millsy 4

    I’m not a union member, but I see the good a lot of unions do, and it flows on through for those who arent in the union, for example sick pay, annual leave, overtime, etc.

    I cannot help but think that living standards were higher when the unions were in control. We may have been pissed off that the ferry workers went on strike all the time, but there was no child poverty in NZ at that time either.

    Probably would also like to point out that the militant PPTA that everyone goes on about, have hardly ever gone on strike — I can probably count the amount of time on 1 hand in the past 20-odd years, and the one time that could have gone on strike (with substantial support from the public) — over Novopay — they didnt.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      Don’t get stuck on examples of strikes millsy. My point was to take part, keep control of the union, get proper agreement to action of whatever, explanations. If they had not become concreted in certain behaviours they could have adopted various psychological tactics that gained them better understanding. Particularly about conditions. They might have refused to talk about wages, until the conditions were improved. That would have thrown the media out, as they always wanted to make it a simple money transaction. Unions might have said, that good working conditions are the base to life, they come first. Guerilla tactics rather than the old frontal massing and a rush.

      The old unions were left too much to their own devices, and they got hoist by their own petard. If you’re in education you will get that allusion.

  5. alwyn 5

    Sometimes, unfortunately, the unions become corrupt.
    This has happened in Victoria. At the moment it looks as if the affair may take down the State and Federal Labour Parties’ leaders.

  6. pete 6

    Absolutely agree that unions achieved huge benefits for workers for many years. As you say, sick pay and so on.

    But like many monopolies, absolute power can corrupt. For example, the Teamsters in the USA, the current situation in Victoria and so on. And just look at how the various police federations/unions in Australia have protected corrupt officers to the detriment of all (and even in NZ, a few years back the Police Association using members funds to pay the legal fees of an officer caught running a red light).

    In my first job, the union forced my employer to obey the law and provide steel cap boots and eye protection in a very dangerous situation. I know, from my young cousin who works in an oven manufacturing factory in ChCh, that getting basic safety gear now can be a true fight, without a union is sight to help.

    Maybe if unions now offered true benefits, they may become attractive again. Like for example, the old railway workers unions, where we received a wide range of benefits, like medical insurance, subsidised holiday accommodation etc. In other words, unions should sell themselves more as true ‘Friendly Societies”, as defined by The Friendly Societies Act.

    • BM 6.1

      Maybe if unions now offered true benefits, they may become attractive again. Like for example, the old railway workers unions, where we received a wide range of benefits, like medical insurance, subsidized holiday accommodation etc. In other words, unions should sell themselves more as true ‘Friendly Societies”, as defined by The Friendly Societies Act.

      I agree ,more of that and less politicking would do wonders for union membership.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 6.2

      if unions now offered true benefits

      Like higher pay, more flexible working arrangements, better job security, better working conditions. Not being killed at work.

      For someone who enjoys pontificating you’re awfully ignorant of your chosen subject.

      • pete 6.2.1

        Really? Why do you always, every time everytime you disagree with someone, resort to personal abuse? Maybe you should learn the true meaning of ‘pontificate’ and see how it applies to you. You really appear to have little real world experience or the ability to DISCUSS. Your constant resort to personal abuse testifies to that.

        • Colonial Viper

          OAB described you as being ignorant of the subject. On an internet discussion site that’s nowhere near qualifying as “personal abuse.”

          Maybe grow a thicker skin before you come back, or just hang out at your local bridge club instead of on TS.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Right, because your deceitful and malicious animosity towards unions means everyone should give you lots and lots of respect.

          • pete

            No, neither deceitful or malicious. My point was I am fully in support of unions (having received great support as I detailed in my post). But not all unions are so good. As I stated, just look at the Police Association in Queensland.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Oh, well, in that case you’ll be able to list the NZ unions that offer no “true benefits”. Unless you’re lying, in which case you won’t be able to list them, and your weasel words will be exposed for what they are.

    • Lanthanide 6.3

      “I know, from my young cousin who works in an oven manufacturing factory in ChCh, that getting basic safety gear now can be a true fight, without a union is sight to help.”

      Hopefully your cousin will be cognisant of the health and safety reform that is coming into force on 4th April.

      If I were in such a position, I’d complain to Worksafe, and the employer may get a ‘surprise inspection’.

    • greywarshark 6.4

      A way forward that. Good points. Where there is someone watching for workers safety and health it makes all the difference.

      As a member of the public unconnected to a nearby road worker with a jackhammer?, I noticed he had no ear muffs. When he stopped I said “Don’t your employers give you ear muffs. They should. It’s not long before that sort of noise starts affecting your ears. Shooters can lose hearing after one shot because of the noise. And when you are deaf you miss out on all the gossip. Family find it hard to talk to you at the tops of their voices. And people think you’re a bit slow because you don’t understand them. You need a little earpiece for hearing that has to be fiddled with and it can be hard to find one that suits.”

      Next day he had earmuffs.

      • pete 6.4.1

        What really disturbs me is that in my life I have been near two workplace deaths, both very similar in nature. First was at the railways with a mechanic being run over by a crane he was servicing. The kill switch had been disconnected.

        Second was with a cnc machine, where safety stops had been removed by the importer to then sell as additional product enhancements. The result was the head came crashing down and exploded, sending shrapnel into the operators chest.
        In this case I gave detailed information to the Labour Depth investigator. Surprise surprise. in both cases ‘operator error”

        • Colonial Viper

          I would be interested to learn what years these incidents happened in.

          • pete

            Railways was about 1995. The Importer with CNC machine about year 2005.

            My comment about the oven manufacturer at Rolleston is now, 2016.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          I note that since the unions started taking an interest in the forestry industry, deaths have fallen markedly, and that they’re moving on to agriculture.

          And that their success has shamed the government into actually taking court action.

          What does the National Party care about dead workers when they don’t give a stuff about infant mortality? It’s the publicity they don’t like.

  7. Colonial Viper 7

    The unions could have stopped Rogernomics and Ruthanasia in their tracks.

    But utterly and totally caved.

    • Yeah, in a fantasy world that could have happened. In the real world, NZers, including hundreds of thousands of union members. voted for Rogernomics and Ruthanasia 5 elections in a row.

      • Korero Pono 7.1.1

        Possibly true but I doubt the average voter even knew what they were voting for. Labour voters in particular didn’t see it coming. Now that the voters have wised up, the Labour party are reaping the rewards for selling their voters down the line.

      • Bill 7.1.2

        A number of years ago I spoke with an ex-NDU official who informed me that the vote she represented, and that of other NDU officials favouring a general strike to oppose the ECA, numbered a tad fewer than those officials representing votes against a strike. And that in the interests of the union presenting a united front, she and others were convinced to vote against their members wishes.

        At the time she spoke with me, she still carried a huge sense of guilt because (as far as I remember it) had she and the others insisted that a split vote be presented by the NDU, a CTU led general strike would have eventuated (the numbers were that close).

        • te reo putake

          Fair call, Bill. There was pretty much a fifty/fifty split on the matter, but in the end common sense won out. We would have been annihilated. What was to come was bad, but if there had been a general strike then, there wouldn’t be a union movement today.

          • DS

            Um, Birch by all accounts was ready to fold. We’re talking a National Government with 17% support (under First Past The Post) – they lacked the popular support to take on a general strike, and they knew it.

            • te reo putake

              Yeah, nah, DS. The Bolger Government had just been elected in the biggest landslide ever seen in NZ political history, winning nearly two thirds of all the seats in Parliament. Dunno where you plucked 17% from, but it has no connection with what was really going on at the time.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.3

        Yeah, in a fantasy world that could have happened. In the real world, NZers, including hundreds of thousands of union members. voted for Rogernomics and Ruthanasia 5 elections in a row.

        TRP, with union attitudes like yours, I’m not surprised that the union leadership caved and let their organisations and their memberships be gutted.

        • te reo putake

          Except, well, you’re full of it. Leaving aside the fact you were just an egg at the time, you haven’t got a clue about unions. You’re not a union member, let alone been a union activist. You’re a petit bourgeous con artist, fleecing folk with back rubs and bullshit. Meh.

          • left for deadshark

            do you mind, taking down that post or give yourself a holiday !

            YOU NO THE POLICY

  8. James 8

    If people find them so valuable – why do people generally choose not to join?

    • Korero Pono 8.1

      Just speaking for a small minority here but a fast food franchise that I am aware of openly discouraged and ‘punished’ those who joined unions (I knew ‘victims’ who worked there). I once worked for a prominent organisation that openly targeted union members, thereby discouraging others from joining, the Union in that case was weak because of low membership in the organisation.

      In the same vein, Unions have become weak in some sectors (probably most sectors actually), weak because they do not have the resources to take on the big boys. The ERA are also useless, and employers know it, a slap with a wet bus ticket is not a disincentive for being a ‘bad’ employer. The Talleys debacle is a classic example of an employer flouting the law, yet what are the repercussions? (oh yeah a knighthood and influence on major health and safety legislation).

      • BM 8.1.1

        Do you think unions should be politically neutral?

        • Bill

          If by that you mean a-political in relation to parliamentary politics….yup.

          • BM

            I do believe that’s the major reason why unions are struggling.

            Facts are , lots and lots of workers vote right, why would some one who votes National, want to join a union.?

            Your money is given to Labour which is actively working against the party of your choice.

            If Unions want to halt the slide into oblivion they need to ditch the politics bullshit and get a bit of focus back on the people that pay the subs.

        • lprent

          Do you think that unions shouldn’t take into account the overall interests of their members…

          Why do you use pig fucker arguments? Show me a few cases in legislation where National has done something that actually enhanced the ability of unions to help their members. Then ask me that question?

          Don’t know why I ask that really. If you actually had an interest, I’m sure that what I will get now is a screed of waffle where you show how National has followed their funders directives to help screw workers by removing an ability to collectively bargain.

          But I’m sure there will be a few unionists to show you how the death and injury rates rose and the effective average wage rates dropped.

          • BM

            Unions are struggling and there’s a massive amount of people out there who won’t have a bar of them because they financially support labour and actively work at undermining national governments.

            I wouldn’t join a union because of that.

          • Skinny

            Haha @ pig fucker in our 20’s a group of mates use to go by the name of members of the PFA, the first word is Pig the last Association. Girls at uni use to be quite impressed when you would say I am a member of the PFA 🙂 not so impressed when the odd one asked what is that lol.

        • Korero Pono

          I think it would be impossible to be politically neutral given that the task of unions is to supposedly ensure fair and safe working conditions for workers. That, in and of itself, is a political task.

          • BM

            I think it would be impossible to be politically neutral given that the task of unions is to supposedly ensure fair and safe working conditions for workers.

            What’s that got to do with politics?

            Unions in the modern age are job insurance, that’s it.
            They’re not there to financially prop up the labour party.

            Always thought there’s a massive business opportunity going begging here,a team of sharp lawyers could easily step in and fill this “job insurance” void.

            • Korero Pono

              “What’s that got to do with politics”

              I would have thought it is perfectly obvious to even an idiot. When one Government (think National) erodes legislation in favour of employers (which in and of itself is politically beneficial when said party gets kick backs for their troubles) to the point that people no longer have secure, stable, safe and reasonable employment conditions, then it takes a certain amount of political pressure and lobbying to claw back workers rights. Unionism by its very nature is a political activity, to pretend it’s not, or state that it should not be, is a little bit silly.

              “Unions in the modern age are job insurance, that’s it”

              Please explain why you think that unions are simply ‘job insurance’? Specifically what ‘insurance’ do you think unions provide? How do you think that works?

              “They’re not there to financially prop up the labour party”.

              I absolutely agree, Unions need to work for the benefit of workers…I wonder which party has the most sympathy for workers and which party is more likely to fuck workers over.

              “Always thought there’s a massive business opportunity going begging here,a team of sharp lawyers could easily step in and fill this “job insurance” void”

              Still interested in what you mean by ‘job insurance’?? However for the sake of making it simple for you, and if you haven’t already noticed, you are a bit slow on the up take, there are already ‘a team of sharp lawyers’ doing very nicely out of employment issues. Employees hire them, employers hire them and so do the unions.

              But your comments show that you miss the whole point of unionism, not because of a differing political ideology but more likely because of ignorance and stupidity.

          • Bill

            heh Way I see it is that unions get ‘captured’ by parliamentary agendas and wind up far less politically useful than they would otherwise be.

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