Radical Youth threatens another youth walkout in NZ
Slap workers in the face and call it a helping hand. That's the strategy behind the "work probation" bill brought into parliament by National MP Wayne Mapp.
Ross Wilson, president of the Council of Trade Unions, says Mapp's bill means the "complete removal of any employment rights for the first 90 days".
During this probation period, a boss will be able to sack a worker without giving any reason or facing any penalty. You can imagine what would happen to anyone who stands up for their rights on the job. Discrimination against active unionists, which is supposed to be unlawful, would in essence become legalised.
This is hardly being denied by the corporate sponsors of Mapp's bill. In the memorable words of the Employers & Manufacturers Association. "committed employees have nothing to fear".
Note the chilling language - "committed employees". Skilled and competent staff may still be sacked without explanation. The only new hires to be safe would be those "committed" to the boss. In plain words, suck up or ship out.
Mapp's bill won its first vote in parliament thanks to support from two of Labour's coalition allies, NZ First and United Future, along with three out of four Maori Party MPs. It now goes to a select committee for public submissions, then faces two more parliamentary votes.
Mapp claims his bill will help "vulnerable" people, such as unemployed youth, because it protects bosses from the risks of hiring more staff.
It's funny hearing Mapp using such politically correct language to disguise his bill's real intentions. He is, after all, the National Party's official "PC eradicator".
Mapp's corporate PC has been punctured by Radical Youth, who say his bill "will make workers even more vulnerable to predatory employers".
After organising a thousand-strong high school students' march in Auckland against youth rates, Radical Youth issued a warning of "walkouts and strike action by young people" against Mapp's bill.
Anyone who dismissed these words as merely "youthful heroics" would have got a jolt when a similar call to arms came from the distinctly unyouthful Engineers, the country's largest union.
The Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union is led by Andrew Little. Although widely seen as a union moderate who's being tipped for a safe Labour seat next election, Little last year initiated the 5% campaign which sparked a general pay revolt.
Now Little is heading a union charge against Mapp's bill, which he slams as a "naked attack" on workersą rights.
Little is promising a "massive" campaign against Mapp's bill, starting on 20 July with a union stopwork and march to parliament. Full backing is coming from the Council of Trade Unions.
When the mood of mainstream unionists matches up with the mood of youthful radicals, that's the time for sparks to fly - just like they did in France recently when a coalition of workers and students saw three million opponents of a similar law take to the streets and force a government U-turn.
If sparks really do fly here, they may burn more than National's Mapp of exploitation.
Under Helen Clark's Employment Relations Act, any union stop work over Mapp's bill would be classed as an unlawful political strike. Unionists could be taken to court and face jail sentences and huge fines.
Would the law be used against union opponents of Mapp's bill? Little doubts that any employer would be "silly enough to try".
If it did come to the crunch, however, unionists would face a stark choice: either back away from stoppages against Mapp's bill, or defy Labour's legal ban on political strikes.
Back in the dark old days of 19th century England, the world's first unions arose in defiance of harsh anti-combination laws. This gave impetus to the world's first working class political movement - the People's Charter - which defied the law to press for universal suffrage.
So illegal mass struggles gave birth to the union and political rights now enjoyed by New Zealand workers. These rights will be defended and extended only if we're prepared to use every means necessary.
In the words of a People's Charter song of 1842:
"The people will rise with the might of the just,
And pride and oppression shall sink to the dust."
Grant Morgan is an editor of
UNITY, quarterly Marxist journal for all grassroots activists. A new edition
will soon be out on the theme of "Strikes - the workers' weapon". Email Grant
at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy ($NZ5
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