Australian Marxist-Leninist Reports on NZ Workers Charter Conference

I recently reported on the second Workers Charter conference, held in Auckland on October 7th.

The meeting was attended by some of the most influential socialists and unionists in the country and by Australian Marxist-Leninist, Graeme Matthews

What is significant here is the involvement of the Australian socialist and the degree of co-operation between the supposedly “moderate” Engineers Union and the Greens and Marxist-Leninist controlled groups like Socialist Worker, UNITE, Radical Youth, the NDU and the Workers Charter movement.

Here are excerpts from a report filed by Matthews in the latest Green Left Weekly.

The second Workers Charter conference, held at the Auckland Trades Hall on October 7, drew a broad cross-section of the New Zealand union movement and its supporters. The Workers Charter, launched 15 months ago, is a draft list of 10 demands aimed at guaranteeing workers’ rights. Its demands cover rights such as a living wage, affordable housing and the right to strike.

In February, the monthly newspaper Workers Charter was launched. Eight issues have been published to date. The paper promotes workers’ struggles in New Zealand and internationally.

The conference, titled “Unions for the 21st century”, heard from a number of leading New Zealand unionists and made a range of decisions on supporting key pro-worker campaigns, including “Human Rights for Workers”.

The conference was opened by Workers Charter editor John Minto, who expressed satisfaction with the project’s development to date.

The feature session of the conference introduced the discussion on unions in the 21st century. It highlighted a range of union campaigns, and discussed the way forward for the union movement, in the context of workers’ victory over Progressive and the defeat of the “Mapp Bill”,which sought to deprive workers of their rights in the first 90 days of employment.

Andrew Little, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, talked about his union’s commitment to the Fair Share campaign, launched in 2005 to fight for a minimum 5% wage increase per year to allow workers’ wages to take a share of the growth in the economy, as well as catch up on losses resulting from inflation. The campaign galvanised the workers’ movement in New Zealand.

Laila Harre, national secretary of the National Distribution Union, the union that covered the Progressive workers, spoke confidently of a turn in the class struggle in New Zealand. Greens MP Sue Bradford welcomed the defeat of the “Mapp Bill”, and pressed for union support to ensure the passage of a Greens bill to scrap youth pay rates and guarantee equal pay for equal work.

Mengzhu and Eliana Darroch, representing Radical Youth, which organised a thousand-strong high school student walkout in Auckland against youth wages, spoke about the group’s plans for a further walk-out in March 2007. Joe Carolan, a union organiser, talked of the need to build on the gains of the “Supersizemypay.com” campaign by fast-food workers and of the need take unionism to south Auckland’s manufacturing workers, many of whom had not seen a union for the last 25 years.

Both the EPMU and the NDU agreed to join the Unite union in buying copies of Workers Charter for their delegates, an act of practical solidarity for the paper.”

If employers want to know what the unions have in store for them, this may provide a clue…

The conference also discussed a proposal to launch a campaign around three specific demands — a minimum wage of NZ$15 per hour, the scrapping of youth wages and the legal right to strike on any issue.

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