Posted on 10-7-06
Lock Me Up, I'll Still Strike!
By Grant Morgan, 9 July 2006
Ed. This week's PlaNet TV programme (PTV) is `Socialism 21', a
converstation I had with Mike Treen about his recent visit to South
America and the rapid evolution of the politics of Socialism in the 21st
"I'm prepared to do a jail term," says father of four John Pes. "There's no
way my kids are going to be living on Vegemite sandwiches while I pay a fine
to the government for sticking up for a principle."
The principle John is talking about is a worker's right to strike.
John and his construction workmates went on strike in West Australia earlier
this year to enforce a health and safety agreement being broken by their
company and to demand the return of their sacked job delegate.
Their bosses turned to anti-union legislation recently passed by John
Howard's conservative government. 107 workers were charged under the new
laws. Each one faces a $22,000 fine.
These workers belong to the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union.
The CFMEU's local secretary, Kevin Reynolds, says Howard's government is
"hellbent" on destroying unions across the Tasman.
The Socialist Alliance in Australia says their government is "trying to
abolish the right to strike altogether, passing laws that impose huge fines
and jail terms on workers and unions who take any sort of industrial action,
no matter what the reason".
A prominent figure in the Socialist Alliance is Tim Gooden, secretary of
Geelong Trades Council and a longtime CFMEU activist. Tim is calling on the
Australian Council of Trade Unions to organise "a national campaign of
strike actions, protests and blockades" against the anti-strike legislation.
Freely admitting that "all this is illegal," Tim declares: "Bad laws need to
be broken." He points to how waves of mass mobilisations in France a few
months back killed off a "sack at will" law aimed at young workers.
But a different strategy is being followed by the Australian Council of
Trade Unions. Resisting mass mobilisations, the ACTU is instead fronting a
propaganda campaign on behalf of the Labor Party - even though its
politicians won't promise to legislate the right to strike.
Meanwhile, government politicians, state officials and corporate bosses on
both sides of the Tasman are quietly negotiating a Single Market with common
immigration, taxation and commercial regulations.
When this Single Market gets off the ground, which may be sooner rather than
later, common political regulations will follow just like the old European
Economic Community morphed into today's politically centralised European
Increasingly, what happens to workers in Australia is going to directly
influence what happens to workers here. The destinies of the working classes
on both sides of the Tasman will become more tightly interlinked.
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has condemned the Howard
government's anti-union laws. The NZCTU is supporting its ACTU counterpart.
At first glance, trans-Tasman workers' solidarity appears to be alive and
On closer inspection, however, you can see the shape of problems to come.
The Howard government's legislative attack on the right to strike is
remarkably similar to Helen Clark's harsh restrictions on the right to
strike in the Employment Relations Act, passed in 2000 by the NZ Labour
The NZCTU praises the Employment Relations Act as a "new ERA" of union
rights. Yet this law forbids NZ workers from striking over unfair sackings,
government policies, other strikes, unjust wars, racism or sexism,
ecological crises, dishonoured job contracts, mass redundancies, price
rises, community concerns or anything else falling outside two narrow areas:
first, settlement of your own collective employment agreement, and second,
escape from an urgent health and safety threat.
The right to strike has yet to be won in Labour-run Aotearoa. Despite the
rhetoric of trans-Tasman solidarity, the NZCTU could not legally deliver any
strike in solidarity with Australian workers. To do that, they would have to
defy Labour's unjust law.
Most union leaders in New Zealand refuse to criticise Labour's anti-strike
legislation even though it threatens NZ workers with the sort of heavy
fines, property confiscations and jail terms that Australian workers are now
It's time to break this uneasy silence. NZ union leaders are countering the
National Party's "sack at will" bill with a "Work Rights Our Rights"
campaign. If this is going to be a serious campaign, as opposed to a
pro-Labour propaganda stunt, then it must include the most serious work
right that we lack the freedom to strike.
Here are two ways you can start to make a change:
First, send your support to John Pes and his Australian workmates now facing
Second, tell the NZCTU that you want the "Work Rights Our Rights" campaign
to also target Labour's harsh restrictions on our right to strike. Email a
Grant Morgan is co-editor of UNITY, a Marxist journal for all grassroots
activists. Issued each quarter, the 130-page June edition is on the theme of