On Wednesday 20 October 22,000 workers came together at rallies around the country to demonstrate against the Nats proposed Hire and Fire law. Rallies took place in: Tokoroa, Gisborne, Tauranga, Hamilton, Taupo, Thames, Hastings, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Kaitaia, Auckland, Paeroa, Rotorua, Runanga, Reefton, Kaikohe, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Levin, Hawera, Timaru, Bluff, Whanganui, Masterton, Dunedin, Invercargill, Whangarei. Below are accounts from two of the above rallies.
Not since the Hikoi on the Foreshore and Seabed Act had there been such a large protest outside Parliament as there was during the Fairness at Work rally on October 20th, 2010. Conservative estimates put the number of workers who turned up at about 4000 people and it was a very peaceful rally in every sense of the word. No 'barricades got stormed' and even the official slogans given to us by the platform to chant were so tame that most of the National MPs who were watching the protest from the Beehive seemed to be more amused than frightened. However, the chants by some unions as they approached the rally as marching groups were more militant.
The workers who turned up for the rally came from a bewildering number of unions. A quick count revealed that at least sixteen unions were represented, of whom the Public Service Association was the most visible. Other unions represented included the Service and Food Workers Union, the Maritime Union of NZ, and the NZ Nurses Organisation.
Equally as diverse were the speakers. There were a handful of Labour Party MPs, including Annette King, who addressed the marchers by stating that Labour will scrap the 90 Day Law and other “punitive” laws passed by the National-led government but proposed instead nothing more radical than the most cosmetic changes.
Helen Kelly gave a rousing talk about the need to reinstate good faith collective bargaining and to scrap the 90 Day Law. However, the more interesting part of her speech were related to when she was speaking of a woman who was sacked under the 90 Day Law after the business she worked for changed ownership. She was never told why she lost her job, just told that she was no longer wanted. The woman reckoned she got sacked because she was too fat.
It made the impact on the recent labour law changes seem more real and more sinister. What was missing from Kelly's speech was a clear way forward for the struggle against the proposed and existing anti-trade union laws. We were urged to each send a post-card in protest to John Key to give him a "clear message". Industrial action could have sent a "message" that would have got Key's attention, but that was not proposed.
A Pacific Island worker from the Service and Food Workers Union, which represents many cleaners, spoke of the 90 Day Law being used to force cleaners to work long hours for very low pay in a job that can be both dangerous and difficult to do.
Perhaps the most intriguing speaker, though, was a Catholic Church representative who came out to speak about how the exploitation of workers under existing and proposed laws was a sin. The Catholic Church has a long history of justifying the oppression of workers through its support of some of the worst groups in history, including the Fascists in Italy and the German Nazis. But it is a sign of the times and the crisis of capitalism that this pillar of the establishment is now showing signs of division, with some of its priests being prepared to take the side of the workers.
Though what the speakers stated and their motives can be called into question there is no denying that both workers and their organisations are mobilising against the attacks launched against them in the last couple of years by the National-led government. This rally, one of many held throughout New Zealand on the same day, was a sign that the working class has begun to fight back
80 workers turned up to the Kaikohe stop-work rally in what was the biggest ever turn out of unionised workers from PSA, SFWU, NDU, CANZ and EPMU covering the major workplaces in the area. PSA delegate, Gary Gabbitas, addressed the rally explaining what these attacks meant and opened up the meeting to a lively questions and contributions sessions.
The general mood was one of anger that the Nats led government was carrying out such attacks, as well as, the frustration against local employers who are attempting to undermine work place collective agreements.
Remits were passed unanimously in condemning the government and to also fight these attacks, as well as, resolving to set up a local CTU committee to co-ordinate union activity in the Mid-North area.