Question 8: Why didn’t the unions fight to stop these attacks?

22 Jun

Worker ability to resist the attacks on their rights and living standards was hampered by a central union leadership that had been bought off by the government and seemed to fear that the mobilisation of workers power would threaten their privileged positions.

Workers wanted to fight, especially when the Eemployment Contracts Act was introduced. Calls for a general strike were being made in meetings up and down the country. The Minister of Labour Bill Birch said he expected to have to make a lot of compromises in his draft law to quell the uproar. In the end the top leadership of the Council of Trade Unions squashed all moves for a united fight back. The failure of the union officialdom to lead any resistance resulted in tens of thousands of workers losing faith in unions as effective weapons of struggle.

From 1976 to 1986 there were never fewer than 100,000 workers involved in strike activity in any one year (See Graph 5). Nearly half a million workers were involved in 1979 when the National Government under Prime Minister Muldoon tried to impose wage controls and was met with a general strike involving 300,000 workers. It is no coincidence that real wages peaked in NZ in early 1982. Numbers on strike halved to 50,000 in 1990 and 1991and halved again in the mid 90s. For 2007, 2008 and 2009 fewer than 5000 workers participated in strike action each year. Without a more generalized resistance there will be little hope of resisting the new demands from the bosses as the current recession continues.

Graph 5

Number of Employees involved in strike action 1951 – 2007

(Part of a series of extracts from “Exposing Right Wing Lies” by Mike Treen, Unite National Director)

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