Archive | May, 2013

The cancer of racism is bad for all of us

31 May

By Mike Treen, National Director, Unite Union

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

I often get caught by surprise at the depth of racism in our society.

At the same time we see so many generous acts of solidarity and support regardless of race.

As a young man I was somewhat infected by a belief that things would always get better. That seemed true for living standards and democratic rights for the 1960s and 1970s and continued into the 1980s. Racism appeared to be challenged, women’s rights being advanced, gay rights would inevitably follow.

The Springbok Tour and its aftermath appeared to shatter the crusty old colonial racism of the then Muldoon led National Government.

Maori in particular seemed on the march. The Land march in 1975, Bastion Point and Raglan occupations, the Hikoi to Waitangi.

But that progress has been reversed in many real respects or given a conservative twist as the establishment opened the doors to some Maori while excluding the vast majority from the fruits of its “civilisation”.

In the last few decades working people as a whole have been pushed backwards. Levels of poverty have doubled from 10-20% of the population using a consistent measure. Child poverty rates are nearer 25% of all children. Unemployment rates of 5% are considered a “success” when the rate was virtually zero for most of the half century from 1935-85.

At the same time Maori and Pacific unemployment rates are more than double those of workers who are Pakeha.

Paying a miserly billion dollars over a 20 year period to “settle” all outstanding claims is a joke. The loss by Maori in real terms is many hundreds of times that figure. $1 billion is a little over 1% of this years government expenditure. Over the 20 year period since it began it would equal 0.1% or less.

Maori were victims of a colonial holocaust that sought to extinguish them as a people with their own land, language and culture. But Maori refused to go away.

The system that was established by the colonial settler state also found it useful to have Maori as a cheap, reserve agricultural labour force. After world war two Maori and Pacific workers joined the new factories of South Auckland and Porirua – before those factories and jobs were destroyed again in the 1990s. Out of exploitation and oppression a new resurgence of Maori emerged.

But racism remains real and pervasive. A small but telling example was provided on Campbell Live recently when they got a Maori male and a Pakeha male to try and buy petrol from 5 pre-pay petrol stations. Same clothes and car. The result was infuriating but we knew it was coming. The Maori was asked to pre-pay in 4 of the 5 stations. The Pakeha was allowed to fill their car at all 5 without pre-paying.

The daily humiliations and indignities like the petrol station episode are bad enough.

But then there is the institutionalised racism that sees Maori make up 50% of the prison population but only 15% of the general population. Maori know why.

You are much more likely to be stopped on the street by a cop if you are Maori. Once stopped you are then much more likely to be arrested for some reason. You are then more likely to be charged and go to court (rather than a warning or diversion). You are then more likely to be convicted. You are then more likely to be given a custodial sentence rather than a fine or home detention.

The cumulative impact is obvious.

The same (but opposite) is true for the health system. Rather than more attention you get less. For example – Maori males are much more likely to suffer heart disease but get treated at a rate that is far less than the prevalence of the disease would indicate.

Capitalism has an extraordinary ability to use each and every difference between people to justify unequal treatment (and of course pay).

Insofar as working people accept the prejudices used to justify this inequality they do themselves a disservice.

I do not mean that workers who are white don’t get a “better” deal than workers who are brown. That is a fact in life. I have a “better” chance of getting a job. I have a “better” chance of being given a flat. But if I start thanking my boss or my landlord for my good fortune in life I will end up on the wrong side of history. But more than that even in the more short to medium term I believe we damage our own economic and social interests by thinking the privileges are worth “protecting” by siding with our masters against our fellow workers who are struggling against inequality.

It is not by sucking up to our “betters” that we move society forward. It is only by unity and struggle by ordinary people against all reactionary ruling classes – including our modern-day capitalist ones that social progress has been made. Only struggle progressively brought the working day down from 12 to 10 and then eight hours. And it is our failure to struggle that has seen the working day put back to 12 or more for many workers while many others can’t even get 8 hours work. Only struggle forced a welfare state to be established. Only struggle gave the right to vote to women.

The reason we are going backwards today is because the union movement (and the broader labour movement) was housebroken. Our party (Labour in the 1990s) even became an instrument for our enemies. Demoralised and disoriented we often fell into the trap of blaming someone easily at hand for the trouble we faced rather than the system.

We are not taught to think in class terms by our education system and never will be. It has to be learn’t through struggle. If we can’t see who is profiting from unemployment, recession, slashing wages, and cutting welfare – the ruling rich- then we will fall for what seems “common sense.”

It seems “common sense” that if I don’t have a job it was taken by an immigrant. It seems “common sense” that If my kid can’t get into University it is because someone else (maybe a Maori on a Ngai Tahu scholarship) who got there ahead of my child. Why does the Maori kid have “more rights” than my kid I am encouraged to ask.

While I am blaming someone else for my problem I am treating it as a personal failure that I don’t have a job or my kid has missed the education he deserves. It may be because someone else has a “unfair” advantage but it is still personal problem. I aren’t blaming “the system”.

Where this leads is demonstrated by the position of working people who are white in the southern United States and occupied Northern Ireland.

The poorest sections of the working class of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that situated in the North of Ireland. One section is Catholic and is marginally poorer than the other section which is Protestant. They are both in that abysmal situation because the working class which is Protestant thanks that defending its “privileges” over it Papist enemy means it must support the British imperial order and its state rather than fight together with the even poorer Catholic neighbours against the rotten system that is condemning them both. Imperialism’s ability to cut off this northern enclave also held back progress for the liberated southern part of the island.

The same has been true in the Unites States. A hotel housekeeper in New York state gets $20 an hour under a union contract. A worker in Mississippi and other “right to work” states in the southern USA is lucky to get $5 an hour and no union representation.

The reason for the difference was a system of racial separation and terror that was allowed to be established in the South after the defeat of the slave holders in the civil war. In the process chances of interracial unity and struggle was set back for generations.

With adult male suffrage after the Civil War hundreds of thousands of blacks and a similar number of poor whites registered for the elections. Prior to the Civil War, landowners were the only social group who had the privilege to vote, excluding the majority of poor, landless whites from active political participation. Freed slaves and poor whites cooperated in establishing radical regimes in the South that began to pass laws in favour of labour rights, free public education, hospitals, roads and modest welfare measures. These regimes were eventually overthrown by force once federal troops were withdrawn and the Klu Klux Klan established as a terrorist militia to enforce racial segregation. It is this legacy that still lives in the continuing inability of the US trade union movement to ever establish itself as a serious presence in the former slaveholding states in the South.

The overthrow of radical reconstruction was a gigantic defeat for Black people in the USA but it was also the biggest defeat suffered by the US workers movement and has crippled or restricted its progress ever since.

Inline images 3

The left has to take these prejudiced views seriously. They are wrong. They can be refuted with facts. Genetics has confirmed we are all essentially the same. Ignoring prejudices however will not make them go away.

But we can only really defeat them when we are struggling together. It’s hard to hold a grudge against the Maori, Islander, Immigrant or “welfare cheat”: who is holding a placard beside you on the picket line and getting battened by the same copper who is battening you. But if we don’t struggle then the cancer will keep eating away at what I believe is our more fundamental human character – solidarity.

It is solidarity that will lead us out of this dog eat dog system that is capitalism. It is solidarity that will bring an end to the shallow, mean, selfish morality that goes with capitalism. It is solidarity that will recreate a value system that sees everyone as a human being of worth and value that should be treasured until they have met their full potential.

But if the human and social organism is not nourished by solidarity then cancerous mutations – fascism being the worst historical example – can emerge victorious.

(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of new Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)


McJobs rebellion as corporate profits, CEO pay soar

28 May

Nationwide, hundreds upon hundreds of retail and fast-food employees organize for a livable wage.

By Dorian T. Warren

NEW YORK – “Great Gatsby,” meet Raise Up Milwaukee. And New York. And Chicago. And St. Louis. And Detroit.

How ironic that while the film is re-creating a past era of excess and greed, employees in the fast-food and retail industries across the country are engaging in unprecedented strikes over today’s flow of wealth from working people to the rich.

In the last month, hundreds upon hundreds of fast-food and retail workers walked off the job in five major cities, including, most recently, Milwaukee, where hundreds of workers went on strike Wednesday at major national brands like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Denny’s and Foot Action. These historic one-day strikes follow a similar walkout on last fall’s Black Friday shopping day by workers at Walmart.

Milwaukee Strike

What has motivated workers with no job security to draw a line and tell some of the world’s richest corporations that enough is enough?

As in Gatsby’s time, the rich are partying like there is no tomorrow, at working people’s expense. One in four American workers is paid less than $10 per hour, well below the poverty line. These include people who prepare food, stock warehouses, staff customer service centers and care for children, the sick and the elderly.

Subpoverty wage levels have helped fuel the growth in average CEO pay that is now 354 times the average worker’s — up from 42 times in 1982. Corporate cash reserves and the stock market are at an all-time high.

With the average Walmart salesperson making only $8.81 per hour, the six heirs to the Walmart fortune have pocketed about $100 billion in wealth — more than the least well-off 41 percent of Americans combined.

McDonald’s raked in $5.5 billion in profits in 2012, while Yum! Brands, which includes KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, took home $1.6 billion in profits.

With government failing to act and corporations succeeding in keeping out unions, the Robin-Hood-in-reverse economy — taking from workers to give to the rich — is steadily getting worse. A majority of jobs created in the economic recovery have been in low-wage industries. Unless pay levels are raised, seven out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So what do participants in the Raise Up Milwaukee campaign, and their counterparts in other cities, want? A basic wage of $15 per hour, and the right to form unions without corporate interference and intimidation.

They understand that big corporations in the service industries can afford to pay more, but that these companies won’t do so unless workers join together and demand wages that support families. Like workers have through U.S. history, they are turning to unions to help solve a low-wage problem that is dragging our entire economy down.

Raises and the right to form unions would shift money back to working families for basic necessities, instead of sending it off to distant corporate headquarters to pad profits for executives and Wall Street stockholders. That shift, in turn, would help support small businesses and jobs in local communities.

The National Restaurant Association argues that the restaurant industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed. But the problem for executives in low-wage industries is that increasing numbers of working people can see that this promise is simply not true today, as it was not in Gatsby’s era.

Working people have seen how today’s economic storyline plays out, and they are willing to risk their jobs to flip the script.

Dorian T. Warren is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and an associate professor of political science and public affairs at Columbia University in New York.

Do tax cuts for rich help growth?

27 May

Question 25: The government claims that they need to reduce tax on the rich and companies to boost growth in the economy. What is the record in New Zealand and overseas?

Unfortunately for the government the periods of highest growth in NZ and the USA were associated with higher not lower taxation. The Treasury estimates that the 2010 tax changes will produce a total increase in growth of 1% over 7 years!

As Gordon Campbell explained in his May 18, 2010, Scoop column:

“When asked by Scoop at post-Cabinet press conference on May 17 to name a couple of countries where tax cuts had resulted in economic growth, Prime Minister John Key cited the United States. Surprising, given that

“(a) over half of the benefits from the Bush tax cut programme have accrued to only five per cent of the population,
“(b) they cost more than the health reforms enacted by Barack Obama and
“(c) since they were deficit financed, the Bush tax cuts have also added a huge $379 billion bill in interest payments to their initial $2.11 trillion in revenue foregone.

“More to the point, the Bush tax cuts did not result in economic growth. For wider yet related reasons, the Bush era ended in the worst recession in decades. As New Zealand’s own recent history has also shown, there is no causal link between tax cut programmes that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, and economic growth. At best, such tax cuts appear to trigger only brief, import-driven retail binges that drive up inflation – what we get in tax cuts, we pay for soon after in higher interest rates – and leave us with a worse current account deficit.”

A similar point is made in more detail by CTU Secretary Peter Conway in a pre-budget address to the Fabian Society on May 12, 2010 (Peter Conway: “Tax: A Budget preview”)

“Slemrod and Bakija(1) examine the relationship between the marginal income tax rate and productivity in the USA. They found that from 1950 to 2002, periods of strong productivity growth actually occurred when the top tax rates were the highest and, on average, high-tax countries were the most affluent countries.

“Also in the USA, in a study looking at the effect of tax cuts in 2001, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that in 1993 the US increased the top marginal tax rate from 31% to 39.6%. But this did not damage growth. In fact the economy experienced its longest economic expansion in history during the 1990s. Real GDP grew by an average of 4% a year from 1993 through to 2000, almost 50% faster than the average from 1973 to 1993.

“Despite major tax cuts in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006, the economy’s performance between 2001 and 2007 was far from stellar. Growth rates of GDP, investment, and other key economic indicators during the 2001-2007 expansion were below the average for other post-World War II economic expansions.

“In New Zealand, the average annual growth rate in the five years before the 2000 increase in the top tax rate was 1.9% whereas in the five years after the increase in tax it was 3.52%.

“Economic growth in the period after the major 1986 reductions in personal and company taxes was not impressive. Essentially it flat-lined.

“In the 1984-92 period our average annual growth rate in real per capita GDP was 0.4% compared with 3.02% in Australia and even when the growth rate recovered from 1992 to 1998, the average annual rate was 3.3% compared with 4.24% in Australia.

“The graph below essentially tells the story before and after the 1986 changes. It is as depicted by Paul Dalziel(2) using quarterly seasonally adjusted real Gross Domestic Product for Australia and New Zealand between 1977 and 1998, scaled so that the average value for the calendar year of 1984 equals 100.

Graph 14

“I have added a vertical line showing the timing of the huge cuts from 66 and 48 cents to 33 cents for both the top personal and company tax rate. (See Graph 14)

“These statistical juxtapositions do not show anything particularly useful and five years is not a long period in terms of a lagged effect on economic growth. I would not argue these figures prove that lower tax harms economic growth. But they at least show that tax cannot be a major factor compared with other significant influences on economic growth. Surely if after a massive cut in both income and company taxes in 1986 we see no evidence of an impact on economic growth, that particular line of argument should be abandoned by its proponents. And if we see a growth rate in the five years after an increase in the top tax rate in 2000 that is almost double that of the average rate for the five years before the cut, again it is hard to see a growth dividend. But we all know that lots of other things are affecting those numbers. That’s the point.”

(1) Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija (2008). Taxing Ourselves: A Citizen’s Guide to the Debate over Taxes, 4th edition.

(2) Dalziel, Paul. (2000) New Zealand’s Economic Reform Programme was a Failure, Department of Economics and Marketing Canterbury, New Zealand.

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

McDonald’s gets serve from union

26 May

By Lyndy Laird
Northern Advocate

"At times customers have had a serve of bad language with their fast-food orders."

"At times customers have had a serve of bad language with their fast-food orders."

A union official claims child labour, workers paid in food vouchers and management threats are all in a day’s work for staff at McDonald’s in Kaikohe.

At times customers have had a serve of bad language with their fast-food orders, Unite Union campaign manager Gary Cranston says.

McDonald’s has declined to answer the specific allegations raised by the union, saying they were being raised as part of a collective employment agreement dispute.

The union is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s stores owned by the same franchise holder in Kaikohe, Kerikeri and Kaitaia.

Mr Cranston claimed that workers at the Kaikohe outlet had told him that a manager had sworn at staff and one worker had an orange juice thrown at her in front of others.

"The [Kaikohe] restaurant manager has her three kids working for her at the store," Mr Cranston said. "The youngest is only 12 years old. She is being paid in McDonald’s coupons."

When a staff union delegate raised that and other issues which she considered breached company policies she was allegedly threatened with disciplinary action that included her hours being cut, Mr Cranston said.

The franchise owner, Lynley Reid, told the Northern Advocate she could not comment about the serious allegations and referred inquiries to MacDonald’s Restaurants (NZ) Ltd.

A company spokesperson said the Kaikohe issues had been raised in the context of collective employment agreement negotiations which broke down a month ago.

"Unite have been active in the media lately, speaking about McDonald’s on a variety of issues," she said. "We are committed to continuing to negotiate in good faith with the union, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this point."

But Mr Cranston said the union was concerned about a "hornet’s nest of issues" at the Kaikohe store, including allegations of staff working in positions above their pay or training level, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and understaffing.

"I’ve never seen anything like it. It is just out of control and it all comes back on the franchisee for failing to provide her crew with a safe and harmonious workplace, as she is legally obliged to do."

Last Saturday officials and workers staged a protest outside the Kaikohe store and presented it with the union’s first "Worst Franchisee of the Year" award.

CWS launches appeal for Bangladesh factory collapse survivors

26 May

The Bangladesh union that supports workers involved in the factory that collapsed killing 1100 and making many more jobless has asked New Zealanders for help.

They have made their request through Christian World Service, reflecting the long connection between the union and CWS.
The plea for help has come from Amirul Haque Amin of the Bangladesh National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF).

Mr Amin wrote to CWS international programmes head, Trish Murray thanking her for her messages of support and sympathy after the factory collapse tragedy.

“I know you are very busy but please consider that NGWF have to do a lot of things,’’ said Mr Amin.

These actions included: “supporting our members-dead and injured, trying to reach the other dead and injured but the numbers are very big, ensuring that the injured get proper treatment, and making sure that the dead, injured and suffering workers get proper compensation.”
As well they were trying to get support for the workers affected by the abrupt closure of other dangerous factories by the Government in the wake of international outrage after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Savar on April 24.

There had been at least 22 other factories closed and workers from these places were also in need of compensation and support.
Mr Amin also said that the factory collapse had underlined the urgency of keeping up their campaign for safer working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers.

“If we can get direct support to the victims then it will be also easier for us to do other things as well,’’ said Mr Amin.

Donations to the Bangladesh Workers Appeal can be made: on line at, sent to PO Box 22652, Christchurch 8140 or by calling 0800 74 73 72.

For further information contact: CWS National Director, Pauline McKay. Phones: 03 366 9274 or 021 289 1225

US Campaign against theft of wages at McDonald’s

25 May
Hi Friend,

Last week, you spoke out about how fast food companies are literally stealing from their workers – not paying overtime, forcing work to be done off the clock, making workers pay for their uniforms and much more.

McDonald’s and Wendy’s shareholders are meeting in Chicago and New York, and we’re bringing your complaints directly to them.

We want to make sure that these companies know just how many people know and care about their outrageous practices – and that we’re willing to stand up and say, ENOUGH.


So we put together this image to share on Facebook and get the word out – can you share it now?

Thanks so much,

Jonathan Westin
Fast Food Forward

P.S. – We’ve put together a Tumblr of photo testimonials from workers sharing their experiences with being stolen from on the job. Check it out and pass it along to anyone who might be interested.

follow on Twitter | friend on Facebook | For text updates send "fastfood" to 787753

TV3: Union protests at Wellington McDonald’s

22 May

The union’s Ronald McDonald protests in front of Wellington’s Bunny St McDonald’s

By Emma Jolliff

Around a dozen protesters picketed in front of a Wellington McDonald’s this morning, in a bid to get the fast-food giant to increase its pay rates.

It’s one of many protests seen around the country by members of Unite Union – today’s action was held outside McDonald’s Bunny St outlet, right in front of the central railway station.

McDonald’s have offered their employees a 25 cent pay rise over the next two years, which only keeps up with adjustments to the minimum wage.

The union says that’s unacceptable because KFC workers have been offered more, and want McDonald’s to increase their hourly pay rates from $13.75 to $15.

They also want more certainty in McDonald’s employment contracts because most workers are casuals and are struggling with rent from week-to-week.

Protester Joel Cosgrove says McDonald’s might give discounts to police, but KFC gives free meals to workers and McDonalds doesn’t even do that.

Police didn’t attended today’s protest, unlike a similar one in Auckland earlier this month where the union claimed police acted like McDonald’s "private security".

3 News

Watch this video report now

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