September 2011, Week 1


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Fri, 2 Sep 2011 20:30:08 -0400
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Together at last!


Here's one to watch. Down in New Zealand, a country
with an unusually cohesive (though struggling) union
movement, affiliates of the national union federation
have launched an innovative thing called "Together".
We're calling it a thing because it doesn't really fit
into any of the usual drawers. It's not a union, not an
NGO, not an organisation, not a network, not an
association, club, sect, faction, fraction, tendency or
movement. What it is, above all else, is a potential
solution to several of the quandaries that unions have
been trying to solve for at least 10 years.

In the NZ Council of Trade Union's own words:

"Together aims to connect workers in un-unionised work
places with the union movement and the union

In order to do this, it provides "...help with issues
like workplace bullying, sick leave, holiday pay,
employment agreements and sexual harassment".

Together is a national service that is being developed
for the "precariat" -- that rapidly growing cohort of
workers who do not fit into the standard labourist
model of industrial capitalism. Because it is being
developed at the national level, with affiliates'
buy-in, it cuts across regional, sectoral and strategic
lines. In particular, it aims to bring together:

* People on casual contracts; * Those in industries
like IT, tourism or in small shops, or driving taxis; *
Contractors and workers in remote areas and small towns
who don't currently have access to a union; * The
families of current union members.

Membership costs just $NZ 1 per week, which is roughly
20% of typical union fees in New Zealand. (One kiwi
dollar is equivalent to about $US0.87 or #UK0.53 or
68). Family membership is also on offer, bringing a
still larger audience back into unionism's traditional
orbit. In fact, the word they use here is "whnau",
which is a Maori word suggesting something more like
"extended family". So, for instance, if mum or dad is a
union member, they can also arrange union support for
their children, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and
nieces and grandchildren.

As affiliated unions sign up to support and promote the
system, they sign a "Memorandum of Commitment" (click
to download). This is they key document to read, if you
want to understand how Together works. Needless to say,
there are all kinds of potential conflicts and pitfalls
and fishhooks in a project like this. It is a credit to
the kiwis that they've managed to negotiate such
concerns and get Together off the ground.

Will this be "the missing link "- a clear route between
the precariat and the mainstream of the labour
movement? If not, will it become the first step of
something that evolves further? It is far too early to
make any meaningful assessment of the project, but, as
the great Anon once said: "The best map in the world
will not get you anywhere. Only going will get you


New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, 2011


Tradition For over 100 years NZ unions have organised
successfully in a number of traditional NZ industries -
meat, dairy, large food retail,  large manufacturing,
trains, planes and boats, health, education, public
services, mining, postal services, etc.  We still
organise in mainly those traditional industries and in
traditional ways - using delegates' structures, formal
workplace meetings, membership forms, payroll
deductions etc.  Despite a massive change in the
economy and in how people associate with organisations,
very little has changed in our practice or coverage.
Apart from not stretching to new NZ industries we have
also reduced our presence in some of the traditional
ones - construction, telecommunications, road

New Zealand Union Change

The analysis of union performance including the
membership gaps reveals a number of flaws in our
current system which as a movement we are now working
to change.   These include:

1. The law The current arrangements for bargaining in
the New Zealand (Employment Relations Act - ERA) do not
match the requirements of the modern labour market and
the system of bargaining is structured in such a way
that it effectively remove the rights of many workers
to a collective agreement.  It strongly favours
enterprise-based collective bargaining and while multi
employer bargaining is permissible, employers can
easily defeat attempts to multi-party bargaining by
obstructing settlement.  There are only 1 or 2
multi-employer agreements in existence outside of the
State Sector.  Workers outside the formal employment
relationship are not covered by the law. The result is
that only workers where unions are established, work is
stable, unions are competent, bargaining power is
rebalanced, and a formal employment relationship
exists,  are able to exercise the rights of Freedom of
Association and Collective Bargaining. A new legal
framework is needed that will extend union coverage and
collective bargaining to the widest possible group of
workers.  Collective bargaining is a human right for
all workers- for human rights to be effective they need
to be easily accessible. It is time for a new framework
- based on rights! Current labour law is based in a
market context. The narrative goes something like this.
Ideally the market would perform without interference
including in the establishment of wages. In this
context, labour law is portrayed as an unfortunate but
necessary interference in the market.  Interferences in
the market should be as minimal as possible and simply
work to make the market efficient.  All "improvements"
to labour law are analysed in this light and seen as
regrettable. Using a "rights based" framework rather
than a "market based" approach to industrial law would
allow for better outcomes.  In a rights based legal
framework, all workers would be able to walk into a
workplace and receive terms and conditions negotiated
by a union operating in their industry as a right.
Workers would also have easy access to participation in
unions and workers would  have a voice in their
workplace and industry about the way work is organised
and their place in it.  At the moment - the reality for
many workers is that almost all their terms and
conditions are set unilaterally by their employer! The
CTU has developed a new legal approach to this
challenge and is lobbying political parties to adopt
it.  It includes a two-tier model with a form of
industry codes/industry standards setting mechanism,
and enterprise (including multi-enterprise) level
bargaining.  We are also seeking new provisions for
contract workers to access the right to Collective
Bargaining (which is not restricted to those covered by
an employment relationship in ILO Convention 98 and
extends to all workers). This idea is based on overseas
models  and is a variation of the extension model used
in parts of Europe, Africa and Canada that provide for
the extension at an industry level of terms and
conditions negotiated in collective agreements at the
enterprise or multi-enterprise level.  Unions that
negotiate at an enterprise level in an industry and
reach a sufficient threshold of coverage that enables
"standards" to be identified, would be able to seek
access to an industry standard setting mechanism that
would identify industry standards from the enterprise
agreements and "extend" them to the all those other
employers and workers in the industry not covered by a
collective agreement.

2. Union change

Changing the law won't change union culture,
performance and influence. The second major piece of
work we are undertaking is how we change as unions to
build a modern union movement capable of offering easy,
low threshold membership to any worker that wants to
participate, including having plans and capacity to
support unions to change and organise in new sectors.
This involves a two part development programme.

a.  Together

On 3 May 2011 the unions of the CTU launched a new
union called Together.  Together is a union run by all
the unions of the CTU - it is a recognition that if we
are to "crack the nut" we need to work as a movement
and do new things collectively to move forward.
Together builds on the strong family narrative  that
runs through the union movement.  Many union members
will tell you stories of union families - that their
mums and dads were union members, that they remember
uncles and aunts on picket lines, that they attended
union meetings as children.  Our surveys of members
also show that many union members are very concerned
that their children and other family members, are not
getting the union experience - this is not surprising
given 9 out of 10 workers  in the private sector are
not  unionised. Together is an organisation that offers
union membership to union families and to those
excluded from easy access to current unions. Union
members can join their family to Together by paying
another $1 per week on top of their current union fees
to their union, who then transfer this money to
Together.  Whole families can join for this single fee
provided those that are in unionised workplaces also
join the union at the workplace. Together is a values
based organisation - by its nature and by the nature of
the workplaces of its members, bargaining is not an
option at this stage for most members but participation
and organisation is.  Together members will be offered
support via a website and call centre for individual
work problems and we hope to have a regional network of
trained delegates who are able to represent workers in
mediations etc at some later point. But at this stage
Together members will get the benefit of the values
proposition that unions offer. In the same way as the
thousands that join Amnesty International each year
don't do so because they might need a candle lit for
them at some point - we want people to join Together in
order to participate in the union experience.  Union
members have been very receptive to this idea - they
want their kids to be in unions, to receive union
information and to identify with the movement, to
participate in union activities and they see this as a
safe way for that to happen. Union members that join
their families to Together will be expected to include
them in union activities organised by their union.
Affiliated unions will invite families to events  -
rallies, meetings, memorial services etc.  We will also
have activities (online campaigns etc) for members to
participate in. If  Together recruits 50,000 union
families - the movement will not only have approx
200,000 more people that are associating with its
values - but also over two million dollars per year for
new organising projects - in those areas - retail,
construction and the new economy where to date there is
no strategy to break through.  Many of the union
members that join their families to Together will be
members of unions in the public sector - it enables
public sector members to assist in the unionisation of
the private sector where many of their family members
work. How Together develops and what it does is still
an open question. Where we identify members within
similar industries we will enable them to talk to each
other and organise further - we will look for
opportunities for campaigns and for supporting groups
of organised members to move into affiliated unions,
with resources for further more traditional organising.
b. Union Change part two Together is simply the first
part of the union change agenda.  The second part
involves both maximising the benefits of Together
across the union movement but also assisting affiliated
unions to organise in new ways in new sectors.
Affiliates and Together have entered into a Memorandum
of Commitment.  This Memorandum commits the parties to
a number of things. Most importantly affiliates will
promote Together membership to their members and invite
union families to events and activities,  and Together
has committed to spend 60% of its income on supporting
affiliates in new organising projects.  Unions will
build Together and Together will build unions. The
affiliates have begun to plan this new organising as a
movement - we have started to identify how we would
select, plan and implement new projects.  One of the
primary criteria is that a union tasked with a new
project should be funded by the movement to do so and
should be competent to be successful.  Old demarcations
for coverage will not drive new projects.  If a sector
is identified as a priority for organising as a
movement but there is not a union competent to be
successful (including a union that may claim coverage
in that industry but clearly does not have sufficient
capacity to be successful with a new project), then the
movement will need to determine how and who to assist
to become competent as the first part of the programme.
This of course has required us to define what makes a
competent organising union - something controversial
and which we continue to develop. The third and fourth
projects of the NZ union change programme are the
development of a union leadership framework - how do we
as a movement ensure we are developing new leaders to
lead the movement in the future, and a group
considering union resource rationalisation - beginning
its work looking at membership systems.

Conclusion This union change programme is developmental
and affiliates are involved in each stage of
development including rigorous reporting to the CTU
National Affiliates Council and a process of
endorsement for each stage.  There is a general
recognition that for things to change - things need to
change, and that the success of the movement is in the
interests of all unions and is also reliant on all
unions playing a part.

The NZCTU is also beginning the discussion on union
values and how others see us and will have a session on
this at its next biennial conference in August.  We do
not have the answers to the challenges posed above and
it is unclear if the current structure of unionism in
New Zealand allows us to develop them.


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