Solidarity with and for meat workers more important than ever

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The wealth of the Talley family is over $300 million. That’s more than any family needs to meet reasonable life time aspirations. It’s certainly enough to carry great currency in a country where family dynasties influence environmental and employment law. It’s an obscene amount when Talley’s workers face worsening employment conditions under increasing pressure to maximise throughput, long hours in dangerous settings, increasing casualization, real health and safety risks, threatened loss of seniority rights and a stripping away of union protections and voice.
But there’s a convergence of both class and racial injustice in the way the Talley family acquires companies, strips union and workers’ strength and pushes employment conditions to the wire in pursuit of yet more profit. Here’s a white family with more money than anyone could ever need, screwing thousands of (mainly) Maori workers and forcing them to work harder, increase process outputs, under less safe conditions, with fewer rights so the Talleys themselves can accumulate more.

More than 70% of AFFCO’s meat workers are Maori, in communities where alternative work options are few, where jobs are a scarce and valued commodity, and where loyalties to the industry are strong. With families to feed, workers do not take strike action lightly. But given the power imbalance between the employer and employed, workers have to stand together if they are to stand at all. In the long struggle against workplace oppression in AFFCO meat plants, solidarity between iwi, workers and unions has been key. The important force of this relationship was proven in 2012 when after a three month lock-out by Talley’s of its workers, iwi interests threatened to withhold stock supplies until an agreement with Maori workers was reached, broke the stalemate, and forced Talley’s back to the negotiating table in principle if not in good faith intent.

But last weekend, this essential troika that gave Maori / working class interests power against the Talley bosses, was undermined by arguably unmandated and illegitimate agreement reached between shed president/secretaries, Tuku Morgan and Ken Mair, and Peter Talley, which saw this week’s well planned and supported strike, and rally at Parliament, called off. The disappointment, disbelief and dismay among workers, unionists and supporters, was palpable. What had been given up, and why?

The common interests of Maori and workers were fractured. The union was undermined, by an agreement that pulled the legs from the common call to stand together and strike. The shed bosses, the ‘iwi representatives’ and Talley’s agreed to a two month negotiating period, as long as the strike was called off, all legal cases were dropped, and the Meat Workers’ Union was dismissed from negotiations. Despite the illegality of this proposal, and lack of vote –and even meetings- from many union members on some of these sites, Talley’s managed to exercise their vicious divide and rule tactics and drive a wedge between the overlapping interests of class and race. The unrepresentative representatives of the workers were conned into believing the wiley old Talley leopard had changed its spots and was finally ready to negotiate in good faith. All this has done is undermine the union, give extra confidence to Talley’s, (another round to Talleys in the long fight), given Talley’s a bit of breathing and production time while they pursue employment law changes as a bigger agenda.

The Government’s support for greedy mistreatment of workers saw Peter Talley receive a knighthood for services to industry and philanthropy earlier this year. Clearly the state condones, and even repackages as benevolence, anti-worker, anti-safety, punitive and exploitative employment conditions.

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But all is not lost in the battle between meat workers and the hard-nosed capitalists, Talley’s. The tenuous agreement for further negotiation excluding the Meat Workers’ Union may yet unravel. Dissent about the decisions made by Morgan, Mair et al, may yet lead to a revised position. The facts of the matter haven’t changed – and Talley’s continues to use night shift and other sanctions to punish resistance. It’s an opportunity for the Meat Workers’ Union to regroup, and to consolidate its position and its power. A class based alliance would see iwi as again key to this bulwark against Talley’s exploitation of workers and Maori.

In the meantime, the market is king, and the way those of us who aren’t meat workers, can support those who are, is by using the market to punish Talley’s, and to undermine their market share. As consumers we have a role in resisting oppression of those who have a vital role in putting the food on our table. Mike Treen advises a boycott of Talley’s products, and John Minto discusses economic sabotage in the form of damaging Talley’s goods; other non-economic options include targeting the Talley family in their Nelson mansions as was done in 2012, taking the fight to the source of the oppression in their opulent towers. As members of other unions, we also need to stand side by side with our brothers and sisters in the meat industry. No one is without power, and we all need to lend our power, whatever its form, in support of those who are obviously exploited by the food barons of this land.

Disclaimer
Christine Rose is employed as Kauri DieBack Community Co-ordinator by the Auckland Council. All opinions expressed herein are Christine’s own. No opinion or views expressed in this blog or any other media, shall be construed as the opinion of the Council or any other organisation.

11 COMMENTS

  1. @ Christian Rose . You know I like to agree with you. You write from the heart and the head. A good combination in my view .
    However. There’re several points I’d like to, well, point out, that make me go Hmm ?

    C+C Music Factory.
    ( https://youtu.be/XF2ayWcJfxo )

    Firstly the Talley family money. $300 M . You write “ That’s more than any family needs to meet reasonable life time aspirations. “
    Is it now.
    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with outrageous aspirations . It’s what we humans do . We be outrageous and aspire . Hence pyramids , twin towers , little bitty satellites on astroids, children etc.
    The real question here is perhaps HOW the Talleys got their money and yes , you correctly pointed that out . By being opportunists after politicians paved the way for them. No doubt after some vigorous lobbying by Talleys.
    The other point in your post that makes me squirm is that they’re white, therefore they’re automatically bad people. Bullshit surely? Maori business persons can be just as mercenary and hard arsed with their employees . The fact that most Talleys employees are Maori says more about a dysfunctional society, not because Talleys are evil parsnips Hell bent on exploiting a people because of their skin colour. It always makes me feel deeply uncomfortable when the race issue is trucked out when really the most important thing to consider is for all people, and perhaps some of the aliens amongst us, to come out swinging for each other and change the neo liberal system that perpetuates the Talleys syndrome. Mind you, I could be wrong.
    Thirdly… where is mention of the farmer in this whole
    cluster fuck ?
    You do remember them right? They trudge ? They grumble? The carry the debt burdens for the machinery used to produce the produce ? They work absurd hours and are now killing themselves in ever increasing numbers ? Herd of Farmers ? Yes? Chickens too ?
    How about going down on the farm, yee haw ! ( Cut to banjo music. Sarcasm alert ) And ask one o’ them there farmers what they think of their produce being used by a worthless pack of bastards , like Talleys , to make millions from while all Talleys have to do is subjugate a few workers, pay for a good time to a few politicians and sit back and watch the money roll in. The real victims here are the farmers . Lost in no-mans land while the hangers on who squirm in the shit of their own excreting. If I was a clever man, I’d suggest the Talleys workers go and ask the farmer if they’d care to pop round for a cup of tea and join the party. Then together, take a closer look at the Talleys, their associates and their minions. You want to see that red faced, shiny man shit his fancy trousers ? Trot that scenario past his sneery little face .

    John Oliver explains how chicken farming can be unfair, punishing, and inhumane. And not just for the chickens!

    https://youtu.be/X9wHzt6gBgI

    The cops are hassling Martyn Bradbury . You wonder why that is ? After all the other people he’s hassled over the years ? Why suddenly Talleys. Worthless in-betweener’s and just one species of a larger nest of parasites sucking on the money streaming from NZ’s agricultural industry. Hmmmm ?

    • I can’t see anywhere that states because they are white they are automatically bad. It simply states that they are white, and that the vast majority of their employees are Maori, a segment of the New Zealand community that are usually subject to being of low socio-economic status, which would seem quite relevant.

    • I can’t see where it states that because they are white they are automatically bad. It states they are white and that the vast majority of employees are Maori, a segment of the New Zealand population that are subject to being of low socio-economic status.

    • I can’t see where it states that because they are white they are automatically bad. I think that’s your poor interpretation. It states that they are white while also stating that the vast majority of their employees are Maori which are a segment of our society subject to low socio-economic standing.

    • The status quo system is one that exploits most regardless of race.
      This “solution” destroying food in a supermarket and boycotting one brand does not address any of the problems (of debt slavery system).
      Its a drama of distraction folks. TPPA, the corrupt city councils and govt takes a second to ongoing exploitation of workers.
      Boycott one of the agri business (monopoly) slaughter houses and dairy farms but support all others? Why?
      Help the multinationals manipulate one exploiters stock market share price.

      http://wakeup-world.com/2014/12/15/controlled-opposition-the-hidden-hand-of-misdirection/

  2. Hi CountryBoy, I still believe $300million is an obscene amount – especially when it’s at others’ and the environment’s expense. The reason I refer to Peter Talley being white is because of the intersection of class and race, not because being white is bad in itself. This column is about the meat workers, not about the farmers as that’s a whole different subject, although class allegiance between farm and meat workers is important – as seen with the lock out in 2012 and the pressure iwi farmers successfully brought to bear against Talley’s then. The ethics of industrial scale farming is something I write about elsewhere, a lot, and there’s also a nasty coincidence between environmental, animal and worker abuses. I don’t know about the cops putting pressure on Bomber because of him ‘hassling people in the past’, more likely because their role is to defend the interests of the ruling (capitalist) class, in this instance in particular.

  3. Probably went to Arizona first and got lost there at NSA HQ global spy network or GCSB failed to get it back after they shipped them to NSA??

  4. Excellent post Christine and I agree wholeheartedly. It is totally unacceptable that Talley’s are doing what they are being allowed to do. As a Union leader I have had enough and intend taking action with or without anyone’s blessing, and seperate from the unions tag if need be. Yesterday’s TPPA rally in Whangarei clearly illustrated how bullied and oppressed the regions Talleys/Affco meatworkers are. Their presence was minimal, I feel most felt ashamed by the actions of calling off the planned strike action, so didn’t front up through fear of being ridiculed and judged by others, probably because of talk of the formation of a in-house patsy Union.

    Action of boycotting must continue and it is time to amp things up by way of promoting a Talley’s products ban. The connection of political donations and lobbying for changes in health & safety, employment law changes is the grounds for this fight.

    At yesterday rally we recieved a solid commitment from many activists in attendance to join together in unity and show up on a boycott promoting picket at our local Pack N Save. The invitation is going to be extended out to the wider activist base from other Regions to attend. It would be great if yourself and other Auckland based activists can join in on the day (to be announced/ publicised once planning is complete).

    In Unity!

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