MAY DAY – UTU For Workers Union – Fight for Justice

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It’s time for progressive activists to step up. The working class needs you. 

Today, on International Workers Day, we announce the launch of a new union: UTU for Workers Union. Our mission is to build a working class, grassroot, campaigning movement to stop exploitation and end workplace abuse in Aotearoa-New Zealand. 

 

The Working Class Challenge

The international trade union movement is in a fight for relevancy to the majority of the working class. Decades of relentless attacks on the workers’ movement have been devastating. 

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In our country, out of over 1.5 million private sector workers, less than one in fourteen (7%) are members of a union. If we exclude the large private companies, unionisation in the private sector is effectively non-existent. More than half of the workers employed in the private sector do not even have the option to join a trade union nor be covered by a collective agreement. 

Despite the good work the present unions do for their own members, the rest of the working class has lost ground in terms of income and protections. Non-unionised workers have no power to improve their position. They are at the mercy of their boss.

As a result, when workers in non-unionised workplaces have an employment dispute, they must seek support from an expensive lawyer, lay advocates, or a friend. Most exploited private sector workers receive no access to justice. Unscrupulous bosses know this. 

The increase in vulnerable migrants and widespread casualisation, along with the growth of labour hire companies and dependent sole contractors, has seen the number of precariat workers in New Zealand explode. This has led to a culture of fear and isolation. As a result, workers’ power, incomes, job security and self-confidence have declined.

The situation is similar in most western countries, and if we don’t shake it up, the international union movement in the private sector will descend into irrelevancy. It is unacceptable that we morph into a network of staff associations for relatively better-off workers. That would be a betrayal of our history and all the working-class fighters who came before us. 

 

A New Activist Movement 

The old ways no longer work for the overwhelming number of private sector workers. The only question any serious worker rights activist must consider, is not if we protect and organise all workers, but only: how? It is clear we need new forms of organisation. 

I have been part of the One Union project group for the last three years. We have been actively trialing various models in our attempt to find a sustainable and effective way to meet the new challenge. We believe we now have the solution. Today we announce the formation of the UTU for Workers Union. 

 

The Mission of UTU for Workers Union

Our purpose is to build a mass movement to stop exploitation – migrant and non-migrant – and end unchecked workplace abuse that non-unionised workers routinely suffer. 

The use of UTU is deliberate. We summarise it in Maori terms – justice. When a victim is exploited or abused, their mana has been diminished and it must be restored. That is UTU.

As the first step, we have to actually help individual workers with their immediate problem. For the last year we have been providing representation to any worker from non-unionised workplaces who needs help. 

The jungle of predator employment advocates and lawyers scamming vulnerable workers is sickening. They get screwed by the boss, and then again by their advocates, some of whom do sweetheart deals with bosses. The advocate gets their fee, but the worker is forced to accept a few crumbs. Simply outrageous. 

The good news is that when we have backed up our representation with a direct campaign, through picketing or media exposure, the exploitative boss has realised the power of the worker feeling they have gotten justice. The boss knows to be more careful in the future. We have had some success in having bosses agree to ongoing compliance monitoring. 

We have found that workers want to join a union. In almost all occasions, there is no union. If there is, they don’t use their resources to help non-members. That might make sense if you look at unions as business units, but completely wrong if you see them as a justice movement for workers. There are only two categories of workers – those in unions, and those we must get into unions. 

Up until now we have not asked workers to join us. From today we will accept workers as members and supporters. Our membership is open to everyone, whether they are employees, or dependent contractors. We will help any worker who is in distress.

What must unite us is not what work we do, or who our boss is. Instead, we have to join together as a working class. The old and true clarion call, “an injury to one, is an injury to all”, is as relevant today as it ever was. All unionists must fight for justice for all workers. 

If any applicant is from a unionised site or sector covered by another union, then of course they must join that union. It must be noted that we are solely focused on the vast majority of non-unionised private sector workers who are exploited and abused in the non-unionised world.

By having an inclusive and broad strategy, we believe many workers and allies will step up to build a powerful workers movement dedicated to stopping exploitation and workplace abuse. 

 

How do we Rebuild Working Class Confidence?

We can do this in three phases. 

  • Help Victims First
  1. If we claim to be pro-worker, we have to earn the right. Our first priority is to resolve individual workers’ immediate problems. This is the most important thing to anyone. Support any victim, and they become a union ally – and in time, an activist. 
  2. We currently force exploiters to pay thousands of dollars of unpaid wages and backpay legal underpayments. We have prevented unfair sackings, stopped harassment and bullying, and won compensation and fair outcomes for hundreds of workers. In the last year alone, we have won hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need more people to help. Until they do, exploitation will continue. 
  3. Our case work is now carried out by the One Union Trust, which operates in partnership with the union. The trust has a dedicated legal team of three lawyers led by a former senior trade union official.  

 

  • Confront Criminal Bosses Directly
  1. We have a dedicated UTU Squad. We hold UTU Vigils for Justice actions directly outside the businesses and homes of exploiters and abusers. Every community needs a local UTU Squad. 
  2. We name criminal bosses and expose injustices on our union website, utu.org.nz, and our Facebook page, @UTUForWorkersUnion. 
  3. We host a weekly radio programme on 104.6 Planet FM, Wednesdays at 12.40pm. We tell the truth about these exploiters and abusers.
  4. We organise online Action Station petitions to mobilise support for victims, and let communities know about their local exploiters. 

 

  • Build Solidarity
  1. After a boss has been found to breach minimum employment standards, we monitor compliance and enforce legal minimum codes. Thousands of workers in small workplaces don’t get their minimum entitlements. We can fix that through constant vigilance. 
  2. We also monitor visa compliance. 350,000 workers are reliant on a boss for their visas.
  3. Workers will feel safer by regular check ins. Over time, we will patiently build a more collective confidence in their workplace. 

 

Migrant Exploitation 

  1. The most exploited and abused group of workers are migrant workers on temporary visas. Any project to eliminate worker exploitation in New Zealand must include campaigns that focus on migrant workers. We are judged as unionists on our commitment to the most vulnerable members of the working class. 
  2. The Migrant Workers Association partners with us and leads this work. The One Union Trust provides practical case representation for victims. MWA and UTU spearheads campaigns that rally the community against specific cases of injustice. Their fight is our fight. 

 

A Call to Action

Progressive activists have to step up now. We need action. 

Here are 8 practical steps you can do right now.

  1. Sign our petition online
  2. Share this message
  3. Check us out
  4. Donate
  5. Become a member
  6. Join the UTU squad
  7. Become an advocate
  8. Be a Legacy Sponsor

and buy the t-shirt 

 

 

 

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. The working class have already lost most of their labour rights, the middle class not only have lost their labour rights, they are also seemingly ignored in all union discourses which only focuses on a very narrow view of labour abuse of low skills workers. It’s far beyond that.

    Apart from that, I think UTU is a good idea. But the ability of it’s usefulness will be about making it more open about the abuse of all labour no matter what form or ‘title’ it comes in. Not paying someone for labour and having abuses of labour, is wrong in what ever form it takes. Maybe there should be two unions, one for so called precariat working class, and one for the middle class precariat workers.

    For example.

    Journalism jobs are precarious, financially insecure and require family support
    https://theconversation.com/journalism-jobs-are-precarious-financially-insecure-and-require-family-support-157012

    “Journalism is a notoriously precarious profession. Downsizing and layoffs are almost routine, and many journalists find themselves bouncing between news organizations and periods of freelance work during their careers. Yet journalism is not the only precarious profession — for decades, scholars have been documenting the increasing precarity of employment.

    There has been a rise in freelance and gig work in low-skilled jobs such as care work, domestic services, trade work, delivery services and transportation. And there has been a recent increase in gig work in higher-skilled fields such as information technology and creative work as well. People in these precarious fields of work describe their work as intense and demanding, but at the same time, unstable and insecure.”

    Journalism jobs are precarious, financially insecure and require family support
    https://theconversation.com/journalism-jobs-are-precarious-financially-insecure-and-require-family-support-157012

    Being middle class and speaking out is increasingly dangerous.

    Record number of journalists jailed worldwide
    https://cpj.org/reports/2020/12/record-number-journalists-jailed-imprisoned/

  2. New ways to exploit labour operating in NZ – exploiting both he gig economy, company, employment and IP laws.

    Rich individuals via complex company structures, re-purpose labour for their own benefits using both complex and less complex actions (aka firing a person before they can gain financially fully from their labour like in the Crimson case).

    Crimson Consulting: The court file they fought for a year to keep hidden
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/crimson-consulting-the-court-file-they-fought-for-a-year-to-keep-hidden/73S2FXAUS5QCPWZJUQHNGUW2LY/

    The two other secret lawsuits against education firm Crimson
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/the-two-other-secret-lawsuits-against-education-firm-crimson/WW7257QIB55CC3GS5J4OCWSOJ4/.

    Crimson Education accused of using untrained tutors and operating ghost offices
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/118087133/crimson-education-accused-of-using-untrained-tutors-and-operating-ghost-offices

    Crimson Consulting faces liquidation bid over $2250
    Ex-employee applies to liquidate high-profile education company.
    https://www.nbr.co.nz/article/crimson-consulting-faces-liquidation-over-2250-cg-p-200914

    Laws in NZ are easily open to labour exploitation in the new economy, which seems to be mostly ignored by NZ lawmakers and regulators and little understanding of its long term impacts. There is also little remedy but huge bonuses for those exploiters who after bringing wages down to nothing, now find new inventive ways to exploit labour and not pay for it.

    Substitutes to money are being offered in return for labour, as wages and conditions decline.

    Sadly growing exploitation of skilled people in NZ is keeping NZ unproductive, in the dark ages, and destroying the ability of NZ as a country, to graduate to the new economy, because now company labour is disrupted and stolen before it can be bought to fruition and often by the same people who are glorified in the media.

    There is a need for new economy unions in NZ as well as quicker, cheaper and easier, investigation of fraud by Pecuniary advantage to be available to the average person. Increasingly it might not be money, employers are stealing but substitutes and using that to get away with the Pecuniary advantage..

    Stoping Labour fraud in the new economy does not even seem on the radar of policy makers in NZ while the redactions and legal actions continue under the radar for middle class labour exploitation, removing the ability of claims and scale to even be measured.

    Let’s just focus on keeping more peasants toiling in the fields and supermarkets as our main focus on labour exploitation in NZ while Rome burns in the new economy quicker that the Sky City fire.

    • There needs to be union aimed at the decline and attacks on higher level skilled workers who are often brilliant in their field but outfoxed by the government and leaders of neoliberal business, love of the ideology of money… University Academics are among those suffering…

      Here is a sad, but all too real, analogy of life as an academic in NZ in the past few years.
      http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2021/02/another-note-on-academic-decline/

      ” The union-busting project against the house collective bargaining agent for staff began in earnest and accelerated thereafter. People with research and teaching talent began to leave and boot-licking academic driftwood began to pile up. Promotion and tenure decisions were revised so that quantity rather than quality of research output and publication became key criteria for advancement.

      This led to a rush towards “crony collaborations” in which academic friends produce edited collections in local or profit-oriented publication outlets and publish articles in journals edited by each other, without the scrutiny normally undergone by the peer-review process required by internationally-recognised publishers (say, in my discipline, World Politics, International Security or the International Political Science Review or Cambridge or Princeton University Presses). What used to be the norm when it came to research output rapidly became the exception to the “quantity over quality” rule ( I got a taste of this when I was advised to list my editorials and media appearances on the contrived and biased PBRF reviews required to justify departmental funding).

      Towards the end of my tenure and afterwards, newer hires were increasingly recruited from non-elite graduate programs and paid at comparatively lower levels than during my first years in residence. Their PR and self-marketing skills became as or more important as their contributions to original research in the discipline. The employer demanded that courses generate a profit and, once the STEM disease set in, that they prove relevant to the Science, Technology, Economics and Management priorities of the tertiary funding model. “Non-profitable” departments like Classics or Indonesian Studies were soon eliminated.

      Fees-paying foreign student enrolments increased under diminished admission standards. Existing degree requirements were lowered and “certificate,” “diploma” and other types of shallow qualification study programs proliferated. Flash buildings were built and more acquired (including a former brewery and a mansion for the VC), non-academic middle managers (many in PR) were hired by the bucketful and academic staff were told to limit photocopying, ration A4 paper and assume more administrative duties previously done by secretaries. Besides turning Ph.D.’s into clerical workers, among other things this move to “corporatise” academia along profit-oriented lines prompted PR flak-inspired suggestions in my former department that the Introduction to International Relations course for first year students be re-named “War and Peace” and that my course on Revolutions be renamed to have “9/11” in the title.

      The larger point is that academic managerialism has destroyed the very concept of the academy, which if anything should be one of the last refuges from the profit motive because it rewards discipline and merit as it imparts knowledge, both conformative and transgressive, for knowledge’s or humanity’s sake rather than for money.

      As the Taylorist pathogen took hold, more of the good people in the department left or retired. I was asked why I stayed and in my naivety I simply answered that it was about lifestyle and personal relationships. My partner and I had met in the late 1990s and were getting more serious, and my lifestyle out on the west flank of the Waitakere Ranges was ideal for my purposes at the time. Under an pre-existing research leave policy that was covered by my original contract I did take a couple of semester-long research leaves during those first ten years, once to the University of California San Diego and the other to the Portuguese Institute of International and Strategic Studies. Then the old research leave policy was terminated, and shortly after that, I was as well. ”

      The international rush to the bottom in education (and why the west is in decline).

      Tuition Is Up, So Why Are College Profs on Welfare?
      The faculty members participating in National Adjunct Walkout Day say they’ve had enough with low pay and no benefits.
      http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/02/24/adjunct-faculty-walk-out

  3. All business owners who have immegrated here and are caught defrauding staff should lose the right to remain here . Their assets should be sold and staff reimbursed then they should be shown the door just as they do in Australia for criminals

  4. “ One more May Day whose echo
    carries around the world, bidding
    those who struggle take heart;
    those who would lift themselves
    and all men, turn to their work,
    all fighters against aggression,
    all who would sweep away the cobwebs
    from men’s minds, all who would lift
    up their children and face the newer
    world, standing together and singing, –
    singing for the future that is their’s
    with sure feet dancing in the newer
    day; swift strength and oneness under
    a glory of coloured light; such was this
    May Day.”

    Rewi Alley ‘ Peking May Day’ Peking, May 1st, 1953.

    A remembrance of things past –

  5. @ Matt, Anu et al
    Naming and shaming appears to work and is probably a better way of wiping out exploitation than waiting for the Labour Inspectorate – even now that they’ve woken up to the magnitude of the problem.
    It is systemic, but it’s all been working as designed by that failed zoologist, foreskin of NovaPay and a number of other Mr Fixit projects, and his sidekick who proved to be such a Wonderboy in the health sector.
    (It wasn’t JUST “lack of capacity” – as Helen Clark diplomatically described it. It’s structural, cultural and attitudinal).

    They don’t like having it shoved up them in the way they’re perfectly prepared to do to others:
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/124979850/cleaning-boss-who-refuses-to-pay-wages-claims-shes-being-treated-unfairly
    I’m getting out the Stradivarious to accompany the hard luck stories a few a’hole emplyers are about to start playing.
    To my mind, the situation is quite simple. If you can’t remain profitable without paying your employees a living wage and acting unethically, then your business is not viable. Call it quits now and try something else.
    And ticket clipping is going to be a fading occupation that’ll only bring you grief

    • …” I’m getting out the Stradivarious to accompany the hard luck stories a few a’hole emplyers are about to start playing.
      To my mind, the situation is quite simple. If you can’t remain profitable without paying your employees a living wage and acting unethically, then your business is not viable. Call it quits now and try something else.
      And ticket clipping is going to be a fading occupation that’ll only bring you grief”…

      —————

      THIS ^^^^

      Is this not what the neo liberals ( read ‘greedies’ ) believe in? That if a business is not viable it should close its doors and let another business take its place that IS viable?

      I agree,- if these bastards are happy to take all the profits and pay New Zealanders LESS that the living wage,… FUCK EM !

      No decent society has to put up with these sorts of criminal PIRATES !!!

  6. Thanks Tim,
    We start our weekly radio show this Wednesday 12.40am on Planet FM. We will name the criminals and what have done. We will run it as a podcast on our website as well.

    As you already know, these big exploiters can afford it. It’s just capitalists being very greedy. It’s a business model. Some of these criminals can get up to 50 “bonded” workers for $400 a week to work 60 hours or more a week. On the $20 minimum wage that’s a saving of $800 a week or $40,000 a year. No sick pay and holiday pay etc. it’s a gift that keeps giving. Some workers are even required to pay their full wage back to bosses. And then pay a ‘visa support’ fee of between $15,000- $50,000 on top of that.

    The solution is to not to wring our hands like most kiwis and wait for the state to intervene. The state deports the victims and penalises them for breaking the law. Yet the bosses get a smack on their wrists and carry on.

    We left wingers have to take action!!! I’ll do my bit, but other comrades need to put their hands up to help too – money and/or time. Otherwise we are also part of the problem. Inaction makes us complicit. But then everyone who reads this email, already knows this truth.
    Go well. Kia Kaha. Matt

  7. The ninth practical step would be forming a political movement that can take its place in parliament and be part of a real centre left government post 2023 when the Social Democrats will no longer have a majority.
    In the mean time NZ Justice movement can be built around the things that UTU need support on and not just struggling workers but beyond that to appeal to the families that in many cases are disadvantaged by the evil of the system and how it eats and chews out its victims in a never ending campaign of fear and discrimination that is inflicted on the working people in this plutocracy.
    The Social Democrats will never again represent or protect the people who UTU want to stand for that are the real victims of the neo liberal plutocracy.
    Lab-Nat-ACT-Green-Maori are creatures of the system and are totally compromised.
    The only way is a progressive movement that can challenge the status quo and does not make the mistakes the Alliance made in 2002 and more recently Internet Mana is to bring together the many talented left wing activists out there who can get organised and contest local and national elections with a programme of change that can deliver influence in a future MMP parliament and can fund raise with a real clever marketing drive.
    Matt could you write a post on this subject. It would be interesting to hear your views on whether this is something that could be an option.

    • …”The ninth practical step would be forming a political movement that can take its place in parliament and be part of a real centre left government post 2023 when the Social Democrats will no longer have a majority”…

      —————

      EXACTLY !!!!

  8. Internation labour day should be and needs to be a country wide celebration. The ILO was a parent over loking and setting a standard for worker to insist on and gave backup much needed for the workers conditions and power to negotiate conditions.
    We hear so little from MSM about 1st May and ILO.

    Democracy in the work place is a parallel movement giving workers control over products produced and condition of work as well as workers sharing in the profits generated by their labour.

    There are two areas globally that stand out where workers cooperatives have flourished benefitting the wider economy.
    Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Mondragon in the North of Spain.
    Mondragon Corporation is a group of workers cooperatives that have functioned well for decades growing into a large organisation but with each part being autonomous. Over 80 thousand workers involved with CEOs employed by the workers. Pay differentials are capped unlike in US style capitalism.

    https://www.mondragon-corporation.com/en/about-us/

    https://www.esoplaw.com/blog-posts/co-ops/emilia-romagna

    https://thenextsystem.org/learning-from-emilia-romagna

    Argentina neoliberal crisis, austerity and workers solution.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx0vdeJuiNw

    The prospective Labour Govt in the UK had a policy that before a business could be sold off or wound down it first had to be offered to its workers. A common sense initiative.

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