Unions Wellington is an affiliate council of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and works to build the union movement and unite trade union campaigns. In the article below, Ben Peterson – Unions Wellington convenor and member of Wellington Socialists – reports on the work of UW during 2017/18 and their plans for the upcoming year.
Solidarity in struggle
Throughout the year Unions Wellington helped organise alongside affiliate unions. UW’s first priority has been to organise in support of Unions in dispute, and we have been able to contribute in modest but meaningful ways to industrial struggles in 2017/18. This has included, but is not limited to:
- Support for Rail and Maritime Transport Unions members at Transdev: During the Transdev dispute and strike Unions Wellington mobilised to support the the RMTU. UW organised a petition of over 1000 commuters in support of RMTU members, which was useful in countering the employers spin about unions disrupting the public. Unions Wellington also organised a collection for the strike fund which raised over $3000, and provided refreshments to members on the day of the strike.
- Nurses DHB dispute: UW organised a public meeting in support of NZNO ‘s industrial campaign. Over 60 nurses and supporters attended the public meeting. The video of the meeting has been viewed more than 3,400 times. We used our social media and newsletter to encourage attendance at the NZNO protests and pickets.
Our solidarity was not limited to NZ unions. UW, along with the CTU, helped to organise a protest at the Fijian Embassy to support locked out workers at Nadi airport. The workers were successful in winning reinstatement and backpay, due in part to international solidarity.
Using our social media presence we arranged supporters to turn out to support actions by affiliates including Unite Union (Burger King and Embassy cinema strikes), Tramways Union (Thank You Driver Petition, protest at GWRC meeting), E Tu (parking inspectors), RMTU (Transdev Strike), NZNO (DHB strike), NZEI (equal pay for ECE protest), FIRST (Farmers strikes), PSA (MBIE/IRD strikes) and others.
Building our unions
In 2017/18 Unions Wellington played a modest, but real role in building our union movement. This has included:
- Building Unions Wellington into a popular and important part of progressive politics in Wellington. Attendance at UW meetings has grown from a handful in the previous year to between 12 and a maximum of 50 for the year.
- UW worked with Unite Union on coordinated recruitment days. More than 2 dozen new union members were recruited over 3 days. UW would like to work with other Unions to do recruiting days in other areas in 2018/19.
- In October UW held an Activist Training Day attended by more than 30 people from multiple unions, student groups and community campaigns. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants.
- As an experiment, we ran a stall at the Newtown Festival to build the profile of unions which had 4 people sign up to join their union.
Fighting for workers
One of the most significant projects for 2017/18 was the support we were able to offer to workers at the 5 Boroughs restaurant. UW came into contact with workers at 5 Boroughs after it was announced that the restaurant was going into liquidation. The workers there were given no notice and told they would not receive their pay or holiday leave entitlements. The employers were reopening the business on a new site, and staff were to lose out. The employers had engaged a lawyer to protect their own assets at the expense their workers. The site had not previously been unionised, so there was no clear avenue for workers to go to receive representation. Through Unions Wellington we were able to meet with the workers and together organised a short public campaign. As a result of public pressure, within a week we were able to secure more than $34,000 in owed wages and leave entitlements for these workers.
Social movement allies
As well as building our union movement, Unions Wellington has made efforts to link with and support progressive community campaigns. This has included:
- Organising a collection of food for refugees relocating to the Wellington Region in collaboration with local church based NGO.
- Having a team run the Round the Bays which raised over $1000 for the Living Wage Movement.
- Organising a UW team to the annual UnionAid quiz (we did very poorly).
- Hosting activist groups such as Renters United, Peace Action Wellington and Aukati Against Racism at UW monthly meetings.
Next steps: A proposed strategic direction for Unions Wellington
While still relatively modest, we think what UW achieved in 2017/18 was significant. Unions Wellington is a vibrant and useful part of progressive politics in the Wellington Region. Our growth over the year was real, and we want to build on that momentum.
We believe there are three foreseeable strategic opportunities for Unions Wellington in the coming year:
- Firstly, the most important role for Unions Wellington is to continue to support affiliate Unions in their campaigns. There are significant upcoming disputes in the public sector which Unions Wellington activists can play a role in supporting. Further we hope to continue to develop links with other progressive groups and campaigns (such as Renters United and the Living Wage Movement), and play a role in driving a progressive political consensus in Wellington.
- Secondly, our experience with the 5 Boroughs dispute has shown the potential for a local affiliates body to play an important role extending union coverage into previously unorganised areas. We would like to further experiment with building union organisation and coverage, especially in the local hospitality industry .
- Thirdly, in 2019 there will be local government elections. These bodies have a direct impact on Union Members in a number of sectors. Specifically it is worth noting that the current direction of the Greater Wellington Regional Council has led to avoidable union disputes in public transport. A number of affiliate Unions have mentioned the possibility of being involved in a campaign in this area, and Unions Wellington could be a useful vehicle to coordinate this work.
To do this effectively will mean developing the organisational strength and resources of Unions Wellington. Volunteers and supporters will always be the backbone of Unions Wellington, however, working towards having some paid organising resource would allow this work to be taken to another level. There are many people who have offered to volunteer with UW who have never been followed up due to lack of organisational resources. UW will seek to work with the CTU and affiliates towards creating a sustainable organisational structure that can make the most out of these opportunities.
Ben Peterson (Convenor, Unions Wellington)
Download a pdf of the Unions Wellington report.