Monday, March 12, 2012

Being Inflexible about flexibility


There has been a lot in the media recently about the industrial turmoil on the wharves at the Port of Auckland. Hone Harawira, leader of the Mana Party, and Russell Norman, co-leader of the Green Party, have both opined in their ways that the National government has fostered an anti-worker climate in which employers feel emboldened to be more militant.

The employers want to casualise the workers and have no union workers, just stevedores on individual contracts. It's the old "divide and conquer" mentality encouraged by National when they were in power in the 1990s. Woody Guthrie would be turning in his grave. Billy Bragg would be outraged.

The Right likes to portray unions as dinosaurs, as irrelevant to the modern workplace. Sure, unions have often flexed their muscle irresponsibly (folk still remember strike action by Interisland ferry workers always coincided with school holidays and screwed over a lot of regular folk), but in order for workers to have any power they have to band together.

Many union leaders are able to move with the times and endeavour to adjust their vision to the modern workplace. They know that the pendulum has swung, but they also realise that it has swung now too far Right. Many workers in their twenties and thirties have never been union members. They have been neatly snowed into believing that unions are irrelevant to them, are crusty and full of old people. They have been encouraged to look after Number One. But one is a small number when arrayed against the financial and political clout of big employers eg. McDonalds, Burger King and all the others who like to exploit the young worker.

Large employers who seek "flexibility" in their workforce are surprisingly inflexible themselves. It's all take and no give. Despite paying lip service to "family", bugger all workplaces accommodate the family demands of their employees. Try finding a job that allows you to drop your kids off at school at 9am and pick them up at 3pm. They are not thick on the ground! I speak from experience here.

No, the so-called "flexibility" means you are flexible to work at their beck and call and if you resist this, the next person on the dole queue will snap up your job. Unemployment is not something they wish to eradicate. It keeps the workers hungry and competitive to fight each other for scraps of work. It does not bestow dignity on the worker.

I know of an employer in the aviation industry that requires its employees to work in split shifts to meet the public demand times and flight scheduling times. So you come in the morning, bugger off for a few hours on your own time and then come back late afternoon, thereby messing with your day and incurring additional transport and childcare costs.

Bend over, little worker, and demonstrate your "flexibility".

1 comment:

  1. I have never belonged to a Union, I worked on the Napier Docks as a teenager, a'Seagull', I worked in the Woolstores on Napier and Sydney, worked in the WA timber industry, the Port Headland construction in the 1960's. I do not like Unions. 'I'm all right Jack' was great portrayal. Union is Wellington in the 50's fucked the Wharves and the Community. I worked the Film Industry in Sydney, New York, Hollywood, was never asked to join a Union. I respect their right to exist, I do not respect their aggressive attitude, it's an English hangover. A new model is needed. Maybe it's time we became a Republic or something other that what we have today. We are screwed over by Government 'workers' and by Government 'Leaders'. Maybe Unions need to take time out and ask what their purpose is. I do not believe in collective bargaining, nor do I believe in adult rates for teenagers. We are on the road to ruin it would seem to me. Just my thoughts as Summer drown in Winter . . . where did Autumn go? Bugger!

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