Party News: Strikes Better than Arbitration

A member of the Socialist Party of New Zealand, our comrade Ron Everson, sends us the following report on recent industrial unrest in that country:

On 17 June for the first time in twenty-seven years the Arbitration Court refused a general wage order application. The unions had sought increases of up to 7.6 per cent to compensate for cost-of-living increases following devaluation and the imposition of restrictive economic measures by the government.

The decision amazed even some employers who were prepared to give their workers a five per cent increase and some had already adjusted their prices in anticipation. The decision of course roused the ire of the workers. Widespread interest was taken in trade union activities; erstwhile apathetic union members attended work stop meetings and demonstrations. On the day of the State opening of parliament on 26 June trade unionists staged a demonstration. They were supported by students with placards pledging support for the workers and demanding bigger bursaries, by the Campaign Against Rising Prices, the Maori organisation for Human Rights and the CND. The demonstrators forced an unprecedented change in the State opening of parliament by Governor General Sir Arthur Porritt. Never before had a Governor General entered parliament for the State opening other than by the main entrance. On this occasion poor Sir Arthur had to sneak in by a side door.

Demands were made for the abolition of the Arbitration Court. Delegates to the Federation of Labour conference were in favour of ignoring the Court. It seems this, the strikes and industrial unrest that followed frightened the employers into agreeing to go back to the Court for a rehearing. As a result the Court made a wage order of a five per cent increase restricted to the first $40 earned by men, the first $30 by women and the first $25 by junior workers. Whether the nil order was the outcome of the inexperience of the new Judge of the Court, Blair, or the employers’ contempt for the workers’ will to fight is anyone’s guess.

However, the outcome was an illustration of the passage in the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s pamphlet Questions of the Day:

   “In practice arbitration bodies exist for the purpose of preventing industrial disputes from taking the form of stoppages of work, and their awards on wage claims are bound to be influenced by the attitude of the workers. If workers were to abandon all idea of strikes the employers and the arbitration bodies alike would reduce still further the amounts they were prepared to offer. The strike remains the workers’ indispensable weapon”.

Need we say that on the day of the march on parliament among the forest of banners there was not one advocating the “abolition of the wages system”. When workers in sufficient numbers reach that degree of understanding an effort to fob them off with a few miserable cents of a wage increase will only raise a laugh. It is a sad fact that now a few cents flung in their direction can take the fight out of workers.

While they lack knowledge of the nature of wages, and the wages system, they will be forced to engage in these never-ending struggles which merely maintain their subject position as wage-slaves.

Meanwhile the July issue of the New Zealand Building Worker,’ official journal of the Carpenters and Related Trades’ Industrial Union of Workers, reprints our leaflet on devaluation (also an issue in New Zealand as the government there followed Britain), an article from this journal on the IWW and one from The Western Socialist on the materialist conception of history.

Ron Everson