Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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HomePoliticalUnions Collaborate With Thousands Of Job Cuts

Unions Collaborate With Thousands Of Job Cuts

With New Zealand officially in recession, a swathe of
mass sackings is currently sending shockwaves through the
entire working class.

So far, more than 3,000 public
service jobs have been axed in recent weeks as the National
Party-led coalition government—which includes the
far-right ACT Party and NZ First—carries out a scorched
earth policy, targeting budget cuts of 6.5 or 7.5 percent
across most ministries.

On April 17, the Ministry of
Education (MoE) announced that 565 positions will be
scrapped, including nearly 100 regional and frontline roles
directly supporting schools. This includes a reduction of 38
roles supporting students with disabilities and learning
support needs. It is the biggest single cut to a public
service agency so far.

The same day, Oranga Tamariki,
the Ministry for Children, confirmed 447 jobs will be cut, 9
percent of its workforce. The agency provides social welfare
interventions for some of the country’s most deprived and
vulnerable young people.

One Oranga Tamariki staff
member described the cuts as “gut-wrenching.” She told
Radio NZ: “It’s just purely numbers, which is such a
terrible way to look at it because I work alongside some of
the most dedicated, hard-working, passionate people I’ve
ever met. And seeing the impact that will have on some of
them is horrific.”

Other cuts include 445 jobs at
the Department of Internal Affairs, 384 at the Ministry of
Primary Industries, 50 at Treasury, 134 at the Ministry of
Health, 90 at the National Institute of Water and
Atmospheric Research (NIWA), 130 at the Department of
Conservation, and 286 at the Ministry of Business Innovation
and Employment. Dozens of smaller job cuts have been
announced in other departments.

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The ferocious attack
is a deliberate class-war policy. Following the October 2023
election, which saw the incumbent Labour-led government’s
vote collapse amid widespread anger over increasing poverty,
homelessness and soaring living costs, the National
Party-led government was installed to carry forward the next
stage of austerity measures.

The government’s
attacks include: A real cut to the minimum wage (which has
gone up just 2 percent while inflation is twice that); moves
to slash welfare benefits; changes making it easier to evict
tenants; and plans to reintroduce for-profit charter schools
and for private companies to play a bigger role in the
healthcare system.

The sweeping austerity program
underpins a massive transfer of wealth to the rich with $NZ9
billion in income tax cuts favouring top income earners. The
cutbacks will also help to fund an expansion of the police,
the prison system, and a major increase in military spending
as New Zealand is integrated into US imperialist plans for
war against Russia, China and Iran.

There is
widespread opposition to the government’s agenda. The
coalition was scrabbled together in secret negotiations
after National received just 38 percent of the vote, while
ACT and NZ First took a paltry 8.6 and 6.1 percent
respectively. Any support they had is now plummeting. A
recent Curia poll saw a slump for all of them with ACT
faring the worst, dropping to 7.2 percent.

respondents to a recent Talbot Mills poll variously
described Prime Minister Christopher Luxon as “greedy,”
“arrogant” and “entitled.”

Another poll of
1,001 people conducted by Ipsos has found that 58 percent
believe “society is broken,” and 65 percent agree with
the statement: “The economy is rigged to advantage the
rich and powerful.”

The assault on jobs is not
confined to the public sector. International media
conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery confirmed on April 10 it
will shut down Newshub, one of the country’s two major
media networks. Nearly 300 journalists, technical personnel
and presenters will lose their jobs.

State broadcaster
TVNZ has also confirmed that several of its shows and news
bulletins will shut down, with the loss of 68 jobs.
Meanwhile, NZ Post is proceeding with a plan announced last
year to cut 750 jobs and replace mail delivery staff with
independent contractors.

The construction sector is in
a sharp downturn. Recently, Tony Boyce Builders in Timaru,
which once employed 51 people, announced it will shut down,
and the boat-building company Subicraft is laying off nearly
60 people. The recent collapse of Buildhub left hundreds of
migrant workers destitute.

In the face of all this,
the corporatist trade unions have made clear that nothing
will be done to defend a single job. Far from mobilising an
industrial and political campaign across the working class,
they have signalled that they will enforce the cuts,
including by corralling workers behind whatever paltry exit
provisions may be on offer as they are ushered out the

While the government predicts that as many as
7,500 public sector jobs could go, the Public Service
Association (PSA), the county’s largest union with over
90,000 members, has restricted itself to releasing a few
toothless media statements bemoaning the “reckless
nature” of the cost cutting.

Responding to the MoE
announcement, the union’s Assistant Secretary Fleur
Fitzsimons simply bemoaned that the government had promised
job cuts would not impact frontline services. She described
the cuts as “woefully short-sighted,” asking
plaintively: “At a time when student achievement is
falling, when school attendance is a challenge, where is the
plan for education? It doesn’t add up.”

In fact,
prior to the 2023 election the union openly supported
Labour’s own plan to slash public service budgets by up to
4 percent as “a prudent move to tighten the belt”—as
PSA leader Duane Leo put it in a Radio NZ interview last
August. Fitzsimons was a Labour candidate in that

A particularly rotten feature of the PSA’s
postings is the underhanded use of identity politics to pit
one section of sacked workers against the other. One post
highlights, for instance, that women are “bearing the
brunt” of cuts at the Tertiary Education Commission while
the PSA’s Māori arm declared that “cultural
expertise” will be lost. In fact, the cuts impact on
workers regardless of gender, ethnicity, national origin,
skills or education.

The E tū union, with nearly
50,000 members across a range of private and public sector
industries, has kept media workers isolated while assisting
management at Newshub and TVNZ to throw them on the scrap

E tū negotiator Michael Wood, a cabinet
minister in the former Labour government, appealed to TVNZ
“to work with staff,” i.e., consult with the union
bureaucracy, rather than “dictate and predetermine the
outcome.” He told Radio NZ that the union accepted that
TVNZ was in financial difficulty, which had to be addressed,
but merely disagreed with axing programs that were still

The privileged bureaucrats that run these
organisations have known since well before the October
election that the assault was looming. If the PSA and E tū
were real workers’ organisations, they could have
mobilised their tens of thousands of members to freeze
government operations. A nationwide strike, bringing in
broad sections of the working class, would gain immense
sympathy and raise the perspective of bringing down the
far-right government.

Such a course of action is
anathema to the unions, whose very existence is bound up
with protecting and defending the status quo. The
bureaucracy insists that any broad industrial action is
impossible because it is against the law. But the severe
anti-worker provisions in the Employment Relations Act,
which restrict strikes to periods of contract renewals, were
put in place by the Labour government in 2000, with the full
support of the Council of Trade Unions.

Over the past
decade, the union bureaucracy has collaborated in wave after
wave of job cuts and corporate restructuring. They are not
workers’ organisations, but bureaucratic apparatuses
representing an upper-middle class layer dedicated to the
defence of corporate profits and capitalism.

In this,
the unions are protected by pseudo-left outfits such as the
International Socialist Organisation (ISO), which act in
every case to justify one sellout after another. The ISO
played a key role in propping up the authority of the
Tertiary Education Union and promoting illusions in the
Labour government as 500 jobs were shed and courses cut
across the education sector last year.

As defenders of
the profit system, the union bureaucracy functions as the
policeman of the working class. With capitalism now facing
an historic economic and political crisis and descent into
war, the role of the unions is to suppress any organised

Against this, the Socialist Equality Group
(NZ) calls on workers to rebel against the union bureaucracy
and to take matters into their own hands by building
rank-and-file committees in every workplace, controlled by
workers themselves. This is the necessary precondition for
the unification of workers across New Zealand and
internationally in a real fight against austerity.

response to the lies from Labour and National, echoed by the
union bureaucracy, that cuts are needed because there is
“no money,” workers should advance a socialist program.
The billions of dollars of virtually untaxed wealth hoarded
by the super-rich, and the resources being squandered on
war, should be used to rebuild the crumbling healthcare and
education systems and other vital services, and to put an
end to poverty and inequality. This means putting an end to
capitalism and establishing a workers’


By John Braddock, Socialist
Equality Group

18 April 2024

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