As the Dispatcher goes to press, a dramatic escalation is occurring at the Ports of Auckland in New Zealand where 292 striking dockworkers have been notified that they are “redundant” and will be terminated, according to a letter from the private employer who operates the nation’s largest public port.
The March 7 letter from the private operator, known as the “Ports of Auckland,” was sent to the Maritime Union of New Zealand President Gary Parsloe. The letter says the company has decided to “contract out stevedoring,” which will make union workers “superfluous.”
ILWU International President Bob McEllrath announced an “emergency mobilization” of representatives from ILWU Longshore Division locals who will converge on Auckland within days. “This sacking is an injury and insult to every docker in every port around the world,” said McEllrath, who concluded a series of meetings in early March with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Maritime Union of New Zealand(MUNZ), and other union leaders from around the world who attended the MUA Convention.
The ILWU delegation included Vice President for Hawaii, Wesley Furtado, Vice President, for Mainland, Ray Familathe, and Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams.
“We’re putting boots on the ground in Auckland within 72 hours,” said McEllrath who issued the solidarity call after discussions with the MUNZ and allies around the world. The lightning-fast deployment will make it possible for longshore workers from the ILWU and around the world to converge on Auckland for actions on Saturday, March 10.
The MUNZ organized a “Family day of solidarity” event that attracted families from far and wide to visit Auckland’s Teal Park where musicians and speakers entertained supporters who came to show their support for saving good jobs at the port. The “good jobs” message and focus on working families is being communicated to the broader public through advertisements being produced by the union to win community support.
There were also signs of growing unease within the community, including some Auckland politicians who seemed to be searching for a solution to the strike triggered by the private port operator’s plan to “casualize” good union jobs.
The private firm hired to run Auckland’s public port has taken an aggressive anti-union stand. The company wanted to end regular shift schedules, send workers home after just three hours, and eliminate notice requirements before ordering workers to remain on the job for dangerous, mandatory 12-hour and consecutive shifts.
To further undermine the union, the company began offering “individual contracts” with 10% bonuses for workers willing to leave their union contract behind and take the company’s bait. The company made a similar offer after circulating the “sacking” letter, inviting workers to remain employed by “applying” for the new non-union jobs.
Local business support
The attack on the Auckland dockers has been so severe that some members of the business community have begun siding with workers. The Logistics company Mainfreight and the corporate consulting firm of Grant Samuel have formed an alliance with New Zealand’s Council of Trade Unions to support the workers in Auckland.
A letter from Michael Lorimer of the Grant Samuel consulting firm said, “We support decent work conditions and oppose casualization in the manner being proposed by the port. Not only is it unnecessary but it could cause major disruption to customers and contribute to increasing inequality in the city.” The letter was sent to both the MUNZ and the employer. Lorimer called on the Ports of Auckland to adopt a “triple-bottom-line” that would balance the interests of city-dwellers, port users, and workers.
ILWU Vice President Ray Familathe, who is already on the scene in Auckland, declared that the company’s escalation is a “serious international incident with potentially perilous consequences for the Port and politicians in New Zealand.” Familathe, who also serves as Second Vice-Chair of the International Transport Federation’s Dockers Section, says that the showdown in Auckland in shaping up to be the biggest docker struggle in a decade.
“Workers in other New Zealand ports already refusing to touch ships that were loaded by scabs in Auckland so things are escalating here in a hurry and could spread around the world if cooler heads don’t prevail within the co