Redundancies are one of the hardest things for unions to deal with. Workers have very little power, and short of taking over the factory and running it some or all of the workers are going to get screwed over.
But that is all the more reason why it's vital that workers stick together, and focus on who is making people redundant (the boss) and not each other.
I say this because over the last few days union leaders have been in the news dividing workers. The M&C union (Which is on the left of the union movement, so it's particularly disappointing):
Andrew Little from the EPMU (which isn't on the left of the union movement or a surprise):
Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union general secretary Graeme Clarke said the union had been in contact with the Government about companies continuing to employ migrant workers.
Any businesses that had imported workers through the skills-shortage list should have to "re-prove" they could not fill the positions with Kiwi workers, he said.
"Our answer has always been `yes, you can import people', but now we want it proved again that the shortage still exists."
Christchurch branch secretary Phil Yarrall said the union complained to the Labour Department about jet boat manufacturer CWF Hamilton's decision to make 28 Kiwi workers redundant while retaining 24 migrant workers on temporary contracts.
"They got the permit because there was a labour shortage. Now there's no shortage," he said.
Migrant workers had helped New Zealand through years of major skills shortages, but there were now questions over what to do when Kiwi workers were losing jobs. "Kiwi workers are obviously capable of making a long-term commitment to the business, but those on work visas are limited to a couple of years," he said.Helen Kelly, President of the Council of Trade Unions, appeared on the Panel on National Radio yesterday (it's in the first half available here for a week or so), with a bob each way. She tries to take a stand against racism towards migrant workers, which is severely hampered by her support of racism towards migrant workers.
So to go back to unions 101, as soon as the bosses divide workers they've won. Union leaders may not have any good solutions to redundancies, but turning on migrant workers is not a substitute for a good solution. If, for example, the workers at the Hamilton company think redundancy should be based on a last on first off basis, then they should fight for that rather than targetting workers who remain on the basis of their country of origin (and if those workers aren't in the union then the responsibility for that probably lies with the union).
These are hard times for workers, hard times for unions. But that's no reason to abandon the basic tenant that underlines unions very existence.