Saturday, September 09, 2006

Locked Out

About a year ago my friend Larry* and I were talking about unions with an unorganised worker. This guy was quite hostile, and he was repeating quite a few anti-union myths. For some reason the guy started ranting about 1951 - talking about how those striking workers should have gone back to work. I'd been doing most of the talking, but at this stage Larry said: "It was a lock-out, not a strike".

This was all a little bit hilarious - of all the inaccurate ideas this guy was throwing around, the nature of a dispute that took place half a century ago didn't make really make. But right now I kind of understand where he was coming from.

The workers at the Progressive supermarket distribution centres can't go back to work. The company will not let them back unless the union drops its claim for a nation-wide agreement.**

If you can contribute any money please click on the button on the right. Even better if you can contribute time, do. In Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch just head down to the picket line and there'll be plenty to do. If you live elsewhere then find some other people who are also keen and there's a lot you can do to help make the workers stronger and the company weaker. In Wellington people have been collecting money all week and the response has been amazing.

* My aim is to give nicknames to all my friends when I write about them on the blog. This has absolutely no value for anyone else, but gives me the opportunity to create silly in-jokes - a pass-time I enjoy way too much.

** A lot of people who have been writing about this clearly have no idea how collective agreements work. The only limit to a collective agreement is that the union members and employers must agree on its contents (and there are certain clauses a collective agreement must contain). A collective agreement could say that everyone whose surname began with 'S' got paid an extra ten cents an hour. Everyone who keeps on saying that the company is perfectly right not to want a nationwide collective agreement because a nationwide collective agreement couldn't do 'X', is wrong.


  1. Does the Union want to go back to work without getting a national agreement or is this lockout/strike debate just posturing and semantics?

    I can see how that might result on people at a picket line ranting right past eachother...

    I also hear progressives saying they have staff returning to work - that implies they AREN'T locking them out (unless they are getting them to sign some unenforcable document maybe?).

    Sometimes lockouts are justified based on the argument that you cant safely run an operation on a fraction of the staff or erratic staffing - so better to jsut shut the whole thing down - I don't know if that is the case.

  2. The union members are prepared to return to work. They had concluded the strike action when they were locked out.

    The people who have returned to work have had to resign from the union to do so (this is a company requirement, not a union requirement).

    There was no case of erratic staffing or unsafe number of staff here.

  3. so they extended the 2 day strike to 3 then recieved a lockout notice and couldn't go to work right?

    Hmm wouldn't an agreement to "resign from the union" be unenforcable?
    Both legally and practically, I would have thought.

  4. Genius - I would presume it was given as "advice" to the members that if they were no longer part of the Union then they were no longer part of the striking workers that were locked out.

    Probably enforceable depending on the wording when / if the workers were advised (and as long as it wasn't a clause of a new contract that they couldn't rejoin the union).

  5. Hi Maia,

    OT but this is a new NZ feminist blog you might be into: