Yesterday DPF posted some criticism of the decision by the Maritime Union of NZ to stop working the ships involved in the Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. In particular he cast aspersions on the democratic decision-making of the union involved, implying that members had no say in these kinds of political decisions.
I emailed Victor Billot, who works at the Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ), to ask how the decision to withdraw labour from these ships was made. Below is his response, which he has given me permission to publish:
The Maritime Union is a democratic working class organization. The national leadership of the Union is elected by a direct ballot of members every three years: this includes the General Secretary, a fulltime official, and the President, Vice President and Assistant General Secretary. Each branch of the Union is directly accountable to the members through elected executives as well.All of this further underlines the lack of understanding by some on the Right of the democratic nature of unions. As I outlined in #3 of my union myths series, unions are quite different from businesses, in particular in regard to their decision-making structures.
The elected General Secretary is responsible for the day to day running of the Union, and has authority to represent the Union as a collective organization, with final decisions on major issues made by the National Executive of the Union, represented by elected delegates from all port branches.
In this instance the General Secretary cleared the decision with the elected branch officials in the ports most likely to be affected.
I myself attend bi-monthly stopwork meetings at Port Chalmers (my home branch) attended by up to sixty Union members, of several hours in duration, where full and frank discussion of all Union activities is held, with rank and file members questioning their elected officials and putting their own views. I would say the Maritime Union is one of the most democratic organizations in New
The Maritime Union has a proud history of political involvement including refusing to work ships loading metal for Japan in the 1930s, international workers struggles, the anti-nuclear movement and anti-apartheid movements. Maritime unionists realize that solidarity and collective democracy are their best tools in the constant struggle to defend their rights and dignity as workers and citizens.
As far as democracy goes, I would suggest that if there are any concerns, people should question why large businesses join organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, who wage a ceaseless propaganda war against job security, decent wages, the environment, an equal society and so forth.
I don't believe the vast majority of employees of these businesses are asked if they wish to support organizations which act against the interests of the working class. Yet those employees are the people who create wealth for the business, and society. Where is the democracy there?
(Communications Officer, Maritime Union of New Zealand)
Workers are entitled to make collective decisions about their lives. Get over it.
Frogblog has a good response to the But-Whales-Are-Just-Like-Lambs argument, most recently propounded by Stephen Franks, but popping up all over the place lately.