The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Get over it Progressive Enterprises

Dear oh dear, Progressive Enterprises appear to be determined to win the coveted Business Round Table award for worst employer of the month (both August and September), the well-known Tin Arse Award.

Or perhaps it should be called the Ostrich - Progressive Enterprises seem to have their head in the sand about some of the realities of modern employment. (To continue to uplift slogans from other times and campaigns and mangle them to my own doubtless nefarious uses) National collective agreements: they're here, they're fair, they're in your workplace!

Let's be clear about one thing - this is no longer a strike, this is a lock out. What that means is rather than the workers holding the company to ransom, as some would have you believe, the reverse is in fact true. The boss is now saying, has been saying for some days, if you do not drop your claim to a national collective agreement then you can not return to work. No work = no pay. No pay = not much to live off (in fact nothing to live off due to Work & Income stand-downs periods).

And what's so scary about national collective agreements anyway? They're becoming more fashionable, not just across one company like Progressive Enterprises but as Multi-Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs) as well. National agreements are more than capable of providing for different work arrangements in different parts of the country, which is the argument the employer has put up against them. Of course we all suspect that the real reason they don't want a national agreement is that Progressive Enterprises knows that with numbers comes strength, and if those workers are on a single agreement then there won't be anymore playing them off against each other come negotiation time because they will stand united.

The distribution centre workers are standing united now, even without a national agreement. If you want to stand with them on the picket line, be it in person, electronically or with your wallet, here are some ways to show your support:

  • Messages of support to the locked-out workers can make a huge difference to their morale - you can send a message directly to those involved in the campaign via the Shelf Respect site here
  • Send a clear message to the boss - the international website LabourStart, which supports worker campaigns all over the world, has set up an easy-peasy email to the boss page here.
  • Boycott Progressive Enterprises supermarkets - it's been happening for a while informally I think, but the Greens (Hattip: No Right Turn) have now come out and called for it publicly (did I spell that right Sagenz?) No more shopping at Countdown, Foodtown, Woolworths, Super Value or Fresh Choice for me! We should refuse to walk across the threshold of stores where the boss has big signs outside bagging their own workers (not to mention misleading the public).
  • Forget saying it with flowers - say it with money, which can help these workers and their families who have now been without pay since August 25th. Click here for exact details about how to donate money either by electronic on-line banking transfer or by an automatic phone donation of $20 per call.
  • Come along to one of this weekend's public rallies in support of the workers. I'll be at the Auckland one, at Mangere Town Centre on Saturday at 12noon. There are also rallies in Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier, and I suspect more will be added to the NDU list. There are also details at that link of where the existing picket lines are for those who want to go along (perhaps laden with some goodies) to visit the workers, or just drive by and beep madly (very satisfying for both the beeper and the beepee).

And here's some linky love for those who aren't satisfied with my blatherings and require more more more:
- The National Distribution Union (NDU) website about the campaign Shelf Respect
- Maia's Lies Management Tell
- Joe Hendren's Progressive Enterprises are being loose with the truth and Christchurch Solidarity March for Locked-Out Progressive Enterprises Workers
- Idiot Savant's Empty Shelves
- Russell Brown's Hard News column which mentions this situation around the half-way mark for those who prefer to scroll. I disagree with Brown however about the Auckland premium for two reasons: 1) you can recognise this in a national agreement, 2) however the highest paid workers under the three separate agreements are actually those at the Palmerston North distribution centre.
- Indymedia also has extensive coverage, including pictures and stories directly from the picket lines. (Added 8th Sept. 7.48am)

(If you've written something on this that is sympathetic to the workers and I haven't picked it up please post a link in comments and I'll add it to the post when I can).

Update, 8th Sept. 7.55am: Andrew Falloon has criticised my point about this being a lock-out over on his own blog. It seems to me that there has been a lot of confusion amongst media and bloggers that this is still a strike, where the workers determine when they return to work, when that's not the case at all, as I've said above. That was my point. Am I outraged that the workers have been locked out, as Falloon claims? I wouldn't go so far as to say outraged. I'm not surprised, and usually I have to be surprised to be outraged, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, locking out workers is not the choice that a company looking for compromise or settlement makes. Yes the company will be feeling some pain in terms of loss of sales and public goodwill. But the workers have been losing their entire wages (not just some of their income, as is happening to Progressive Enterprises, but all of it), indefinitely since August 25th. At first this was their choice but it is not anymore, as they have been locked out. Of the two groups it is quite clear to me who is the underdog here, and who is the bully.

Update, 11th Sept. 8.25pm: A few more supportive posts to add to the list:
- Asher's Locked Out Won't Shut Up (Hattip: his fine self, in comments)
- Auckland's Burning - John's dedicated to covering the ongoing ructions, in pictures and words
- Idiot Savant's pledgebank post, seeking donations for a good cause (this cause)


Hugh Hakawa said...

Let me see if I understand this.

The workers don't like their conditions and stop working. The workers say they will not return until their conditions are met. The employers refuse. No work is done or wages paid.

This is a strike.

The workers don't like their conditions and stop working. The employers say they cannot return until their conditions are dropped. The workers refuse. No work is done or wages paid.

This is a lock-out.

What is the practical difference between the two?

Cactus Kate said...

Why don't the workers simply go cap in hand to their mates in the Labour Party for financial assistance?

After all worker union dues for years have helped fund Labour election campaigns and supported their continuing governance.

Maia said...

Cactus Kate I've agreed with you twice in a couple of weeks - that's some sort of weird record.

Cactus Kate said...

Yes. It's good to see Maia that you have suddenly decided to be sensible.

Asher said...

I've got something on Anarchia you could link to :)

Also, the Aucklands Burning blog ( has photos from the Mangere picket pretty much every day :)

Maria von Trapp said...

hear hear Span.

Kate and Maia, you'll be pleased to know that I and other Labour Party members I know have personally donated money to the cause. As has Steve Maharey.

Princes St Labour in Auckland have assisted with activism in their neck of the woods, and Vic Labour in Welly are planning on it too.

Span said...

Hugh - the practical difference between a lock-out and a strike is about economic power and who makes the decisions. If it is a strike then the workers hold the cards, they can vote to go back to work at any time. If it is a lock-out then the employer gets to say when/if they come back to work. In both cases the workers are without pay until work starts again. These workers have been without pay since August 25th.

It's worth noting that the one claim the employer has told the workers they must drop before the lock-out ends is the claim for a national agreement. Yes the employer is unhappy about the pay claim too, but it is specifically the claim for a national agreement that they have said is causing the lock-out. More on this soon.

Span said...

As to the issue of Labour members/party support for the workers. I heard on the radio this morning that the NDU and the broader union movement has raised nearly $100,000 for these workers so far. I'm sure that some of this money will have come not just from members of the labour (small l) movement, and various labour organisations, but also from both Labour institutions (eg branches) and members.

Steve Maharey of course got scragged by Wayne Mapp for putting up the rather paltry sum of $200, from his personal income. Seems you can't win with some people.

Hugh Hakawa said...

I think you are wrong. Here is my understanding:

During the strike period (first couple of days), there are two ways in which the workers can go back to work. 1, they drop their demands or 2, Progressive agrees to their demands.

During what you call the lockout period, Progressive have stated that they will not agree to the demands and that workers cannot come back until those demands are dropped. So, during a lockout, (assuming Progressive stick to their statement) there is now only one method of returning to work: drop their demands.

This means that the decision to return to work is contingent on the workers dropping their demands. Only the workers can decide when this will happen, so when "return to work" = "dropping demands", only the workers can decide when they will return to work. Which is the opposite of your statement "If it is a lock-out then the employer gets to say when/if they come back to work"

If my facts are incorrect let me know (I've been relying on the news and blogs). Otherwise, I can answer my own question: the only practical difference between a strike and a lockout is that the employers have said "No." and the workers can decide how long until they return (some already have, which fits in with my reasoning, but contradicts the part of yours I have quoted).

Now if that's the case, why do you (and many others) keep acting as if there is some meaningful distinction between a strike and a lockout?

Tane said...

Hugh- with a strike the workers will often take limited action or will only go on strike for a couple of days. They will then go back to work and enter another round of negotiations. If this fails, strike action may continue, and so forth.

With this lockout there is no negotiation - the workers are not allowed to come back to work, and the company is refusing to negotiate.

Hugh Hakawa said...

"With this lockout there is no negotiation - the workers are not allowed to come back to work"

Yes they are! How can they be "not allowed to come back to work" when some already have? They can come back on the condition that they stop their demands. When this happens is up to them.

"and the company is refusing to negotiate."

I don't know if that was true when you commented but according to today they have been making offers.

Heine said...

Progressive have been very good at accepting the slow but consistent trickle of workers coming back to work. Now what we need is for the NDU to support their members in a more realistic payrise and to let business go on.

The NDU are more concerned with their own organisation and "struggle" than for the workers.

Once this is over what next for that meddling Laila Harre?

Span said...

Hugh - yes it was true when I wrote it. Not sure why you bother to come here and read my writing when you seem convinced that it's all lies...

Also, just from what little I heard on the radio about the dispute, it sounds to me as if Progressives have breached good faith in communicating the new offer. Seems they aren't very good at that law stuff.

Span said...

Heine - of course they are being "very good" at it - they desperately need them to return to work and they know that it undermines those who are still locked out.

As for Laila being a meddler in this situation - your lack of understanding of union democracy is frightening. She was elected National Secretary by the members, the members at the distribution centres voted on their claims, voted to go on strike, and will now vote on any future offers. Hardly Laila acting on her own or meddling in affairs that are none of her business. It would be like me saying that Rodney Hide is meddling by doing media interviews putting forward Act policy.

Heine said...

No it doesn't at all.

Laila wants a collective contract so that she and the NDU can have a collective muscle and power next time things don't go her way.

They want to go back to the early 90s, even her Shelf Respect site says that. I understand union democracy or I mean that oxymoron.

I would wager that if workers were presented with their 8% rise but not a collective contract, Laila and her comrades would dismiss it. It isn't about the workers at all, it's about building large militant union might against a multinational. Funnily enough business agrees with me!

Span said...

Again you show your ignorance of the democratic nature of unions - it is members, and those elected by members to represent them, who decide such policy and strategy matters as whether their union should seek national collectives. I stress again, NOT Laila acting on her own.

Also this agenda to national agreements is hardly new or unique to the NDU - many groups of workers have been trying (and some succeeding) in getting national agreements, either within a single employer (as with Progressives) or across them (as with the cleaners' Clean Start campaign, or the radiographers strike at the DHBs, or any other number I could name).

I've had my differences with Laila but I have immense respect for the work that she and everyone else on the workers' side of this dispute are doing. Don't imagine for a second that this kind of work comes without a personal price for those who do it.

Heine said...

Lovely jubbly. I fully expect Laila to drop the non negotiable parts of the agreement, ie the forced collectivisation of all the Progressive sites and work towards a payrise. That is what will help workers, NOT a collective contract, that you so cutely try to avoid discussing.

The NDU will prosper just as much through a payrise as workers will still pay their dues. It just means Laila will have to try and join another union to acheive her dream of holding a multinational to ransom.

Span said...

How do I cutely try to avoid discussing the national agreement? This is quite a baffling comment, given that I've posted on this issue several times now.

Your continued attacks on Laila serve to expose your real agenda Heine - she is acting here as a representative of her members, with their mandate, and yet you consistently claim she has some kind of lone looney approach, that she is acting alone. Unions are simply not like that, they are about acting together, and that is exactly what has happened here.

Heine said...

And yet you conveniently forget that the NDU is anything but a friendly, "for the workers" style union. They are all almost member of radical socialist organisations.

Laila is a radical. You can't pretend otherwise. Even she admits she is a radical.

Progressives have walked away with the deal they proposed all along, and so I find it difficult to see why the NDU have claimed victory her. But I have blogged about the Progressives victory already if you care to view my side of the debate??

Span said...

That's right Heine, "all almost" (sic) members of the NDU are also members of radical socialist organisations. That's why, as the NDU is a relatively large private sector union, radical socialist organisations and their members dominate the blogosphere, the letters to the editors, talkback and the leftwing political discourse in our country.

Oh wait, they don't? How odd!

Please please dear Heiney - you seem to be falling into a Wonderland where every talking animal is a Stalinist in disguise. Maybe that's how NZ looks to you from the other side of the world? It's certainly not my day to day reality.