Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A stunning victory

For the past year, the Unite! union has been waging a campaign against McDonalds for fairer pay for its workers. They've had flash-strikes, protests, even a free concert. So, how'd they do?

They won - gaining a commitment to end youth rates, substantial pay rises for staff, secure hours, and overtime rates and a one-off bonus for their members. It's a stunning victory - made all the more stunning by McDonalds' anti-union reputation. It also reinforces the clear message from the success of other union campaigns in the past year: that unions deliver solid benefits to their members, and joining one is a way to higher pay.

So, I wonder who they're going to take on next?


The trouble with unionizing Macca's workers is that a fast food strike, however long it ran for, would have no effect other than minor inconvenience.

The sort of workforces they need to get militant are: fuel tanker drivers, electricity workers, ATM refillers, IT operations staff, bus drivers, etc. People who by walking out can really put a spanner in the works (and in turn stop others from working, creating a cascade effect).

Posted by Rich : 12/05/2006 02:59:00 PM

Full marks to Unite! and the McDs workers. It is always useful for any group to unionise (why would employers be so anti union if it was not an effective activity). Organisational skills are transferable and can be called upon throughout life in many ways.

Sure some sectors have more obvious industrial grunt, but this is not neccessarily important outside of political situations such as the very rare in NZ (2 so far to my recall) general strikes.

Increasingly at a workplace level it is about unionists engaging community support as in the recent Progressive lockout rather than causing maximum disruption to that same community. Boycotts and email campaigns are all useful.

Personally I am quite happy to bring bosses to their knees and worse, and have done so with fellow workers in the departed car assembly industry of South Auckland. These days with hundreds of thousands of self employed kiwis and a generation lacking union history a new approach is fine.

Well done again Unite!

Posted by Anonymous : 12/05/2006 08:00:00 PM

I'm hoping that this will increase union membership and engagement from/with employers, rather than industrial action. Strikes are unpleasant for all, and the financial impact for those striking is very significant. Fair pay and good conditions is more important than sticking it to companies. (Having said that both Progs and McD's had it coming)

I'd also like to see other unions get more involved in their sectors as a result of these wins. The Service and Food Workers union should have picked up McDonald's employees long ago - Unite has proven that taking on 'small' business operating under a franchise can have a unionised workforce.

As for who's next, I vote employees of Foodstuff's supermarkets - New World and Pak n Save franchises - who have long been paid less than those doing the same job at Progressive supermarkets.

Posted by James : 12/05/2006 11:02:00 PM

"Personally I am quite happy to bring bosses to their knees and worse, and have done so with fellow workers in the departed car assembly industry of South Auckland"

The irony!

Posted by Libertyscott : 12/05/2006 11:08:00 PM

Rich: but it would cost the employer money - and that is the aim.

Modern unions are more interested in gaining benefits for their members (and, to some extent, the wider workforce) than in bringing capitalism to its knees. And on that front, Unite! is a very successful union indeed.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/06/2006 02:03:00 AM

There is minimal irony in there no longer being an NZ car assembly industry, this was not an unintended consequence of robust unionism.

The car industry was a protected industry that simply did not stack up in a deregulated environment. The industry was however socially useful to the extent that it provided jobs for thousands for many years. The cost of those jobs going should be reasonably obvious.

I concur with James re the next group needing attention Foodstuffs is a good choice.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/06/2006 06:45:00 AM

The cost of the jobs to the economy was $153,000 per employee (MED report to Cabinet). In other words it would have been cheaper to pay them half that to do nothing than to maintain the industry.

Unfortunately Muldoon prime pumped this industry in the 70s subsidising car assembly plants being opened all over the country, to soak up unemployment while NZ had one of the oldest vehicle fleets in the OECD (because of the relative cost of new cars).

Removing tariffs on imported cars is also seen as contributing towards reducing the road toll as more could afford newer (both new and secondhand) safer vehicles. The effect on fuel economy was also noted as traffic continued to grow, but fuel tax revenue was virtually flat.

In other words NZ won big time letting go of car assembly as a protected industry.

Posted by Libertyscott : 12/06/2006 11:50:00 AM

"NZ won big time letting go of car assembly as a protected industry."

Muldoonist pork-barreling is alive and well in Howard's Australia. You don't have to look any further than Toyota's heavily federally-subsidised Victorian operation.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/06/2006 12:10:00 PM


The aim of a strike is to pressure the employer. Inconveniencing the public is a bad thing for the union, not a good thing.


Not all employers are anti-union. Don't go in assuming that every boss is a bastard.


MED report? The MED didn't exist back then. Got a reference?

Posted by Icehawk : 12/06/2006 09:23:00 PM


Ministry of Commerce I mean, the Minister at the time, John Luxton stated the cost was $180,000 per job. I can't find the Cabinet paper on the website, but it does exist.

Posted by Libertyscott : 12/06/2006 11:26:00 PM

I'm sorry but all this self serving bluster by Matt McCarten has been lapped up by an uncritical media. It is hardly a stunning victory when put in context. So let's see, at a time of record low unemployment and high wage growth it has taken a union 18 months to get a settlement.

Remember this is the union that claimed a big victory getting rid of youth rates at BP but it was revealed that the rest of the market had got rid of those rates years before without Unite's involvement. Isn't the real lesson that you run the risk of losing money and getting paid worse than the market for longer if you have a union represent you?


Posted by Anonymous : 12/07/2006 10:59:00 AM

Insider, I've had my issues with Unite, but I dispute that unions hold wages down for workers. In fact if anyone holds down wages it is non-members who free-load off union-negotiated agreements and undermine the effectiveness of industrial action.

Posted by Span : 12/12/2006 08:36:00 PM