The Aotearoa Rank and File Networks Hui (1), organised by the Health Sector Workers Network (2) and Unions Otago (3), was held in Christchurch at Avebury House on Saturday 8th June and Avon Loop Community Cottage on Sunday 9th June.
The hui was convened by both organisations in order to gather rank and file workers (4) from across Aotearoa to discuss and develop rank and file networks of workers from all sectors , unpaid or paid, employed or unemployed, unionised or un-unionised etc. to more effectively resist their exploitation by capitalists and build a world beyond capitalism.
The first discussion session was on “Class struggle, unionism, solidarity”, with the state of the trade union movement under neoliberal capitalism being discussed, in particular its limitations such as: (i) the undemocratic and bureaucratic structure of trade unions that are service-oriented rather than struggle-oriented; (ii) their reluctance to organise workers that are not permanent and full-time and (iii) the trade union bureaucracy’s repeated attempts to obstruct rank and file workers attempts to intensify the class struggle. Throughout this discussion, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation/NZNO leadership’s actions during the recent nurse’s strikes was the main case study (5).
Following lunch, the second discussion session on “Real world rank and file organising and building workers’ power” was held. The first example of this was the NZNO Members Action Group/MAG (6), a rank and file network within NZNO, with MAG members discussing why MAG was formed, the actions that it has engaged in as well as the resistance that they faced from the NZNO leadership. The second example was Raise the Bar (7), a digital hospitality workers union organised along the lines of Hospo Voice in Melbourne, Australia (8), with a Raise the Bar member discussing the super-exploitation faced by hospitality and agriculture workers, why Raise the Bar was formed as wells its current activities. Discussion was then held on the future possibilities for both examples and how this could be applied to other sectors.
The first day of the hui concluded with a discussion session on “Workers and their Work”, with Health Sector Workers Network presenting their findings from the Health Workers Inquiry (9) that they held from March-May 2019. Once the findings were presented, there were discussions about how such results could be used to improve the Health Sector Workers Network’s organising in the health sector as well as how the workers’ inquiry method (10) could be used to map out other sectors as part of future rank and file worker organising efforts. The Health Sector Workers Network is planning to publish their findings over the next several months through their website and social media.
The second day of the hui began with a discussion session on “Barriers to organising and how we address and dismantle them”, which consisted of the hui attendees breaking off into groups and brainstorming the internal, interpersonal and structural barriers that workers face in trying to engage in organising as well as possible ways to overcome these barriers. Each group then reported back to the rest of the hui on what they had brainstormed and the results were then discussed. There are plans for the barriers and solutions to them brainstormed at the hui to be published as a zine in the next few months.
This was followed with a discussion session on “Social justice organising and how it intersects with workplace organising”, with the same format being used as the previous session, although this time it was on examples of racism and nationalism within workplaces and worker organising as well as tactics and strategies to resist racism and nationalism within the working-class.
After lunch, the final discussion session of the hui on “Building Rank and File Solidarity Networks” was held. In this session, it was decided to form the Aotearoa Solidarity Network/ASN, which will seek to (i) build rank and file networks (11) within unions and (ii) solidarity networks for un-unionised workers (12). The Aotearoa Solidarity Network will organise on both geographical/regional and industrial/sectoral lines, with their currently being plans for four locals: in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Pōneke/Wellington, Ōtautahi/Christchurch and Ōtepoti/Dunedin and three industrial networks: health, education and local government, in addition to organising precarious and unpaid work and networking by other marginalised groups. It was also decided that the ASN would hold another national hui in 2020, while locals were encouraged to hold regional hui before the 2020 hui.
Since the hui has been held, the Pōneke local has met to debrief from the hui, discuss the local’s structure, mapping the members skills and capacity, how to communicate, possible short-term goals and projects as well as immediate actions to be taken. In addition, the Ōtautahi local has met for some shared kai and discussed how to proceed locally. Meanwhile, the ASN nationally is working on its kaupapa, constitution and external communications
Overall, it was fantastic to have a chance to meet with rank and file workers from across Aotearoa to discuss the limits of worker organising today and what it could be like in the future. It was also refreshing, as the majority of hui attendees were women, unlike most socialist groups in Aotearoa. Once the kaupapa, constitution and external communications have been completed, I would highly recommend that workers who want to help drive change participate in the ASN, as this is a major possibility to help create a rank and file workers movement that builds workers’ power and puts an end to workers facing defeat after defeat at the hands of the capitalist class for 35 years. The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves!