Monday, February 9, 2009

Defend the Constitution

This leaflet was distrributed at the 2008 Unite! AGM.
In the current political and economic situation
For full membership rights of unemployed and beneficiaries in any amalgamated union.
Unite Union was formed
during the later years of the 1990s National government when unemployment was high and the neo-cons in power were hell bent on casualising the work force and replacing welfare with workfare. To defend the most vulnerable members of the working class Unite was formed to organise unemployed on work-for the dole schemes and unite them with casualised, part time and temporary workers. The constitution of the union clearly states this intention.
Labour in Power
With the advent of a Labour government the threat of work-for-the-dole schemes disappeared and the replacement of the anti-union Employment Contracts Act by the more union-friendly Employment Relations Act made conditions more favourable for organising casualised workers. On the face of it, falling unemployment reduced the urgency organising the unemployed, and Unite officials unashamedly passed this side of its work off to the Combined Beneficiaries Union. Organising the unemployed disappeared from the agenda.
Meanwhile, the Labour government increasingly relied on the full employment for which it claimed credit, together with the “Working for Families” package to deliver welfare to the working class, and its delivery of benefits became so “work-focused” that it effectively made the benefit system serve the labour market. These changes were of the kind that their political opponents would be proud of. The children of beneficiaries continued in deprivation.
National on the attack
Now the political and economic situation is reverting to what it was when Unite was founded. The capitalist crisis is threatening to create mass redundancy and the National Party is poised to take power. If it does, it will find the ground well prepared by the present government for its beneficiary-bashing policies. Unite members, whether or not presently employed, are certain to be its prime victims. Whoever is elected on 8th November, though, laid-off Unite members will be in sore need of a union that represents unemployed.
An amalgamated union would put Unite members in a stronger position than in the 1990s. But only if the original constitutional provisions for full membership of unemployed and beneficiaries are retained in the constitution of the amalgamated union. It is clearly in the interests of any members who might in the future be laid off to uphold those provisions. Members lucky enough to keep their jobs should also support them, and not just out of solidarity with their union brothers and sisters. Mass level unemployment is the most powerful instrument the bosses have for keeping down wages.

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