Monday, 27 July 2009

$15 an Hour Campaign for a Living Wage

UNITE Union delegates at the $15 an Hour Campaign for a Living Wage launch during the Mt Abert by-election, 11 June.

by Vaughan Gunson The global economic crisis is starting to impact on NZ workers. People are losing their jobs in different sectors right across the country. And word is that in some poor communities in South Auckland unemployment is already becoming a scourge. Workers in many small workplaces are being forced by their bosses to accept paycuts of up to 10%. Where workers have been made redundant those left are being bullied to work longer hours and shoulder greater workloads. All this is happening as fear grows that the economy is going to get worse. Masses of New Zealanders are terrified of losing their jobs and being unable to support themselves and their families. How will they pay the rent or meet their mortgage payments to banks? Many families are under such immense financial stress that one income earner losing their job will see them go under. In these conditions unions have an extremely vital role to play. Because only a sense of solidarity between masses of workers can overcome fear and lack of confidence. If unions in NZ don't rise and meet the challenge that the global economic meltdown poses, then workers and the union movement will go down. Unions can not afford, right now, to be on the backfoot. That's why the UNITE union's "$15 an Hour Campaign for a Living Wage" is important. In today's environment you need something big and exciting that will rally people, encourage them to overcome individual fear and uncertainty. The centre piece of UNITE's campaign is a Citizen's Initiated Referendum (CIR) petition, launched on 9 May. The word from activists who have gone out there with the petition is that it's extremely popular with a cross-section of grassroots people, unionised and un-unionised. 450,000 workers in this country are currently paid less than $15 an hour. That's a big chunk of people who are earning poverty wages, or know of friends and family earning poverty wages. Building this campaign inside and outside unions into mass movement, which is what will be required to get the over 300,000 signatures needed to force a referendum, has the potential to build confidence in the workers' movement and to bring the left together in common activity. Because the immediate goal of a referendum is possible it's cutting through some of the helplessness that many people will be feeling in face of massive global economic forces. The scale of the present economic crisis, unprecedented in the history of capitalism, means that there's space for other campaigns that include practical demands to protect our people, and which at the same time takes it to the corporate elite politically and ideologically. Capitalism is suffering a serious crisis of de-legitimacy that the left can take advantage of. To read more about the campaign go to UNITE website and get active with the campaign resources below: Download copies of the petition Download UNITE's campaign leaflet Sign up to the campaign newsletter Join the $15 an Hour Campaign Facebook group

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