Thursday, 13 August 2009
A couple of dozen grassroots campaigners gathered in Wellington on August 9 to organise community support for Unite Union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage. The goal of the campaign is to gather the 300,000+ petition signatures needed to trigger a Citizens Initiated Referendum asking, “Should the adult minimum wage be raised in steps over the next three years, starting with an immediate rise to $15 per hour, until it reaches 66% of the average total hourly earnings as defined in the Quarterly Employment Survey?” Matt Jones from Unite talked about why the union had decided to initiate the petition, and how the campaign was going so far. “We’re still putting our feelers out to the wider activist communities across New Zealand to try and get a support base”, he said, “before we push out into the streets and make our campaign known to the wider public. So we're still at the initial stage where we make our arguments to people such as yourselves.” Although the immediate goal of a $15 minimum wage, and then linking the rate to 66% of the average wage, are both in line with Council of Trade Unions policy, there's been a noticeable lack of active, top-level support from most other unions. One exception is the Maritime Union of New Zealand. Joe Fleetwood from MUNZ talked about how his union was gathering signatures, and also how he saw it fitting into the wider political picture. “The flyer and the petition went out. Our communications officer put that into all our magazines, that go to about 3,000 members. All worksites down on the wharf – especially our passenger vessels – have got these packs already. Our young activists are out there asking passengers, while they're travelling on the ferries, to sign the petition.” The public meeting was jointly organised by RAM – Residents Action Movement, and the Alliance Party. Growing cooperation between these two parties in Wellington had already seen the start of joint street stalls, gathering petition signatures. “Small parties like RAM, the Alliance and the Workers Party have stood in elections and campaigned against the market-driven policies of National and Labour”, said RAM chair Grant Brookes. “But what we urgently need is a bigger, broader, more united Left that can take the fight to National and become a credible alternative for all those without a voice. The petition can bring together Left and grassroots activists – like those of us in this room – and build connections for joint action and cooperation in other areas as well.” After the meeting, RAM and the Alliance decided to take their collaboration further by producing a joint leaflet. To get involved with the community campaign, or help out on the Saturday street stalls in Lower Hutt, Newtown and other areas, contact Grant on 021 053 2973.