Here is a link to Helen Kelly’s valedictory speech to the 2015 unions conference as she steps down from her role at the NZ council of Trade Unions due to ill health.
The speech has far too many examples where workers and their families have had to spend months and years resorting to the law in order to achieve a justice denied them by the government: Kristine Bartlett’s equal pay case, the care worker sleep over case; the Pike River Mine case are all examples where unions have supported workers often to successful outcomes. More recently unions have taken successful cases as private prosecutions involving workplace deaths where the government body, WorkSafe New Zealand, had not prosecuted those responsible.
Helen’s speech also has many exciting new initiatives of unionism. Here are a few she listed.
- The EPMU construction project in Christchurch working with employers and employees to demand safety at work.
- The Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG) – offering a support and advice network for new migrants.
- The Samoa First Union supported by FIRST here in NZ which offers a viable private sector union to workers in Samoa
- Unite’s ZERO hours campaigns have raised forcefully the issue of insecure work but also the ability of a union campaign to win employment security through collective bargaining and industrial action and win public support along the way.
- The Living Wage Campaign that has seen notable succeses in both private and public sector workplaces in the last year.
- The forestry safety work that has seen forest owners, contractors and government brought to the table at last and reducing the horrendous death and injury rate in that sector.
These examples show that under difficult circumstances the NZ trade union movement has reinvented itself – moving into new areas and building new alliances.
If a small proportion of the commercial “wonder kids” of our corporate world had 1/10 of the responsiveness of the Helen Kelly led CTU we would be living in a different New Zealand and not the one where a worker is killed on average every week in our unsafe workplaces.
All the initiatives listed in her valedictory speech, many carried out on a shoe-string, have kept faith with the core role of unionism – building solidarity and collective action and yet have reached impressive levels of innovation, opportunity spotting, creativity and lateral thinking – all qualities that mere workers are supposed to defer to business leaders on.
The CTU is a great example of why NZ needs worker representation in the country’s boardrooms and executive suites urgently.
Kia kaha Helen, Your work has renewed the union movement and developed fresh approaches that can be built on in the years ahead.