Nelson trip exercise in futility

May 10, 2012

Goodness only knows what striking meatworkers thought they’d achieve by going to Nelson to put their case to the Talley family.

It was an exercise in futility summed up by Allan Barber:

. . . this isn’t a dispute that will be resolved by the employer’s sympathy for the plight of workers who are out of work, but by constructive negotiation between the parties. This is where it gets difficult, because there doesn’t appear to be any constructive desire by the Meat Workers Union or its members to try to understand what AFFCO or its owners actually want.

The union contents itself with repeating platitudes about hard nosed, union bashing employers not being willing to make any concessions which would enable its members to get back to work. In the meantime families suffer, union members increasingly resign from the union and sign individual agreements, and the season continues without the locked out or striking workers. But it will all be over by the end of June because there won’t be any more meaningful plant throughput that can’t be handled quite easily by non union workers.

AFFCO, and make no mistake AFFCO is the employer, not the Talley family members, wants to achieve a clear, modern and flexible collective agreement which reflects today’s meat industry. The days of thirty or forty years ago when the Meat Workers Union representatives cut their teeth in the industry are long gone. Sheep numbers have more than halved, prime cattle volumes are down and the biggest single species is boner cows destined for the US grinding trade. . .

My father was a carpenter at the freezing works several decades ago when strikes were much more common.

Being on the maintenance staff he was usually not directly affected but I remember him talking about the short-sighted actions of the strikers, often losing more pay on the days they had off than they’d gain in pay increases which was often what they were striking for.

Then, though, the balance of power was in the workers’ favour. Stock numbers were high and increasing and there was pressure on killing space, especially during droughts when farms ran short of feed.

The ag-sag of the 80s and subsequent drop in stock numbers changed the balance and the AFFCO workers couldn’t have chosen a worse season to try to exert pressure on their employers.

All meat companies are having a very difficult year. Stock is in short supply and there’s a falling market which means AFFCO probably isn’t losing much by having staff on strike.

The Meatworkers Union is trying to keep last century’s work practices which are unaffordable and inappropriate in 2012.


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