Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Old wounds open in industrial saga

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Port workers seem to be the likely losers in the dispute. Photo / Janna Dixon
Port workers seem to be the likely losers in the dispute. Photo / Janna Dixon

My word, wounds run deep in this country. The bitter dispute between the Maritime Union and the Ports of Auckland has stirred up memories of the 1951 watersiders' lockout/strike.

Even that sorry episode in New Zealand's history defines which side of the fence you are on.

People have been phoning me all week with their stories of the 1951 dispute and with their take on this current wrangle.

As the latest negotiations have broken down, it seems unlikely that there will be any room for compromise.

Both the Ports of Auckland and the Maritime Union are so far apart in terms of their respective positions, and so intransigent, that it seems likely that the Ports will follow through with their threat and sack their entire union workforce and replace them with contractors.

If this happens, unionists have hinted direly of a general strike and action from their brothers on the docks in other parts of the world, but at a time of high unemployment you'd have to wonder how much support there would be for a nationwide downing of tools.

I've read statements from both the Ports and the union, and both sides' demands appear reasonable. Yes, the Ports need a more flexible and productive workforce, but the men also need some certainty in their hours of work and a base income so they can look after their families.

As someone who grew up in the 70s, when battles between unions and the Muldoon Government were hard-fought and furious, this dispute is reminiscent of that era.

And though I respect the Maritime Union's fierce protection of its members, I can't help wondering whether this sort of old-school, hard-line unionism has had its day.

Whatever happens, a year from now the Ports will still be running.

The Maritime Union officials will still be employed. The only losers from this look likely to be the working men themselves.

- Herald on Sunday

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