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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975

CWS - A meat rip-off

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CWS - A meat rip-off

The CWS has one of the worst and most repressive industrial relations record in the country and its activities can be correlated with its trading subsidary in the Sri Lanka tea planting scandals that have brought home just how far the unco-operative Co-operative group is prepared to go if it is allowed.

Formed in the mid 19th century, the company has two major freezing works in NZ, the Long-burn and Ocean Beach works and is very tightly controlled from London, with trading figures remaining a tightly guarded secret (although we hope to have much more financial information by the time the ride is underway )

However since its election of progressive officers, the Long-burn sub-branch of the NZ Meatworkers' Union has kept impressive records of the company's exploitations and we are indebted to them for their substantial assistance.

"Management at Longburn has been destroyed" - Mr L. Cruden, Managing Director of the Gear Meat Co. "If this is true then the destruction is largely self-inflicted," — union notes The opening piss up against the wall quote (which comes from works manager Mr T. Hastie) is the main reason for and the typical attitude to the disasterous industrial relations which resulted in an inquiry into the Longburn works in 1974. As usual the press picture is very distorted from the union point of view.

The trouble really began back in '51 when the progressive union supporting the waterfront strike was smashed and replaced by a carefully selected company "scab" union. This "scab" union kept such a tight control over its cowed members that for nearly two decades "perfect" industrial harmony prevailed Indicative of the vindictive approach to those who struck in support of their principles is the company's continual refusal to hire '51 president Mr R. Siegel (who even today remains high on the company's blacklist).

There were three principal effects of the '51 strike:
1)The emergence of a union "whose most momentous resolutions over the next 15 years would largely be concerned with the venue of the annual picnic and whether to offer themselves for work between Christmas and New Year".
2)A seeming victory for the paternalistic, authoritarian and con-descending attitudes of the management. The union notes describe works manager Hastie thus — "His authoritarian, elitist and dogmatic point of view and his unquestioning loyalty to the company may well be traced to the comfortable and conservative Waitaki Boy's High School background, and.... Tom Hastie is now an unnecessary anachronism, better suited to the ideas of the original CWS founders than to the workers of 1974."
3)The third result was a touching faith in the "fairness" of the Labour Department whose '51 antics had included rigged balloting and tapped phone calls.

All combined to create a "nose to the grindstone" attitude in which workers were made well aware that if they raised important issues then they could expect little sympathy at rehiring time.

The final falling apart of this presupposed paradise is traced by union sources to the boning room and beef incentive disputes in which workers demanding fairer productivity agreements (in line with other freezing works) are calculated to have cost the company $1.5 million. But it appears the company learnt very little from its own admittedly costly mistakes and matters became worse with the bobby calves dispute, the works camp dispute, the freezer dispute and so on.

The mam point of all these disputes is their dramatic illustration of the CWS's complete lack of industrial relations policy and its determination to bludgeon the workers into submission. Particularly distasteful has been the company's use of strong arm foremen to enforce its whims... the union notes comment "The hallmark of a foreman at Long-burn is nervousness". Management chooses them largely on their willingness to do whatever they are told without question, on their abilities as disciplinarians and their physical size. On the evidence, intelligence has seldom been seen as an important factor."

The Longburn shed made lengthy recommendations as to how industrial relations could be improved and while the inquiry played lip-service to their wide-ranging suggestions very little of practical improvement has been forthcoming. Indeed the union went to far as to suggest to the management that if get rid of its "seige mentality" and come to the understanding that most, 20th century employers reached a long time ago — namely that just as companies struggle to get improved turnover and profits under a capitalist system, then so the unions (always caught up in the squeeze for higher profits) must be expected to improve their wages and conditions. The union concluded its submissions thus. "If parts of our submissions seem unduly pessimistic then it must be remembered they record the past. We again state we look forward to the future and believe that with patience, imagination and vision a much more peaceful, happier and productive future could lie ahead for all those who depend on Longburn for their livelihood." — this can hardly be seen as the "wrecker" approach to industrial relations that unions in general and this union in particular have been constantly accused of fostering, yet it has brought little in the way of tangible improvements.

"Don't pay them any more, they'll only piss it up against the wall."

Tom Hastie, former Works Manager

However, one "benefit" it did produce was the appointment of a full-time industrial relations officer, a Mr Dave Wickens, who in an issue of the Longburn News (the company's own little glossy) describes his state of mind thus — "I am very happy here with my job I'm fully aware of the state of industrial relations in NZ and I think that success in my field is dependent on handling a confrontation situation without getting upset." Longburn s glossy goes on to say "Tactics in most industrial disputes have the sublety of the sledgehammer. There is no room for niceties and no place for industrial relations officers who take things personality."

It is to be hoped that Mr Wickes' philosophy takes him a little further than previous industrial relations approaches at Longburn have, but it hasn't so far.

Several other ugly features of the Longburn (and also the company's Ocean Beach Works) deserve a mention.

The union notes point out that "not coincidentally these works have a policy of recruiting a very high proportion of Polynesian labour'. Maoris from the economically deprived areas of the East Coast. Pacific Islands and the ghettos of Auckland are sought on the apparent assumption that such workers will prove easier "to control in terms of being more dependant than most on the low wages which Longburn has a sad history of paying. "This policy of hiring the economically educationally and socially deprived has paid dividends over the years both literally and metaphorically. It has also led to a horrifying reputation for ciolence, often with radical overtones". Despite this the company has done very little alleviate the conditions of its workers and it seems unable to learn from its past mistakes.

The relationship between the CWS in England and its local company is also worthy of attention. The union notes make it clear that the parent company, in the past has adopted a iaissez faire "don't-want-to-know-about-it" approach providing the profits rolled in. This was an attitude also exposed in the Co-operative Tea Society's antics in the Sri Lanka tea estates where as long as money was being made, the appalling slum conditions of the tea pickers and their shocking wages were completely ignored.

While these profits have apparently depreciated of late, a very close relationship between works manager Hastie (since retired) and the NZ general manager and former head of the company's meat division, Mr Waller, gave the Longburn management most of the autonomy if required.

However it appears that even the thickest of thieves must on occasion fall out A very embarrassing incident, from the point of view of the company, occured in 1974, when Longburn foremen went on strike against the express wishes of the company as represented by the general manager. Five hundred workers were locked out for a period of six days. The company's even handed approach to industrial relations is well represented by the fact that although Mr Waller regretfully admitted his inability to discipline his staff, the company found it possible to pay the striking foremen and presumably the naughty manager but there was no strike pay for the workers who were not even on strike but who were the direct sufferers of a company lockout. The union notes conclude that this action "sets an interesting precedent for the future."

Conclusion: It should be made abundantly clear that in criticising the foreign meat companies we are in way touting for the local parasites. We believe it is well past time for the NZ Meat Producers Board to face up to its responsibilities and purchase the whole meat export kill, and sell it overseas. The present situation whereby the board takes over the meat export kill and then lets the companies sell it on commission is little short of ludicrous. How the situation ever arose in the first place defies description. The board does most of the promotion work overseas and then if prices are right the companies come in and make a killing. The board has bee repeatedly asked to fulfil a Dairy Board type function and exercise real authority, but it still hides behind the incredible subterfuge that it finds the present set-up "satisfactory".

On a longer term view we support the NZ Meat Workers Union and the Federation of Labour claim for nationalisation of the freezing works, although all such moves and opportunities for worker control should be a matter for the workers themselves to consider