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Source: Etu Union

Originally published by the Council of Trade Unions

Never have we needed to talk about power to win decent wages more than right now. With an ongoing assault on workers’ rights and conditions — the repeal of Fair Pay Agreements, massive public sector layoffs, the undermining of sick pay, a pitiful and mean-minded increase to the minimum wage — people power is needed more than ever.  

Sometimes it feels as if we are back to May 1991 and the advent of the Employment Contracts Act, courtesy of another newly-elected National government. At that time I was a new union organiser, working for the Hotel and Hospital Workers Union, that became the Service and Food Workers Union and later E tū.  I’d learnt about unions in the 1980s, as a newspaper compositor and member, activist and delegate in the Printer’s Union.

Before 1991 most workers in Aotearoa were covered by union-negotiated awards and agreements. The ECA took power from workers and their unions and handed it over to employers. Union membership plummeted and so did pay rates and conditions.

Unions looked to win back power and tried many different approaches. In 2011 SFWU reached out to the community and invited other unions, faith groups and community organisations to form a new movement committed to addressing poverty pay.  In 2012, the Living Wage Movement was launched with the goal of building community power to win the Living Wage.

The movement has been hugely successful and the lives of thousands of workers and their whānau have been transformed as a direct outcome of Living Wage campaigns — in corporates, in local and central government and in the small employers and NGOs that led the way.  The movement has changed the way we talk about wages in Aotearoa from what is lowest an employer can legally pay to what is the wage a worker and their whānau need to lead decent lives and participate in society.

Power to Win tells the story of the Living Wage Movement, from the idea in 2011, the launch in 2012  and the campaigns waged across Aotearoa to win decent wages. The story is told through the voices of workers, activists and leaders in the movement.  There are workers’ stories throughout the book — stories of workers struggling on low wages, of the courageous workers who speak out for the Living Wage, stories of campaigns across Aotearoa  and of the transforming power of the Living Wage in workers’ lives.

Power to Win is a story about the power of alliance, of joining forces with others across civil society who care about poverty wages and want to work together for change. It’s a story about what we can achieve through people power — how we form alliances with faith groups and the broader community and how we can use that power to win.

The Living Wage story is a story of power and a story of winning.  But the story isn’t over. Wherever workers struggle on poverty pay rates we need to build power to win. That story goes on.

Author: Lyndy McIntye. Lyndy is an E tū Life Member and an Associate Fellow of NZEI Te Riu Roa. She has worked for a range of unions in Aotearoa and briefly in Australia since 1990. In 2015 she took up the role of community organiser in the Living Wage Movement, until 2020 when she began to write Power to WinPower to Win can be ordered online through Nationwide Books.