Looking back at anarchists and the 2006 Progressive Enterprises lockout
“In August 2006, a 48 hour strike was called by over 500 unionised workers, members of the National Distribution Union (NDU), at Progressive Enterprises distribution centres in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch, as a part of their effort to get a national contract, pay parity between the three centres and a pay rise (of differing percentage at each site). The distribution centres supplied much of the merchandise to Progressive owned supermarkets (including the Woolworths, Countdown, Foodtown and SuperValue brands) across New Zealand. The next day, August 26th, Progressive announced that it was locking out the workers indefinitely. The lockout continued for almost a month, finally ending on September 21st with an agreement for pay parity and a 4.5% pay rise.
Throughout the lockout, there were extensive solidarity actions and fundraising across New Zealand and Australia. While I will give a brief overview of these, the main purpose of this article is to focus on the activity of anarchists in New Zealand, and to examine some of the ways anarchists interacted with rank and file Progressive employees and union officials during the lockout. Questions will be raised about some of the issues with supporting struggles from the outside, whose voices get listened to during an industrial dispute, and how to maintain ongoing contact with workers after industrial action has died down.”
The Progressive Lockout and Class Struggle in Aotearoa-New Zealand
“The 23-day lockout of distribution workers in August/September  by supermarket industry giant, Progressive Enterprises Limited (PEL), following a 3-day strike, was the most visible industrial conflict in Aotearoa-New Zealand last year. Distribution Centre (DC) workers at 3 massive facilities in Auckland, Palmerston North, and Christchurch, represented by the National Distribution Union (NDU) and the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), were negotiating for a single national collective agreement, pay parity for all sites, and an 8% pay increase. The distribution workers were on 3 separate local collective agreements but, through negotiating and striking together, the workers effectively bargained on a national basis. Desiring to keep on exploiting regional differences, PEL denied the workers a single national collective and pay parity. This led PEL to attempt to smash the resolve of the distribution workers through the aggressive tactic of a lockout. The dispute represents a potential turning point in the class struggle in Aotearoa-New Zealand as it points towards the necessity of disregarding the legal restrictions on the ability of workers to support each other’s struggles. The lockout exposed the naked antagonism between capital and labour, an antagonism that was quickly channelled into a nationalistic form for public consumption by the union bureaucracy – ‘a big Aussie corporate isn’t treating its Kiwi workers fairly.’ However, it is clear that the dispute radicalised those directly involved and pushed the union bureaucracy to at least acknowledge in their rhetoric the necessity of challenging the Labour government’s restrictions on the right to strike (e.g. outlawing all secondary boycotting) and even prompting CTU head honcho, Ross Wilson, to talk about the “class war” in his address to the NDU national conference!
In this article I will discuss the unfolding of the dispute focussing on the workers’ own activities and the extensive solidarity effort. I will go on to talk about the ways this dispute led to workers disregarding legal restrictions on their right to take action, including the wildcat occupation of the Feltex carpet plant in Riccarton in Christchurch. Finally, I will discuss the way Air New Zealand threatened the outsourcing of passenger and baggage handling services during the term of a collective agreement, in order to gain concessions from their workers, as a glaring example of the inability of workers to fight back without consciously and purposefully challenging the law. Only through direct action can workers challenge the law and force a change, first in the attitudes of the union bureaucracy and then in government. An extension of the right to strike could then open up possibilities and deepen the class struggle. Firstly though, I will give some background to the current state of industrial relations in Aotearoa-New Zealand and some context for this particular dispute.”