Why a Union for Working Communities is Necessary

Working people have long recognised that we are stronger united than as individuals. Unions for workers sprung up in factories and other workplaces as the Industrial Revolution not only meant that big communities of workers formed for the first time, but working conditions decreased significantly. For the last couple centuries, labour unions have become an important organisational weapon for the working class to raise our living standards and protect against the greed of the capitalists.

The reality is, however, that we do not only exist in the workplace. In fact, workers have fought hard so that we can ensure that we have a life outside the workplace. Our homes, parks, fields and local shops are such an important part of our lives and what makes us people rather than mindless drones.

The capitalists also exist outside the workplace. They own the businesses we work for and the products of our labour, but they also own the houses that we rent and to a large degree control the communities that we live in through the business associations and local government bodies.

Therefore we need to organise outside the workplace with a new kind of union: a community union. While labour unions look after the workers when they are at work, a community union looks after workers at home and in the community.

In our communities at the moment, the capitalist has a significant upper hand. Everybody knows the ridiculous condition of the property market. Not only do landlords get money each month just because they own the houses we live in while putting in minimal work, but house prices are consistently going up.

Over the last year, the average house price in Wellington has risen over 7%. In Upper Hutt, they have risen 15%, in Dunedin nearly 13%, in the Far North 14.7%, in Southland 16.5%, and in Otorohanga a staggering 26.6%. What this means is that landlords are making a staggering profit through just owning a house.

Imagine a landlord owned a house worth $500, 000 in September 2018. If this house was in Upper Hutt, they made $76, 500 in the last year alone in capital gains — and this is untaxed. The average salary in New Zealand before tax is only $52, 100 per year. This means that this home owner could be earning more than $30, 000 more than the average worker after tax — only because they own a house! This house in Otorohanga would have brought in $133, 000 in the last year alone. This is above the median pay in every single New Zealand profession — without having to actually work for it. Remember this also ignores the profit gained via rent.

To add insult to injury, rental conditions in New Zealand are appalling. Houses are cold, damp, moldy, and often falling apart. We all have horror stories of landlords that have just refused to do repairs, no matter how bad the actual house is. The harsh reality is they don’t want to do repairs — it cuts into how much money they make from the house. As long as the property value keeps going up, it works for them.

This whole situation highlights why we need to organise as communities of workers and renters. As the failure of the government and schemes like Kiwibuild to provide comprehensive and significant change shows, only mass organisation of ordinary people who actually experience these poor conditions can ever bring change.

The Aotearoa Community Union is not an activist group. We reject the idea that a small amount of people waving signs in the city centre can actually bring transformational change to our communities.

Instead, we seek to become a mass organisation and a vehicle for the community themselves to transform their own communities. To an extent, this can simply take the form of fostering more communal relations between neighbours, the Community Union coming together to help with problems each other face.

But as the above data highlights, this will not be enough for genuine change. We must recognise that the issues we face in housing and in the community are essentially a continuation of class struggle outside the workplace. The ordinary working people are exploited both times by the capitalist class, who own the businesses and the homes. Any genuine expansion of renters’ and community rights inherently comes at the expense of power of the bosses and landlords. This is why we take this class-oriented stance against both the landlords and their lackeys, the rental management companies.

The class-based, unequal base of our communities that gives all power to the landlords needs to be destroyed by the ordinary working members of the community, at which point we can build a democratic system of running our own community based on the interests of the community rather than profit.

Homes for need, not for greed!