VUWSA and the Workers Party

I was surprised yesterday to be forwarded a press release from the announcing that they have purged President from their ranks – they have expelled her. Salient has a copy of the release, which includes:

Current VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle has been expelled from the Workers Party. Freemantle contested the VUWSA election last year on a Workers Party platform. Since then, however, she has acted entirely as an individual rather than abiding by Workers Party policies and decisions.
A number of Workers Party principles have been breached, most particularly around the VUWSA Staff Collective Agreement which she drew up and which represented an attack on VUWSA employees’ rights, and around her role on Anzac Day where she failed to support action by WP members. In the case of Anzac Day, while she failed to consult in any way with the Party, she consulted with the RSA, seeking their endorsement of motions for a Student Representative Council.

Good God – she consulted the RSA – she must be lynched.

Since she was elected as president of VUWSA running on the WP platform, we believe she should resign from her position of President of VUWSA and seek re-election on her own record and platform.

Jasmine has done a very lengthy blog post on her experiences with the Workers Party, how members have treated her, the links to the union, the VUWSA involvement. It is worthy of scrutiny. Some extracts:

A particularly bad case involved an Auckland WP member and Unite Union activist. This specific member had made unreceptive advances to me off and on for a number of years. Mid last year he completely barraged me with text messages and phone calls at all hours of the night, demanding sex and revealing very upsetting and highly emotive details about his own personal life. This continued for quite some time, despite the fact that I alerted the Party’s leadership to the problem. After a few months of this carry on, I received a spate of drunken phone calls from him, which consisted of him yelling at me, “You’re not my comrade, not anymore”. When I asked why this was, he replied “You’re not my comrade because you’re fucking my mate” (in reference to the fact that I’d started going out with another Party member, Nick Kelly.)

This particular member had developed a drinking problem largely due to the stress and long hours created by his employment at Unite.

Surely UNITE, of all employers, would not be requiring staff to work long hours and work in a stressful workplace?

In 2008 and VUWSA Campaigns Officer Sonny Thomas authored a “Consultation document for a revised structure of VUWSA business”, AKA their now infamous (at least within student politics circles) ‘Change Proposal’ report. Joel has admitted that this document was lifted from one written by Victoria University management who were restructuring and laying off a number of staff at the College of Education. According to Joel, the Change Proposal’s aim was “minimising financial risk” and “maximising efficiencies”. In practice this meant the contracting out of VUWSA’s clubs and activities to the University, and laying off at least 3 core VUWSA staff members – though other redundancies were also planned.

That was a very good proposal (in my opinion). I think I even endorsed it. I always thought it was Sonny’s, not Joel’s.

I anticipated that having one WP member handing over to another would result in a relatively smooth transition. Failing this I at least expected an adequate one. From the beginning of October to the end of December 2008 I worked full time (the first two months without pay) at VUWSA as the incoming President. The theory is that this time provides an opportunity for the outgoing President to train the incoming President in everything from operational matters to high level business.

From basics like working the fax machine through to arranging various meetings with the University, I soon found I either had to organise it myself or work out what was going on by asking others. Joel was no help at all.

Joel would often come into the office late, leave early and spend much of his time watching YouTube videos. Despite the VUWSA President being a full-time job, Joel habitually turned up about 10am and left again around 2pm. He spent most of his time in his office sleeping with his door locked. He would often tell me how he just wanted everyone (i.e. VUWSA staff, Executive members, students, etc) to leave him alone and stop “bugging” him.

And people wonder why I support VSM.

There was a mountain of outstanding admin, grievances and complicated issues left from the 2007-2008 period. When I checked the President’s landline and cellular messages I discovered that Joel hadn’t even bothered to check them since September 2008. I spent a depressing evening listening to literally hundreds of messages, a number of which were fairly urgent, including one from a highly distressed student that had been referred to VUWSA by a counselor.

Staggering.

For a number of years now Wellington’s Unite Union has been fairly stagnant. As already mentioned I was part of a Burger King organising campaign back in 2004 which fell over due to a lack of commitment and professionalism by the Union. For a number of years now Unite Wellington has opted to focus on soft sites, such as the SPCA and VUWSA.

Staff at VUWSA are fairly well paid, with many staff receiving at least double that of the President’s salary. This is despite VUWSA hardly being a wealthy students’ association (in fact VUWSA has run at a deficit in 5 out of the last 8 financial years, some of them quite hefty). VUWSA Presidents are almost always either Labour or left thereof. No VUWSA President and few Executive members want their year in office marred by a big fight with the staff.

The annual VUWSA staff collective negotiations are a case in point. What usually happens is that Unite goes in to negotiate the collective, the Executive quickly cave in – and the rest of the year Unite gets involved in the petty office politics at VUWSA instead of doing the real work of organising fast food workers.

While not agreeing politically with UNITE, I’ve actually respected what they have managed to achieve in the fast food sector, and have a hell of a lot of time for Matt McCarten. But this looks very messy.

Days into taking over the VUWSA presidency, it became extremely evident that basic office procedures were either dreadful, or completely non existent. It has been common practice for staff to not turn up to work days on end without any notification, then return and apply for annual leave. The concept of office hours was apparently completely foreign. Trying to get basic operating norms in place was greeted with hostility and threats of industrial action.

So Jasmine was expelled for trying to get staff to actually notify in advance when they take leave?

In early 2009 Wellington’s Unite organiser left, and was replaced by two new organisers: one being WP member Don Franks, the other an anarchist called Matt Jones.

I like the idea of an anarchist being an organiser 🙂

The WP has tried to argue that I needed to consult with the Party and the Wellington branch before putting forward claims in collective negotiations. While it would be completely inappropriate for any VUWSA President to do such a thing in conjunction with their political party, such actions would be absolutely unprofessional in light of Unite’s relationship with the WP.

Here we get into really serious issues – the Workers Party demanding they approve what the President puts forward. Could you imagien the outrage if a student association president was a National Party member, and National insisted on approving the industrial negotiating position?

It is very clear that the relationships between VUWSA, UNITE and Workers Party are very murky and unprofessional.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the WP’s Auckland branch are Unite organisers. As stated above, Don Franks is also an organiser in Wellington; a number of other WP members are Unite volunteers. Just under half of the national Steering Committee are on the Unite pay role or have close involvement with Unite. Anyone else noticed a conflict of interest?

Indeed.

By way of background: I caught Joel Cosgrove and Kassie Hartendorp running a copy of the draft staff collective through the VUWSA photocopy machine on Sunday 26 April. When I questioned them as to what they thought they were doing photocopying a document that they had no right of access to in the first place, they said it was none of my business. Joel then grabbed the documents and ran off. When I questioned Kassie as to what photocopy code she was using, she said she was using the women’s rights budget code (but that apparently she would pay it back).

Just gets worse.

If you have the time, I suggest you read the entire post. My politics are a world apart from Jasmine’s, but you have to feel sorry for all the crap she has to endure in just doing her job.

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