The Christchurch clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin has been put into receivership and some 470 jobs jobs are on the line. Given that LWR has debts reportedly of some $50 million its hard to see any happy ending to this story - if the conventional route is followed.
LWR is a diversified manufacturer of clothing and textiles with operations in several locations in New Zealand and Australia. Approximately 470 people are employed in textile, hosiery, underwear and garment factories in Christchurch; garment manufacturre in Greytown and Pahiatua; a sock factory in Timaru; and a sports apparel factory in Brisbane.
The National Distribution Union has been quick to point the finger of blame at the owner, Christchurch businessman Ken Anderson.
According to Maxine Gay of the NDU: "We had a terrible debacle with a very public and acrimonious and bitter marriage and business break-up within the Anderson family. And it's our view that it then moved into some very erratic decision making,"
The difficulties that LWR are confronting follow on from a whole string of redundancies in Chrstchurch at the likes of G.L Bowron, Skellerup, Click Clack, Tip Top and Feltex.
Maxine Gay should really be pointing her finger at the political party that her union supports.
In 1987 Labour began cutting tariffs on clothing imports and the next National Government followed suit. By the time Labour took power again in 1999 tariffs they were down to 19 percent, six percent below those of New Zealand's largest trading partner Australia.
Indeed none other than Maxine Gay attacked Labour's tariffs reductions back in 2003. Then secretary of the Clothing Workers Union, she said:
"There is no good reason for these reductions. No-one benefits. The Government loses revenue, workers lose their jobs, manufacturers lose their businesses.'
At it's peak LWR had some 3,700 staff - before the tariff cuts began
And Labour's signing of a free trade agreement with China simply heaped more pressure on local manufacturers.
In 2004 LWR was warning the Labour Government that it could not compete with Chinese manufacturers in the capitalist 'free trade zones'
'"The reality is a company in China can employ children, a company in China can pour whatever it likes down the drains. They don't have to pay ACC, they don't have to pay time and a half, they don't have to pay sick pay. And they get government support.' it said.
The global economic meltdown has simply brought matters to a head.
Of course New Zealand can no longer retreat behind a battery of tariff and import controls.
The real answer must be, as the Alliance Party also argues, public ownership - and subsequent direct worker ownership of industries like LWR.
It's time the union leadership stopped supporting Labour, stopped promoting the anti-worker 'nine day fortnights' and began offering some real economic alternatives to the failed ideology of neoliberalism.
The union hierarchy needs to be asked again whose side they are on.