100 years of Labour - still fighting

This week, New Zealand’s oldest existing political party, the NZ Labour Party celebrates its 100th birthday. There’s a lot to celebrate, including the many Labour heroes, men and women and the great advances for working people. This history includes meat workers who were active in making real change.

The NZ Labour Party was formed on 8 July 1916 by the industrial unions of the early 20th century, as the political arm of the union movement. It grew out of the earlier Social Democratic Party and the United Federation of Labour, primarily after the defeat of the miners at Waihi and the murder of Frederick George Evans by police batoning and kicking by a mob.

The leaders of the Federation of Labour were bloodied, but determined, writing :

“We know the unrelenting combine arrayed against us; we know the grinning farce of public justice as it sits aloft on the class controlled Bench and beside the witness-box; and we look forward to nothing in the shape of fair dealing from the ruling class in New Zealand today.  We know they shout for law and order; but our cry is for liberty and justice and we are going to get it.  The cell, the dock, the scaffold cannot make men less than men.   Law and order!  There is the order in the grave at Brunner, where half the victims of the disaster lie in two grim rows; order in Mt Lyell Mine, where our kindred of the working class where our kindred of the working class so tragically murdered are sleeping…..”

Many of Labour’s early leaders were workers from the union movement, with no university education. They learned through Workers Education Associations with classes in economics, trade union history, banking, philosophy and political theory.  Labour leaders such as Holland, Fraser, Nash, Semple and Lee received their education this way and were often more widely read in world affairs and social sciences than the university professors they often debated and kept company with.

Two of our greatest Prime Ministers were a miner (Michael Joseph Savage) and a train driver (Norman Kirk). 

Several Labour MPs got their education working in the meatworks – Ross Robertson and the late Dave Hereora to name two recent MPs.  Our New Zealand parliamentary tradition is that working, living and raising a family in New Zealand is as important an experience as in a university education. Politics should not just be for the privileged and well off. 

Some want to write off Labour as a spent force, particularly with recent events with Brexit and the changing political landscape in an uncertain world. They shouldn’t.

While the relentless march of globalisation and greed continues, it is Labour’s mission to put a stake in the ground for fairness and justice :  because if they don’t who will?   But then there's the question about who.  

Perhaps it’s time to see some more meat workers in Parliament as Labour MPs?



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