If you are looking for something to do on Labour Day the Mangere Labour Electorate Committee is holding a remembrance event at Waikaraka Cemetery in Onehunga, Auckland. Within a couple of hundred metres of each other are graves of people who in their own distinct way played a significant role in the Labour Movement of Aotearoa.
First there is the grave of Frederick Evans, a Waihi miner who was loyal to his union and was killed in 1912 during the Waihi Miner’s strike. The Labour Party was formed in 1916 after workers realised after the events at Waihi that political action as much as industrial action would be required to improve the plight of ordinary people.
NZHistory Net says this about Evans:
Evans belonged to the Waihi Trade Union of Workers (WTUW), then led by future Labour Cabinet minister Bill Parry, who was also Australian-born. This union was affiliated to the militant New Zealand Federation of Labour (FOL, or ‘Red Feds’) and was bitterly opposed to the Waihi Goldmining Company. In April, encouraged by the company, a group of engine drivers formed their own union, and in June it was registered under the industrial arbitration system. The miners demanded these men be dismissed. When the company refused, the WTUW went on strike on 13 May. Refusing to join the breakaway union, Evans acted as provision storekeeper for the strikers, and was an occasional correspondent for the FOL newspaper, the Maoriland Worker.
In September the government sent extra police with horses, batons and firearms to Waihi. Almost 70 of the leading strikers were arrested, including Evans; he was found guilty then discharged. The strikers’ position worsened after the mine was reopened with ‘scab’ labour on 2 October. Violence escalated in early November. On Friday the 8th Evans was caught up in a street fight. His wife May – who, like many of the strikers’ wives, took a prominent role in the dispute – came to his defence, shaming a policeman into walking away rather than hitting her.
After further clashes on the Monday, strikers agreed with police to reduce their pickets at the miners’ hall. Early on Tuesday 12 November, Evans arrived at the hall to relieve one of the three or four men still on duty. Soon after, a crowd of strike-breakers, backed by police, stormed the hall. During a struggle at the door, strikebreaker Thomas Johnston was shot in the knee, possibly by Evans. As the unionists fled out the back of the hall, Constable Gerald Wade was shot in the stomach, but managed to strike Evans down with his baton. The striker collapsed under a barrage of boots and blows.
Evans was left for an hour and a half in police cells before being taken to hospital. He never regained consciousness and died the following day. Johnston’s and Wade’s injuries were slight.
Then there is the grave of Bill Andersen former Secretary of the feared Northern Driver’s Union and a staunch Communist. He was one of the traditional Trade Union leaders, tough, utterly dedicated, tactical and analytical. He did not hold back in criticising the system and described things the way he saw them. He referred to the US Democrats and Republicans as “the evil of two lessers“. His view of our democratic system is one that will strike a nerve with many, “Governments are not in power, they are in office – big business is in power.”
And last but not least is the grave of David Lange. Labour’s fifth Prime Minister’s grave is a remarkably modest thing. I have some personal history with him. My father was the swing vote that meant that he and not Mike Moore was the Labour candidate for Mangere in 1977. On the night of the selection Lange spoke last but he swept the crowd with his oratory and the rest was history. He was more than a match for the tyrant Rob Muldoon and in 1984 Labour won elected in a landslide. I cheered when Lange made New Zealand nuclear free and described the lunacy of the nuclear arms race as the refining of an existing ability to make the rubble bounce and bounce. I despaired at the Douglas Prebble reforms and let my membership lapse. I subsequently thought that Lange’s call for a cup of tea and a pause was the one thing that saved Labour from oblivion.
Some think that Lange should share responsibility for Rogernomics. I think we should appreciate that he had the decency to take a step back and try and stop it.
Speeches will be given by playwright Dean Parker about Frederick Evans, former Trade Unionist and Mangere Labour activist Vic Morrow on David Lange and Bill Andersen’s son Karl will say a few words about his father. There will also be a speech by Sua William Sio on current Labour relations and proposed law changes. Lunch will be served at the Mangere Cosmopolitan Club, Bader Drive Mangere at a cost of $15 per head.
The Facebook event is here. The event starts at 11 am. If you want to attend something historical, educational and inspiring then come along.