Don Presland obituary

Written By: - Date published: 6:30 am, October 23rd, 2017 - 23 comments
Categories: labour, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Don Presland, father of my good friend Greg Presland, has died.

I will not presume to comment on the family’s grief, rather I will simply mark the things I saw this guy stand for.

Don was a boilermaker back in the day. Guys like Auckland Councillor Mike Lee know what that was like. Don fought from early on against the appalling safety conditions of that work, and many of those workers are still paying the price for the common industry use of asbestos.

Don has been through the best of New Zealand’s unionised times in the 1960s and 1970s when union awards enabled a good standard of living. Unlike now when after decades of low productivity the state needs to prop employers up with effectively large wage subsidies like Working For Families, back then there were good jobs with good pay manufacturing good things, in which a guy like Don could get a house for his family in Mangere Bridge and make it work.

Those things occurred because unions and Labour fought for them and sustained them – and it was people like Don who did the fighting.

He fought hard against the dreaded Employment Contracts Act, and in 2000 was looking forward to a new era when collective bargaining and strong unions would be back again and continue their gradual ratcheting of productivity and performance in New Zealand workplaces.

When he was interviewed by NZHerald reporter about it, he was not in the least bit apologetic about the force of a well organised strike to make employers see sense.

He said: “People will remember the strike, but don’t make the link with their own conditions – they’ll snatch the dough off the table but forget history.” He recounted eight weeks of industrial actions in 1963 to simply get a pay rise of one penny an hour more. If anyone has tried to get a decent pay rise while this current government has been in power, you will probably miss strong unions, because they are the people who got most New Zealanders pay rises.

There are a few from that age of union strength who are now passing. The passing of Mike Daly after decades in the Post Office and that union a month ago was also a great commemorative event: full of stories from people who got his guidance and support to get from a really low place at work, up to achieve great things. They are giants, and their era is hard to see coming back.

In 1999, Don was the President of the EPMU. He was instrumental in the Union pouring huge resources into the election of the fifth Labour Government.

Despite stupid scaremongering from morons in the opposition like Max Bradford, the Labour government’s replacement legislation did not bring about the collapse of businesses across the country. Nor in fact did it lead to a great rise in union membership. But it slowed the rot down. The Labour government’s 2000 policy enabled the survival of individual contracts, as long as they were not inconsistent with collective documents. It did not sanction a return to national occupational or industry awards. It could have done more.

But this is not a note intended to simply get all melancholy about what could have been. It’s simply to celebrate the life of a really good Labour and union man, Don Presland.

Let me give you just one more example. As one of the key Labour and union activists in Mangere, Don was a long-time friend of David Lange for many years. In fact the Presland family have been long time Labour supporters. Don was awarded two gold badges, one from the Engineers Union and one from the Labour Party for services to the movement. They don’t hand either of those out lightly. He was hard core.

Don was one of the selectors of the next candidate for Mangere in 1977 after Colin Moyle resigned following an attack by Robert Muldoon on him which implied Moyle was gay. Labour head office preferred Mike Moore. There were 11 candidates and the selection meeting went well into the night, full of factions and tested loyalties and tough arguments.

The last speaker was a youngish, overweight lawyer called David Lange. And he delivered a speech which blew the crowd away. The committee was split between Lange supporters and Moore supporters. Don decided to shift his support to Lange, and the selection was completed. Given the way that New Zealand history went, his decision that night clearly had a significant effect.

There are plenty of war stories like that about Don, many of which will come out at the wake, stories you only get when you have chosen to be an activist that really organises people on a scale that tilts the direction of whole neighbourhoods, companies, and countries. Didn’t shout about success, got on with the job, but really stood up and fought. His values and the great support of his wife have generated children and grandchildren with similarly strong values that help people to get out of trouble and into a better life, people that aren’t afraid of a fight for the good, and know how to win deep into the long term.

Don Presland was an awesome guy.

23 comments on “Don Presland obituary”

  1. Ovid 1

    I’m sorry for your loss Greg, Advantage and all of Don’s family and friends. It sounds like he did a lot of good.

  2. Patricia Bremner 2

    My Dad was a mine union rep and a member of the mine rescue team in the 50’s.

    These men were the salt of the earth and we are richer for knowing them.

    Like Helen Kelly, they added hugely to the human condition with staunch values and true grit.

    Their families know their loved one worked and cared about others in often dire conditions.

    So sorry for your loss. Another kauri falls.

  3. Carolyn_nth 3

    A life well loved.

    Condolences to Greg and the rest of Don’s family.

  4. Doogs 4

    Wow! Of such stuff are legends made. Heartfelt sympathies to Greg and family. Don is one of a group who carry the flag of a decent society, one we may see again due to recent events.

  5. r0b 5

    We need more like him. Condolences Greg and family…

  6. eco Maori/kiwi 6

    Many thanks for all your hard work Don your legacy will live long.
    You have Imprinted all your decent Kiwi values and morals on US all lets celebrate your great achievements P.S I would like to see his story on MSM. as this will be a good story to support our new Government. Kia ora

  7. swordfish 7

    Very sorry to hear this

    Heartfelt Condolences to Greg, family and friends

  8. John and I are so sorry to hear about this. Don was a great man, always true to the cause and always on the side of working people. Condolences to the whanau.

  9. Anne 9

    My sincere condolences to you also Greg. I met your father once at an ANZAC function in Takapuna hosted by the North Shore Labour Party. It must have been close on 10 years ago now.

    I was also present at that now famous candidate selection meeting which saw David Lange enter parliament. It was an occasion I will never forget. Years afterwards, I discovered something significant about the Moyle Affair which those involved – including Moyle himself – would have wanted to know. But I have had to keep the information to myself because I never found the right person to tell. Your father would have fitted the bill.

  10. cleangreen 10

    Sorry for the loss of Don Presland he indeed was an awesome guy.

    Don was I hero for all of us, so we will always rememer him.

  11. RIP Don and condolences to Greg and all the whānau.

  12. veutoviper 12

    What a wonderful man. My sincere condolences to you, Greg and all other family and whanu members. How appropriate for his funeral to be held today, Labour Day.

  13. Where would we be without the unions? We wouldn’t be a ‘first world’ nation that for sure.

    It is the experiences of people like this that we have to learn from. As soon as the general populace becomes a pushover the capitalists take everything and destroy it. Exactly as we’ve been seeing over the last few decades.

  14. Karen 14

    Very sorry to hear of Don’s death. He was a great character and a legendary fighter for the rights of workers. My sympathy to Greg and to all those who loved him.

    I was lucky enough to meet Don a few years back at the Māngere Cossie Club. My Dad was a Fitter & Turner, and when he was made redundant a few years short of retiring it was the thanks to Don and the Engineers Union that my Dad got a decent deal.

    Thanks Don, for all you did to make the world a better place. RIP.

    • Ad 14.1

      Just come back now from the Mangere Cossie Club for the wake.

      Awesome funeral, full of Labour MPs, Councillors, local boards, union bigwigs.

      Also huge Pacifika event last night for him.

      Fantastic war stories. Just felt uplifted.

  15. Philg 15

    It’s always uplifting to learn of these good folk who worked for others. As someone said, Righties talk of me, Lefties talk of we. Condolences.

  16. Don taught me how to erect a solid and well presented Hoarding. He was not a believer in heavy backing boards!!
    He always had a twinkle in his eye and was interested in everything. You always left his company with a smile and looking forward to seeing him again.
    I suspect he will have been very chuffed to have been a big part of a Labour Day with a Labour government back in power.

    • mickysavage 16.1

      Cheers comrade

      The priest had this lovely description about how on Wednesday night dad got the angel to do a detour to see Winston and tell him that if he did not go with Jacinda he would be going with them instead!

      Everyone laughed although a few of us wondered …

  17. mickysavage 17

    Thanks Ad for the wonderful post and everyone for your kind words. My dad did not believe in melancholy or giving up. He also believed in the collective.

    He used to call progressives “comrade”. He chose this because everyone was treated equal and it reinforced collectivism.

    One of his most used sayings was don’t mourn, organise. Something I intend to do.

  18. tracey 18

    Aroha Greg

  19. Dean Parker 19

    It’s a dreadful 6pm on Labour Day. I’ve only just found out Don died. He used to ring me at least once a week and vent his spleen on all Tories and he could vent with a vengeance.
    He told me wonderful stories about his father, who was in the Communist Party in Hawkes Bay and a freezing worker at Tomoana.
    I’d often finish up a phone call from Don and go to my diary and write one of his phrases into it — “The world’s divided into Micks, Mugs and Masons, comrade…”
    I remember going out to Mangere Market once where he was helping with a Labour Party stall and seeing the respect with which the Mangere community treated him.
    Janet, Greg–it’s a shocking loss but you’re so fortunate to have shared a life like that.


  20. Patricia 20

    My brother Don walked same road all his life– followed in his father’s footsteps Percy Boon Presland, ( one arm and four half fingers) Dad always worked hard
    Don was born with same grit and determination — as youngster Don was determined never budge over any issue if he thought that was the road to walk

    As familly we walked a road today what would be called child poverty– no handouts we were taught cut your cloth according to your needs–

    I admired my Brother we did not always see eye to eye but respect and love I had for him– he will be starting up union in the heavens with Dad keeping an eye on Wily Winston– Don’s family were always first.

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