Police spied on Unite Union too

Written By: - Date published: 3:09 pm, December 18th, 2008 - 42 comments
Categories: national/act government, police, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

Matt McCarten, head of the Unite Union, has just released emails showing police informant Rob Gilchrist gave the police spy unit details about activities being organised by the union as part of their push to abolish youth pay rates and increase the minimum wage.

‘These emails give lie to the police claim that only potential criminal actions by individuals were being targeted. A wide range of legal actions by unions, political parties and peace and justice groups came under the evil eye of the police. There is no evidence that the actions of Gilchrist were in any way discouraged by the police.

‘We need a full public inquiry into the actions of the police spy unit whose actions have clearly gone way beyond any legal mandate,” said Mr McCarten.

So, now we have not just peaceful environmental, animal rights and anti-war groups being spied on, but political parties and trade unions too. This is far too close to home for my liking – now it’s personal.

You may recall the first thing Judith Collins did as Police Minister was to make a media splash about the need to crack down on the perceived “politicisation” of the police. You’d think a coordinated campaign to spy on peaceful left-wing political movements under the guise of anti-terrorism would be reason enough for a public inquiry, but apparently not.

No doubt her reaction would be very different if it were Business NZ and the Sensible Sentencing Trust in the gun, but I guess Judith doesn’t mind politicisation after all. Just so long as it’s her enemies that are getting the stick.

UPDATE: More detail from No Right Turn here – seems Unite wasn’t the only union the police were spying on. NZPA has a report here.

Update 2: The EPMU have weighed in and they don’t sound happy – SP.

42 comments on “Police spied on Unite Union too”

  1. justthefacts 2

    How delicious, the unions being spied on by the Labour government.

    [lprent: You are an idiot – the police are truly independent. The police watch everyone that they find suspicious, ie all of us in varying degrees. It has bugger all to do with what government is there. I suggest that you read the Police Act 2008]

  2. gobsmacked 3

    If you increase the minimum wage, then the terrorists have WON.

    Seriously, this is disgusting, as is the “see no evil” reaction of the politicians. Perhaps John Boscawen will organise a march to defend our basic freedoms.

    PS “JusttheFacts” – this is about basic right and wrong, not tiresome cheerleading for the colour of one team or the other. If you can’t get that, I pity you.

  3. Lew 4

    JTF: I see paranoid idiots who still think that the police is subject to direct operational control by the government still exist.


  4. How delicious, the unions being spied on by the Labour government.

    Technically, by the police. but the fact they were allowed to get so out of control under Labour does not reflect well on that party.

    Perhaps John Boscawen will organise a march to defend our basic freedoms.

    There’s a Tui billboard in that.

  5. Bill 6

    I’m getting reminded of something I heard abut the Stasi. Obsessive, compulsive gathering of information. Problem was they ended up with so much info they couldn’t do anything with it…anything that might have been valuable (from their perspective) was lost in a general tsunami of bollox and bullshit.

    I think we ought not to kid ourselves. The police are always interested in ANY activity that is ‘dissident’. That includes unions. No matter how conservative they are or might be they are by mere definition ‘dissident’.

    The point is that much of the info they got was , presumably, more or less public knowledge anyway. (If Gilchrist was passing on union emails, those same emails would have been going to how many other people? Obviously not just members unless Gilchrist was spending a proportion of his ill gotten gains on multiple union memberships)

    At the end of the day, anyone doing something seriously dodgy will be slipping under the radar (easily) because of the way they operate. So the police are idiotic time wasters. What’s new?

    Send them the info. Lots of it. Ask for a mailing address, an email address and send them absolutely everything and anything. You going to have a sausage sizzle at that next picket? Send them the preferred brand of sausage, the BBQ make, who’s cooking…….

  6. And all this happened under the labour government?

    Who the heck would waste their time spying on freakin Unions?

    Unless there are corrput members who are doing illegal activities.

    [lprent: You starting to get my point now? The police have very little to do with politics.]

  7. IrishBill 8

    The fact that three of the unions EPMU, SFWU and MUNZ that have had their activities monitored are affiliated to the Labour party suggests to me that the government was unfamiliar with the operational detail.

    This does not excuse them in the least however and it certainly strengthens the case for an inquiry.

  8. mike 9

    Oh shit ……..

    ….and it has all been done by the LARBOUR party. This poice division was set up by LABOUR.

    Oh bugger.

  9. Billy 10

    Did anyone notice DPF’s suggestion that the new Minister of Police doesn’t want to start the job, by undermining the Commissioner.

    Why not, I wonder?

    The previous government sorted him out early on and never had any trouble thereafter.

  10. Bill 11

    Wonder if Gilchrist is piloting any of those flying spy pigs in the sky planes in the Waikato? According to TV3 last night, he wasn’t answering his phone ’cause he was ‘travelling’….

    Hmm, ground to air anyone?

  11. Felix 12

    Billy, ??


    “Unless there are corrput members who are doing illegal activities.”

    Does that sound like a job for the police anti-terrorist group (SIG) to you?

  12. toad 13

    Bill said: According to TV3 last night, he wasn’t answering his phone ’cause he was ‘travelling’ .

    Overseas, I suspect, so it’s more difficult to track him down. And travel paid for by the Police, I also suspect. They wouldn’t want him spilling the beans in a loose moment under media pressure.

  13. Actually Rob is still at home – and has been since the story broke. I spoke to him last night (called his home landline). That message is simply for the benefit of the media.

  14. Billy 15


    Did he promise he would change if you gave him one more chance?

    Men are bastards. They don’t.

  15. This has been going on for years. When i was on the National Exec of the Electoral Reform Coalition, my mail from overseas began arriving – every single peice – wrapped in plastic or taped up and all had a “Opened by Customs” sticker on it. This went on between 1989 and 1994.

    A few weeks before the MMP referendum in 1993, the ERC offices were broken into and all the computers stolen – but money and other valuables were untouched. I had expected dirty tricks and had warned Phil Saxby to ensure frequent backups of data were taken and stored off site. My worst fears were realised in full.

    Living on Johnsonville, after becoming National secretary of the ERC, my telephone started doing strange things…..

    There is no doubt that we were being spied on and when the time came, direct action was taken to subvert the pro-MMP campaign. The latter might not have been the state, but the former certainly was.

    One of the people on the ERC exec was an SUP member. I was one of the few who was not a member of any party.

    NZ governments – Labour and National – have allowed domestic spying on the people going about their rightful and legitimate political business.

    Been there. Experienced it first hand.

  16. Tane 17

    I’ve deleted three off-topic comments from the usual right-wing trolls. Please stick to the topic of the thread rather than trying to jack it.

  17. rave 18

    A good thing may come out of this which is to dispel the notion widespread on the left that the police are supposed to be class neutral and can be kept in check by left wing governments. This is because they think that the state is inherently neutral in relation to whether you are a property owning citizen or not.

    Labour stood by when National used emergency powers, enacted by Labour in the 30s and WW2, against the unions during the 1951 lockout. Labour has increased police powers since 2001 under the pretext of Bush’s ‘war of terror’. Though a lockout, the problem for the bosses was that their goods werent getting to market.

    The ‘abuse’ of police powers is not really abuse. It’s normal use. The police are empowered to defend private property and property owning persons. Witness property owner who kills a person who defaces said property and is widely held to be justified but given a token sentence to pretend that all individuals are really equal under the law regardless of which bands they like. But theyre not.

    Everyone who threatens the private property rights of citizens can expect to be repressed. Spied on (long history), threatened (anyone in protests since 2001 will have had plainclothes cops introduce themselves naming the protestors and saying they know all about them), and physically attacked and locked up. The defence of these rights can only come from mass protest and actions. Might is right on the night.

    This is what we expect when we stand up for democracy or elementary labour rights against the capitalist system. The capitalist system includes the state which is in the last analysis based on the force of the secret police, the cops and the armed forces. If it werent for that elementary fact, most workers would have refused to be exploited by bosses and expropriated private property at least a century ago.

  18. Janet 19

    Threats to national security in NZ are surely more likely to come from forces on the right, than the left. Why aren’t the police watching those coming into NZ unannounced by private jet or luxury yacht, or giving money to right wing political organisations? Or maybe they are?

  19. Rex Widerstrom 20

    lprent suggests:

    The police watch everyone that they find suspicious, ie all of us in varying degrees. It has bugger all to do with what government is there.

    Whilst justhefacts contends:

    the unions being spied on by the Labour government

    In my experience (as opposed to opinion) you’re both right. The Police spy obsessively on anyone they see as as suspicious and they are a willing tool of their political masters. Not just Labour, though, and not just the government of the day (though it’s them they’re most intent on pleasing).

    They’re smart enough to know that the continued turning of a blind eye to their hijinks depends on keeping politicians of all persuasions beholden. Just witness the new Minister’s weak performance.

    Same applies to the media. How weak would most bulletins be if it wasnt for all the crime stories, carefully allocated according to how easy a ride the Police get from a particular reporter.

    I come from a completely different political perspective to rave, yet I agree wholeheartedly with all but his last paragraph above. That must tell you something.

  20. gingercrush 21

    How pleasing to see rave use another topic for his absurd argument for workers to overthrow capitalism. And then we get Janet with another attack on the right and calling them criminals instead of the left.

    Why rave insists we listen to his pathetic arguments and opinions about workers is beyond me. Why Janet uses this to attack the right is beyond me as well. I’m sorry but it was Labour in power. This isn’t a left/right matter its the police. End of.

    [lprent: They get let through because they argue their viewpoint coherently, cogently, and on topic. I don’t think that rave or Janet has ever raised my site protection instincts. Of course calling into question peoples access to comment here does….

    Personally I agree with your viewpoint – that the police are off in a universe of their own.

    However that doesn’t make the viewpoint of rave and Janet something that is not worth having. It is just something that you have to explain why you don’t like it and why you think it is incorrect, or you just ignore it.

    The ones that get banned are the ones who try to trash the site, usually by attempting to prevent discussion – ie from the policy. Most recently for me was giving ‘sod the heave for a week for trying to start flames (which he is whining about on SodBlog 😈 ]

  21. Usual right-wing troll 22

    [lprent: Bye dad]

  22. Pascal's bookie 23

    hey ginger, you seem to have picked up a few rhetorical diseases. Would I be wrong in assuming that you’ve been hanging out at KB?

    rave doesn’t insist we read his arguments any more than you insist we read your commentary. The fact that things are beyond you, doesn’t rebut them in the least. If you are going to label things as ‘absurd’ and ‘pathetic’, then I’m guessing that you could in fact rebut them if you chose to do so. I’d like to see you try actually.

    I don’t agree wholeheartedly with rave on a lot of things, (I’m more of a Rawlsian liberal than a Marxist), but I enjoy reading his perspective. Apart from the fact that you support the National Party I’m not yet sure what your perspective even is. I know you claimed to be a neo liberal, but it turned out you weren’t too precise in your own mind about what that meant. I doubt anyone could say the same about rave.

    I guess I’m just saying that your royal ‘we’ doesn’t include me. So speak for yourself. ok?

  23. Daffodil Gal 24

    GC: I totally disagree. When the police are covertly gathering intelligence on the workings and actions of a wide variety of groups that support left-wing ideals, including trade unions ffs, it is a deeply left/right matter.

    Rave is exercising his human right to freedom of expression and he’s not insisting that you listen- you can exercise your own human right to bugger off elsewhere if you so desire.

    Change the record, I think it’s stuck. It doesn’t matter who was in government. I just want to know how the whole Gilchrist charade got so far and went on for so long without someone within the police blowing the whistle…

    Janet is absolutely right in that most of the groups that were being surveilled were groups centred around ideals that would strongly oppose any violent terrorist action. Unite and Greenpeace hardly pose a risk to National security! By the way, nobody called anybody a criminal.


  24. RedLogix 25


    Rawlsian liberal

    Blogs at their best; one learns something new every day… thanks.

  25. Ag 26

    The police spying on unions engaging in regular union activities? If nothing gets done about this, then I really can’t see the point of regular political activism in New Zealand. Why bother if the police are going to engage in politically motivated espionage? Lord knows who else gets access to this information. Based on some of the cops I’ve known I can take a wild guess.

    And people used to criticize me for loathing and distrusting the police.

    At least we can console ourselves with the fact that they are for the most part incompetent.

  26. Usual right-wing troll 27

    [lprent: Bye dad]

  27. Pascal's bookie 28

    Daffodil Gal, hey, you should comment more often 🙂

    red: lately I’ve been trying to read a couple of articles from here:


    each weekend, while the toddler naps. That page is on Rawls links but the search function is truly awesome. Any damn philosophical idea you can think of gets a working over, and all for free.

    Kids these days don’t even know they’re born I tell you.

  28. Ari 29

    Rawls was the one who thought that a fair society was the one with the veil of ignorance stuff, right?

    I rather liked the idea that a fair society would be one you’d agree to with everyone else if you didn’t know in advance whether you would be female or male, rich or poor, gay or straight, one race or another, etc…

  29. Pascal's bookie 30

    Yep, that’s him.

  30. Peter Davis 31

    [Tane: D4J, you’re still banned.]

  31. Chris G 32

    I actually liked Raves comment and particularly his last paragraph, GC.

    I dont think its off topic at all, the monitoring of the unions is part of the supression of the workers that rave speaks of in his final paragraph… Surely you can see the direct link GC? I sure hope the KB mud doesnt get your clothes dirty GC cos I like reading what you have to say.

    Further, how pathetic is that, monitoring Unite? Once again I’ll say, why weren’t the cops looking at the gang members down the road? Lets not pretend gangs are a small thing in NZ, they perpetuate the drug trade (Fact) and permeate beyond south auckland and porirua (Fact) Now in answer to that all I’ll hear is: Labour was in power, haha! – Irrelevant, think of something useful to say.

    Surely Johnny Friendly and Rodney the Razor should be all over these shenanigans and clamping down on this gross waste of taxpayers money? or do they not care because they were monitoring unions and left-wing groups? ahhhh… I see now.

  32. the sprout 33

    unlike the blinkered tragic bores of the gc variety, i ALWAYS read rave’s comments and am generally inclined to agree with his analyses.

    i guess what rave says is just waaaay too threatening for the very brittle realities of fear-addled righties.

  33. Swampy 34

    There’s always a lot of spouting by the left, even the most extreme, that their activities are peaceful, yet for some they are renowned for militancy and physical intimidation when it suits them. In fact it seems to be those who are the most shrill about “peaceful” protests who are the most likely to resort to physical force when it suits them.

    Granted, there is extremism on both sides of the political spectrum yet the proportionality as such falls significantly greater on the left wing. It is of course the same left wing who are whining the loudest, as always, about being spied on. Given that plenty of lefties want to abolish the armed forces and the SIS a sense of perspective is sadly lacking. The police are right to believe that most of the extremists like the Animal Liberation Front and Save Happy Valley are connected within milder left wing groups and to be keeping an eye on these groups.

  34. Swampy 35

    Dear Lew: Labour stood for politicisation of the public service.

  35. Swampy 36

    IrishBill: MUNZ are unaffiliated, aren’t they?
    Perhaps you are confused with RMTU which is affilated.

    I would expect MUNZ affiliated with the SUP given their record.

  36. Swampy 37

    Withers: The police are interested in groups which, say, advocate overturning democratic government in favour of communism or some other kind of one party state. This is no different from the activity that saw William Sutch picked up for being in contact with a Soviet diplomat. The polarisation of public opinion then and since has followed predictable patterns.

    If your group had an SUP member on board it is hadly surprising the police would be interested in them and by extension any groups they were involved in.

    I’d love to ask union members who talk about democracy and human rights why they are all so eager to support Cuba, Soviet Russia and China, none of which have or did have any such thing.

    [lprent: or supported by an MBA? like me? I support independent unions regardless of their political affiliations. I regard those that don’t as reactionary or communist fuckwits. – what are you?]

  37. Ag 38

    “Withers: The police are interested in groups which, say, advocate overturning democratic government in favour of communism or some other kind of one party state.”

    Oddly enough, they’ve never seemed interested in groups which were supportive of Pinochet’s program of reforms in Chile, or of companies that dealt with authoritarian regimes.

    Trying to paint the police as some politically neutral force is not going to cut it. When it comes to the crunch, the police always side with the right. That just means that if you are on the left, the police are always in the end an enemy and trust in them must always be qualified.

    If the police choose to soil themselves by being hired goons for tories, then in my view they make themselves legitimate targets.

    “This is no different from the activity that saw William Sutch picked up for being in contact with a Soviet diplomat.”

    I’d say the Cold War being over makes it very different.

  38. Anita 39


    If your group had an SUP member on board it is hadly surprising the police would be interested in them and by extension any groups they were involved in.

    Why? In what sense is the SUP a significant threat to New Zealand?

  39. Bill 40

    I’ve never been a member of a political org; never practised or advocated violence; have no criminal record and certainly do not support the types of authoritarian LW groups you refer to.

    Yet I have been variously monitored by the SIS ( phone tap, surveillance and a ‘request’ that I be interviewed) as well as put under surveillance by the police.

    Any thoughts?

  40. Pascal's bookie 41

    Bill you are clearly a fellow traveler, a useful idiot, objectively pro communist and would probably have been prematurely antifascist.

    A Threat to the liberal western state in other words, and it is only proper that you be deprived by that state of your liberal rights. Obviously.

    swmpy, the right uses the state for it’s violence.

  41. Lew 42

    Dear Swampy: nobody credible believes that; only those who have some partisan point to make from saying so.

    Incidentally, this whole schtick of tarring anyone not a NACT voter with the Communist Revolutionary brush is very dull. Nobody credible actually thinks that Cuba, China or the Soviet Union are better off than we are under liberal democracy, either.


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