West Auckland Labour Activist Don Clark’s funeral happened this week, and it’s not often the only song at a funeral is Solidarity Forever.
When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
But the union makes us strong
For the union makes us strong
In 2021 we can if we want decry the decline of the union movement, but if you’re celebrating a life from 1930 the best thing to do is look back and realise what was built, what was good of that, and what good that work did. It is on that organising principle of solidarity that post-war modern New Zealand was built (in using the term ‘post-war’, Don was also a strong pacifist).
Don’s political engagement started in earnest in 1949 when Labour got creamed after a very long time in power. In Labour Youth he met the person who was to become his wife of 60 years, Noreen. Actually they first met in a school staffroom when he threw her a packet of matches when she asked the staffroom for a light for her cigarette. Right there, better than www.match.com, that’s an actual match.
If you’ve ever engaged hard with an experienced national-level campaign manager, you’ll find that they are an exhausting and driven bunch.
They will push volunteers into the earth with door-knocking, phone calling, fundraising, kicking the ass of their candidates who are foolish rubes to start with and believe they own the planet after their first win, and all the rest, and people like Don will do it whether the Party is rising to triumph or tanking into the bottom of the sea. He was 6 foot 4 and his stride counted for double that of all others, or that’s how it felt.
Don’s Gold Badge was won with utter dedication. Opening their doors to Labour Youth in Wellington and then in the 1980s in Titirangi, they gave it their all. I don’t think there was anyone better to run a telephone tree (that thing before Facebook) than Noreen. The Clark’s, and the handful of loyal families who had gone through with Labour in the west right through the 1970s, they were the ones who held up the joint when plenty left in the mid 1980s. We would not be where we are now without them.
There are a few you can still see wanting to be that old-school tentpole-fervour campaign leader. They get paid nothing if anything, and devote themselves to the good of the person who they want elected.
After the election when the dealin’s done they are usually discarded, they suck it up, and keep going because they simply believe in the cause far more than what’s in it for them. Raw altrustic driven belief – a drug better than any elixir of life you could name.
Once in the mid 1950s, Auckland Zoo got its first Orangutan, and it drew quite a big crowd on its first morning. So he marched up to the front of the cage, commanded everyone’s attention, tapped the bars and said “Well Mr Holyoake, now that you’re where you should be …”
You were either a Labour supporter at that point or you weren’t.
He also had a clear idea of what an alternative to untrammelled capitalism would look like, as a fervent supporter of the Fabian Society and by doing a lot of research on the Basque Mondragon collectives.
He was great with his children and grandchildren, could describe one variant of a symphony from another, the students he lectured at AIT adored him, loved good friends around to dinner, and was simply an outstanding guy.
He fought the fight, raised The Standard, mostly won, and he was great to campaign with.
Good work Don. Rest in peace now.