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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oil company rip-off

The four major oil companies who jointly own New Zealand’s only oil refinery at Marsden Point use their ‘monopolistic’ position to screw the minority shareholders of the refinery out of half the profits they would otherwise be due.

BP, Mobil, Shell and Caltex own nearly 75% of the shares of the NZ Refining Company. They siphon off millions of dollars from the company in a “discount” arrangement which means last year they paid $286 million in processing fees instead of the "gross fee" of $430 million they should have been liable for: a discount of $144 million or 33%.

Up to August this year they have jointly paid only $US149 million instead of the “gross” amount of $US311.8 million they should have coughed up: that is an even greater discount of 48%.

The gross fee is calculated as the amount it would cost to refine the oil into petrol and diesel in Singapore and ship it to New Zealand from there. The costs of refining in New Zealand would undoubtedly be higher than those in Singapore, with its economies of scale, so even the so-called gross fee would be a cheap rate.

Those that lose out from the oil companies' sweetheart deal for themselves are the minority owners of the refinery shares. The 3,000 small shareholders have found a voice in retired banker Dom Kloosterman who calculated the figures above to quantify the “great injustice” done to them by this siphoning off of profits by the oil companies.

Kloosterman calculated that last year’s pre-tax profits should have been $293 million instead of the $149 million that was actually recorded. The $144 million difference was pocketed by the oil companies.

The processing discount arrangement has been in place since 1995. The oil companies have the refinery literally over a barrel because there are no other customers. Annual reviews to the arrangement have brought no real change.

The anti-competitive, oligarchal behaviour of the oil companies is legendary as witnessed by us all with the convenient price setting mechanisms in operation at the petrol pump. New Zealand once had an independent oil company owned by Todd Brothers which, from the 1930s, imported petrol from Russia. This was marketed under the Europa brand until the 1970s when BP bought the company and shut it down.

Monday, December 15, 2008

SFWU in South Auckland - Election 08

The election turnout in Mangere was down 3614 from the 2005 figure (which was 3945 up from 2002). Similar results occurred in Manurewa and Manukau East, with the turnout dropping back to the 2002 levels. It was the turnout drop that cost Labour votes. The National vote hardly increased at all in Mangere (3984 in 2005 to 4120 in 2008 - up a mere 226).

In Manurewa the National vote was also static while the drop in turnout of 4669 was reflected in the drop in the Labour party vote (down 4581). Philip Field's Pacific Party took 909 party votes in Manurewa which otherwise would probably gone to Labour (or maybe other 'Christian' Parties).

In Manukau East, boundary changes brought the strong Labour area of Otahuhu into the electorate which ameliorated the Labour drop. Turnout was down 5707 but the Labour vote was only down 1963 votes. The boundary change was also reflected in the drop in National's vote from 10219 to 6579 (down 3640). Most of this difference went to Labour. The Pacific Party scored 1219 party votes.

It is not really worth looking at comparisons of the Maungakiekie vote because of its change in boundary. The vote was up 3822 in 2005 and up again 4591 in 2008, reflecting the greater National territory now included. Carol Beaumont did well to limit National to a 1030-vote win on the party vote. She had a lot of help from the unions.

The biggest drop in the number of party votes for Labour in any electorate was in Mangere. While maintaining the top percentage for Labour of 61%, the number of party votes was down 5,454. This was because the turnout was down by 3614, and on top of that the Pacific Party took 2683 party-votes. Mangere was Field's HQ and his party had a strong presence in the electorate (aided by large amounts of campaign regalia and many hoardings and signs that would have cost a fortune).

If it had not been for the intervention of the SFWU in the Mangere campaign the result could have been much worse. The local Labour Party was having difficulty making an impact in the electorate. The SFWU supported and initiated street actions and cavalcades. It also helped with targeted-mail delivery and leafleting, as did other unions.

The SFWU gave the campaign a visibility to match that of the flags and flea-market presence of Field's supporters. SFWU red flags, as well as campaign signs and red t-shirts, alongside Labour's and Sio's, became the face of Labour in Mangere.

There is a need strengthen the Labour Party in the South Auckland seats. There is an urgent need to organise an effective network of union member volunteers in these seats.

It is apparent from the extensive election phone-survey and work-site visits conducted by the SFWU during its election campaign, that, while its members are by and large instinctively pro-Labour, their level of political consciousness is generally not well developed.

Unions should not “talk politics” with their members only at Election time. The members deserve more respect. Education and participation in the political process should be on-going.

Election result - lesson for Labour

The problem was two-fold: 5-6% of the middle-ground voters swung back to National, and the Labour message (and record) did not inspire a greater turnout from the working class.

Unsatisfactory Labour Party organisation in many of the working class seats was at least partly responsible for the latter factor.

The 74.7% turnout of all eligible voters in 2008 was down from 76.5% in 2005. This 1.8% drop in turnout represented 56,500 less votes. (The equivalent figures for turnout of enrolled voters were 78.4% in 2008 compared with 80.3% in 2005 - a drop of 1.9%.)

In 2005 it was the extra turnout in the safe Labour seats (like those in South Auckland) that was the difference between winning and losing for Labour. In November's election the slump back to 2002 levels of turnout, combined with the swing to National, meant the end of nine-years of Labour-led government.

Jack Vowles, New Zealand’s pre-eminent election expert, concluded in a 2002 article that the decline in voter turnout evident since the heyday of the 1938-45 period (when over 90% of all eligible voters would get to the polling booths), and the brief revival in 1984 (over 85% turnout), is a result of “weaker party identifications and reduced party campaign contact”.

Political parties, and particularly the Labour Party, have lost their organic connection with the people who make up the electorate that votes them in or out. They no longer have as much direct personal contact with the voters as used to be the case.

The statistical and survey data presented by Vowles revealed that better “organisational mobilisation” by political parties results in higher voter turnout. The “recovery of party organisations and the revival of individual loyalties to political parties” is the key.

I was working on the election campaign as the Political Co-ordinator for the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) during the months leading up to the election. Our campaign showed that over 80% of SFWU members supported Labour. The SFWU has maintained a sense of loyalty to the Labour Party among its members that is not mirrored elsewhere in society, possibly not even in other Labour-affiliated unions.

The Labour Party needs to revive itself as a grass-roots mass working class party if it wants to increase its voter turnout in its heartland seats. The Party Branch and other organisational structures have to become the means of reaching tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, who need to be brought up to a level of party loyalty and identification that matches that already attained in the SFWU. Unions like the SFWU can be the crucial catalyst that enables this to begin to happen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's your bet on the election result?

I say:
39% Labour (48 seats)
6% Greens (7 seats)
5% NZ1st (6 seats)
1% Progressives (1 seat)
43% National (53 seats)
1.2% Act (1 seat)
0.5% Dunne (1 seat)
2% Maori Party (5 seats)
2.3% Others:
Making a 122 seat Parliament.
Make a government out of that!
Someone will.
Labour could if the Greens and NZ 1st come to the party.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jill Ovens - speech to combined union rally Manukau - 27 August 2008

It's great to see so many workers - members of the SFWU and EPMU as well as other unions. We have shown today that when we stand together, when we fight alongside each other, we will be heard!
We're experiencing today the power of workers united; the power of the union and isn't it great?
In the next few weeks the future of New Zealand will be decided by you and all those others who take the time to cast their vote.
The Election this year will be closely fought - much closer than the polls predict, much closer than the media suggests. This is because they represent the interests of big business and they underestimate the power we hold as workers, as family members and as members of our communities.
The choice is stark.
Do we continue with a worker-friendly Government that works for us?
OR do they take control?
Do we entrust John Key with our future, our kids' welfare, our health care, our education system?
Is that what we want?
Can we stop that?

Under Labour we have Kiwi Bank, KiwiSaver, and Kiwi Rail: all owned by us Kiwis, all run for our benefit.
Under National, instead of Kiwi, we will get the "Key Way" which means ALL these will be sold off. They will all end up in the hands of Key's rich mates; to make them even richer.
Is that what we want?
Can we stop that?

This Government works for us. This Government put in $16 million to pay every cleaner, every kitchen worker, every orderly, from Invercargill to Kaitaia at least $14.62 an hour.
That's why when we asked SFWU members at AGMs held all round the country, "Do you want our Union to actively campaign to return a Labour-led Government?", 84% of them said "Yes!"
The Labour Party was built by the trade unions. It is the only mass workers' party in New Zealand. It is our party and it is up to us to make sure it remains our party ... in Government.
That's because, while this Government has delivered much for workers, there is more work to be done.
We need stronger collective bargaining rights across whole industries; like the old Awards.
We need a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
We need to deal with freeloaders.
And we need the right to strike when a Collective Agreement is in force and the employer uses restructuring or the threat of outsourcing to force cuts in conditions, like Air NZ did.
Will National extend our right to strike? Will they stop freeloaders? Will they get us $15 an hour? Will they strengthen collective bargaining?
National is the party of big business. They want to cut workers' rights, especially the rights of new workers. That's what their 90 Day Bill was about and they still plan to do it.
We have an important duty to do over the next eight or nine weeks. We need to make sure our workmates and our whanau are on the Roll.
We need to talk to everyone we know about why it's important to defend our rights at work and all the gains of this Government. That way you don't just have your vote; you get to multiply your influence. If 5000 workers here today talk to 5 people each, that's 25,000 and if those people speak to 5 each, that's 150,000 votes - and that's an extra 6 MPs in Parliament working for us.
That will make the difference in the election
It is our job to mobilise everyone who wants to keep what we have won in the last nine years, everyone who wants to go forward.
We have to turn out on Election Day in numbers never seen before; in Mangere, in Manukau East, in Manurewa, Maungakiekie, Papakura and Botany; to be there in our hundreds of thousands, to vote for "Fairness at Work", to vote for "Workers' Rights", to vote for OUR Government.
Then this country will see the power of the workers; the power of the people.
Who's got the power?
[We've got the power.]
What kind of power?
[Union power!]

It's in our hands.
When you cast your vote on Election Day, vote for workers' rights!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Which side are the Greens on?

After the Green Party conference last weekend, workers are entitled to ask: Which side are the Greens on?
The Green conference decided not to decide until later which of the two main parties, Labour and National, they would support in a coalition government after this year’s general election. In other words, they have not ruled-out that they may support National instead of Labour.
Union members, and workers in general, would not agree that this is an issue you can be neutral or undecided about. They want to know which side the Greens are on: the side of the workers and their party, Labour; or the side of the bosses and their party, National.

Labour “disgusting”, says Norman
Russell Norman, the Green Party co-leader, lumped both Labour and National into the same basket and said they were both “disgusting” and working together in a Grand Coalition, at least on the issue of climate change.
Norman told the Green conference that Labour had backed-down on measures to stop global warming “merely to save their skin come election time.” He was referring to the Government’s decision to delay introducing the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) for transport and not increase petrol tax at this point in time.
When she announced this, Helen Clark made it clear that the delay in including petrol in the ETS was due to the financial pressures on households and businesses and that rising oil prices were reducing petrol use without the need for further petrol-tax increases.
She said the Government had always said it would do something to assist "vulnerable consumers" when they were hit with higher energy bills due to the ETS.
Russell Norman said that he was “particularly disgusted at Labour, the party that was courageous last century in creating the welfare state, in opposing playing sport with whites-only teams and in standing up to the United States to make New Zealand nuclear free. … Now, with the biggest moral issue of our time, Labour has lost its guts. Principle has surrendered to politics.”
Workers might say that rather than losing “its guts”, Labour has done the right thing by them in not increasing petrol prices any further than they already are. I know of people who are being forced to walk many kilometres to work because they cannot afford petrol for their cars. Their bosses, of course, can still afford to drive.

Oil company profits
A recent article on the internet by Greg Palast, the author of a book on war and oil, showed how the big oil companies have deliberately restricted the flow of oil from Iraq since 1928 in order to keep the world price of oil as high as possible. The American war on Iraq is just another rung in the ladder of this on-going policy.
Oil companies have reaped huge windfall profits from the recent price-hikes. Chevron, America’s second biggest oil company, announced a $US18.7 billion profit for 2007 while Exxon Mobil scored the biggest corporate profit in US history, $US40.6 billion.
In New Zealand, the Automobile Association says the profits made by oil companies BP and Shell are “almost obscene”. BP posted a 48 percent increase in the first quarter of 2008, with a profit of $8.5 billion, while Shell's profit jumped 12 percent to $10.1 billion dollars.
AA spokesman Mike Noon said it does not sit well with motorists to see profits that are bigger than telephone numbers, particularly when motorists in New Zealand are hurting so much.
Are the Greens “disgusted” at this sort of profit-gouging by oil companies? They should be!

Need to see policies before deciding?
Norman said the Greens had decided to assess other parties polices and programmes before determining which parties they will work with after the election to form a government. The Greens say they have not seen all the parties’ policies, so they cannot decide yet.
But this is a cop out!
Labour bought back the railways. Do the Greens support that? Of course they do. Would National have done it? No they would not have: they support private ownership of key economic assets.
Under Labour’s leadership, the government brought in a 4th week of annual leave, time-and-a-half pay and a day-in-lieu for working public holidays, cheaper doctors visits and prescription charges, 14-weeks paid parental leave, zero-interest on student loans, 20-hours free child care for 3 and 4 year-olds, extra sick leave, Kiwi Bank, and Kiwi Saver.
They have also legislated for compulsory meal breaks, protected vulnerable workers when there is a change of employer, and before the recent budget tax-cuts had already given tax-cuts for families with children through the “Working for families” package.
And without Labour in government, would SFWU hospital workers have won their big pay increase? No they would not.
Under Labour, the minimum wage has increased every year and is now $12 an hour. This is a 70% increase in eight years.
Crucial for those of us in the trade union movement, Labour repealed the Employment Contracts Act and gave unions the right to organise and bargain collectively.
Would National have done any of these things? The answer is; “No”.
Are these gains safe under a future National government? The answer is again: “No”.
The Greens have supported most, if not all of the good things Labour-led governments have done for workers over the last nine years. Why would they not continue to support Labour? Why don’t they say they will?

Stand together to defeat National
It is clear that for workers (the poor, and the low-paid especially) there is a big difference between Labour and National.
The Greens say they stand for social justice; if that is true then they cannot support National.
On the environment, it is Labour, not National, that has taken up the global warming issue and done something about reducing carbon emissions; in the face of vehement opposition from National.
The Greens should stop posturing and give Labour the support it deserves and needs. The Greens should take a strong stand against National and its big-business, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda.
We have to stand together to defeat National.

Friday, April 11, 2008

SEIU - Centralism trumps Democracy by Herman Benson

From Benson's Union Democracy Blog

On "democratic" centralism: Stern's illusion and democracy's nightmare
By Herman Benson

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and labor's latest celebrity, seems to be resurrecting a neglected ideology: the concept of a militarized "democratic" centralism. For him and his followers, the hope of imposing it upon a newly invigorated labor movement may be a utopian illusion. For union democracy, it is a nightmare. Hints, but only hints, of his underlying philosophy were implicit in his schemes for reorganizing his own SEIU and the whole labor movement. But its trend has become manifest as he is apparently moving to crush critics on the west coast, impose a repressive trusteeship over the 140,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West, and cut down Sal Rosselli, its president.

In February this year, Rosselli resigned from the SEIU International Executive Committee so that he could feel free to criticize what he charged was the "undemocratic practices we have experienced first hand." The SEIU convention was coming up at the end of May. "In good conscience," he wrote, "I can longer allow simple majorities of the Executive Committee to outweigh my responsibility to our members to act out of principle on these critically important matters. I say this with no ill will, but with a deep sense of conviction." [Rosselli to Stern 2/9/08]

They differ over bargaining strategy, over the role of the international and locals, over the right of the membership to veto the merger and dissolution of local unions, over whether to go easy on employers to get a foot in the door for unionism. The issues in dispute are not trivial, and the charges and countercharges are correspondingly harsh. Rosselli accuses the Stern people of "company unionism" and "top-down organizing" to beef up membership statistics by any means whatsoever. They denounce him for sabotaging the SEIU drive to organize, for falsifying the record, for hypocritically benefiting from policies he now derogates.

This is no idle talk at a cocktail party; it is a serious difference over policy. He attacks vigorously; they reply in kind. So far, routine. That's what democracy is for, to allow an outlet even for the bitterest of debates. But the problem is that Rosselli's critics go beyond denouncing him for criticizing. They would make his very right to criticize illicit. And, because they are armed with organizational power, they would resolve the dispute not simply by democratic decision but by suppression. The irony is that they wrap autocratic intentions in the flag of a democratic "majority". Rosselli, they insist, must go along with the "majority." But a majority in power can always take care of itself. The essence of democracy is to preserve an orderly means of opposing a majority.

In replying to its self-posed question, "What is real union democracy?" The SEIU's anti-Rosselli web site, "Fact Checker," pandering to the bias against any genuine spirit of democracy asks, "Is democracy abiding by majority rule just when you like the outcome but ignoring it when you don't?" But democracy, as we practice it in America, cherishes precisely the right of a minority to oppose the majority. "Fact Checker" continues in line with what has become official SEIU ideology, "Is it democracy when 11 out of 12 workers in an industry are not even at the table?" What they mean by this muddle is what they have suggested before more clearly: members must abstain from exercising their union democracy until most workers, now nonunion, are organized. By that standard, union democracy must wait patiently for a long time, perhaps forever.

They use the boilerplate language available to any overbearing union official annoyed anytime by any critical dissident. Mary Kay Henry, international executive SEIU vice president, writes in the course of a long attack on Rosselli [ website 3/25/08], "he is giving employers ammunition to use against workers..."

Three members of the SEIU international executive committee found Rosselli's decision to speak out impermissible. "Just as we expect members of our local unions to unite behind a common strategy after there has been a full debate," they wrote, "and a majority has reached a democratic decision, we as leaders must do the same." There it is. Once a "democratic decision" is reached everyone, members and leaders, must swallow their opinions, keep quiet, and toe the line. We discuss, we decide, we unite, you shut up, we remain a fighting force. If you open your mouth against the line we discipline you. (How some might love to apply this principle to the Iraq War! The irony in this case is that, as they wrote, the SEIU was on the eve of an international convention to open in three months. If now is not the time for that democratic discussion, when?) [Regan et al to Rosselli 2/11/08]

That same tone now permeates life in the SEIU. In 2006, as the SEIU was about to run a membership referendum on creating those huge California megalocals, Stern turned the union into one advocacy monolith to guarantee a favorable outcome. He ordered, "All local unions, union officers, and assigned staff must fully cooperate in the implementation and transition process to assure that this decision is carried out in an orderly fashion... No union funds, resources or staff may be used to oppose, interfere or undermine in any way the IEB determination in this matter." (The referendum carried, but according to one report, only 16% of the membership voted.)

In the same spirit, applicants for appointment to the executive board of the new 45,000-member Local 521 had to sign an oath of loyalty to the union administration, including these assurances: "I will not ... engage in personal attacks on other members, staff, or leaders at unions meetings, in the press, or other literature, or venues". Once a decision has been made, I will support that decision to members and others... I will not ... take ... legal action against the union for actions they take in their legal role as leaders as long as I remain a member of this appointed board or committee." Come weal, come woe; high or low, no one can remain in any official union position and ever ever act against any misdeeds by other officials.

Here then is how the labor movement would operate if the system being implanted by Stern could take root and flourish: A policy is adopted, say at the international convention, the union's highest constitutional authority --- for the sake of argument we make the generous assumption that it has been a "democratic" decision. Then for the next five years until the next convention (four years for the SEIU) every union institution and representative, must fall in line. No criticism permitted: every hired staff employee, every elected officer in every local and in the international, every steward appointed or elected, every editor and PR spokesperson, every executive board member of every local must propagate the vaunted "democratic" decision. None can oppose it or publicly express misgivings on pain of swift dismissal. Stern envisions a monolithic disciplined army of thousands, all spouting the politically correct official line. After five years, during which everyone sang the same notes in harmony, comes the next convention; and at last, presumably, democracy's brief moment has arrived.

Proceedings at the convention, as always, are carefully manipulated by the administration. Under the Stern regimen, those in power will already have been safely protected against criticism for the previous five years. If, at the convention, venturesome critics are unusually resilient, if they are not demoralized by five years of deadly uniformity, if they are lucky enough to get the floor and keep it before the question is called, they might get five minutes in the sun, maybe even seven or ten. Then it is all over. The delegates, people who knew how to stay on top during those five silent years, adopt the new official policy. The period for "democratic" debate is over. Time to unite and fight and bite your tongue. Five new silent years loom.

But is this bureaucrat's dream likely to come alive? Perhaps in part, but never in full panoply. By now, websites and the Internet afford too many ways for members and officers alike to evade the proscriptions on democracy. Federal law offers some protection for civil liberties for members in their unions. Stern will never have full scope for the fulfillment of his dream; nevertheless, as we see in California, federal law and the union constitution still provide ample means for chilling dissent.

More resources on Change to Win and SEIU:
See Benson's Union Democracy Blog for several articles
Healthcare leader raps Stern; quits SEIU board
SEIU rearranges 600,000 into mega locals
Debate on Union Democracy and Change to Win
If you can't woo 'em, sue 'em! An ingenious twist in punishing dissent in the SEIU
SEIU's Unite to Win blog reviewed.
Local 509 asks questions about democracy in the SEIU
New Unity Partnership:Sweeney Critics would bureaucratize to organize.
Service Employees: Mass. merger in Local 888.
Benson's Union Democracy blog.
Student Labor Activists support union democracy.
Articles on the Labor Notes site on NUP from various sources.
See UDR articles on the Carpenters (UBCJA) for case studies in merger and bureaucratization.
Several articles on the New Unity Partnership are available on the BC Carpenters website.
Find articles on the consolidation of power in the Carpenters union on the main UDR page.
An exchange on union democracy between Herman Benson and Steve Fraser, on the website (click on Fraser's name for a link to his article)
Links to rank-and-file websites in the NUP unions: Carpenters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Laborers, Needle Trades (UNITE), Service Employees (building services, public employees).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hone's Tangi by Sally James

Len Richards & I intended to make our way leisurely to Kaikohe to be on the marae for the last night and the funeral the following day on Wednesday but on Tuesday morning it was announced on the 7am news that Hone Tuwhare was to be interred that afternoon, the same day as Ed Hillary's state funeral. We left an hour an a half later after a plate of bacon and eggs. Just as well as it was a long time before we ate again.
It was a sad wee tangi with a LOT of god-bothering. He had four ministers, one made no mention of him specifically, two said they knew nothing about him, only what they had learned the night before from the speeches on the Marae, but there was a Tuhoe guy, Wayne Tekaawa who had trained in Dunedin who knew Hone well. Nice guy.
It said on the news there were 150 people. There may have been before the burial but it was more like sixty after the ceremony.
No one at the marae knew the Tuwhares as they had left such a long time ago. One of the local speakers even said “apparently he was a great poet" and most of them read poems about god that they had written or came from from other sources (like the Psalms).
The house was divided more or less equally: the mainly Pakeha visitors on one side and the local Maori on the other and the family at the end where the body lay in an open casket. It was problems with the body in the heat that apparently prompted the bringing forward of the funeral.
Hone’s son Rob said many times that this was the end of the hikoi (from Dunedin where 500 people farewelled Hone) and that it was his granddaughter Moana that insisted that he come home. It just did not feel like his home though to a mere visitor.
At one point Pat Hohepa welcomed newcomers to the marae but with no waiata and we were told there should have been two speakers. In my mind Hone is as important as Ed Hillary and yet they could not get another speaker for him.
There was no mention of his being a boilermaker or a socialist. The local people concentrated on religion.
It seemed to be the original family taking him home: Jean (McCormack), Hone’s wife from 1948 until around 1970, their three sons (Rewi, and the twins Robert and Andrew) along with their families.
Jean’s younger brother Duncan told Len that he had no time for the arty people and that Jean had not collaborated in the writing of Hone's biography because she wanted to maintain her privacy.
At the graveside Len sprinkled some dirt on the coffin and called out: “Hey Hone, have a beer with Marx, Lenin & Mao when you get there” – a reference to the last verse of Hone’s poem Old Comrade written on the death of Jim Jamieson.
Two women approached the grave together and said: “This is for you Shirley” as they sprinkled ashes, presumably of Shirley Grace, into the grave. “Together at last,” they said.
Ngahuia [previously Volkerling] was probably the only representative of the Maori Writers & Artists. Dun Mihaka was there, as was Tame Iti as a pall bearer although he did not come in for the religious bit.
As we wound towards the cemetery I did notice one woman came out to watch but that night in the pub we spoke to a couple of blokes from Dargaville who work with dairy cows (thousands of them) and they had never heard of Hone.
He did not want to be buried up north and yet there he was taken to be amongst strangers. According to Janet Hunt’s biography, Hone Tuwhare, published in 1998, his wish was to be cremated and his ashes scattered on the waters of the four harbours he had most connection with – Hokianga, Waitemata, Whanganui-a-Tara and Otakou.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Farewell to an old comrade (Hone Tuwhare)

Len Gale farewells Hone Tuwhare, his old comrade and workmate at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops.

PEOPLE'S POET 1922---2008
Hone Tuwhare was a part of the fragile bridge that exists between workers in struggle, the political left movement and their allies, art workers.
Hone laboured alongside his father on market gardens as a child. He had little schooling, yet he scored well in his trade exams as an apprentice boilermaker at the Otahuhu Railway Workshops.
That’s where he received his grounding in Marxism, where he also met Gorky and Steinbeck as well as Lenin. Otahuhu was his university. Towards the end of WWII Hone and his mates joined the army and eventually served in the J-force, the Western allies' occupation force in Japan, where he found a role as singer/lyric writer.
Hone went on to work and learn on Hydro construction sites in the Waikato. He ventured into the Pacific, teaching fellow Polynesians welding and trade unionism.
Gradually his talents were recognised. The publication of his first book of poems, No Ordinary Sun, put academia on notice. Here was a grass roots talent!
At public functions Hone never felt at ease with the upper crust and he often clowned around to send them up.
Hone severed his membership with the NZ Communist Party at the confusing time of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, yet he remained a Marxist to the end.
Janet Hunt’s biography Hone Tuwhare is a quite wonderful book about a unique man who could laugh in prose and in verse at the trials of a lifetime, who was at home in both the Maori and the Pakeha worlds. Hone was a taonga that comes this way so rarely.
Len Gale.