Chair’s Report 2020

The LHP AGM, on Tuesday evening, 11 August, was a most enjoyable event attended by 70 people (our biggest number of attendees yet!) . The Covid gods were smiling on us, as it was only hours later we received the news of renewed community transmission in Tamaki-makau-rau. My love to you all as we continue to navigate the impacts of this.

My 2019-2020 Chair Report (see below) captures the work of the LHP Committee, and is full of thanks for you all – ngā mihi ki a koutou. We also announced the Bert Roth Award, which you can also read about in this issue of the Bulletin. Rod Prosser filmed the AGM speakers: Malcolm McKinnon, ‘Politics and protest in a time of crisis: New Zealand 1930-35’, Cybèle Locke, ‘Snapshots of the 1930s Depression: Rātana, Unemployed Workers and Trade Unions’ and Sam Orchard, ‘We are Beneficiaries: using art to share stories’ and they are available to watch online here.

I want to begin by acknowledging the incredible work of the Labour History Project Committee – Russell Campbell, Peter Clayworth, Jared Davidson, Ciaran Doolan, Claire-Louise McCurdy, Therese O’Connell, John Ryall, Ross Teppett, Sue Shone and Ross Webb. Thank you for all your after-hours, voluntary work for the LHP. Sadly, Therese O’Connell is stepping down from the Committee tonight; we will miss her feisty feminist wisdom.

When the new LHP Committee first met to plan the year, we realised we were a small Committee and would need to build our capacity in order to do big projects. It was in this context, we decided to put the Graphic History project on hold until we had the people resources to do. John Ryall agreed to join our Committee, but then we lost Ciaran, who moved to Auckland in February. The focus for the rest of 2019 was the Rona Bailey biennial lecture and the special-themed Bulletin – Winning Ways – moments when people’s struggles were won, edited by Paul Maunder. Dean Parker’s Rona Bailey lecture here last October was a glorious, moving, funny account of his life. And thankfully, it was filmed by Rod Prosser and put on our website so you can all watch it as often as you like. Dean’s sudden death during lockdown was a terrible loss, and we mourn him.

The Labour History Project Bulletin continues as the mainstay of our work. Paul Maunder, with our help, brings together a diverse array of insightful labour history work. The Winning Ways special issue, we hope, will be a useful educational resource for trade union work for quite some time to come. We had so many plans for 2020, and then came Covid-19, and we retreated to our bubbles to collectively see out the virus – which we did. Long may that continue. The Committee had our first zoom meeting and put all event organising on hold. Our letter of protest at cuts to Archives hours and culling of books at National Library was put on ice until those institutions came out of lockdown. Our digitisation of the Bulletin project was put on hold because we needed to scan National Library holdings. Work on the Bulletin continued during the Rahui and I was so proud of us for producing Issue 78 in April. In every other way, it felt like April disappeared from the year 2020. Paul’s excellent initiative of including interviews with retiring trade unionists continued with Ged O’Connell and Syd Keepa featuring in that issue. Ross Webb’s leadership on the News and Reviews section of the Bulletin is excellent. Thank you to all who contribute: article, news and reviews writers, copyeditors, and design work.

The growing unemployment crisis inspired us to reflect on historical examples of organised unemployed workers, and the AGM talks you hear tonight reflect that. We are also planning a Symposium on this year’s special theme, From Kinleith to the dole queue: workers’ struggles in the 1980s, later in the year. These talks will then be the substance of the special-themed Bulletin, coming out in December. Our overwhelmingly Pākehā Committee committed to reading ‘Ngā Rerenga o te Tiriti’, a guide for engaging organisations with the Treaty of Waitangi, so we can begin this process.

Ross Webb led the 2019 Bert Roth Award judging subcommittee of Claire-Louise, Mark Derby, Paul Maunder and me. It was another fantastic opportunity to review the wealth of talent out there and Ross will have more on that tonight.

Jared Davidson continues to do excellent website and social media work for our organisation. I want to specially thank Claire-Louise McCurdy and Russell Campbell for their administrative, financial and membership work that keeps us such a healthy organisation. So much so, we granted Lyndy McIntyre $2000 towards the history she is writing on the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa.

In January 2020, I agreed to become the NZ Representative for the Australian-based journal Labour History for three years. I attend monthly Editorial Working Party meetings to discuss submissions and reviews, and plan future issues of the journal. My hope is this role will lead to greater comradeship with Australian labour historians.

Finally, I want to thank you – our members – who sustain the work we do, even during a pandemic.

Kia kaha Labour History Project

Cybèle Locke