Thursday, January 27, 2005

Farewell to Bill Andersen

I attended a memorial service for prominent Trade Unionist Bill Andersen today. Prominent doesn't actually touch on Bill's contribution, he was one of the most significant figures in New Zealand's industrial history over the past fifty years.

He was there during the 1951 Waterfront lockout, at the epic 1980 Kinleith strike, and went to war with Muldoon, climaxing with his support for Ngati Whatua during the Bastion Point occupation in the mid 1980s.

I have had the privilege of spending a small amount of time with Bill over recent years and quite aside from being impressed by his incredible achievements, I was always in awe of his simple humility and kindness. Despite his reputation and mana he would happily sit and chat with anyone, no matter how great or small. It was Bill who came to the rescue of Young Labour's Clarion Rd tour (see early January post) by lending us the National Distribution Union bus.

Bill was one of the most politically principled people I have ever met. As a dedicated communist and trade unionist, his views tended to the radical end of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, he had a developed enough view of the world to be able to work with other groups with quite different political outlooks to achieve common objectives. For that political inclusiveness, Bill was a well-liked figure, and all too rare.

One funny story that I heard the day he passed away was that during contenscious award negotiations during the early eighties, some cheeky Air NZ bookings staff seated Bill and arch-enemy Muldoon next to each other on a flight from Auckland to Wellington. Bill looked at Muldoon and said "If you agree to what I said yesterday, I'll agree to say nothing for the rest of the flight".

Bill was a man with an absolute dedication to building a fairer society, and improving the lot of ordinary working people. I wish that I could have had more time to talk with him about his incredible life.

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