Birthday Wishes: The NZ Labour Party Is 105 Years Old.


ON 7 JULY 1916 the New Zealand Labour Party came into formal existence. That decision was not made in the mining town of Blackball, on the South Island’s West Coast, but in Wellington. The number of New Zealanders who still believe that the Labour Party was formed by the radical coal-miners of Blackball would easily outnumber those who know the true circumstances of its birth. To be fair, Labour has done very little to dispel this historical myth. Even today you will find Labour MPs posing proudly before the fading slogans of the Blackball miners’ union hall. As if, by some strange historical osmosis, the genuine socialism of the men and women of 1908 could be absorbed into the neoliberal souls of twenty-first century Labour MPs.

Labour’s blatant misrepresentation of its own history continues. In a message to members and supporters, Labour’s deputy-leader, Kelvin Davis, celebrated the party’s 105th anniversary by sending out a self-congratulatory message featuring this extraordinary review of Labour’s past leaders:

“I want to acknowledge all our leaders, past and present. From Michael Joseph Savage, who moved furniture into the first state house way back in 1937, to Peter Fraser who was involved in setting up the United Nations. From Norm Kirk who helped Aotearoa recommit to Te Tiriti, to David Lange who said no to nukes and yes to the rainbow community. From Helen Clark who helped us Kiwis save for tomorrow, to Jacinda Ardern who stood up to hate and stood up for our health.”

It is difficult to know where to begin with this crude travesty of Labour’s history.

Perhaps the first thing to note is the author’s (who may, or may not, be Davis) utter contempt for historical accuracy. He or she has cynically gathered together a grab-bag of “progressive” causes and assigned them – almost at random – to the heroes of Labour’s past and present. Tragically, this travesty will pass unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of the message’s recipients. For all intents and purposes, their knowledge of Labour, and New Zealand, history is non-existent. As a political and ideological community, the Labour Party no longer possesses the human resources necessary to pass on the stories that shaped the labour movement. Those who might have performed this service are either dead, or they left the party in disgust years ago.

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How well I remember the stories told to me by an elderly trade unionist and Labour Party member, the late Fred Rudkin. He would describe making his way to the Tramway Workers union hall on Saturday mornings to be thrilled by the spell-binding “shed oratory” of Bill Richards, Dunedin’s foremost union agitator. And how, during the 1951 Waterfront Dispute, he and his best mate told lies to the Police to keep safe the local leaders of the locked-out Watersiders Union. He recalled this youthful resistance to the quasi-fascist “Emergency Regulations” imposed by the National Prime Minister, Sid Holland, with undisguised pride. Like so many who recalled those years of struggle, Fred departed the Labour Party in 1989 to become a founding member of Jim Anderton’s NewLabour.

Fred Rudkin wouldn’t have known whether to laugh or cry at the words attributed to Kelvin Davis. His Mickey Savage was the Labour leader who (at fatal cost to his health) brought New Zealanders social security “from the cradle to the grave”. Mickey might have been there to help move the furniture into the first state house, but Fred knew that it was Jack Lee who made sure Labour’s state housing programme was a success. In the scandal arising out of Lee’s vicious attack on Savage in 1940, Fred was torn between these two great Labour heroes.

His memories of Peter Fraser, likewise, encompassed more than his contribution to the 1945 United Nations Conference in San Francisco. He could tell you about Fraser’s conduct at another conference. The Labour Conference where Fraser did all he could – up to and including breaching the constitution – to ensure that Lee, his principal rival for the leadership, was expelled from the party for penning the article that “drove Savage to his grave”. If I remember rightly, it was Fred who first quoted to me Lee’s description of Fraser’s smile: “like moonlight flitting across a gravestone”. He knew that Labour’s heroes, like all human-beings, were deeply flawed and far from faultless.

I well recall my first Labour Party conference. It was 1979 and David Lange was the object of considerable resentment for his conservative Methodist lay preacher’s attitude towards abortion. Five years later, that same David Lange – now Prime Minister – did his best to persuade the Labour Party conference to water-down its stance on nuclear disarmament, and was shot down in flames by the party president, Jim Anderton, for his trouble. Lange did support gay rights, but the bill he voted for in 1986 was Fran Wilde’s, not his. What’s more, it was a conscience vote. Most Labour MPs supported it, but it was not Labour’s bill.

The target of the most serious misrepresentation in the letter attributed to Kelvin Davis is Norman Kirk.

Far from helping “Aotearoa recommit to Te Tiriti”, Big Norm promulgated “New Zealand Day” as a replacement for “Waitangi Day”. His purpose was precisely the opposite of  today’s Labour Party, whose support for “co-governance” would have left Kirk scratching his head in confusion. His “New Zealand Day” was a statement of national unity, just as his inspired gesture of taking the little Maori boy’s hand and leading him across the Treaty Ground was a statement of racial equality and amity – not tino rangatiratanga. The Waitangi Tribunal, brought into existence in 1975 – months after Kirk’s death – was the work of Matt Rata and Bill Rowling – not “Big Norm”.

If Davis did, indeed, write this grossly distorted version of Labour’s history, then he owes his party an apology. If, however, he signed it in ignorance, then the sin is almost as grievous. If Labour’s deputy-leader knows so little about his party that he cannot spot gross historical revisionism when he sees it, then it is pointless to expect Labour’s rank-and-file members to take the slightest interest in what their party once stood for, and the feats it accomplished, in the course of 105 years.

On the other hand, it’s probably for the best. Today’s Labour Party is very good at talking: yesterday’s Labour Party was honoured and loved for what it did. A hijab isn’t a state house. Covid-19 isn’t Adolf Hitler. And, its name notwithstanding, a soft-centred neoliberal party isn’t a mass movement of the New Zealand working-class.



  1. Excellent thankyou Chris loved it.
    Reminds me of my late father’s views told to us many times before Television took over.

    • Things have to die. Thetr must be a beginning, middle and end. Like The National Party, The Labour Party is showing clear signs of age related disrase, cognitive and physical decline. It’s sad really.

      • Sam – What you say may be right, but there is still no need for any of these Labour people to be rewriting history with such a blatant disregard for the facts, or for truth. And these are the dipsticks trying to control others’ freedom of speech, while lying.

      • is that the explanation for your abysmal spelling , grammar and syntax then Sam? You’re in cognitive decline after your peak at around 9 years of age?

  2. Great article Chris and I too thought Labour came out of Blackball and a happy to be finally put straight on that one.

    Kelvin Davis is all mouth and no trousers nor the sharpest tool in the shed as we can see by the words attributed to his name.

    • /agreed
      Toby Hill and Chris’s mate and my college chum and former flatmate Gerry (Gerard) being a couple of them.
      It’s getting to the stage where they’re really beginning to piss me off!

  3. “Labour’s blatant misrepresentation of its own history continues.”
    Indeed it does and I’ve got more than 105 wishes – but even half a dozen could return it to where it needs to be, and until then, I’ll be amongst a growing number of (near) lifetime voters that’ll be flicking my vote elsewhere come ’23. And I know of at least one born and bred B;ackball voter that’ll be doing likewise.

    Meanwhile, I’ll watch with amusement and despair as the PR spin and bullshit continues

  4. Fair comment Chris. The not inconsequential roles of Bassett, Prebble, and Douglas also seem to have evaded the copywriter. The message above Kelvin’s moniker is so “Americas Cup” full of bubbles PR style.

    One could go on…“neither for nor against the watersiders” re the ’51 lockout. Though there is obviously so much more to Peter Fraser than that. And the interesting numerous zigs and zags in J Lee’s career with Labour etc.

    Really, I think a few years could be subtracted from Labour’s year count–specifically those years since the 1984 election!

  5. I may have to read this in easy stages throughout the day – it is too depressing – but Kelvin can sod off back home – that’s it. How can anybody be so effortlessly superficial ? I may join the Labour Party to help shaft the leadership. I am angry.

    I have previously defended Kelvin, and said that he just needs media training, and once again I ‘m proven wrong.

    Thing is, Kelvin is a teacher, and I think a headmaster, and this isn’t good enough. The non-immigrant taxi drivers have a better grasp of history than teacher man. Pull the kids away from this sort of cruddy teaching, live on rice, and put them into private schools, and out come the tuis screaming about elitism and privilege.

    We whose whanau were involved in the dynamics of the watersiders so-called strike, the unionisation of the railway workshops, whose childhood homes were visited by women of history like Mabel Howard who likely ate cupcakes – but Kelvin would probably say that Jacinda makes cute cupcakes- who were blighted by the smears of the Catholic Church designating Labour workers supporters Communists, and bishops telling nuns and priests who to vote for back in the days when the clergy carried a lot of clout, and were much more powerful than Maori on flashy motorbikes with designer hair and flashy wives holidaying in the Greek Isles – we should be weeping for the years of history being tarnished by these effete Labour dilettantes.

    Back then, the politicians stood on boxes on street corners and they answered real questions from real people.
    Who could do that now ?

    • ” these effete Labour dilettantes”
      Spot on. LINO Labour in name Only.
      Kelvin is a teacher in Kaitaia.
      I live in the Far North.
      Education is extremely introverted up here.
      As an Otago girl I largely home schooled my kids whilst running the local school board and navigating the cultural byways of the indoctrination of our offspring by” teachers” who were less well educated than myself and my partner. The 1980’s saw the bodies in front of blackboards approach to education.
      No one in Wellington has ever given a fuck about the standards of educational achievement in Northland.In fact no one in government gives a fuck about about Northland full stop.
      The levels of ignorance up here are a sight to behold and a pernicious barrier to any real progress.
      Despite all of the above Kelvin is a decent man with a heart who has always done his best.
      It’s just not enough in this environment.
      The people with the smarts left NZ Labour a long time ago.

      • Yes, Shona, I’ve always thought Kelvin Davis a good and thoroughly decent bloke, and I get tired of people, especially dopey media, judging pollies on charisma and celeb factors. The fact remains that this piffle apparently came from his office, and that the Labour Party does have a very large team of public relations persons, and it looks as if they’re not of particularly high calibre.

        The Labour Party is a bigger political entity than any present actors. It spans generations of our collective history with persons often making big personal sacrifices for the common good, and persons who shouldn’t be reduced to bullet points. They didn’t depend on pr people either.

        I know little about far north schooling, and my own involvement at school level in New Zealand was limited to Canterbury and Wellington. Anything we achieved depended hugely on the involvement of locals, mainly parents, and often in spite of the Education Dept, not because of it, and again, that knot of parents were that small number prepared to stick their necks out, and work incredibly hard, for little or no recognition, but in the knowledge that we were acting in the best interests of the children. One of ours died late last year, and another a month ago, and they are women I will forever hold in my heart for the good that they did, but I would struggle to identify contemporary politicians who I can feel that way about.

        • Geez, – and there it goes again, – the Rogernomes gutting of the rural sector. 36 and more years of it. Its time we named, shamed and then done away with the root causes and personalities of it.

          Name them, shame them, then do away with them, and any of their prodigy’s.

          Neo liberalism HAS to go !!!!

    • “these effete Labour dilettantes”
      That’s bloody good. They’ve rendered themselves from being capable too
      “Back then, the politicians stood on boxes on street corners and they answered real questions from real people.
      Who could do that now ?”
      Well if Faa-aa-f-f-f-foi dithers much more over the state of what’s left of a 4th Estate, it’ll be what they have to do
      It’s a real shame they seem to have lost functioning bullshit detectors (that’s if some of them ever had functioning ones in the first place)
      Nice blokes aren’t necessarily capable blokes whether they’re politicians or the politician’s mate – the ‘official’
      And by the way, I don’t regard ‘officials’ as public servants any more. That realityt went by the wayside in the 80s. It’s usually the ’emotional staffer’ that is the public servant – working in spite of the official rather than because of them.

      There is hope though in the ranks – Louisa Wall seems to have had enough of the crap

  6. So who is going to start a REAL left wing party, as Labour today are L.I.N.O?
    In the UK George Galloway has started the Workers Party and just lost a local election the other day, by three hundred or so votes, but seemingly the council, Labour run, used it’s employees, during work time, to take down the Workers Party signs/advertisement, illegally, or so it is claimed.
    At least the UK are trying to create a GENUINE left wing party for the 60-70% real working class.
    We desperately need a similar party here in NZ, or L.I.N.O will get in again as there is NO REAL alternative.

  7. Driven to check again my sketchy knowledge of Peter Fraser, and that my dead dad was right in acknowledging Fraser’s proactive contribution to education, and Fraser’s recognition of the importance of education. This should have been mentioned as it is more directly relevant to New Zealand’s story than any peripheral United Nations involvement – except that to the Labour Party today, the UN0 is heaven and Hollywood combined, and of greater import than the children of the poor.

  8. With you on that Kevin but I do not know how to counter the misinformation that is now well entrenched.
    When I talk Marxism and Socialism with friends and neighbours they always respond, ‘ but that means secret police and Labour camps, imprisonment without trial and making everyone poor.’ They react with surprise when I point out that our first hugely successful state housing programme run by Jack Lee was Socialism as was the planting of forests, building of dams and other beneficial public works.
    If you mention Anarchism today people do not associate it with self regulating communities or industries actually run by workers for public benefit. People associate it with chaos and lack of order( just as an aside the Greek word ‘anarchy’ means self-rule not disorder).
    The successful examples of Anarchy in Russia, Eastern Europe, Spain and Latin America receive no publicity.
    One reason that neoliberals were able to successfully sell their philosophy was the failed economies of communist and socialist states and the promotion of the idea that ‘Greed is good’ and ‘Worship the rich’.
    Can we feed on the disillusionment that created to make a real alternative to Labour? At one time I put my hope in the Greens but they seem to have reverted to Labour’s puppet.
    Social Credit in the past was a force in the past and Social Credit( or Credit Reform) has been successfully used ( New Zealand in World War II, the original state houses) but never seemed to form a coherent social policy.
    E kati! Any ideas for the revolution?

  9. “It is difficult to know where to begin with this crude travesty of Labour’s history.”

    Do you not have a waste paper basket in your office Chris?

    Never mind, your surgical precision in lancing this neoliberal pustule certainly makes up for it.

    I’m old enough to remember all the nonsense around the Homosexual Law Reform Act. In my universe it was always Fran Wilde’s bill and efforts that got it passed. And 1984 was the last time I ever voted labour…

    Davis’ press release seems to encapsulate all that is wrong with our current ‘government’. Just bad managers…

  10. Absolutely wonderful and refreshing in its blunt honesty. Thank you for setting the record straight in this article, Mr Trotter. I should imagine it would be difficult for a political organization to not react to ( successive) current circumstances after 105 years, but to do so and throw out the baby with the bathwater and morph into something else is another thing. The big fear is that after all of that passage of time, a political party evolves into exactly the opposite of what it once stood for , bolstered on by revisionism and falsehoods.

    Which is precisely what has happened to NZ Labour.

  11. rnz
    “ANZ, Westpac and ASB banks expect OCR to rise earlier than expected”
    “Extra $20 a week not enough to fix housing crisis for beneficiaries – budgeters”
    “Who’s eating New Zealand?”
    “If you imagine New Zealand’s sheep meat as a plate of 10 meatballs, Kiwis would get to eat half of a meatball. So where’s the rest going? In the first story in a new series, Farah Hancock crunches more than 30 years of data to find out who’s eating New Zealand.”

    Ah…? Yoo Hoo…? Dumbasses? Here they come !?

  12. What I found rather disappointing are the holes in this narrative that have been “attributed” to Davis… Norman Kirk was the first NZ PM to become fully engaged in forcing the french to stop above ground nuclear testing( a fact that led to the French government “punishing” NZ with the Rainbow Warrior bombing).. That isn’t a small thing to do… While The Lange government was blindsided by the duplicity of Roger Douglas and his band of merry men, they still had to deal with an economy that was set to explode in all directions as a result of being screwed down to a standstill by the incompetence of the Muldoon Govts attempt to maintain a command economy when they didn’t understand the first thing about how socialism works… The ignorance of reality that is being displayed by those who have no excuses not to know better is what worries me the most… The bottom line is, that if you don’t know where you came from, how will you know where you are going to? The labour party has lost it’s way, and the only positive is that they are still preferable, and safer than what’s on offer from the rabble on the opposition benches… If it wasn’t for the fact hat Australia has now got the most incompetent, and utterly bought and paid for government, I would be planning to shift back there the second there is a big enough job requiring skilled workers starting up… Even France, covid free looks more attractive than what’s on offer here.. And it’s not just the government that must take blame for the untenable situation here.. Far too many people hitched their wagons to what amounted to a takeover of NZ by John Keys corporate mates… And look what that lest us with.. Ridiculously overpriced housing, food, clothing, and practically everything else one could think of, along with a noticeable narrowing of choices as to models of appliances, equipment etc… I know it’s easy, and satisfying to pillory those who have shown timidity in the face of a tsunami of difficulties in trying to rebalance, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking there are better alternatives… The labour party is ours to fix.. it’s up to us to do that.. Whining and hand wringing won’t make a skerrick of difference to the political landscape we are faced with.. Grown up action, and nothing else will make that change..

    • “I know it’s easy, and satisfying to pillory those who have shown timidity in the face of a tsunami of difficulties …”

      Would you describe this government’s hate speech and sexual violence plans as “timidity”. Or He Puapua?

      “the only positive is that they are still preferable, and safer than what’s on offer from the rabble on the opposition benches…”

      Can you name three significant ways in which the current lot (LINO and GINO) are preferable to ACT?

      As I see it, NZ has some problems that only a left-wing government is likely to fix (e.g. the high cost of living that shafts those on low incomes, the neoliberal structure of our institutions, education turned into a “product”); and some other problems that only a right-wing government is likely to fix (the plague of identity politics that is incapacitating our intellectual and moral faculties, and undermining the functionality of our institutions). This government is nominally left-wing, but is failing to address the first set of problems I’ve outlined above, and is instead focused on exacerbating the second type of problem. Whereas the twerking libertarian, for all his faults, has at least been consistent in calling out the second type of problem. And we have every reason to believe he would attack the problem if elected.

      I wonder if the only thing that will “fix” LINO is an unlikely annihilation in the polls – would that clean out the current ascendancy of progressive neoliberals and identitarians?

  13. I do not know enough of the Labour history to comment on the past but what I do know is the daily read of my paper is full of missteps made by this government . Vaccine delay and no real progress plan for the team of 5 million , Mike King and his exposure of the mental health failure, the lack of any solution to the runaway house prices, Nurses forced to strike due to years of inaction about pay parity, prisons poorly run , little progress on road hot spots being fixed despite having the funds for a cycle bridge , businesses left to limp along due to lack of staff while MIQ has empty spaces and immegrants not knowing what the future holds as the Minister refuses to commit to anythink.
    The list goes on and while I would agree many of these problems were not of their making and covid was a curveball that No one could have anticipated this group put their hand up and we’re given the chance to shine but I see little to install confidence .

  14. There is no Blackball Miners Hall which was pulled down by miners following the closure of the mine in 1964 (and miners refusing to let hippies use it). There is a Miners Hall at Rununga (a picture of which was famously depicted behind Helen Clark in some of her photo shoots). It is the second miners hall on the site in Rununga after the first was burnt down. Labour MP’s in front of Formerly the Blackball Hilton might be closer to the mark

  15. Politics aside post 84, ‘Go die’, all in all.
    Impossible to love you, difficult to like you, but in your favour you can be put up with when there’s no other choice.

    • Sorry people, but I have never had too much positive response in life — what happens when you speak truth, or are incompetent, not sure which — so I’m perfectly willing to respond to my good acts myself. That last sentence should be in a book of quotes.

  16. Well, you have to hand it to Jacinda and the rest of the fascistic LINO team; they still manage to utilise everything they are firmly against in their marketing, and still get away with it!

    Having a more-or-less totally dumbed-down general populace obviously helps when one is totally devoid of morals and one is relying on advertising agencies and other neuro-linguistic programmers to keep the uninformed masses believing the corporation-sponsored bullshit.

    “People tend to go mad in herds, and recover their senses one at a time.” -Mackay,. 1841.


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