Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Down on the wharves and back in the homes

Currently I'm spending some of my time helping to raise funds for the Save Our Port campaign.  For me this is important work not just because of what it means for the union movement, or the workers involved, or progressive organisations who believe work is not serfdom.  For me it's more personal than that.

Quite recently I discovered that my grandfather, my mother's father, was one of those locked out of the wharves in 1951.  He died sometime before I was born, but my Nana, his wife, was my last living grandparent and closest to me, passing away when she was 80 and I was 16.  She lived in Mt Roskill most of her life, within the area I now represent in local government.

I never heard about the Lockout from my Nana.  I have only heard the stories my mother and her sisters have shared in the last few years.  But I do know that nothing remains, physically, of that period in my family's life; there is no Stood Loyal Right Through certificate for IC Deluca, signed by Toby Hill, that has been treasured and handed down.

And that's because of what the Lockout meant for my grandmother and for those at home while the workers were picketing.  It was illegal to help the families, illegal to give them food, or money, or indeed for the media to do any balanced reporting of the dispute.  From what I understand Nana struggled enormously with keeping herself and her three children in clothes in particular - no one was going to surreptitiously donate women's underwear to a wharfie family in 1951.  While efforts were undertaken to support the families of the workers locked out in my family's case it was still largely up to the housewife of the household to manage as best she could.  When an opportunity arose to dispose of reminders of this very very difficult period in her life, Nana took it, and so nothing remains.

Thus I'm helping to raise funds - for the campaign, and for the families.  There are queues of union members outside the Maritime Union office door in the morning to apply for hardship, literally to feed their kids, and I can tell you honestly that they look to me like they hate having to do that, hate having to rely on other people to get the necessities of life.  Now they are no longer on strike, having voted to go back to work last Thursday, but they are still not getting paid, thanks to an intransigent employer who they are taking back to court today.

The partners, mostly women that I've seen, are doing sterling work supporting the cause - they have a welfare committee that rings all the partners to check on them, see what support they need and let's them know what the options are, as well as coordinating supermarket vouchers, food parcels and financial grants.  I'm really glad to see this happening, and even more pleased to see it actively supported by the union itself.

Here's a small way you can help me to help them:
Special Screening of The Muppets - 3rd April, 6.10pm, Sylvia Park
Don't let those muppets at the Ports of Auckland get you down, come laugh at the real Muppets instead!  This could be your last chance to see The Muppets in a movie theatre, as we understand it is likely to stop showing on general release in the next few days.  $20 for adults, $10 for children.  Or a $20 solidarity ticket - to shout a wharfie or one of their whanau.  Email julie.fairey@gmail.com to secure your tickets - limited number!  Please put MOVIE in the subject line.
There are other ways to donate too, please check out this link for more information.


James said...

Those poor unionists on their 91 thou....?

Dear God........

Anonymous said...

James - you are as ignorant,incorrect and arrogant as those poor hard done by CEOs on quarter of a million. Wharfies do not get 91K for 26 hours per week.... you are a fool.

anthea said...

Anonymous - you may be correct, but you still need to use a handle please (see info above the comment box).

Sandra said...

Thanks for your post Julie. I'm particularly interested in what you wrote about your Nana. I'd love to see an oral history project on the lives of wives/partners of strikers in heavily male industries. I've thought of it often in relation to coal miners, but wharfies and coal miners have similar working structures.

Julie said...

I believe there is someone doing a PhD thesis on that very topic Sandra, in relation to the 1951 Lockout, they interviewed my Mum.

I only know about Nana's views through my mother and aunts, not from her directly, so I can't be sure of the nuances. Their perceptions of all this, as children themselves, will be through that filter.

katy said...

Pretty much the only thing I know about one of my great-grandfathers was that he was one of the locked out workers in 1951. I am not 100% sure which port it was, I honestly know nothing else about him apart from his name and his relationship to me. However, someone did show me a copy of his certificate. The family I am close to tended to be farmers, teachers etc so it seemed very exotic but I understood it was something to be proud of.