Brash Orewa II Protest Report
By Roger Fox, Secretary, UNITE! Waitemata Branch, 30/1/2005
Unite! (Union of Low Paid, Unemployed and Beneficiaries) Waitemata Branch confronted Don Brash at his Orewa speech on January 25.
Approximately 15 unionists, Alliance and Maori Party members picketed the Orewa Rotary Club rooms, actually just outside the edge of Silverdale (for future reference beside the Silverdale Rugby Club).
One Orewa local and member of Unite! came. Two leading members of the Alliance Party fronted with the Alliance banner. Unite! (Waitemata) had its magnificent union banner which displays the Union logo plus clearly stating that the union is for the low paid, unemployed and beneficiaries not just those with jobs. This was highly significant given Brash's clear attempts to play off low paid and beneficiaries while the Labour Government and Party consistently refuse to defend beneficiaries, attacking them instead.
When he arrived Brash approached us from the safety of the other side of a chest-height brick wall. Roger Fox, secretary of Unite! Waitemata Branch, took him on briefly before he walked away with his minders. The press were really sweating in the heat and crowded around for this token interchange. Fox accused Brash of wanting to abolish the welfare state and said that his policies came from ACT. When Fox referred to capitalism Brash stolidly stated that he, "believes in capitalism". The big capitalist reactionary Allan Gibbs was present according to the NZ Herald. Also present was Lockwood Smith, the local MP and hated former Minister of Education.
Brash was shouted at as he went into the hall, including the chant, "Stop the war on the poor". The police, who appeared to have been from outside Orewa, did not get heavy but were systematically surveillancing us.
But the internal factor was of chief importance. As somebody commented, "there are not many pickets nowdays" and the mainly young picketers were certainly glad to be there. There were four young organisers from the Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU). A touch of strong unionism was given by the two heavily logoed SFWU union cars parked there. One of the SFWU organisers was an organiser for Auckland City's biggest worksite Sky City and another was a former beneficiary advocate. Jill Ovens, the president of the Alliance Party and an SFWU organiser, was there too. Two young Maori Party members supplied the 'catering', some much-welcomed water melon.
Everyone introduced themselves to each other, there was swapping of contact details: a lot of politics went down, including branch to branch Unite! politics, helping break down the prejudices that exist between employed and unemployed even within our union. Members of the two different Auckland branches of Unite! travelled together to the picket.
The picket was in the evening and some of us deliberately arrived well before Brash's due time of arrival. We got intelligence of the exact location and time from a local resident and a direct approach to a member of the press. The National Party had deliberately leaked the nature of Brash's speech which contained few surprises when we read the huge coverage the following day. The speech and our protest was reported on the front page, with photographs, in the Rodney Times, the local paper up there. The protest was shown on TV that evening, and also appeared as a large photograph on an inside page of the NZ Herald.
We had announced in advance that we would be at Silverdale until 7pm in case employed workers couldn't make it earlier if they'd just finished work. This paid off. Brash and the assembled 'respectos' were given a clear message: "We are not going to take it".
A good deal of solidarity was developed at a political and personal level and between Unite! and the SFWU. The picket included Maori, Pakeha, Samoan, beneficiaries and other unionists, employed and unemployed.
The Orewa Rotary Club hall at Silverdale was beside a heavy transport route. Significant numbers of truckies tooted support but there was a disappointing response from heavily laden Stagecoach bus drivers especially considering their union is negotiating a new contract now. The whole process was marked by a significant lack of verbal abuse except from a few passing motorists.
There were no arrests, but Lockwood Smith was reminded not to forget about the toilet window he was forced to climb out of when cornered by an angry crowd of students when he was Minister of Education.
The picketers dispersed at once to avoid police harassment, and in very cheerful spirits.
This article was written by Roger Fox, Secretary of Waitemata Branch of Unite! and approved by the Branch Executive. The Unite! website is www.unite.org.nz