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Inaugural Rona Bailey Memorial Lecture 2007: Robert Reid – Looking Backwards: Looking Forwards

Rona Bailey was an icon of left-wing politics in New Zealand as well as being a founding member of the TUHP Committee. To acknowledge her massive contribution to both of these causes-and trade unionism in New Zealand-the committee determined after her death in September 2005 that it would commemorate her memory by holding a biennial lecture in her honour.

The first of these lectures took place on the evening of 31 November 2007 at the New Zealand Drama School (Toi Whakaari) Rona’s other “home” during her working life. We were lucky secure the services of Robert Reid to give the inaugural lecture.

Robert has recently been appointed president of the National Distribution Union and is a long-term comrade and friend of Rona. He first met Rona when he arrived in Wellington in 1972 as a 19-year-old International vice-president on the New Zealand University Students Association and worked with her on the Committee on Vietnam and on various anti-apartheid groups. He became part of the Paper Group with Rona and later both were key members of Wellington Marxist Leninist Organisation which eventually became the Workers’ Communist League.

Robert has had an illustrious trade union career. Between 1974 and 1984 he was a member of the Engineers’ Union; a delegate from 1975, executive member from 1976 and its representative on the Wellington Trades Council. Between 1984 and 1992 he was a member of the Clerical Workers’ Union during which time he worked for the Wellington District Council of the CTU as its Industry and Employment Officer from 1987 and then Central Districts Organiser between 1988 and 1992.

When the Clerical Workers’ Union disbanded in 1993 Robert founded the Administrative and General Workers’ Union which together with the Unemployed Rights Centre became UNITE in 1998. He was the founding president of UNITE until 2007. Through much of the 1990s he was also national secretary of the Footwear Workers Union until it merged with the Clothing Workers’ Union.

On a broader scale he was council member and the international officer of the Trade Union Federation (TUF) for its period of existence. He became a council member of the NZ Council of Trade Unions following its merger with the TUF in 2000. Internationally he has been co-ordinator of Asia Pacific Workers’ Solidarity Links and chairperson of Transnational Information Exchange (Asia).