My Labour Story - Cliff Allen


I am a white, middle class male, from a farming background. I should be a National supporter, but I'm proudly not and here's why.

My mother remarried after my father was killed when I was five years old. My step-father, John, was one of 13 children and his family had a picture of Michael Joseph Savage over the fireplace. Savage was the man who had saved them from disaster in the 1930s with his welfare reforms that ensured John’s family was supported.

As a teenager I was at boarding school in Hamilton, but home was Putaruru where everyone had a job and their own house, and the bank manager socialised with mill workers because everyone shared a reasonably common lifestyle. 

I watched the decline in working conditions through John’s struggles. He was partner in a butcher's shop in Putaruru. When the supermarket came to town the butchery could only support one family so he sold his share and worked in the bush.

In 1988 cyclone Bola hit and bent over huge swathes of trees. They were pushed over and tangled up - but ready to spring and kill when they were cut - and kill they did. The men were expected to clear them at the same rate as normal forest and John woke us up in the night calling out in his sleep in fear of his life. Eventually the stress was too much and he got a job at a local meat works.

John was the union rep when Ruth Richardson got busy bashing and cutting, and working conditions were sacrificed for productivity, and increasing profit margin was all that mattered.  John ended up working harder and for longer with worse conditions than before.

And here’s the thing.

Kiwis have always been ready to try new ideas. We were told that neo-liberalism was going to make all our lives better and a lot of people, just like John, tried really hard to make it work because we are, or used to be, progressive people. New Zealanders tried harder than anybody else in the world to make neo-liberalism work. But it didn’t.

That was the time when John ended up working harder and for longer with worse conditions than before. John told me that period of his life was disgraceful, and his story has been repeated up and down New Zealand.

I started as a left supporter because Labour’s concerns with community, equality, and a fair go are the qualities I value in New Zealand society.  My academic work focused on how business and society interact and I am now a left activist because I saw that there are too many powerful people who don't believe in those values and are deliberately trying to break them down. I’m standing as a candidate to ensure all New Zealanders benefit from a Labour government that is underpinned by these values.

Follow me on Facebook here.

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Carmel in Kelston

Carmel Sepuloni on August 20, 2014

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