Good Spirits at the Auckland Trades Hall for “The Organizer”

Auckland       How many times do we get to travel most of the way around the world?  If lucky, as I have been in life and work, sometimes, but it’s still rare, so it was a gift to hear from Mat Danaher that he was now living and, even better, working in New Zealand.  I knew Mat from several annual meetings I had with him when he was working in the London headquarters for Unison, the 2ndlargest union in the United Kingdom.  He knew I was on vacation, but wondered if I was up for a screening of the THE ORGANIZER and talking about my book, Nuts & Bolts both of which he had been following on FacebookMy answer to his generous offer was not yes, but, heck, yes!

So, we found ourselves trying to figure out parking nearby the Auckland Trades Hall building on a Tuesday night as the wind was almost knocking us off the hillside on what passes for a winter night in New Zealand.  All of that was an hour before the scheduled start time for the event, but when we went through the door of the union hall, there were already a half-dozen people scurrying around in preparation.

They know what they’re doing in Auckland!  Mat of course was making sure the projector and speakers were set up to the screen and working, but the rest of us got to work setting up tables in a semi-circle which is the preferred method for the unions and the Auckland Labor History group sponsoring the event.  It took us a while to figure it out, but it turned out there was a bar and snacks being prepared by the Working Women’s Collective, so that by the time the documentary began showing there were tablecloths on each of the tables and bowls of food everywhere including a “nibbles” table in the back.  Ah, now we get it!

Not sure that’s the whole explanation for why there were already a score of people there a half-hour before the event?  Folks seemed genuinely glad to see each other.  They were chatting over a beer or glass of wine, even as they were making apologies for the traffic holding others up that they knew were on the way.  The film in fact started with over forty in attendance at five minutes after the scheduled six o’clock time – where does that every happen?  It turns out New Zealand is the answer – what great people in a great country.

with old comrades from the Philippines now working with unions in NZ

Not surprisingly the crowd warmed to the film, laughing and crying in all of the right places.  The questions, as expected, were direct and to the point about the impact of media on organizing, the ever-difficult question of expansion versus maintenance, the prospects for the rebranded groups and the potential of ACORN returning in the United States.  The unanimous verdict was that the film was inspiring.  There was also interest in whether or not there might be a place for ACORN in New Zealand, especially given our experiences organizing the ACORN Tenants Union in the United Kingdom.

The family consensus, walking back outside hours later into the wind, was straightforward:  the film was better, but the people in the audience were wonderful!


Deforestation, New Zealand Style

botanical gardens

Ahipara, New Zealand    Family vacations are wonderful things.  I idealize them perhaps.  After four days in Auckland and Ahipara in the “far north” of the country where we are traveling, I rated not only the trip, but the family interactions in the A+ range.  In organizations there’s something called “founder’s syndrome” which speaks to many issues, some real and some false, but valuably warns of self-delusion.  Perhaps there’s a “father’s syndrome” much like that.  To my surprise not everyone was grading the marks as high as I was.  There was even a B-!

Outside of the car though, there is universal agreement about the beauty and wonders of the country.  We’re not in Lord of the Rings space, that’s the South Island.  We’re in the north island and in the far north, though it is winter here, they refer to the climate as subtropical, and it in fact has been near perfect temperatures.  I hope I didn’t just put my dirty mouth on it.

Of course, it’s crazy expensive, but that’s not atypical of island countries and continents.  A cup of coffee, even at a gas station, is 4.50 NZ which is about $6 and change in USD.  Gas is through the sky.  Food is crazy, but, as I say, it’s what seasoned travelers would expect.  As for driving on the left side of the road, what can I say, thankfully, so far so good.

We visited the Auckland Botanical Garden.  I’m a huge fan of such gardens.  I try to visit them everywhere I travel if I have an extra minute.  The one in Rio de Janiero is my favorite and Kew Gardens outside of London I might have thought was the best, but Auckland might just be in a different league.  It was amazing!

I can’t help but try to find out more about a such a gorgeous and exotic country and environment and of course there’s always other features not visible cruising along the highway.  We picked up some $2 NZ books at the Botanical library.  Reading one, Historic Trails of the Far North from 1981 by E.V. Sale, has been eye opening.  Though ostensibly Sale is writing about what’s along the roads going north all the way to Cape Reinga, he details the bloody missionary and colonial imperialist battles with the Maori including some coverage of the Maori’s inter-tribal wars.  There’s nothing pretty to read here.  This is the American story of exploitation of native peoples with another accent but the same through line.


Every story and plaque talk about the giant kauri forests, yet I’m not sure I’ve seen a single tree.  Some of the sheep grazing on green grass hills along the road are really an example of almost total deforestation.  Kauri was immensely valuable.  The girth of the trees was huge and their height serious.  Ships coveted kauri for their masts and builders for their endurance and ability to stand the weather.  They are protected in some state forests, but they were sacred to the Maori and just commercial to others.  The sap produced a gum and brought thousands of gumdiggers.  Fresh or moistened, it could be chewed, but its real value lay in how flammable it was as tinder or torches.

So far, the only kauri I have seen are as stumps or as tree fall.  There’s a wonderland in New Zealand, but there are also lessons from the past, still important today if anyone is willing to learn.

dunes and deforestation