Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Eulogy: Peter Conway

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Eulogy: Peter Conway

Article excerpt

It is said of Peter Conway that he was soft on people and hard on issues. That was true but there was one person he wasn't soft on, and that was himself. One conversation I had with Peter in his office in 2013 focussed on why he looked so grey and what was the reason his left arm was shaking? He smiled at my concern and said "I'm just tired mate".

What tuckered Peter out and what got him in the end was the sense of responsibility he had for holding together the Labour Movement in New Zealand, as it attempts to weather the passing storm of fundamentalist economics and the plundering by the super rich. Peter's time as a leader in the Movement coincided with a period of membership decline and the apparent inability of unions to connect meaningfully with the mass of the people they aim to represent.

None of this was Peter' s doing. His union trajectory took in the times of the qualified preference clause and compulsory unionism; when union bosses could comfortably argue the toss between the amazing Soviet model (would you like a study tour to Moscow comrade? - he never went) or Chairman Mao and his workers' paradise.

Meanwhile, workers in New Zealand happily picked up the 'going rate' and prepared to forget about the movement that had brought them the weekend and decent pay. Peter observed the frailties of this pseudo militant model and felt the new force of monetarist economics brewing in the United States. I asked him in the 90s why he wanted to do economics. He felt unions were being outgunned by economically literate employers and the only way to fight fire was with fire. His Masters in Economics was accompanied by a shrewd appreciation of strategic unionism encouraged by his great friend, Paul Tolich, and also by an understanding of the limitations economic analysis had in dealing with the raw power of the boss. Both Peter and Paul saw the need for unions to be more proactive and positive at both the industrial and political level. Not just at the table for their muscle, but for the sophisticated contribution they could make to the debate. …

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