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Who Is Laila Harre?

Submitted by on September 4, 2006 – 12:41 pm EST12 Comments


With the National Distribution Union going head to head with Supermarket owner, Progressive Enterprises, in the most acrimonious strike for some years, I thought a profile of union leader, Laila Harre, might be timely.

Laila Harre, took part in anti Springbok Tour protests, with her mum as a 15 year old Auckland Girl’s Grammar pupil.

The following year,1982 she joined the Labour Party.

Harre studied law at Auckland Uni, from 1983 to 1987, graduating with a BA and Llb,winning the senior prize for politics and law along the way.

Part of the Labour Party’s left wing at university, Harre was Party youth rep for Auckland in 1986/87.

Over the ’86/’87 Christmas break, Harre joined 23 Australian and New Zealand socialists, on the first Harry Holland Brigade to Nicaragua. The “Brigadistas” spent three weeks coffee picking at Matagalpa then a week in Managua where they met with unionists and the Sandinista Youth organisation.

The Brigade included a wide variety of radicals, including Maoist, Daphna Whitmore, several Workers Communist League linked activists including Don Clarke, Ruth Gray of the Socialist Action League and a few supporters of the Socialist Unity Party. Harre’s future sister in law, Joy Gribben was one of the coffee pickers. Her brother, Barry Gribben, had spent much of 1985 in Nicaragua after graduating from medical school and was a leading activist in Labour’s “Nicaragua Must Survive” campaign.

In July 1987, Harre represented the Labour Party as a sector workshop organisor at South Pacific Conference for Peace and Justice in Central America, held in Wellington. The conference was sponsored by the Workers Communist League, the Socialist Action League and the Socialist Unity Party.

Later that year, Harre was awarded the Disarmament Internship, annual award of the far left, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to study disarmament issues in Geneva and New York. According to Peacelink, October 1987, Harre “is particularly concerned with questions of development and resources allocation especially as these affect women in the process of change . . . and of a more just distribution of resources worldwide.

In 1989, Jim Anderton led much of the far left out of the Labour Party, linking up with the Workers Communist League and other Marxists to form the New Labour Party.
Harre was a founder member of the NLP, as was her husband, Barry Gribben.

By 1992, Harre was Vice President of the NLP, spokesperson on industrial relations for the Party and a lawyer for the National Distribution Union. The NDU was led by Bill Andersen and completely controlled by the Socialist Party of Aotearoa, a radical breakaway from the Socialist Unity Party.

By now the NLP had joined with the Greens. the Democrats, the Liberals and Mana Motuhake to form the Alliance Party. Bill Andersen’s, SPA, was an “unofficial” member of the Alliance.

Doing well in the polls, the Alliance worked hard at building bridges, in anticipation of winning seats in the 1993 General Election.

In September 1991, just prior to the formation of the Alliance Party, Bill Andersen wrote a widely circulated open letter from SPA calling for a “people’s coalition to form a government of national salvation” in order to “meet the broad interests of the New Zealand people”. Andersen said the key was forging an electoral agreement ” between Labour, the NLP and the Greens.

Andersen’s call was soon echoed by fellow Marxist-Leninist, Ken Douglas. As keynote speaker at the 1992 Labour Party conference Douglas urged that Labour and the Alliance get together around an “electoral agreement” to defeat the National Government.

In an interview with Robert Mannion of the Sunday Times of October 24th 1993, SPA leader Bill Andersen outlined his party’s priorities and plans. According to Mannion, Andersen supported the Alliance and “would like to have seen Alliance/Labour accommodations in crucial electorates”. And interestingly “They had a good meeting with Helen Clark and Alliance parliamentary candidate Laila Harre at the Trade Union Centre recently.”

Clark, shortly after, became leader of the Labour Party, in a coup described by deposed leader, Mike Moore as “almost Maoist”.

In 1993, Harre sttod for the Alliance in the Te Atatu seat, but was unsuccessful.

In 1996, Labour and the Alliance Party won the General Election and at number 8 on the Alliance list, Harre entered Parliament. Re-elected in 1999, Harre served as Minister of Women’s Affairs, Youth Affairs, Statistics and as Associate Minister of Labour and Commerce.

Her main achievements in Parliament were pushing through paid parental leave and once remarking that “Stalin achieved in 20 years what it had taken the west 200 years to achieve.”

In 2001/02, the Alliance Party split over leader Jim Anderton’s autocratic style and some leaders support for the war in Afghanistan. Anderton then formed the Progressive Coalition, while Harre became de facto leader of the Alliance. In 2002, the Party threw major resources behind Harre’s campaign in Waitakere. Harre came in second to Labour’s Lynne Pillay and the Party lost all its Parliamentary seats. It soon and collapsed into a tiny Marxist sect.

Harre left the Alliance to the “die hards” and went to work for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation as their Organising Services Manager.

In early 2005, Harre’s old boss Bill Andersen died. The funeral was held on January the 27th at Orakei Marae, Auckland. The speakers included Moana Jackson, Isaac Otineru, Laila Harre, Mike Jackson (NDU), the Andersen family, and Brendan Tuohy (Socialist Party of Aotearoa).

Later that year, Harre defeated Mike Jackson in a postal ballot to become secretary of the NDU. While SPA continues to hold almost every major post in the union, several young radicals have joined the union under Harre’s reign, including Maoists, Helen Te Hira, Luke Coxon and anarchist, Simon Oosterman. Clearly, the NDU was gearing up enter a new phase of militancy. Hopefully the current strike will be defeated, clipping the militant’s wings a little and dealing a big blow to Harre’s leadership.

Harre’s teenage son Sam is active in Auckland Radical Youth. He recently travelled to Geelong, Victoria to addressa “Young Workers Conference”, organised by Marxist youth group, “Resistance”.

Hopefully, unlike his mum, young Sam will grow out of his adolescent socialist silliness.

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