The WCL and its allies were already the dominant force in Anti Apartheid umbrella group, HART. They also played important roles in local anti tour groups in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin. In Wellington, the WCL’s stronghold, they completely dominated that city’s main anti tour group, COST. Rona Bailey was HART’s national secretary/treasurer and was also active in COST
Not content with a behind the scenes role, Rona Bailey marched in the huge demonstrations that brought central Wellington to a stand still. In the infamous, Street march, 67 year old Bailey was batoned by police and had to be hospitalised.
Prime Minister Rob Muldoon released an SIS report accusing the WCL of organising the rioting. He named several WCL members including Rona Bailey, who he dubbed the “High Priestess of NZ Communism”.
After the tour, the WCL switched its focus to local “racism” and began to organise anti “Treaty of Waitangi” demonstrations and to work more closely with maori radical groups.
In late 1981, a special COST meeting in Wellington adopted the resolution “That this conference establish a new Wellington regional-based organisation to fight racism in New Zealand.. And that this conference appoint a steering committee to facilitate the bringing together of all interested groups and individuals in the Wellington area on Waitangi Day 1982, to further develop the organisation…”.
In November 1981 a Domestic Racism Group was established, to tackle the terrible racism that most of us were too blind to see. This led to the establishment of several groups such as the Anti Racism Organisation-Wellington, and People Opposed to Waitangi.
According to Rona Bailey’s fellow WCL member, Ron Smith “On Maori questions there was also tremendous activity…From 1981 to 1984 there were vigorous annual protests at Waitangi and when the government shifted the Waitangi Day venue to Parliament. WCL members organised a protest rally there. The WCL led the way in many respects, for example to have separate Maori runanga in unions.”
According to the WCL’s, “Unity” of the 28th of September 1987 “Support for Maori self-determination is one of the fundamental principles underlying the work and outlook of the WCL… the struggle for Maori self-determination is a crucial part of the process of bringing about a revolutionary transformation of society.”
Rona Bailey was active in all this work. She left the WCL in 1985, but continued to support allied organisations, especially a new organisation named Project Waitangi.
In the early ’80s the WCL front, People Opposed to Waitangi, played a major role in the Waitangi day demonstrations of that era. POW claimed that the Treaty of Waitangi had been used to defraud Maoris of their land and heritage and consequently promoted the slogan “The Treaty is a Fraud”, .
After a while however the WCL twigged that there was more mileage to be gained in calling on the Government to “Honour the Treaty”, to restore to Maoridom the alleged sovereignty “enjoyed” by the tribes before 1840. Consequently the slogan was changed and “Honour the Treaty”, became the new rallying cry.
In 1985 several WCL influenced organisations, including NZUSA, YWCA, National Youth Council, and the Clerical Workers Union, joined forces with socialist “christians” and others, to form Project Waitangi.
Taxpayer funded and sponsored by then Governor General Paul Reeves, Project Waitangi ran extensive “education” programmes in schools, businesses and government departments. NZers needed to be be properly “educated” in “Treaty” issues.
A “Unity” article of March 30 1987 on Project Waitangi revealed the WCL’s emphasis on the importance of the “Treaty” to the revolution. “Honour the Treaty”. Increasingly this call has become a focal point of the growing movement for Maori self-determination. It is no vague slogan, but is the underlying theme behind a series of specific demands being raised in struggles concerning land, fishing rights, language, the media, social welfare services, education, church institutions, unions, local government and so on. In short, it touches almost every area of life in Aoteoroa. Organisations such as the WCL, which are active in many spheres of struggle and which are committed to developing a genuine revolutionary process, have a responsibility to defend and promote the struggle for Maori self-determination. This must include taking up the battle for the Treaty of Waitangi to be honoured, and challenging racism where-ever it appears.”
Rona Bailey worked in the Wellington offices of Project Waitangi for several years, she was tireless in promoting the cause and developed strong links with maori activists and educators. She stayed until well into her 70s in what was her last major campaign.
Even as late as 2004, however, she was still supporting the “maori” cause. She provided hot soup to the marchers of the Foreshore and Seabed Hikoi as it moved through Wellington.
Rona Bailey’s last years were taken up with the Trade Union History Project and some cultural activities. As late as 1989 she was still teaching dance at the National School of Dance and Drama in Wellington. She also maintained contact with the Unity Theatre which morphed into the Depot Theatre and then Taki Rua. In 1998, she helped organise a Paul Robeson Centennial Celebration in Wellington.
When she died in September 2005, nearly 400 people filled the plaza at the School of Dance to see her off.