After her six months in China, courtesy of a Foreign Affairs scholarship, Sue Bradford returned to NZ in 1981 and became heavily involved in the anti Springbok Tour movement.
By then married to Bill Bradford, she was six months pregnant, but that didn’t stop her. Sue Bradford and her small “direct action” group in association with the co-ordinators of the Mobilisation Against the Springbok Tour organisation, developed strategies to divert police by causing disruption across Auckland. According to Metro, May 1993 “they then raided the Waiatarua TV transmitter and pushed enough keys to interrupt 20 minutes transmission of the first test. On the day of the second test the group burst onto Auckland Airport and occupied a commercial airport for 45 minutes. On the last day of the tour she was one of a group of 30 who went over an Auckland Airport security fence and lay on the tarmac.”
That year, Sue Bradford also joined the Workers Communist League. At the time the WCL was a newly formed, Maoist organisation, uniting student radicals with older ex Communist Party members, into a highly secretive and disciplined organisation.
Very strong in the anti Apartheid movement, student politics and some trade unions, the WCL was hated and feared, even by many fellow socialists. They were often called the “Weasels”, a play on their initials and a judgement on their alleged fondness for employing dirty tactics.
The WCL set up Unemployed Workers Unions in several centres in the early ’80s, as did the Socialist Unity party and later the Communist Party.
In February 1982, Sue Bradford was one of a group who set up the Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre. This was the main focus of her activism for several years.
There were diversions, such as the protests against a proposed 1985 Allblack Tour to South Africa, but Sue Bradford became a leading voice for the unemployed as far as the media were concerned.
Incidentally another “champion of the unemployed” in the early ’80s was Jane Stephens, of the Wellington Unemployed Workers Union. She delivered a passionate speech at the 1984 Economic Summit, which gained huge media coverage. Stephens was the partner of WCL member, Dave MacPherson, later a leader of the New Labour and Alliance parties, now a Hamilton City Councillor and anti gambling activist.
By the late ’80s, Sue Bradford was national co-ordinator and spokesman for the Unemployment Beneficiaries Movement of NZ (Te Roopu Rawakore o Aotearoa). According to the Nelson Evening mail of June 12, 1989 “Her main goals have been to unify the many unemployed centres around the country, to give the unemployed a national voice and to develop links with other organisations, such as unions”
The job was funded by a grant from the Roy McKenzie Foundation. She used the money to support her unemployed husband, Bill and four children.
In October 1988, the various communist controlled unemployed unions united in an uneasy truce to organise a nationwide March Against Unemployment. Sue Bradford was very active in the March and sat on the policy committee.
I was at the final rally in the grounds of Parliament and watched the Socialist Unity Party’s, Peter Hall-Jones and the Communist Party’s, Willie Wilson harangue the several thousand strong crowd.
During the late ’80s, the Pro Soviet, Socialist Unity Party formed a non public alliance with the Labour party. The SUP gave Labour, unflinching union support through the “Rogernomics” years in exchange for certain concessions.
This alienated the non SUP left and several small proto groups were formed as a potential alternative to Labour. The WCL was involved in several of these as were some former members of the Socialist Action League. The WCL had by now, moved away from an overt pro China line (though Bradford remained active in the NZ-China Friendship Society) and were linking with new groups, such as the Australian Socialist Workers Party. Several ex SALers were also close to the Australian SWP, including Keith Locke and Matt Robson.
The stage was set for a new party to the left of Labour.
In 1989, disgusted by the sale of the BNZ and after losing a contest for LabourÂs presidency to Ruth Dyson, Jim Anderton finally quit Labour. Within days he announced the formation of the New Labour Party. The entire WCL joined the NLP as did the ex SAL members involved with the Australian SWP.
The NLPs first National Council contained no less than four ex SAL members (Matt Robson, Petronella Townsend, Keith Locke and Paul Piesse), a former SAL supporter, Francesca Holloway (wife of commentator, chris Trotter), one former covert SUP supporter, several probable WCL members and one definite member, Sue Bradford.
In June 1989, she was elected Vice-President of the NLP. Bradford said in her closing speech to the NLP conference that she “felt she was politically more left-wing than the body of the party, but was determined not to compromise on issues that were important to her. These were feminist issues, such as equal-gender representation, pay equity and abortion, as well as the concerns of the unemployed such as jobs for all at award rates.” Nelson Evening Mail, 12 June 1989.
Things soon turned to custard however when Anderton expelled two tiny Trotskyite sects from the NLP, David Bedggood’s, Communist Left and Bill Logan’s, Permanent Revolution Group. the Trots had embarrassed the NLP with their mad sloganeering at conferences, but Sue Bradford was appalledd. She resigned from the NLP in April 1990 as she saw a “definite move to the right“.
Around this time the WCL dissolved into a new organisation called “Left Currents”, which Bradford joined. The move was partially prompted by the Australian SWP’s name change to the Democratic Socialist Party. The DSP began publishing Green Left Weekly and began courting the Green movement. In NZ, many left Currents members joined the Green Party, including Sue Bradford. Left Currents kept involved with the NLP however and supported Keith Locke in his 1990 parliamentary campaign.
Sue Bradford only stuck with the Greens for four months however. After missing out on selection as Greens candidate for Auckland Central, she left the party and stood unsuccessfully as an independent.
Bradford kept her hand in on the protest front however. In April 1990 she was prominent in organising an AUWRC barricade of the Auckland Treasury offices. In July she spoke at a Wellington unemployed rally of a thousand people and helped organise an occupation of the Business Roundtable’s offices.