For many years now the left have worked through the legal system.
A few smart socialist lawyers can change our society more effectively than thousands of street protestors.
A while back I profiled a feminist ex-Marxist lawyer working in the government’s legal department, the Crown Law Office.
Today I look at another, Martha Coleman.
Active in the Maoist set that long dominated Victoria University student politics, Martha Coleman worked on “Salient” in the late ’70s.
She was concurrently involved with the Working Women’s Alliance, a front for the Wellington Marxist-Leninist Organisation.
In 1980, WMLO morphed into the Workers Communist League and it is believed that Coleman was an early member.
In 1981, the WCL formed Citizen’s Opposed to the Springbok Tour. Coleman was a marshall (of “pink section” in COST and was named by the late WCL activist, Ron Smith as a WCL member in his 1995 autobiography, “Working Class Son”.
Coleman was active in the Wellington Clerical Workers Union in the ’80s-a hot bed of WCL linked activists including Therese O’Connell, Marian Cadman and Christine Gillespie.
The union was a spearhead of the the radical feminist movement of that time. In 1986 several union officials, including Martha Coleman founded the Coalition for
Equal Value Equal Pay.
Martha Coleman was a leading spokesman for CEVEP and vigorously promoted the organisation’s agenda through union seminars, feminist organisations and the like.
CEVEP’s agenda was not “equal pay for equal work“-that had been achieved long before by the Communist Party and its allies.
CEVEP started the game of comparing professions to set wages and conditions. For example, nurses (according to CEVEP) do work of similar value to policemen, so therefore their salaries scales should be similar.
Sound a little like socialism? Not surprising as the Workers Communist League was the backbone of CEVEP.
In 1987, as Clerical Union assistant secretary, Coleman was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to study “equal pay“, in 1988 in England, Ireland and Canada.
In 1990,the WCL morphed into “Left Currents” and then slowly disintegrated.
Many WCL fronts carried on however, including CEVEP.
In 1990/91 Coleman and her old “Salient” comrade, Janice Burns researched and designed, “Equity at Work, an Approach to Gender Neutral Job Evaluation” which was published by the State Service Commission and the Labour Department.
Through the ’90s Coleman was active in another old WCL front, the Wellington Working Womens Resource Centre.
In May 1996 Coleman gave a talk at a WWWRC seminar;
from an international conference on pay equity, and will present a seminar on Pay Equity in a Deregulated Labour Market.
The seminar was organised by former WCL member, WWWRC activist, Glenda McCallum.
In June 1996 Coleman, by now with the law faculty at Victoria University, presented a paper to to the Gender Research Centre Conference on Equal Pay in a Deregulated Labour Market, at Middlesex University, London.
In 1999, while working at prestigious law firm, Chapman Tripp in Wellington, Coleman was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, to study at Yale Law School at Hartford Connecticutt.
One of the things I loved about the place was the level of student activism. Just the whole of the walls of the corridor of the law school were just amazing – there were things all over it. They paid for students to go to protests at Seattle. They had this conference every year that about 600 students came to, called Rebellious Lawyering. One of my great sort of things I have is a t-shirt that has emblazoned on the back “Rebellious Lawyering in the New Millennium” which I loved. And basically the students organised it but the Law School paid for it, and to me coming from an educational institution in New Zealand, that sort of thing is just a completely utterly, utterly different experience.
In 2002, Coleman, by now with the Human Rights Group of the Crown Law Office became an “expert advisor” to the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women.
NACEW had huge input into the Paid Parental Leave laws which were passed into law in 2002 by the Labour government and was riddled with ex and current socialists.
Apart from Coleman these included, Ministerial Appointee to the council Marilyn Kohlhase and Cheryl Cadman, a close associate of the “mainstream communist” Socialist Party of Aotearoa who is a trade union representative.
CEVEP also lobbied hard for PPL;
CEVEP prepared a written submission on the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave) Amendment Bill. Our submission supported the Bill. We noted that the proposed legislation was a first step towards fulfilling New Zealand’s international obligations concerning paid parental leave. We considered that the philosophy behind the proposed legislation was sound but we made some comments on practical details within the bill.
Coleman is still involved in CEVEP, more than 20 years on.
Coleman is a member of the Consulting Board of Editors of Brookers Human Rights Law Journal and is co-author of Butterworths Student Companion Guide to Employment Law.
She is a founder of the Wellington Women Lawyers Association and is a leader of the National Women Lawyers’ Association Steering Group, which is;
“…discussing the desirability of the establishment of a National Women Lawyer’s Association.”
This year, Coleman was appointed as a Queen’s Counsel by Solicitor-General David Collins.
Clearly Martha Coleman is an influential player in the NZ legal scene.
She has played a significant role in the “paid parental leave” and “equal pay for work of equal value” campaigns“.
Martha Coleman has helped to change our society for ever, just an another former Workers Communist League member, Sue Bradford did with her anti smacking legislation.
I’m old fashioned. I call this subversion. What do you call it?