If the National Distribution Union could possibly move an atom further left, it will do so under the leadership of new National Secretary Robert Reid.
Reid, the current NDU president is set to replace Laila Harre in August as she departs for an HR job with the Auckland Transition Agency.
Reid has a more than 35 year history on the left and is easily one of the country’s most committed socialists.
The son of a Dunedin Presbyterian Minister, young Robert started out Tory, joining the Young Nats at 14 at Kaikorai Valley High School in the late ’60s.
Unfortunately he also joined the Marxist leaning Student Christian Movement, which combined with the Vietnam War, turned Reid to the Dark Side.
By the early ’70s Reid was involved in student politics at Lincoln College and was active in solidarity with breakaway East Pakistan-now Bangladesh.
When not hanging around with the Progressive Youth Movement, Reid was leading another Maoist front-Organisation to Halt Military Service (OHMS-formed to organise resistance against the Compulsory Military Training then in force.
By 1973 Reid was in Wellington-serving as Victoria Uni Students Association Man Vice President.
Always interested in international affairs Reid was assistant-secretary of South Pacific Action Network (SPAN), another Maoist run organisation, designed to encourage revolutionary activity in the region. SPAN shared its PO Box with the NZ/North Korea Friendship Society.
In 1974-75 Reid was chairman of Wellington Committee On Vietnam. His duties including writing a letter to Christchurch “ex” communist Elsie Locke
20.2.75 COV, Wgtn-wrote letter with Geoff Woolford to Elsie Locke (mother of Green MP Keith Locke) asking her to sign Declaration against Vietnam war.
Through late 70s Reid worked, like many of his comrades in the Wellington Marxist-Leninist Organisation, in car factories in the Hutt Valley. The Maoists were intent on infiltrating industry at the time and burrowing into the union movement from below.
In 1980 Reid helped found a new organisation-the Workers Communist League (WCL)-popularly known as the “weasels” for their sneaky and underhand tactics.
By 1983 Reid was on serving on the WCL Central Committee and as an Engineering Union delegate at General Motors.
By 1985 he was National Co-ordinator for the Employment Network, where he worked closely with another old Maoist hang-around, future Labour cabinet Minister Paul Swain.
In July 1986 Reid and Swain co-wrote an article for radical journal Race Gender Class “The Government Employment Strategy: A Critique” The article argued thatleft wing activists are challenged to “develop alternative strategies alongside unemployed groups“. The WCL dominated the unemployed workers movement that was very active at the time.
By the late ’80s Reid was WCL International Affairs officer-a role which brought him into close contact with several foreign communist and radical organisations.
The WCL’s main foreign cause at the time was supporting the Maoist led insurrection in the Philippines. Reid and many of his comrades set up the Philippines Solidarity Network (PSN) which sent comrades to the Philippines to observe the rebels in action and toured several Filipino revolutionaries through this country. PSN was a WCL dominated organisation, but it was fronted by former Trotskyite Keith Locke.
In late 1989 Reid and his partner Maxine Gay joined a nine person New Zealand delegation invited to attend a Workers Conference in Tokyo and Osaka. This was the beginning of People’s Plan for the 21st Century (PP21) a pan Pacific radical movement, uniting militant unions, NGOs, indigenous groups and others in a push for a new type of socialism, to replace the failed models of the 20th century.
While mainly involving former Maoist organisations, PP21 was initiated by several Japanese radicals, including Muto Ichiyo who had worked closely with a Soviet KGB connected ring in smuggling US Vietnam War deserters through Japan in the early ’70s.
PP21 later merged with the World Social Forum movement, a rotating semi-annual gathering of communist parties and radical movements.
In the early 90s Reid was Manawatu Secretary of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), but lost his job after Ruth Richardson’s admirable Employment Contracts Act cut union membership and revenues.
The WCL dissolved around the same time, but Reid joined its shortlived successor group Left Currents-as did another old “weasel” future Green MP Sue Bradford.
In late 1993 Reid was in Thailand working for the PP21 organising committee. The same year he served on the National Organising Group for the Peoples Assembly/ Building Our Own Futures (BOOF)project-the New Zealand PP21 affiliate.
An article in the People’s Network’s Common Ground Vol 1 No 1 1994 stated that “PP21 was the international inspiration for the Peoples Assembly and the ongoing activity and more than a dozen people from Aoteoroa have been involved in International PP21 activities.“
Reid participated in the Peoples Network with several former WCL supportrs, including Maxine Gay, Quentin Jukes and Sue and Bill Bradford until it dissolved into the Green Party in the late ’90s.
Reid worked for another PP21 affiliate through the ’90s-Asia Pacific Workers Solidairty Links-travelling often to Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines to laise with the area’s many militant trade unions.
In 1995 Reid was chairman of Aoteoroa Non-Governmental Organisations Association (ANGOA)-a “weasel” infiltrated organisation charged with dispersing taxpayers money to various “charitable” causes.
In the late ’90s Reid was a leading light in TUF (Trade Union Federation), a militant breakaway from the CTU, led largely by former WCL members.
In 2001 Reid was one of the initial sponsors of Christchurch based anti free trade group ARENA-a coalition of former Maoists, anarchists and Maori radicals.
Other ARENA sponsors included; Dr Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law, Auckland University; Moana Jackson, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou; Maxine Gay, President, NZ Trade Union Federation; Cherryl Waerea-i te-rangi Smith, Ngati Apa, Ngati Kahungunu, Te Aitanga A Hauiti; Radha D’Souza, APEC Monitoring Group; Aziz Choudry, Coordinator, GATT Watchdog, PP21 activist; Annette Sykes, Ngati Pikiao; Bill Rosenberg, CAFCA; Leigh Cookson, GATT Watchdog; David Small, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Canterbury; Gillian Southey; Joe Davies, Coordinator, East Timor Independence Centre Otautahi; Murray Horton, CAFCA and former PP21 activist Trish Murray.
In 2002 Reid was Alliance Party candidate for Wellington Central.
Robert Reid has been an active member of the Alliance since its inception…Robert is President of UNITE, a union especially for low waged, part-time, casual and unemployed workers. He was National Secretary of the former Footwear Workers Union. He is coordinator of the Council of Trade Unions Industry and Economic Development Programme. He serves on the transition board for the new Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Carpet (TCFC) Industry Development Organisation. Robert has been active in the anti-free trade movement for many years. This involvement has been through union activity opposed to the elimination on tariffs on New Zealand manufacturing industries through to membership of anti-free trade organisations such as ARENA.
After 2005 visit to China with a CTU delegation Reid said the situation was worse than anything he had seen on official or un-offical trips to China, but added “Before we throw any more stones at China we should clean up our own industry first.”
Robert Reid is set to lead New Zealand’s third largest and possibly, strategically most important, union. He will take over an organisation completely dominated by Socialist Party of Aotearoa communists, former Maoists and anarchists.
At what crucial point will Reid turn his union against the National/ACT government?
Is it if, or is it when?