by Jen Wilson
At this time we remember and honour long time union leader Helen Kelly, a brave and compassionate person who mourned with and comforted the families of workers killed at work; Forestry workers, the Pike River miners, Charanpreet Dhaliwal, aged only 22, beaten to death on his first night on the job as a security guard. So many dead because their lives and safety were not valued by their employers. Standing beside the grieving families Helen Kelly demanded justice, the prosecution of their employers who put profits above the lives of workers. She shined a light onto failed business practices which made these deaths inevitable and demanded and worked for change. Her death is a great loss.
We also remember Helen Kelly as a woman who fought for the living; early childhood workers, teachers, meat workers, actor and film industry workers, farm workers, forestry workers, new migrant workers, those hurt by unjust trial periods, and women- still paid on average 14% less than men. She rejected the dominant narrative of bosses as society’s benefactors, and workers as beneficiaries, properly grateful for the boss’s largesse, insisting that workers’ contribution be acknowledged and rewarded and that their interests both in and out of the workplace be promoted.
Helen Kelly spent much of her life advocating for workers – and those in power who praise her in death, while spending much of their lives privileging elites at the expense of workers should be ashamed. Helen Kelly did not work for all New Zealanders, not John Key, not Peter Talley, not Peter Whittle- she worked for the extraordinary ordinary people both in and out of unions and we ordinary people are grateful to her and mourn her passing.