Peter Conway.

MIL OSI – Source: Council Of Trade Unions – CTU mourns Peter Conway

Peter Conway.
Peter Conway.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi is thankful for all the expressions of support and admiration of past CTU Secretary Peter Conway following his death this week.

Peter was a fine person and the outpouring of grief is an indication of how much he was admired and loved.

Peter held two jobs at the NZCTU – the economist position and Secretary.  In both he used his considerable knowledge and skill to argue that the New Zealand economy existed for a purpose and not a means unto itself.  He advocated strongly and often singularly that when the economy did not work for working people – that was because of policy choices – and these policies could and should be changed.

Peter was able to simplify these messages so workers could engage in this debate and contribute their own views.  He proposed real alternative practical policies that did incorporate the needs of workers.

Unions are about jobs and Peter strongly advocated that our industries and sectors needed a plan to help them grow, and that the expertise and skills of workers needed to be at the centre of this.  He was widely read and was a sought after contributor to many forums.

Peter was also a skilled union leader and was involved in all of the most difficult industrial disputes during his time as Secretary.

He was able to help both practically by providing direct support and solidarity to workers during these disputes but also intellectually – looking for solutions, levers for settlement and developing strategic moves that would see workers get a fair deal.  He always insisted that when workers were in a dispute everyone pulled together, dropped what else they were doing, and ensured they had the support they needed.

Many statements in the last two days have recorded how good Peter was at relationships.  This was one of his strengths.  He was always respectful and genuinely interested in finding solutions.

But this should not be mistaken for him not feeling or expressing genuine anger when he witnessed things occurring that were inherently bad for working people.  His huge anger at the introduction of new labour laws by the current Government, particularly the unfair right to dismiss workers in the first 90 days, was evident in the campaign he headed to expose these changes and organise workers against them.

He had no respect for those advocating those sorts of policies and his years of experience organising for the then retail union the NDU (now First Union), made him acutely aware of what these laws meant in real terms for working people.  As someone said about him, he could take the wind out of a storm, but he also could let the storm brew when that was what was needed.

The staff at the NZCTU, those in its affiliated unions and their members lost more than a dear dear friend this week.  They lost someone who genuinely wanted them to succeed.  Someone who used his skills and intellect to fight in their corner.  Someone who could go anywhere and do a good job on behalf of them.  Someone who they were immensely proud of and someone who they will always miss.

A funeral will be held for Peter in Wellington next Wednesday

Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.