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The time Helen Kelly stood up for 5000 hungry Maori children

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The time Helen Kelly stood up for 5000 hungry Maori children
Martyn Bomber Bradbury

With the passing of Helen Kelly, working Pakeha and Maori have lost one of their greatest champions.

There will be many tears shed next Friday at her funeral in Wellington and many stories shared, but I think of any CTU President before her, it will be Maori who feel her loss deepest.

Helen's tireless fight to help the most vulnerable NZers make it home after work each night found her standing alongside those who were most impacted by our lax safety standards, and that was inevitably always Maori workers.

For me there is one story that always stands out as the perfect example of who Helen was and what she meant.

In 2012, Talley's Affco were locked in another vicious industrial dispute with their workers and the Meat Workers Union were being forced out of their work places as they attempted to negotiate fair working conditions.

This time however, Talley's Affco were playing a very mean game. They gerrymandered the situation so that workers were not eligible for welfare, meaning those most dependent on workers pay, 5000 mostly Maori children, would go hungry until their parents agreed to the brutal conditions of the bosses.

Helen didn't flinch. While faced with a company who were willing to use hunger as a negotiating tactic, she led the campaign to fight back and helped organise food parcels from around the country to help feed the workers and their families.

A less courageous leader would have simply given in, not Helen.

That boldness to stand with those most in need and never flinch from the fight was what made Helen so very special. She always understood that it was about the people, about the people, about the people.

She will be greatly missed by us all.


Martyn Bradbury

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