* Bill Andersen, unionist, communist. Died aged 80.

Gordon H. (Bill) Andersen, one of the last of a once-prevalent breed of hardline union leaders, came from an era where strikes and stopworks were often-used weapons in industrial disputes.

As late as 1985 it was his idea, as secretary of the Northern Drivers Union, that resulted in the union, along with storepersons and packers, engine drivers and boilermakers, buying a bus.

It was immaculately fitted with the amenities of home - shower, toilet, stove, fridge and bunks - and named Fort Knox for the then president of the Federation of Labour, Jim Knox.

It was, Bill said, designed to make life on trade union picket lines that bit easier.

An employer once assessed Andersen as a competent operator, dedicated to communism "who doesn't expose himself but who sends in his henchmen first and then arrives to save the day".

Bill Andersen would not talk about manipulation. "I've tried to specialise in tactical leadership arising from political philosophy," he said in 1991. "I don't attempt to be an impressive speaker. What I try to do is get people thinking how they are going to win their particular struggle."

To some, Andersen was a communist rabble-rouser, a man who called a strike if he got out of bed on the wrong side. Some employers viewed him as a threat to the success of their company, the happiness of the country, the health of the economy; a man who used the wildcat strike technique which should have become obsolete.

Strikes there were. In 1968, for example, there were four major strikes involving the Northern Drivers Union - oil drivers (no petrol for Aucklanders), bus drivers (no transport), brewery tanker drivers (no beer) and drivers who hauled butter.

But for for many workers, this usually quietly spoken man seemed one of the few union secretaries who had their interests at heart - a humble, unyielding, honest person loyal to his principles.

These principles included an emphatic, unshakeable belief in Soviet-style communism. This was bolstered by several visits there, including hospital treatment.

"Belief in communism is one of the biggest forces in my life," he told the Weekly News in 1969. "It's well known that if I didn't have political ties I could go a lot further within the union movement."

But he denied taking socialistic belief into negotiations with employers.

"I'll just be trying to find out how much we can win off these guys."

He received hate mail over his communism. Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon frequently attacked him.

Bill Andersen came from an Auckland "average working class family". He left school at the end of the fourth form and became a seaman in 1941, remembered by friends as a very large, hard man - "I used to get into a fair amount of strife individually and collectively".

But the Communist Party, which he joined in Britain in 1944, and unionism gave him his sense of purpose. He was also a veteran of the 1951 waterfront dispute, which polarised New Zealand.

For many years he was president of the Auckland Trades Council. At the time of his death he was president of the National Distribution Union and leader of the Socialist Party of Aotearoa, formed after he left the Socialist Unity Party.

Former Federation of Labour leader Sir Tom Skinner summed up Bill Andersen in 1991: "You always knew where he was coming from. Bill never stuck a knife in your back. It was always from the front and you could see it coming ... an honest and sincere approach."

He is survived by his partner, Jennifer, and children Karl, Glenn and Rochelle.