With the New Zealand Labour Party celebrating its centenary this year, Midweek talks to local Labour identities.
Stewart Gray is staunchly Labour.
His father was a trade unionist and party member, and Stewart joined the St John's Hill branch in the 1970s.
"The branch was made up almost entirely of middle class people, with one exception, and that was me. I joined the party mainly because of the antics of Robert Muldoon, but also from a desire for a more equitable society. The activists during that period of Russell Marshall's tenure were definitely very middle class. Professionals, lawyers, engineers, teachers ... . I was the pet worker." Stewart was working for the City Council at the time, like his father before him. He will tell you he's been a gutter sweeper all his life.
Muldoon, the nuclear debate, Vietnam, as well as racial issues which had surfaced in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s were all reasons why Stewart joined.
"It was a dark period. Those issues that brought me into the Labour Party, but of which I was well aware before that, put us on the right side of history, although they weren't popular at the time."
At 68, he is still an activist and very much old school. He misses the style and manner of, "The great figures of the Labour Party who were brought up on soap box ravings and an absolute conviction in what they believed in, a preparedness to argue and take on the opposition, not to worry too much about media management."
He has no heroes, but can relate to Norman Kirk and Harry Holland.
"One of the problems the party has is that the sector of society you would naturally expect to embrace the philosophical base of the Labour Party tends not to vote. Arising out of that there is a political reality that elections are won in the middle. Therefore the Labour Party quite deliberately is trying to woo the middle ground, to convince middle class people of the need for social equity at a time when there are counter influences.
"There is very much a class divide. John Key used the term 'the underclass' when he was in opposition. That underclass has developed and, in the meantime, there has been underfunding of Government social agencies. I don't have a lot of faith in abandoning basic Labour philosophies to accommodate a relatively affluent middle class."
He believes unionism has received bad publicity under right wing governments.
"When Labour came to power they made unionism compulsory and out of that rose the Federation of Labour and then you had the national awards system, which meant every worker in a particular industry was covered by an award that was negotiated annually and had a set of provisions that protected workers - overtime and hours of work, health and safety, etc. You didn't need a national minimum wage because the award wage provided for it. It also meant wages weren't used as a competitive tool against your commercial opposition. It helped create a more equitable society. The National Party deliberately dismantled those systems, arguing it would create better flexibility. The real intention was to lower wages and conditions and that's what happened, exacerbating the gap between rich and poor."
Stewart argues that health and safety has suffered in that it is now applied by statute instead of through award negotiations. He concedes there are international factors determining how future workplaces will look. Despite politicians of the right infuriating him, Stewart has respect for politicians of all parties.
"I believe they have to be more honest than the average person because there is public scrutiny of what they do and say."
¦ Labour Centenary, founded July 7, 1916, will be celebrated at the Grand Hotel Dining Room in Whanganui on Thursday, July 7, from 5.30pm, organised by the Labour Party Whanganui Branch.