On the main street of Waihi, one of the country’s major mining towns, a plaque to unionist and miner Fred Evans lies mostly hidden from sight outside the settlement’s town hall.
Evans is one of the only unionists in Aotearoa who’s been killed during a strike, after he was attacked on 12 November 1912 by police during an ongoing dispute between the Waihi Gold Mining Company and the union.
That same union – the Waihi Trade Union of Workers (WTUW) – was affiliated to the ‘Red Feds’ or New Zealand Federation of Labour, which then went on to form the first Labour Party.
In 2021, the year before the 110th anniversary of Evans’ death, E tū Engineering, Infrastructure, and Extractions (EIE) Industry Council Convenor, Mark Anderson, raised the idea of commemorating the day.
“It’s an important story about political power. The striking miners weren’t just up against an employer, they were up against a police force and a government.”
Around 30 people came along to the weekend event, organised collectively by E tū, the Auckland Labour History Group, Labour Coromandel, and the NZTCU.
E tū Co-President Muriel Tunoho says she was touched by the story of Evans, the miners’ union, women and community fighting back when their rights were severely under attack.
“A huge price was paid, and the lessons from history are still relevant to us today. Building solidarity and organising collectively, including with tangata whenua, is vital to improving conditions for all workers and to strengthen our employment legislation framework.”