Workers Now is a new slate of candidates contesting this year’s general election. James Robb and Don Franks are the people behind this initiative and they are hoping to put the spotlight on working people’s interests. Both are seasoned activists who have campaigned for workers’ rights over many decades. Here is some background on these two candidates in their own words:
My involvement in politics in middle 1970s, while I was a student at Victoria University in Wellington, and centred around supporting struggles against racism, especially anti-apartheid actions. I was inspired by the Soweto uprising of 1976, and the Maori Land March of 1975 (which was the very first political demonstration I took part in). I also took part in some early women’s rights protests against efforts to tighten access to abortion. I joined the Socialist Action League at the end of 1976.
When the Socialist Action League organised its members to take industrial jobs in order to become part of the most powerful contingents of the unionised working class, I got a job as a bus driver, later briefly worked in the Ford car assembly plant in Seaview, and then moved to the Hawkes Bay to get a job in the big Tomoana freezing works there. I worked five seasons at Tomoana, mostly as a mutton butcher, and it was there that I gained valuable experience of being part of a militant and democratically-organised union. I later worked in two other freezing works, at Westfield and Auckland Meat Processors, and in a number of other factories in Auckland and Wellington, over the next twenty years.
In 1979 I travelled to Iran, where I was able to witness both the revolutionary upsurge of workers and peasants that had toppled to US-backed monarchy, and the first moves of the clerical-led counter-revolution which consolidated capitalist rule. For the next ten years I helped to organise solidarity with the workers and farmers of Nicaragua and Grenada, two small Central American and Caribbean countries where the working class had followed the example of Cuba and made a revolution that overthrew capitalist rule, but both of these revolutions were eventually defeated.
The union movement in this country entered a period of defeat and disintegration from the middle 1980s, although there were still a few defensive battles over the next decade. There was enough political space to discuss socialist ideas, though workers’ self-confidence had been shaken. During this period I was involved in an important international defence campaign in support of Mark Curtis, a socialist meat worker in the United States who was framed up on false charges of rape. There was also a campaign in my own defence when I was arrested while distributing socialist literature outside a factory gate in Auckland.
I withdrew from most active political campaigning and became a high school teacher in 2001, though I continued to give support in other ways, by helping to produce socialist literature. In 2012 I began writing articles for my political blog, called ‘A Communist at Large.’ I also wrote a novel based on my experiences in the meat works called The Chain, and a biography of Harry Holland, an early leader of the labour movement in Australia and New Zealand, which is due to be published later this year.
Politics never interested me in the slightest until 1971, when I went along to some anti Vietnam war protests, because friends of mine were going to them. From there I attended some Wellington Committee on Vietnam meetings. At those gatherings, the people seeming to talk most sense were some recently expelled members of the Communist Party. I sought out their company, read some of their books and came to agree with the basic Marxist worldview.
Wanting to take a deeper part in socialist activity I went to work at Ford motors’ Seaview plant. This was a well unionised factory where I stayed for eleven years, eventually becoming senior delegate of the most active union on site. During this time I was elected as a Trades council and Federation of Labour conference delegate. While at Fords I helped form the student based Workers Communist League and participated in many protests and campaigns.
Feeling burnt out in 1984 I took a break to become a professional musician and part time cleaner. Becoming active in what there was of the Musicians union I was elected Wellington branch president and FOL conference delegate. I also used my musical ability to compose and perform left-wing political songs at marches and rallies. Two recorded CDs of this work are available on https://donfranksnz.bandcamp.com.
As a commercial cleaner I was active in the Service and Food workers union and published the book “Next to Gods: a cleaner’s story”. After the Workers Communist League dissolved I joined the Socialist Worker’s Organisation, becoming a reporter, cartoonist and regular seller of its paper Socialist Worker. After leaving the SWO after policy disagreement I was inactive for a while until the Gulf War, then helping to found and build Peace Action Wellington.
Arising from connections made there I joined the Worker’s Party, eventually becoming editor of its paper The Spark. During this time I stood as the Workers Party candidate for Wellington Central in the 2008 general election, on the slogan “Workers should be running the country”, winning 171 votes.
Agreeing with some other comrades that our organisation was not viable in the present climate I left the WP in 2011 and contributed regularly to the Marxist blog Redline . I also became active in solidarity action supporting the radical feminist group Speak Up for Women. There, I got to know fellow Marxist James Robb and in 2022 found agreement with him to stand in the 2023 election on the ten point programe of Workers Now.