On Friday New Zealand workers lost a friend, an advocate and one to make their number truly proud.
Helen Kelly came from a background strong on politics. Her Dad was President of the Wellington Council of Trade Unions and her mother organized anti-Vietnam War protests. It is not that she did not consider politics as a means to advancing her cause. She was offered a spot on the Labour Party list when she considered standing in 2014, but as it had so many other times, worker causes got in the way.
Whether one is a unionist or not, one has to respect the work Ms Kelly did over the years, tirelessly standing up to businesses and notable New Zealanders on behalf of workers rights. Ms Kelly went after Federated Farmers, the management of Pike River miners, forestry operations among others. Some of the campaigns were not universally supported, whilst others resulted in significant drops in work place accidents, changes in what were understood to be best practices
When Ms Kelly was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015 the fighter who stood up for vulnerable and hard done by workers and their families began a new and much more personal fight. She became a voice for the legalization of medical marijuana and in the months up to yesterday morning, she graciously gave up time she could have spent privately, allowing the media to interview her. She was interviewed showing how she prepared a marijuana brew illegally and talking about how it mitigated the physical pain she was on. I have long thought medical marijuana should be legalized, and if evidence was needed to swing the public opinion, this had to be it.
Helen Kelly is gone now, but the fight she rightfully involved herself so heavily in representing the interests of the worker goes on. The many issues still to be resolved and and vulnerable and hard done by workers needing a voice still need an advocate – still need another Helen Kelly.
Ms Kelly’s efforts on behalf of workers won her respect from both sides of Parliament. Prime Minister John Key called her a tenacious fighter. And at her C.T.U. leaving function Opposition Leader Andrew Little called her fearless.
Thank you Helen. Thank you very much.
Rest In Peace.