Labour History Project Lecture – Rona Bailey: Communist, Pākehā, artist activist, Dr Cybèle Locke, 19 February 2024

Monday 19 February 2024, 6pm to 7:45pm

Taiwhanga Kauhau — Auditorium, (lower ground) National Library Wellington or on Zoom.

The Labour History Project biennial Rona Bailey lecture will be given by Dr Cybèle Locke and focus on the life of Rona Bailey. Rona Bailey has been described as ‘one of the most important figures on the radical left in twentieth-century NZ.’ In this talk, Cybèle will tell stories about Rona’s lifelong grass roots activism.

Art and grassroots activism

Rona Bailey has been described as ‘one of the most important figures on the radical left in twentieth-century New Zealand.’ In this talk, Dr Cybèle Locke will tell stories about Rona’s lifelong grassroots activism: why she became a communist trade unionist and cultural worker in 1940s Wellington and learned to campaign from where people are at; how her commitment to working cooperatively with others of different political persuasions in anti-war and anti-apartheid protest movements got her expelled from the Communist Party and led her into the Workers’ Communist League.

A focus on racism in New Zealand

After the 1981 Springbok tour, Māori activists challenged the anti-apartheid movement to turn its attention to racism in New Zealand. Rona began to read New Zealand history: “I felt ‘appalled, amazed, angry’ that I’d never learned what happened to Māori people in this country,” she reflected.

Bailey embarked on a process that led her to leave the Workers’ Communist League, embrace her Pākehā identity and tangata Tiriti responsibilities and help forge, in 1985, an organisation called Project Waitangi–Pākehā Debate the Treaty.

About the speaker

Cybèle Locke is a Pākehā historian who foregrounds working-class narratives in her work. She is a senior lecturer at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and author of Workers in the Margins: Union Radicals in Post-War New Zealand and Comrade – Bill Andersen: A Communist, Working-Class Life. She will speak to her most recent publication, Chapter 21 ‘Dancing for the Revolution: Rona Bailey, New Zealand Artist Activist (1914–2005)’ in F. de Haan (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Communist Women Activists around the World.

The Labour History Project

The Labour History Project is an organisation dedicated to researching, recording, preserving, and promoting Aotearoa New Zealand’s working-class history.

More information can be found here.