Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
‘Labor omnia vincit’: work conquers all. The line is taken from the Roman poet Virgil’s Georgics, and shows the confidence of Wellington’s trade union movement. For decades Trades Hall here in Vivian Street was the organising hub of both local and national trade union activism, strategy, and administration.
Its tragic history is the focus for this tour, however. On 27th March 1984 Ernie Abbott, the caretaker at Trades Hall, was killed when he moved a booby-trapped suitcase which had been left in the building’s hallway. Abbott’s killer has never been brought to justice. Ernie Abbott was Vice President of the Caretakers and Cleaners Union, one of the predecessor unions forming what is today E Tū.
Abbott was martyred for the cause of trade unionism, and the terrorist attack was obviously intended – by whomever was responsible – as an attack on union organisation generally. A bus strike in Wellington that week had been coordinated from Trades Hall, and the Trades Council Executive had met in the building earlier on the day of his death to organise against the National government’s wage freeze.
Don Swan, who was an organiser with the Cleaners Union in 1984, remembered Abbott at a later memorial:
“Ernie, like Frederick George Evans before him, was a trade union martyr. He was killed at a very difficult time in New Zealand trade union history, when Prime Minister Muldoon was daily whipping up anti-union hysteria. It was inevitable that someone would pay the price for this and sad that this person should be Ernie, who had ironically been awarded life membership of the Cleaners Union just the day previous to the bombing.”
Want to learn more?
The Hatred Campaign (1985) is a documentary film tribute to Abbott, covering his life, death, the context to the bombing and his funeral.
Dominion Post, Trades Hall bombing followed years of political violence
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Radical Wellington