by Don Franks

Staunch anti capitalist fighter Jim Delahunty died in his sleep last night after over sixty years of uncompromising activism.

Born into a working class Auckland family, Jim grew up to the sound of his dad’s Irish rebel songs. This laid the foundation for a lifetime of left activism often set to music. Jim was an early stalwart of the New Zealand folk music scene, helping his friend Rona Bailey collect songs and also writing his own. A few of those, like the anti Muldoon anthem “Put a pig in a beehive, you don’t get honey” , are on record, but most of Jim’s many topical ditties have unfortunately not been collected.

As a young man Jim Delahunty joined the Communist Party of New Zealand, but an aversion to Stalinism soon drove him to leave. Unlike some lapsed communists, Jim didn’t cease from activism, he played an ongoing and often pivotal part in many struggles of the day. A tireless campaigner against capital punishment, Jim was to see the death penalty finally repealed on his birthday.

During the 1970’s Jim was an editor of The Paper, a broad left magazine with a respectable circulation among workers. Subsequent to that Jim served briefly in New Labour, leaving that when it proved to be another form of old Labour. From then on Jim stuck to producing his own publications, such as his regular magazine “Dig” and an access radio show “Behind the news”. These continued full bore after Jim retired from his job as an organiser in the PSA.

Jim was a personal friend and inspiration to me since I first met him in 1972. We disagreed on some issues, like Lenin and foreign control of New Zealand, but were as one on others, like class collaboration and the New Zealand Labour party, which Jim held in lifelong withering contempt.

Jim is survived by his wife June and their four children, who will miss him terribly, as will many around Wellington’s left.

A week ago Jim told me: “Well, when I look back over my political life I think I can say at least there’s been some consistency.”

A few days before he died, Jim wrote what was to be his last newsletter. An excerpt from it shows the sort of consistency Jim maintained.

“Behind the News NOTES FOR 19/9/10 –

“Dr Kevin Woods our newly appointed Director General of Health is not a doctor of medicine but a doctor of philosophy and it’s his philosophy that worries me. His fame seems to rest on his ability to fire health staff and pretend he is improving the service to patients. Woods is supposed to have saved 27 billion NZ dollars while in charge in Scotland, and this year he was involved in a further reduction of nursing positions by sacking 1500 nurses. That was his job in Scotland – now he is to come here to help the National government save money on health by doing the same. Some are alarmed at his appointment. Green MP Kevin Hague, a fomer health board chief executive, is alarmed and says “He comes from presiding over the decimation of health services in Scotland. The degree of comfort he has with such cuts in pretty problematic.” – a statement far from a forthright criticism, if you can follow it at all.”

“Brenda Pilott of he PSA which has some health service members was even less revolutionary –”Come and see the situation here before you decide to cut,” she begs. How genteel a comment and I’m sure the good philosopher will look before he makes his incisions here. Because that was what he is being appointed for. But the PSA nowadays believes in partnership with the forces of reaction — Maybe Brenda will hold the patient’s throat to help him get at the jugular. What a mess of numbskulls the once radical PSA has become.”

“So who is going to speak out and call this Sweeney Todd of the health service a paid slasher and try to raise barrie rs to letting him do his foul job? You know I think we need a left movement in this country, don’t we ?”


  1. Victoria Quade says:

    Thanks Don, a good tribute. Although I did not know Jim as long as you, I am glad I was able to work with him on Wellington Access Radio. He was a constant reminder of how important it is not to give up on the struggle for social justice.

  2. I didnt no him at all and I am glad he made a substantial contribution and glad that he is acknowledged and best wishes for his family.

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