20 Years of the Wellington Peoples’ Centre

This report on the Wellington Peoples’ Centre, by Ian Anderson, will be published in the June issue of The Spark. Sue Bradford, who helped set up the Peoples’ Centres, will be speaking on unemployed and beneficiary fightback at our Socialism 2012 conference.

After 20 years of support for unemployed and low-income workers, the Wellington Peoples’ Centre (WPC) closed its doors on the 28th of April 2012. However most services continue to operate independently, and by decision of the membership the WPC remains as a legal entity.

Background: by the people, for the people
Peoples’ Centres first formed in the early ’90s, out of the radical unemployed workers’ movement. In an interview for the April Spark Sue Bradford explained, “This was partly because things were getting tougher, and partly because having a paid membership base made our work with unemployed workers more effective. Peoples’ Centres provided services, including hair-dressing and medical services.”

The WPC itself formed out of the Wellington Community Law Centre, Wellington Unemployed Workers Union, DPB Action and Downtown Community Ministry in 1992. The only centre to last for two decades, by early 2012 the WPC provided cheap dentistry, counselling, Social English classes, Workers’ Rights advice and benefit rights advocacy.

Isolation of the Wellington Peoples’ Centre
In recent years the WPC has become isolated. In the late ’80s and early ’90s the unemployed movement was galvanised by large-scale redundancies, however with the near-destruction of the left & organised labour movement this ultimately waned. The movement’s retreat undermined the membership base of people’s centres across the country.

Most WPC services, while necessary, were not profitable. Given the unprofitability and fluctuating paid membership base, services became dependent on diminishing grants funding. Ultimately the centre was unable to meet its rent obligations, and was evicted.

Services continue in new forms
Each of the services has had to find a new home. Given its cashflow issues the WPC was already restructuring prior to the eviction, but the eviction demanded far more drastic changes.

The management committee consulted with membership on how to restructure services. A well-attended Special General Meeting on Wednesday the 28th of March saw discussion of priorities, and some amendments to remits proposed by the management committee. The membership overwhelmingly passed motions that the WPC continue as an incorporated society, and that the management committee seek to sell the dental service to an appropriate like-minded organisation.

The dental service could only continue in its location under new ownership, but the membership sought to ensure it remain low-cost. By selling to the highest buyer, the WPC would sacrifice the lowest cost dental service in the region: 80% of dental services in Wellington are owned by the corporation Lumino, which sets targets incompatible with maintaining a low cost service. Staff are aiming to set the practice up as an independent trust.

Other services such as benefit advocacy and worker’s rights advice have found new homes in the community. Details for these can be found at wellingtonpeoplescentre.org.nz

The WPC retains a membership base, a website and a bank account. By maintaining the existence of the Peoples’ Centre as an incorporated society, the membership is leaving the door open for future developments.

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Comments

  1. Don Franks says:

    Not sure of the date, but I can immediately recall in my memory the day when the Peoples Centre moved into the old Federation of Labour building. It was grey and overcast and we had a karakia on the concrete slabs before we went in the glass doors up the stairs.
    There was some Worker Communist League input, in the spirit of ‘serve the people’.
    Yes, ” most WPC services, while necessary, were not profitable. Given the unprofitability and fluctuating paid membership base, services became dependent on diminishing grants funding.”
    Through the centre’s life, this contradiction stuck out like dogs balls.
    Was the People’s centre some sort of radical alternative, or was it just another sad puppy seeking after the hind tit of nanny state?
    All sorts of staunch people put many hours in to fight the good fight.
    I think there was not enough stones in our side’s basket.
    A few years back I applied for a coordinators job at the People’s Centre.
    In the course of my interview I made a very negative remark about the Labour party.
    “We need to work with our allies on the left” I was told and with that advice went all my hopes of taking the position.
    The People’s centre project enjoyed a huge input of leftist goodwill and along the way it helped quite a lot of people.
    In an era of higher class struggle it could have been a strong resource for our side.
    The lesson I take from that era is we put 90%of effort into reformism and 4 or 5% into revolution.
    Hoping your generation can get the mix better.

  2. Well put

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