Workers and other taonga
Auckland Museum has been much in the news over the past week. On Tuesday the New Zealand Herald told its readers that the museum had won a poll to determine Aucklanders' favourite building; on Thursday the same paper broke the story of Director Vanda Vitali's plan to disestablish a large number of positions at the museum, throwing the future of scores of workers into doubt and angering some of the iwi who entrust their taonga to the big building in the Domain. Vitali's plans are being opposed by the Public Service Association, which is the union charged with representing sites like the museum.
I've worked part-time at the museum since last July, and I'm a member of the PSA's museum branch committee. For both these reasons, I can't comment individually on many aspects of recent events at the institution. The beauty of unions is that they allow workers to act and speak collectively, and I think that the PSA statement on the situation at the museum does a good job of expressing the opinions of a very large number of museum staff, myself included.
I think that it was more than achitectural qualities that won the museum top place in the recent poll on Aucklanders' favourite buildings. Through its collection of taonga from Aotearoa and the Pacific and its role as a living memorial to Kiwis who died fighting abroad, the museum has a place in the hearts of a huge number of Aucklanders. The museum's workforce is as important to its identity as its architecture and its artefacts. With their vast experience, their skills in liasing with the public and groups like iwi and veterans' associations, their knowledge of New Zealand's history and its cultures, their ability to explain complex ideas and recondite objects in accessible, useful ways, and their concern for the integrity of the institution they serve, the staff of Auckland War Memorial Museum are a living treasure. Over the past ten months I have been repeatedly amazed by the depth and breadth of the human resources at the institution. I believe that the many expressions of support the museum workers have received over the past few days show that the public of Auckland recognise and appreciate the work they do.
The only way to guarantee the security of museum staff is to build a strong union branch on the site, so that we have the power to defend our interests. We need to follow the example of many similar sites - Auckland public library, and the Auckland zoo, for instances - and win a collective agreement. We'll be working to further strengthen our position over the coming few weeks and months, while keeping in close contact with all the members of the general public, iwi, and other unions that have offered their support over the past few days.