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.