Robert Slater (1850-1931)
Creating a workers' paradise on the
Slater was from Lancashire, England. He
grew up a devout Methodist and an ardent
champion of unions and co-operatives. He
came to Dunedin in 1879 and immediately
began organising trade unions here. Within
a decade Dunedin had become the most unionised
town in New Zealand, in large part through
an organisational campaign led by Slater.
He was prominently involved in the great
Maritime Strike of 1890. After its failure
he organised Labour Day, to show that organised
labour could organise a major public event.
This was later made a national holiday and
we still celebrate it today. In the 1890s
Dunedin's unionists rallied from their defeat
and began to win political power in the
city. Slater never made it to Parliament
himself but he was one of the chief architects
of Dunedin becoming a Liberal-Labour stronghold.
In 1895 he was elected as a workers' assessor
in the new Arbitration Court. Over the next
twelve years he helped develop this agency
into a body to legislate wages and work
conditions. New Zealand became a skilled
workers' paradise - the land without strikes.
Visitors came from overseas to study the
miracle and many of them sought out Bob
(Photograph, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)
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