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Obituary: Margaret Long – Impassioned battler for equal pay

The Dominion Post  by TIM DONOGHUE Sources: Mark Derby, Miriam, Martin and David Long, Margaret Corner.

Margaret Constance Long (nee Brand),  Equity campaigner:

Margaret Long helped lead the campaign for equal pay for women in the public sector, which became law in 1960. MARGARET LONG was an integral part of the campaign which helped women achieve ‘‘government service’’ pay equity in New Zealand in 1960.Her role was partly inspired by a comment made in 1955 by Public Service Commission chairman George Bolt, who was asked from the floor of a Public Service Association conference: why were women paid less than men?

Bolt replied: ‘‘Why pay 10 bob for an article you can get for five?’’ In late 1954, Long had moved away from her job as a secondary school teacher in the Hutt Valley to a position as publicity officer in the Electricity Commission. She held this job for three months before being instructed by the Public Service Commission to move to the Statistics Department as a clerical worker/writer. While at Statistics, she became immersed in the PSA equal pay campaign for women. She worked with other likeminded people such as Cath Kelly (nee Eichelbaum), Margot Jenkins, Joyce McBeath, Mira Petricevic, Joan Stone, Bill Sutch, Julia Wallace, Conrad Bollinger and Jim Delahunty in achieving her goal.

During the equal-pay battle, she also met her future husband Dan Long, who had been imprisoned during World War II as a conscientious objector. He went on to become a future PSA national president and general secretary. Long and her colleagues were adept lobbyists. They pushed their cause by championing the case of Jean Parker, a Dunedin Inland Revenue Department employee who had her salary reduced from £695 to £460 a year when she appealed against the appointment of a male employee.

When Walter Nash, then aged 75, was elected prime minister in December 1957, she was ecstatic. It took three years, however, for the Nash administration to enact Long’s dream of pay equity legislation in Parliament, on October 25, 1960. Long was known as ‘‘Miss Firebrand’’ by her Employers Federation and Public Service Commission establishment opponents, a label she found sexist and belittling.

Long was born in the Hutt Valley, but began her secondary education by donning the navy blue serge uniform of Auckland Girls’ Grammar in 1939. She excelled in history and English and won a scholarship to the University of Auckland, where she graduated with an MA (Hons 1st class) in history. In 1948, she enrolled for further study at Auckland Teachers College before, in 1949, returning to the Hutt Valley where she worked as a teacher for four years.

This time proved to be a forerunner of the equal-pay campaign – as a teacher and PPTA member at Hutt Valley High School, she launched a campaign to obtain equal pay among the teaching community. Born in 1927, Long hailed from skilled Scottish working-class stock from the industrial city of Aberdeen. Her father George Brand was wounded in France in 1915 and invalided home to Scotland early in World War I. He married Margaret’s mother Susan Mann on the same day he returned to frontline duties in France later in 1915.

In 1921, the Brands made the decision to emigrate to New Zealand where George found work in a Wellington factory as a furniture maker. Before too long he was running the factory and the Brands purchased a house in Totara Cres, near Waterloo railway station, where Margaret was born. All went well for the young girl until the Depression years when she was told by her mother on one Christmas Day, soon after her father had lost his job, that Father Christmas too was out of work.

In these tough years, the Brands moved to the then quiet Auckland suburb of Westmere where Margaret’s parents rented a house. They finally purchased a home in Foxton when they retired. Margaret and Dan Long were married in 1960, a short time after their legislative equal-pay success. They lived in Heretaunga, and had three children. After the children started at playcentre, Long and others began raising funds for a new centre in Moonshine, which set off a long interest in playcentre. Another project was looking after the welfare of the partners of male prisoners. The Longs lived a stone’s throw from Wi Tako (now known as Rimutaka) Prison. Dan Long had been a prisoner himself there as a conscientious objector in World War II. Working with Prisoners Aid in Upper Hutt, the Longs threw their home open to many women visiting their partners in prison. Long was also involved with Women’s Refuge in the Hutt Valley.

Dan Long was attending a trade union conference in Melbourne when he suffered a second, this time fatal, heart attack in March, 1976. After her husband’s death, Long was left to raise the couple’s three children – Martin, Miriam and David, then aged 14, 13 and 11.She purchased a small Kelburn home near Victoria University and began working as a publications officer for the Historic Places Trust at Antrim House in Boulcott St.

After retirement she moved to Otaki, where she lived for almost 28 years. There she made a new life for herself, becoming involved with the Otaki women’s health group, the Otaki Historical Society and the Otaki Museum. In 2001, she was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for services to the public service.

Published in the Dominion Saturday 28 March

 The Dominion Post TIM DONOGHUE Sources: Mark Derby, Miriam, Martin and David Long, Margaret Corner.

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