ROBERTS, James, C.M.G.
A new biography of Roberts, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.p>James Roberts was born at Cork, Ireland, on 25 February 1881, the son of Thomas Roberts and Teresa Stewart Roberts, née O'Driscoll. He was educated at Irish National Schools and went to sea when he was 16. In 1899 he visited New Zealand and returned to settle two years later. He joined the New Zealand Railways Department and worked on the construction of the Main Trunk line. Later he was employed by the Wellington Gasworks and on the waterfront. Having been interested in the United Kingdom Labour movement, he joined the New Zealand Labour Party and was an active trades unionist. From 1915 to 1941 he was secretary of the Waterside Workers' Federation (later New Zealand Waterside Workers' Union) and secretary of the New Zealand Alliance of Labour (1920–35). In this connection he visited Australia (1924) and led the Labour delegation to the National Industrial Conference (1928). He represented New Zealand at the International Labour Organisation Conference in 1930 and was a deputy member of the Governing Body of I.L.O. from 1930 to 1938. From 1934 to 1937 he was vice-president of the New Zealand Labour Party and president from 1937 to 1958. Since 1925 he has been chairman of the New Zealand Worker Publishing Co. and held a similar position in New Zealand Labour Newspapers (1942–51). He was a member of the Waterfront Commission in 1940 and was called to the Legislative Council in 1947. On his retirement from the presidency of the Labour Party, “Big Jim”, as he is popularly called, was awarded the C.M.G. Because of his influence in the New Zealand Labour movement during the period 1935 to 1949, Roberts was known as “the uncrowned King of New Zealand”.