OK. I found a workaround. in cnetworkmanager http://repo.or.cz/w/cnetworkmanager.git
. This allows a command line interface to NetworkManager.
I downloaded the tar and unpacked it and did:
which installed it into /usr/local/bin. Then I wrote a one line script:
/usr/local/bin/cnetworkmanager -C <connection point> --wpa-pass <wpa pass phrase>
and added this to the session startup programs via Preferences -> Personal -> Sessions, as well as disabling the NetworkManager startup program. So now when I autologon via editing /etc/gdm/custom.conf I have a valid wifi network link.
I don't have any applet that indicates the current status of the connection but I can live with that for now, till the keyring stuff is sorted out.