Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Protest Blogging: 1951 Lockout

As the Dominion Post helpfully reminded me (otherwise I wouldn't have known) this week was the 55th anniversary of the waterfront lockout.

A very brief history (because I spent too long looking at the pretty pictures while writing my last post) in the 1950s the Waterside workers were one of the most militant unioins in New Zealand, and had disaffiliated from the Federation of Labour, which was at the time ruled by Finton Patrick Walsh (he was on my list of 10 worst New Zealanders, that I never got around to finishing). The company refused to give the watersiders the increase with the latest arbitration round (for nearly 100 years New Zealand had government wage arbitration), and so the watersiders put in an over-time ban. The company responded by locking the watersiders out.

The government swung in behind the strikers invoking laws (brought in by a labour government) which allowed it to declare emergency regulations that would make supporting the strikers in any way illegal (including writing a pamphlet supporting the workers, or giving food to workers families), and government and employers together tried to starve the workers out (and the Federation of Labour helped).

Over the next 151 days the waterfront workers, and their supporters, organised to gather support and to feed themselves. But after 151 days they returned to work, they had lost, not just the battle, but the union, which had been deregistered during the strike.

They didn't win, but they lasted 151 days despite the fact that any support of them was illegal. Unlike the anti-war movement, which failed because we weren't strong enough, they failed because their opposition was too strong.

This is the best website I could find about the strike, and it was where I got my photo from.


  1. Finton Patrick Walsh (he was on my list of 10 worst New Zealanders, that I never got around to finishing)

    I keep thinking about doing one of those as well. But I have a problem figuring out who I hate the most (and how the hell I'd order them).

  2. I think I'd just stick to chronological order.

    I know what you mean about not knowing who to include. I want to include every prime minister and a large percceentage of the politicans in my life-time, and I know I need to take a step backwards.

    Also I'm asking myself, Muldoon? Is that too cheap and obvious.

    But maybe I'll do it anyway, and then it'll get started (I think Trevor Loudon's list would be amusing).

  3. I think it's also important to locate 1951 in the context of the Cold War, and the move throughout the West to use anti-communism to attack some of the most militant and strategically located trade unions.

    There was a lot of industrial conflict throughout the West in the years after World War Two, as workers pushed for improvements which had been delayed by the war, but the really troublesome unions were the ones which refused to play the Keynesian game and link wage demands to productivity increases. The wharfies were even more of a nightmare because they occupied such an important place in the economy.

    I've enjoyed reading Dick Scott's 151 Days and Anna Green's British Capital Antipodean Labour because they give a sense of what an extraordinary organisation the Waterside Workers Union was. They were decades ahead of the rest of New Zealand, not only in their attitude to class struggle, but also in their social attitudes - they opposed the tour, militarism, unequal pay, the draft, and even unsightly and anti-social building developments decades before these issues were popular.

    (All the same, they weren't perfect and undoubtedly made some serious mistakes. Jock Barnes was not a great strategist, and the split with the FOL was a bad move...)

  4. Anonymous12:53 pm

    My granddad was involved in the waterside lockout and I think it was an utter discrace that they got locked out just because of them wanting an increase of 6 pence an hour increase