September 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
From New Zealand comes a book that will boil the blood of every class-conscious worker. Even workers who have not yet recognised their class status will feel their gorge rise when they read in this book of the trickery, the double dealing, the brutality and the callous bludgeoning of their fellows.
“151 Days” by Dick Scott is the official history of the great waterfront lockout and the supporting strikes in New Zealand from February 15th to July 15th, 1951. The book is published by the now deregistered New Zealand Waterside Workers' Union and has been made possible by the advance orders of hundreds of trade unionists.
If there is any man in doubt about the role of a capitalist government in a major industrial dispute—let him read this book. If there is any man who doubts which way a Labour Party will line up in a major industrial dispute—this is the book for him. If there is any man who thinks that the days of brutal treatment of workers are past—he also must read this history. If there is any man who needs evidence of the class struggle—here it is, right up-to-date. If any man can read this book without his emotions being stirred—then he is lacking in elementary human feeling.
As in Britain, living costs in New Zealand have risen sharply during the past few years and workers’ wages have lagged a long way behind. Also, as in Britain, many New Zealand workers had to work long hours in order to get overtime pay and a pay packet that would give them and their families a decent living. The waterside workers applied for a pay increase and received an award from an arbitration court. But the ship owners tricked them and refused to pay the full amount of the award, so the watersiders said they would work no more overtime till they got their due pay increase. The ship owners were after a show-down. The waterside workers' Union was too truculent; it must be brought to heel and its members rendered docile. When the waterside workers showed up for work on Wednesday, February 15th, the Port Employers confronted them with an alternative to either work overtime or get the sack. They said “no overtime"—and were locked out
Within a few days the Government stepped in with a set of emergency regulations that made the British Trades Disputes Act and the American Taft-Hartley laws look like Sunday School picnics. The government declared a state of emergency because it claimed that the watersiders, by refusing to unload ships, were depriving a large proportion of the people of New Zealand of the necessities of life, despite the fact that the men were at the dock gates everyday offering to work a forty hour week.
When the harsh regulations were imposed, miners, seamen and others came out on strike. From then on the government, employers, top-layer trade union officials, press, police, pulpit and every job-mongering, back-crawling lickspittle turned his attention and spite towards breaking the solidarity of the workers effort and getting them back to work on the employers terms.
We haven’t space to detail all the events and legal crimes of those six months. The book sets them out with documentary evidence and ample illustrations. We will give just one sample.
Amongst those who suffered most were the miners in the small inland mining towns. On a bleak plateau, seventy miles by a rough bush road from the nearest coastal town, was the tiny mining community of Ohura.
“500 people . . . a hard working peaceful community where tar-sealing the main street and building a new social hall were more urgent matters than 'Wrecking,' 'intimidation' or 'violence' and where the policeman's house stood empty and no one felt insecure." Page 83.
When the 100 or so miners in this town heard the truth of the situation after receiving misleading telegrams from their Union national headquarters, they downed tools. Then the police moved in.
At their first meeting the police entered, took the names of all present and ordered them to their homes. Local Union officers were placed under house arrest. Police broke their way into private houses where miners were meeting together and ordered them to their respective homes. One man was arrested and charged for talking to some miners who were working. Members of a miners’ committee travelled a dangerous 55 miles across the bush to meet in another town, only to have the police again close their meeting. The police blocked the roads to prevent miners or other strikers from entering Ohura and chased suspects in squad cars. Groups of men on the streets were broken up and ordered to their homes.
Despite this isolation and police rule the Ohura miners held out. They could collect no relief, their womenfolk could not go out to work, their savings vanished, their possessions were sold, debts mounted, the hardships of winter were great, but after over four months they remained solid. When the strike was over and the Ohura miners received a grant of £59 10s. from the Australian miners' £6,700 New Zealand relief fund, they voted unanimously to give it to the Auckland watersiders.
You should read this history of the workers of New Zealand where.
“Government was reduced to a thing of helmets and uniforms, cells and batons, where the highest civic duty could be measured in terms of a willingness to arrest one's parents for a crime against private property." Page 129.
We in Britain who, apart from letters from our Socialist comrades in Wellington, have only had the press accounts of the happenings of those 151 days, thank and congratulate Mr. Scott and all others concerned, for this detailed and stirring history.