In July 1913, a 23-year old Christchurch cabinet-maker, Passive Resisters Union member and anarchist named Syd Kingsford penned a stinging letter in the Evening Post. “Not content with robbing my class of the major portion of its product,” wrote Kingsford,
With the centennial of the 1912 Waihi Strike upon us, this extract seems timely. It is from a letter written by Leo Woods to Bert Roth, historian and avid creator of (now highly valued) records pertaining to New Zealand’s labour movement. Roth may have been collecting material for his book Trade Unions in New Zealand (Reed, 1973), or for one of many articles and lectures he produced. Either way, his letter to Woods and subsequent reply offers an insight into a number of key struggles during the first decades of the twentieth century—from the Waihi Strike of 1912, to the First World War, the One Big Union Council and the Communist Party of New Zealand.
Woods was well placed to provide Roth with the information he sought. Radicalised in the class struggles of 1911 and 1912, he was ‘hunted by the Police in Waihi’, active in the Auckland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and during the Great Strike of 1913 sat on the Thames strike committee. As a Wobbly and socialist, Woods refused to fight during the First World War and was ‘thrown into one of [Prime Minister] Massey’s concentration camps, Kiangaroa Prison Camp, near Rotorua’ for 18 months. Upon his release in 1919 he was among those who formed the One Big Union Council, becoming literary secretary and delegated to smuggle banned literature from Sydney until 1921, when he and other Wobblies formed the Communist Party of New Zealand. Woods remained a member for over forty years, writing ‘Why I am A Communist’ in 1968.
Written in November 1960, the following extract is the first four sections of what Woods titled ‘The Labour Movement’, and is archived in the Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164, Alexander Turnbull Library (Wellington).
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
Waihi Socialist Party
If my memory serves me right in the year 1910, but definitely 1911 and 1912 Waihi boasted the existence of a Socialist Party, and together with the militant Waihi Miners’ Union invited socialist and labour leaders near and far, who addressed massed meetings in the Miners’ Union Hall at the weekends. The first person I had the honour to listen to was the great socialist leader Tom Mann, who declared he was a revolutionary socialist. Then followed Ben Tillett and Alderman [Edward] Hartley. The strike year 1912 attracted more speakers chief among whom were a person named [Harry] Fitzgerald, a brilliant orator, and one Jack [John Benjamin] King, a visitor from USA who [illegible] the principles of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). He formed an economic class on Marxism and delivered several lectures. He made a great impression on the miners. After he left NZ for Australia, Prime Minister Massey was going to deport him. Other notable leaders who came to Waihi were Tom Barker (IWW), H Scott Bennett, great social reformer and member of Auckland Socialist Party, H E Holland, Robert Semple, Paddy Webb, Peter Fraser, R F Way and others.
In may 1912 the Waihi Miners went on strike against the action of a section of the union, some but not all of the engine-drivers in the union breaking away from the union and forming a ‘scab’ union. These boss inspired stooges were used by the mining companies to smash the militant class-conscious union which had won concession after concession from the companies in round-table conferences. Earlier the miners by ballot had discarded the Arbitration Court as an instrument of the employing class. The mine owners feared the growing strength of the legitimate union. The strikers fought on for 8 1/2 months, displayed a magnificent spirit of solidarity. The heroism and pluck of the women folk in standing shoulder to shoulder with the men was a shining example of courage and dauntless determination. In the end the strikers were broken by the influx of Premier Bill Massey’s police thugs who, maddened by liquor (provided by the Tory Government) batoned the strikers [illegible] and murdered one Frederick George Evans. Dragged him through the streets and threw him into a prison cell. He died in hospital a victim of governmental and employers murderous designs and cruelty, a martyr to the movement of the working class. Many of the miners were attacked by ‘scabs’ under police protection, and their property wrecked. Many including myself were forced to leave Waihi because of the threat of victimisation because we would not be re-employed. Those who did get back were forced through a searching screening process. The union President W E Parry and a number of others were imprisoned because they refused to sign bonds for good behaviour. But no strike is ever lost because of the spirit of solidarity manifested and the great boost it gives to trades unionism and the power and strength it puts into the workers hands. During that strike the money that was donated by the working class in NZ and Australia ran into thousands of pounds. That was before capitalistic governments devised the weapon of freezing union funds.
The General Strike
In 1913 a mass movement of workers staged a general strike. Watersiders, miners, labourers, seamen, [illegible] employees and various other trade unions fought for better conditions. The workers gave the employers the greatest fight of their lives. In the words of Robert (Bob) Semple Organiser of the Red Federation, that he would stop the wheels of industry from the North Cape to the Bluff, that is just about what took place. Labour leaders were again imprisoned. The ‘Maoriland Worker’ official organ of the Federation of Labour and the ‘Industrial Unionist’ official organ of the IWW group fought to the death for the working class, whilst the capitalist press, the Auckland ‘Herald’ and ‘Star’, the ‘Dominion’ and others fought tooth and nail for their capitalist masters. Once again the money rolled in from Australian unions and from people who were not on strike in NZ. Strike committees were set up in strike areas and in non-strike areas alike. In the latter areas representatives of the strikers spoke and appealed for funds. In one such area the Thames where a strike committee was set up with myself as secretary, such speakers as M J Savage (afterwards Premier of NZ), Ted Canham (Watersiders), Harry Melrose (IWW), Rob Way and others including local speakers stated the strikers’ case. Once again the bosses’ stooges formed scab unions. A body (13 men?) could form a ‘scab’ union and coerce the remainder into joining it. Thus the strike was again broken. The labour leaders turned to political action, vote us into power they said and we will legislate for you. You will never be jailed if you go on strike with a Labour government in power. But under Prime Minister Peter Fraser (who at one stage led the Waihi Strike as representative of the Red Federation of Labour) did actually cause to be jailed ‘[illegible] workers’ who later on went on strike. How the mighty had fallen!
About 1912 a group known as the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was formed in Auckland and other places in NZ in the most militant areas. Huntly, West Coast of the South Island, Wellington and elsewhere. The principles of the organization was the advocacy of Industrial Unionism and the One Big Union. Its headquarters were in the USA where it had a big following and had very successful fights with the employing class there. Its preamble went like this: ‘The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the world’s workers organise as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wages system. [illegible] ‘An Injury to one is an injury to all’. Instead of the conservative motto ‘a fair days wage for a fair days work’, let us inscribe upon our banner the revolutionary watchword: abolition of the wages system.’ The IWW did not believe in parliamentary action. The chief propagandists in the Auckland group were Tom Barker, Charlie Reeves, Frank Hanlon (Editor of ‘Industrial Unionist’), Allan Holmes, Jim Sullivan, Bill Murdoch, Percy Short and Jack O’Brien. Lesser lights but still [illegible] active participation in the struggle were Frank Johnston, George Phillips, Lila Freeman, myself, just to mention a few. The aftermath of the 1913 strike and World War 1 scattered the members far and wide and the group faded away.
— introduced and transcribed by Jared Davidson.
A rare interview with NZ Wobbly Percy Short, conducted by anarchist archivist and historian Max Nettlau around 1914. It was found by Jared Davidson in the Nettlau Collection at the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam). Thanks to Urs Signer for the translation.
Note: it’s not known whether Short was actually Maori by birth (his family don’t believe he was), and some of the claims re Maori support for syndicalism and strikes may be exaggerated by Nettlau or Short. Nonetheless, it is still an important piece of syndicalist transnationalism and an interesting take on events.
A CONVERSATION WITH A SYNDICALIST FROM NEW ZEALAND
We had the pleasure to speak with a comrade from the antipodes who has come to Europe to get to know the syndicalist movement of the various countries.
A few weeks ago, the Auckland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World received a letter from an official syndicalist publication in Europe to gain an insight into the recent big strikes in New Zealand.
Our comrade Percy B. Short, together with another comrade, was tasked to draft a response; but because Short was on his way to England, it was decided that he would personally deliver the answers and further information and also get an insight into the European movement.
Having been a member of the Sydney I.W.W. branch for some time in the past, Short has knowledge of the whole revolutionary-syndicalist movement and we were pleased to be able to talk about both movements. Our conversation was even more interesting because our comrade is Maori by birth, the son of a native of New Zealand, the people who is more and more pushed to the side but keeps standing tall with unbelievable energy and endurance.
So that our readers can orientate themselves a little, we would like to mention that a revolutionary syndicalist publication, Direct Action, is published in Sydney (New South Wales), meanwhile the Industrial Unionist stems from Auckland. The Maoriland Worker is published in Wellington, New Zealand. The editors of that paper are comrade Harry Holland and J.B. Allen, the latter is a revolutionary syndicalist who was active in England for years.
The revolutionary trade union movement in Australia and New Zealand is organised along the lines of the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World of the Unite States, where a vast amount of propaganda literature in the antipodes is from. Through the principle of Industrial Unionism (ie. the federation of the various industries), the syndicalist movement in Australasia and North America differs from the organisational point of view of the old trade associations.
First of all we discussed the general forecast of revolutionary syndicalist propaganda with comrade Short. We were thoroughly surprised when told that this propaganda is particularly successful amongst Maori because of the past of this people with their indigenous communism.
Amongst Maori, a worker who acts as a scab and steals the bread out of their comrades’ mouths is basically unheard of because their old sense of solidarity stemming from their tribal customs prohibits such actions.
We talked at length about anti-militarist propaganda which has started over the last few years since the introduction of military service in New Zealand. Several young men, sentenced to jail, started a hunger strike, just like the Suffragettes in England now. The anti-militarist movement is still alive.
Finally, it was the trade union movement and the behavior towards the conservative organisations that interested us the most:
- Are the conservative unions, we asked, who are organised under the Arbitration Act gaining or loosing influence?
- At present, replied Short, 80,000 workers live in New Zealand. 65,000 of those are organised under the Arbitration Act and 15,000 under the labour federation act . The latter settle their disputes with the employers directly.
- And how are the strikes in your ‘workers’ paradise’, the ‘country without strikes and lock-outs’, as our social reformers in Europe like to call it?
- The strikes are growing, both in terms of numbers and in intensity.
- And the law on strikes, which makes them illegal?
- The compulsory Arbitration Act has had its head smashed in New Zealand (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).
Short explained how the national government conceals reality.
- You will probably remember the big strike of the miners in Blackball a few years ago. The government went so far as to sell the council house of the strikers who were sentenced to pay a fine. However, no one dared to buy it. Finally, the government paid for the fines under the pretext, that they were paid for by the miners – an utter lie confronted with much protest of the miners.
Until just a few weeks ago, as you will recall, we had a general strike across New Zealand, which spread to all cities and across almost all industries.
Short explained further that in Australia, where the legislation is less stringent and the attempt of reconciliation is preceded by arbitration, the situation is less tense and revolutionary syndicalism has progressed immensely.
We would have liked to continue our conversation but, as we have already mentioned, comrade Short’s visit wasn’t only about passing on information, but also to obtain information. Because his time was limited, we had to promise to resume talking about the European movement at a later point.
EIN GESPRÄCH MIT EINEM NEUSEELÄNDISCHEM SYNDIKALISTEN.
Wir hatten das Vergnügen mit einem Genossen von den Antipoden zu sprechen, der nach Europa gekommen ist um die syndikalistische Bewegung der verschiedenen Länder kennen zu lernen.
Vor einigen Wochen erhielten die Industrial Workers of the World der Sektion Auckland ein Schreiben vom Herausgeber eines offiziellen syndikalistischen Organes in Europa, um Auskunft über die letzten grossen Streiks in Neuseeland [zu erhalten].
Unser Genosse Percy B. Short wurde mit einem anderen Genossen beauftragt, die Antwort zu redigieren; da aber Short nach England reiste, wurde er ersucht, persönlich die Antwort und alle ferneren Auskünfte [zu] überbringen, um seinerseits auch über die europäische Bewegung Erkundigungen einzuziehen.
Da Short auch einige Zeit Mitglied der Sektion der I.W.W. in Sydney war, und also die ganze revolutionär-syndikalistische Bewegung kennt, waren wir sehr erfreut über beide Bewegungen mit ihm sprechen zu können. Unsere Unterhaltung war desto interessanter, weil unser Genosse von Geburt ein Maori ist, ein Sohn der Einborlinge [sic] Neuseelands, des Volkes das immer mehr von den Blanken verdrungen wird, sich aber mit unglaublicher Energie und Ausdauer aufrecht erhält.
Um unsere Leser einigermassen zu orientieren, bemerken wir an erster Stelle dass in Sydney (Neu Süd-Wales) ein revolutionär syndikalistisches Organ besteht, Direct Action, während in Auckland der Industrial Unionist erscheint. Ferner wird in Wellington, Neuseeland, der Maoriland Worker herausgegeben. Die Redakteure dieses Blattes sind die Genossen Harry Holland und J.B. Allen, der letztere ein revolutionärer Syndikalist, der in England Jahrelang tätig war.
Die revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Australien und Neuseeland ist ganz nach dem Muster und mit den Statuten der Industrial Workers of the World der Vereinigten Staaten organisiert und unsere Antipoden verdanken den selben auch einen betrachtlichen Teil ihrer Propagandaliteratur. Durch das Prinzip des Industrial Unionism d.h. der Föderation nach Industrien, unterscheidet die syndikalistische Bewegung in Australasien sich ebenso wie in Nord-Amerika vom organisatorischem Standpunkt aus von den alten Berufsvereinen.
Wir haben uns allererst mit Genosse Short unterhalten über die allgemeinen Voraussichten der revolutionär-syndikalistischen Propaganda und mit einer wahren Überraschung hörten wir dabei, dass ganz besonders unter den Maoris diese Propaganda durch die Vergangenheit der Bevölkerung mit ihrem Urkommunismus begünstigt wird.
Unter den Maoris scheint ein Arbeiter der als Streikbrecher seinen Kameraden das Brot aus dem Munde nimmt, so gut wie ein unbekanntes Wesen zu sein, dessen bestehen schon durch das alte Solidaritätsgefühl in den Volkssitten ausgeschlossen ist.
Lang sprachen wir weiter über die anti-militaristische Propaganda, welche in den letzten Jahren seit der Einführung des Militärdienstes in Neuseeland angefangen hat. Verschiedene junge Burschen, zum Gefängnis verurteilt, begangen den Hungerstreik, gerade wie es jetzt auch die Suffragets in England machen. Die anti-militaristische Bewegung dauert noch stets weiter.
Schliesslich war es die Gewerkschaftsbewegung und zwar das Verhalten zu den konservativen Verbänden, das uns am Meisten interessierte:
- Sind die konservativen Gewerkschaften, so fragten wir, diejenigen eben, die unters Gesetz auf den verpflichteten Schiedsspruch organisiert sind, im Fortschritt begriffen, oder büssen sie vielmehr an Einfluss ein?
- Augenblicklich, antwortete Short uns, gibt es auf den 80000 Arbeitern, die in Neuseeland leben, 65000, die unter dem Arbitration-Act organisiert sind, während 15000 unter einem anderen Gesetz sind, das auf der Arbeitsföderation; letztere regeln ihre Streitigkeiten mit den Unternehmern direkt.
- Und wie geht es mit den Streiks in ihrem Lande dem ‘Arbeiterparadies’, dem ‘Lande ohne Streiks und Aussperrungen’, wie unsere Sozialreformer in Europa es so gerne nennen?
- Die Streiks nehmen immer mehr zu in Anzahl und in Intensität.
- Und das Gesetz auf die Streiks, wodurch dieselben verboten sind?
- Das Gesetz den Verpflichteten Schiedsspruch ist den Kopf eingedrückt in Neuseeland (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).
Und Short setzte uns auseinander, wie die Landesregierung es macht, um die wahre Lage zu verbergen.
- Sie werden sich wohl, schon vor einigen Jahren her, [an] den grossen Streik der Bergarbeiter in Blackball erinnern. Die Regierung ist dabei soweit gegangen, den Hausrat der zu Geldbusse verurteilten Streiker verkaufen zu lassen; Niemand wagte es aber davon zu kaufen. Schliesslich bezahlte die Regierung nun selbst die Geldbussen, unter Vorgeben, dieselben seien von den verurteilten Bergarbeitern selbst bezahlt, eine Lüge wogegen Letztere laut ihren Protest erhoben.
Noch vor wenigen Wochen, wie sie sich gewiss erinnern, haben wir noch einen Generalstreik in Neuseeland gehabt, der sich über alle Städte und über fast alle Arbeitskategorien ausdehnte.”
Short setzte uns weiter auseinander, wie in Australien, wo die Gesetzgebung weniger streng ist und wo der Versuch zur Versöhnung der Schiedsrechtsspruch vorausgeht, der Zustand nicht so gespannen ist und der revolutionäre Syndikalismus auch dort grosse Fortschritte macht.
Gerne hätten wir das Gespräch noch fortgesetzt, aber wie wir schon sagten, was Genosse Short nicht allein gekommen um Auskunft zu geben, sondern auch um Auskunft zu holen, und das seine Zeit bemessen ist, haben wir versprechen müssen, das Gespräch wohl wieder aufzunehmen, aber um diesmal über die europäische Bewegung zu sprechen.
Philip Josephs—a Latvian-born Jewish tailor, recent arrival to New Zealand by way of Scotland, and self-proclaimed anarchist—took to the floor of the Wellington 1906 May Day demonstration amidst orchestral outbursts and a flurry of motions. “This meeting,” moved Josephs, “sends its fraternal greetings to our comrades engaged in the universal class war, and pledges itself to work for the abolition of the capitalistic system and the substitution in New Zealand of a co-operative commonwealth, founded on the collective ownership of the land and the means of production and distribution.” The motion, as well as highlighting his involvement in the radical milieu of New Zealand’s capital, conveys the key concepts of his anarchism—internationalism, mass collective action, and free communism.
However, if readers were to form an understanding of anarchism based on the newspapers of the day, or from the accounts of New Zealand’s labour movement by certain historians, a very different conclusion would be drawn. On the occasions it is mentioned, anarchism is used hysterically by the press to denounce or decry; by labour leaders in order to show the fallacy of their opponents’ positions; and by labourist historians to symbolise wayward ideas or acts of extremism—painting a nightmarish picture of anarchist practice in the vein of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.
Yet as Vadim Damier illustrates in Anarcho Syndicalism in the 20th Century, anarchism was a global working class movement, one “that spread to countries as different as Spain and Russia, France and Japan, Argentina and Sweden, Italy and China, Portugal and Germany,” and “was able to attract hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of wage workers.” Anarchists “not only took an active part in the most important social upheavals and conflicts of the twentieth century, often leaving their own indelible imprint on these events, but also in many countries they formed the centre of a special, inimitable, working class culture with its own values, norms, customs, and symbols.” Against this reality of anarchism as a socialist movement, a focus on its most controversial deviations reaffirms the stereotype of the anarchist terrorist, dressed in black and wielding a bomb—insane, dangerous, and against civilisation itself. “‘Gods Own Country’ is not safe from the vagaries of the person who believes in the bomb as opposed to argument,” bellowed the Marlborough Express in 1907.
Although highly exaggerated, the Express article contained one truth. God’s Own Country—the ‘workingman’s paradise’ that was New Zealand in the early years of the twentieth century—had anarchists in its midst. To describe this small number as a coherently organised movement would be another exaggeration, but nonetheless, those that subscribed to anarchism in New Zealand were a valid part of the labour movement, imparting uncredited ideas and influence. Likewise, anarchist agitation and the circulation of radical literature contributed significantly to the development of a working class counter-culture in New Zealand.
The most substantial work to date on anarchism in New Zealand during the turbulent teens is the indispensable 32-page pamphlet, ‘Troublemakers’ Anarchism and Syndicalism: The Early Years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand, by Frank Prebble. Drawing on snippets of primary and secondary sources, his research was pioneering in that it was the first specific work on anarchism—highlighting a definite strand of libertarian praxis in New Zealand that has long been overlooked. Yet as Prebble notes in the introduction, “this pamphlet is not complete, much of the information is very fragmentary and a lot more work needs to be done.”[ ]
By drawing on the work of Prebble, information garnished from living relatives of certain anarchists, and with a transnational lens, my forthcoming book (tentatively titled Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism) will explore anarchism in New Zealand before 1921 through a biography of one of its key players. The transnational nature of anarchism in the period between its emergence in the workers’ movement of the late 1860s, and the interwar years, can be seen in the migration and activity of Philip Josephs (1876-1946). His sustained activism, whether from the soapbox or through the mailbox, and his involvement in the class struggle that swept through the country, makes Josephs one of New Zealand’s most important and pioneering anarchists.
As well as providing previously scarce biographical information on Josephs, I hope to convince the reader of three main claims. First, before the arrival of Josephs in New Zealand the ‘broad anarchist tradition’—defined by Schmidt and van der Walt as a revolutionary form of libertarian socialism against social and economic hierarchy (specifically capitalism and the state), in favour of international class struggle and revolution from below in order to create a socialist, stateless social order—had next to no organised presence. There were anarchists and various forms of antiauthoritarian ideas in New Zealand before Josephs, but it was his activity within the New Zealand Socialist Party and later through his formation of one of New Zealand’s first anarchist collectives, The Freedom Group, that ensured a level of organised anarchism previously lacking in the wider labour movement.
The second point is one of legitimacy: anarchism was a valid part of the New Zealand labour movement and its working class counter-culture—directly through the activity of Philip Josephs and other anarchists, or indirectly due to anarchist literature and ideas. Although often missing from the indices of New Zealand labour histories, anarchism was “more influential than most have realised.” The anarchist communism of Josephs reflects the rejection of violent individualism (propaganda by the deed) and the move back to collective action taken by the majority of anarchists in the late 1890s. His tireless distribution of anarchist literature, numerous public speeches, and his tailor shop-cum-radical bookshop helped to create a radical counter-culture in New Zealand; while his support of syndicalist class struggle and the general strike, and his activity alongside the local branches of the Industrial Workers of the World, typifies the relationship of anarchism with revolutionary syndicalism. Indeed, if one went so far as employing Schmidt and van der Walt’s definition of syndicalism being a variant and strategy of the broad anarchist tradition, the era of the first New Zealand Federation of Labor of 1908-1913 can be seen in a whole new light.
Finally, New Zealand anarchists, and Josephs in particular, were rooted in the international anarchist movement. Josephs’ birth in Latvia, his radicalisation in Glasgow, Scotland, and his almost two decades in New Zealand before leaving for Australia highlights the transient nature of labour; while his distribution of international anarchist literature, and personal networking with overseas revolutionaries and groups such as Freedom (UK) and the Mother Earth Publishing Association (USA), illustrates the doctrinal diffusion and sharing of information so vital to informal, intercontinental anarchist networks. This sharing went both ways. Josephs’ activities, the bankruptcy of state-socialist legislation, and accounts of New Zealand strikes popped up on the pages of various anarchist journals abroad, lending weight to the notion that:
anarchism was not a Western European doctrine that diffused outwards, perfectly formed, to a passive ‘periphery.’ Rather, the movement emerged simultaneously and transnationally, created by interlinked activists on many continents—a pattern of interconnection, exchange and sharing, rooted in ‘informal internationalism.’
Josephs played a key role in the establishment of a distinct anarchist identity and culture (in New Zealand and abroad), a culture that emerged and enveloped simultaneously around the globe. His New Zealand activity personifies the transnational deepening of the day, and illustrates how interlinked (and often un-recognised) activists operating within small local scenes but with an eye towards international events and developments advanced the anarchist project worldwide. As a result, Josephs’ struggle for social change linked our South Pacific nation to the global movement, and furthered anarchism in New Zealand itself—the Freedom Group of 1913 being one of the first of
many anarchist collectives to play a vibrant part in the history of the New
Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism will be published by AK Press—the world’s primary anarchist publisher and distributor of radical literature—in early 2013, and will be available online or at independent bookstores.
1. Evening Post, 7 May 1906.
2. G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, J.W. Arrowsmith Publishing: London, 1908.
3. Vadim Damier, Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 20th Century, Black Cart Press: Canada, 2009, p.3.
4. Marlborough Express, 1907.
5. Frank Prebble, “Troublemakers” Anarchism and Syndicalism: The Early Years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Libertarian Press, 1995.
6. Michael Schmidt & Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, AK Press, 2009, p. 71.
7. Eric Olssen, email to the author, 20 August 2010.
8. Schmidt & van der Walt, Black Flame.
9. Steven Hirsch & Lucien van der Walt, ‘Rethinking Anarchism, Syndicalism, the Colonial and Postcolonial experience’ in Hirsch & van der Walt (eds.), Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940: The Praxis of National Liberation, Internationalism, and Social Revolution, Brill, 2011, p. Iiv.
By Jared Davidson, from the Labour History Project Newsletter #54.
On 14 May 1912 one of New Zealand’s most bitter industrial disputes began in Waihi. By November, the New Zealand Police had flooded the town, a miner was batoned to death and families driven out of town by mobs of ‘free’ (scab) labour.
The New Zealand labour movement at that time was undergoing a deep radicalisation. Like their fellow-workers worldwide, New Zealand workers were discovering syndicalism, direct action and fostering a radical working class-counter culture of penny pamphlets, socialist ‘Sunday schools’ and streetside soapboxing. As a result, workers across New Zealand were increasingly questioning what was perceived to be a bankrupt system—arbitration.
In 1894, legislation was introduced that outlawed strike action and forced unions and employers into negotiated industrial awards governed by the Arbitration Court (known as the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, or ICA). Although the ICA had encouraged the growth of trade unions in New Zealand, “a complex interplay of changing work patterns, a rapidly expanding workforce and the bankruptcy of traditional union strategies” led to widespread dissatisfaction from around 1906 onwards.
The first to challenge arbitration was an illegal strike by 66 Auckland tramway workers in 1906 who, against the judgement of their union official, walked out in protest after a number of motor men had been dismissed. After ceasing work for half a day and smashing the company’s plate glass windows, management caved. This was followed in 1907 by a strike of slaughtermen—200 of who were fined for their illegal action but who simply refused to pay. These successes turned heads, but the “rebellion burst into the open” with a strike won by the Blackball Miners’ Union in 1908, whose defiance against fines and the authority of the presiding Judge openly flouted the Arbitration Court and the ICA itself.
The strike also resulted in a Miners Federation, which soon grew into the ‘Red’ Federation of Labour, whose preamble stated ‘the working class and the employing class having nothing in common’. The Red Feds encouraged class struggle free of ‘labour’s leg iron’: the ICA Act. Affiliated unions, including the miners of the Waihi Trade Union of Workers, began to de-register from the ICA.
So in May 1912 when 30 engine drivers in Waihi re-registered under the ICA (reportedly encouraged by the bosses), the union struck in protest. According to Stanley Roche, on Tuesday 14 May, Waihi came to a standstill.
The local police inspector initially adopted a low-key response to the dispute, but he was overruled by the tough Police Commissioner John Cullen, who ordered extra forces to be sent to the town. In July William Massey’s conservative Reform Party came to power. Enthusiastically backed by Cullen, Massey was determined to crush the ‘enemies of order’.
Eventually about 80 police - 10% of the New Zealand Police Force - were deployed in the town. Leading strikers, including Evans, were arrested, and more than 60 were gaoled… The Red Fed leaders began to lose control of the strike as workers influenced by the radical American-based Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or ‘Wobblies’) demanded more militant action.
In October the company reopened the mines with non-union labour.
Things in Waihi became more hostile with the arrival of these Police. While the scabs grew more confident they were equally met by the women of Waihi, who were extremely active on the pickets—’following-up’ scab labour and hurling insults, rocks and humour.
However the strike failed. Intense police repression and violence saw the balance of power shift to the bosses. During what became known as the ‘Black Week’ in November, the Miners’ Hall was stormed, striker Fred Evans was killed by a police baton to the head (becoming the first worker do die in an industrial dispute in New Zealand), and unionists and their families were driven out of town as police stood by.
100 years on…
This year marks the Centennial of the Waihi Strike and to draw attention to our working past, the Labour History Project (and others) have organised a weekend-long event in Waihi:
THE DRAFT PROGRAMME:
Friday 9 November, from 4.30 pm
Registration at Friendship Hall, School Rd, Waihi
Light refreshments, tea and coffee. Dinner and drinks available RSA Seddon St
Saturday 10 November 8.30am to 12.30 pm
Seminar papers at Waihi Memorial Hall, jointly with the
Australasian Mining History Association
Lunch, plus refreshments at Friendship Hall
Saturday 1.30 pm to 5pm
Seminar papers, plus issues and interests presentations at
Alternatively - field trips, workshops and exploring,
Exhibition opening of paintings by Bob Kerr
Dinner at RSA, followed by social, including the Waihi Oratorio written and directed by Paul Maunder.
Sunday 11 November 9am
Commemoration of death of Fred Evans
Roll call of Waihi miners, with their descendants.
This looks set to be an important and historic event. More information will be available as it comes to light.
There are a number of books and online articles dealing with the Waihi Strike (listed below). I would recommend Chapter 19 from Richard Hill’s, The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove, which is a nice summary of events. Download it here (collated to print PDF zine).
Other sources include:
Secretary Sharn Riggs of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) is arguing that the employment issues such as casualisation and the flexibility of working hours currently being disputed on the Auckland wharves are the same issues that tertiary education workers are facing.
Protests during the past year at Auckland University have included withholding research, daily pickets outside the vice-chancellor’s office, targeting public events at the university, wearing rosettes at graduation ceremonies, stop-work meetings, and a large public rally of students and staff. Also of concern to the lecturers is that cuts in tertiary education funding will restrict access to education for those from the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. In 1916, a group in Auckland was also concerned about educating workers.
Educating the workers was vital to the syndicalist organisation the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) if they were to achieve their aim of a socialist society based on the common ownership of the means of production. The IWW argued that only a truly class-conscious working class, which fully understood the exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalism, could carry out the act of revolution.
“What a monster is this thing ignorance? Work for its abolition,” announced the Industrial Unionist, the journal of IWW local 175 in Auckland, which ran regular columns discussing aspects of economics, sociology and politics for the education of its readers. They also ran regular street meetings and classes from their rooms not just in Auckland, but Wellington and Christchurch, where there were also IWW locals, and in places such as Huntly, Waihi and Denniston where there were informal IWW groups. Perhaps the most infamous economics class was that run by the prominent IWW organizer J.B. King in Waihi in 1912.
Newspaper reports and questions in Parliament about King’s alleged teaching of sabotage in this class led to Prime Minister Massey to promise an inquiry into King’s teachings. It was reported that King had been advising his class to only work when the employers were watching, and to carry emery powder for dropping into machinery to destroy bearings. It was also alleged that he told workers to carry a chisel at all times to drop in machinery in order to damage cogwheels. Additionally, to further the workers’ interests by damaging as much of the employers’ property as possible, he was reported as advising a plug of dynamite as a useful adjunct. Fearing for his liberty, and after being asked to leave by the miners union in Waihi, King left New Zealand for Australia.
After the end of the Great Strike in 1913 it is often assumed that the influence and activities of the IWW declined or even disappeared altogether from New Zealand. It is true that the scattering of the most prominent IWW members overseas and to New Zealand’s rural areas did harm the organization, as did the consequent state repression of IWW literature, and blacklisting of activists by employers. However there is still evidence of IWW activity post-1913, and sporadic reports of activity appeared in the press over the next decade. For example, IWW stickers and posters were still seen—in fact the Wellington branch of the NZ Socialist Party was driven to complain to the local IWW secretary about the number of IWW stickers that were being placed on the Socialist Hall walls, and to inform him that a board would be put up especially for IWW literature in future. Wellington was also seeing posters advertising IWW literature for sale in 1915.
Keeping alive the spirit of educating the working class, some IWW inspired workers set up a Workers’ University in Auckland in late 1915. Documents seized by the police in a raid on IWW rooms in Australia uncovered a letter from the “Workers’ University Direct Action Group”. It was signed by W.Bull, J. Neitz and W.Fillop, and sent from Auckland, requesting help to get a circular printed, as this was it impossible in New Zealand. In the circular it was announced that “many revolutionaries” had decided to form the group to “bring the university to the workers’ back door by leaflets couched in the simplest language possible, disrobed of the technical and metaphysical terms so much used by labour fakirs, fakirs on newspapers, and professors in the pay of the moneyed classes. By such means to educate the mentally lazy and those who by overwork are shamefully robbed of that nerve-force or energy so necessary for educational achievement.”
They went on to write
Our education scheme will deal with economics, biology, physiology, and scientific sabotage, etc…. our ideas will be given out showing how a few individuals here, and a few there, on different jobs, can on any day and at all times by incessant silent sabotage, and, without the knowledge of the boss, without the knowledge or approval of the mentally sluggish and the indifferent, ignorant and cowardly majority, wring concessions—particularly the shorter hours so necessary to enable the unemployed to become absorbed.
Only “live wires” were wanted to join, as “spittoon philosophers and blowhards” impeded the fight. They claimed that they already had 50 live wires as members.
The Evening Post reported that this group was disbanded after the police reported their activities to the landlord, who described the group as “rough, unkempt fellows…although extremely intelligent and well read.” The same report mentioned that simultaneous actions were taken against similar groups across the country, which was suggestive of a police spying operation.
Although reports of IWW activity and agitation continued to be made, there is no further mention of an IWW-inspired Workers’ University. A search of the newspapers of the time reveals no further mention of Bull or Fillop (if those were their real names). The Evening Post wrote that many of the ‘University students’ went to Australia where they contributed to IWW activities there. Neitz was reported by the Post as fleeing to the countryside, only to be arrested and, because of his German nationality, declared to be a non-combatant prisoner of war and placed in an internment camp on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour.
1. Industrial Unionist, 8/11/13, p.2.
2. Ashburton Guardian, 10/8/12, p.4.
3. New Zealand Socialist Party, Wellington branch, Minutes, 12/8/14.
4. Evening Post, 5/6/15, p.3.
5. Colonist, 28/10/16, p.3.
6. Evening Post, 21/10/16, p.3.
Article from the Labour History Project Newsletter #54 by Stuart Moriarty-Patten, who in 2012 completed his thesis, A World to Win, A Hell To Lose: The Industrial Workers of the World in Early Twentieth Century New Zealand, at Massey University.
The following are transcribed letters from the Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW to the Maoriland Worker during 1911. The IWW in Christchurch formed after splitting from the New Zealand Socialist Party in 1910:
The city’s branch of the Socialist Party had no money in their social and general accounts, while the Literature Committee, which operated on a separate fund, had full coffers. Needing money for an upcoming election campaign, a motion was passed to join the three accounts together:
Unfortunately for this scheme the membership of the Literature Committee were anarchist to a man, and had no use for elections… Immediately the meeting concluded the Literature Committee went to work. By the small hours of the following morning they had completed their labours, which consisted of the ordering of over £100 worth of pamphlets and booklets… when they had finished, their finances were in the same state as the rest of the branch.42
Not surprisingly, at the following meeting the resignation of the Literature Committee was called for. The anarchists in question cheerfully left the Party and promptly formed themselves into a branch of the IWW. Some months later a rather large amount of wicker hampers packed with printed material started arriving from overseas—the second result of the Literature Committee’s nocturnal activities.
Remains to Be Seen, Jared Davidson
They seem to have died out, only to be revived again by a visit from Tom Barker in September 1913, with Ernie Kear (the late-secretary of the Passive Resisters Union) becoming secretary of the CHCH IWW (Local 2) and opening their HQ at 180 Cashel Street. They had large meetings at the Addington Workshops, The Clock Tower, and Cathedral Square, as well as holding joint meetings with the PRU.
In both groups anarchist Syd Kingsford played a prominent part, becoming the literature secretary and distributing anarchist papers supplied to him by Philip Josephs (Wellington). In 1913 he was fined with Barker for obstruction—speaking at an IWW meeting from a soapbox at the Clock Tower.
11 June 1911
WANTED - IWW CLUBS
I think the time has come to have IWW clubs in the four large centres and any industrial district where there are Industrial Unionists, in order to organise and educate the workers of New Zealand for the NZ branch of the IWW; also to make house to house free distribution of papers and books on Industrial Unionism and to supply matters on Industrial Unionism for the workers. I think the members fee should be 1s per month. It would be a good idea to import the best books on Industrial Unionism from America. I think it would be useless to hustle Political Action for the workers without a strong drilled army of Industrial Workers to back demands.
23 June 1911
Dear Comrade,—In this week’s issue Fellow-worker Sweeny advocates the formation of IWW Clubs in the four centres. I have to inform him that in Christchurch we formed a club nine months ago, and have sinced changed it to a recruiting union of the IWW. We have adopted the preamble and as far as possible the constitution of the IWW of America (V. St. John, secretary), are carrying on a propaganda for Industrial Unionism. We have just decided to supply THE WORKER (MW) with matter on Revolutionary Unionism, and the first installment will be sent along shortly. Workers requiring the latest pamphlets on Industrial Unionism may obtain them from me. I think Fellow-worker Sweeny’s idea is a good one and would be pleased to supply a copy of our preamble and constitution to anyone interested.
—Yours in revolt, SYD. KINGSFORD.
107 Riccarton road, Christchurch.
23 June 1911
Canterbury Recruiting Union—At the monthly business meeting, fellow-worker P.Hickey of THE WORKER was present by invitation. He addresses the meeting re enlisting unions’ support for THE WORKER. At the conclusion of an instructive and interesting discussion, the unions agreed to take 3 dozen WORKER per week. F.W.Shepherd’s resignation of the office of general secretary was accepted with regret, and S.J.Roscoe elected to fill the vacancy. A committee was set up to supply the WORKER with literature on Industrial Unionism.
At a special meeting the business was re-forming ourselves into a recruiting union of the NZFL. The idea being to circulate trade unions in and around Christchurch asking them to receive speakers who would place the case for Industrial Unionism before them. After considerable discussion, the following motion was carried: “That this union take a ballot of the members re joining the NZFL; also that each member be supplied with 3 copies of THE WORKER, so that they are clearly understand the Federation’s position’”.
21 July 1911
IWW JOINS FEDERATION
S.J.Roscoe, Secretary-treasurer Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW reports that a ballottaken by the branch re joining the NZFL was carried overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
1 September 1911
(letter by Kingsford in reply to an article by H.J.Hawkins, General Secretary IWW Clubs of Australia, NSW Executive on 4 August, who claims the CHCH group and those of the Chicago IWW are “frauds”, “bogus”, “fakirs”, “slum proletariats”, “Anarchists”…)
Dear Comrade,—I notice an extract in this week’s WORKER from a letter sent to you by H.J.Hawkins, relating to a “crowd of anarchists” in Christchurch. I do not know if you know the history of the IWW and the incidents that happened at the 4th Convention in 1908, but if you want any vindication of our claim to unofficially representing the IWW in New Zealand I can supply you with all the particulars. I am in possession of information to show you that the IWW (Vincent St.John, General Secretary and treasurer) is the real IWW, and the SLP and its supporters left the organisation in 1908 and started an imitation one with the same name. Just let me know if you are interested, and I will send you full particulars.
—Yours in revolt, SYD KINGSFORD, Literature Secretary, Christchurch IWW Unions. PS—this letter is quite unofficial
(no space to enter into the matter—Ed.)
Remains to be Seen traces the ashes of Joe Hill from their distribution in Chicago to wartime New Zealand. Drawing on previously unseen archival material, it examines the persecution of anarchists, socialists and Wobblies in New Zealand during the First World War. It also explores how intense censorship measures—put in place by the National Coalition Government of William Massey and zealously enforced by New Zealand’s Solicitor-General, Sir John Salmond—effectively silenced and suppressed the IWW in New Zealand.
The richly illustrated book, and downloadable PDF, is now available from Rebel Press, or at the foot of this article.
On the eve of his execution, Joe Hill—radical songwriter, union organiser and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—penned one final telegram from his Utah prison cell: “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”1 His fellow ‘Wobblies’, remaining faithful to his Last Will, did one better. After two massive funerals (the second in Chicago involving over 30,000 people), Hill’s body was cremated, his ashes placed into tiny packets and sent to IWW ‘Locals’, sympathetic organizations and individuals around the world. Among the nations said to receive Hill’s ashes, New Zealand is listed: “Hill’s ashes were placed in envelopes and distributed to IWW locals in every state but Utah. Envelopes were also sent to South America, Europe, Asia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.”2
Yet nothing is known about what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand. Even the late Bert Roth, meticulous researcher and pioneer of New Zealand radical labour history, found scant answers to his own search in the 1960s.3 Were Hill’s ashes really sent to New Zealand? Or was New Zealand simply listed to give such a symbolic act more scope? If they did make it, what happened to them?
The ashes of Joe Hill themselves are shrouded in myth. Prevailing accounts of what happened to Hill’s body upon cremation are riddled with factual errors and embellishment. For example, the date of the distribution of Hill’s ashes— believed for so long to be May Day 1916—is wrong. Actual examples of ceremonies involving Hill’s ashes are also few and far between, and due to massive state censorship and suppression of the IWW any documentation of other ceremonies has been lost or destroyed. Such factors make it difficult to pinpoint the exact fate of Joe Hill’s ashes in New Zealand.
Despite the fact that no concrete evidence has been found, there is every reason to believe that the ashes of Joe Hill were indeed sent to New Zealand. IWW cultural endeavours were common in the country, there were members of the IWW and organised IWW Locals in many of its towns and cities, and despite state repression, there were still echoes of the IWW reverberating inside the New Zealand labour movement at the time Hill’s ashes were distributed.
However by 1917 the IWW in New Zealand had been whittled down to a scattering of individuals, violently smashed by a united front of employers and government during the Great Strike of 1913, and targeted throughout the First World War by regulations designed to stamp out militant labour and the Wobblies once and for all. Alongside anarchists and other radical socialists, New Zealand Wobblies felt the full force of the state.
While the repression faced by the IWW in New Zealand pales when compared with the brutality inflicted on the American IWW, New Zealand Wobblies nonetheless suffered severe persecution by the National Coalition Government. Many were arrested and imprisoned for twelve months with hard labour, while their publications were singled out and scrutinised. Although there is evidence to suggest that the industrial tactics of the Wobblies such as the ‘go-slow’ actually increased after the Great Strike,4 to preach revolutionary syndicalism at that time—on a street corner or in writing—was a sure way of ending up in jail.
New Zealand during (and after) the War was far from an ideal environment for Wobblies and their anti-militarist, anti-capitalist material. As well as the extreme jingoism caused by the nation’s involvement in the First World War, IWW ephemera faced far-reaching censorship measures put in place by the New Zealand government and, in particular, by Sir John Salmond—Solicitor-General and self-imposed guardian of the New Zealand state. Both internal and international correspondence was stopped, censored, or destroyed by a team of censors working under the control of the New Zealand Military, which in turn, was guided by Sir John Salmond.
Through the monitoring and censorship of IWW material and the targeting of Wobblies themselves, ‘Salmond’s State’ effectively “extinguished the flames that the (IWW) movement fanned.”5 Salmond’s accusing eye and his keen interest in suppressing material of the ‘mischievous’ kind played a pivotal role in silencing the New Zealand IWW during the First World War and, in turn, is likely to have determined the fate of Joe Hill’s ashes.
Joe Hill: murdered minstrel of toil
There are a number of books, articles and other cultural productions about the life of Joe Hill, though his farcical trial and subsequent execution on 19 November 1915 has some-times overshadowed his achievements as an organiser and writer of radical songs.6 With this comes the notion put forward by Hill’s detractors that his legend was ‘blown up’ after his death: “a far less authentic martyr than Little, Everest, Ford, Suhr [other Wobbly martyrs] or a half-dozen others, Joe Hill was easier to blow up to martyrdom because he had the poet’s knack of self-dramatization.”7
However such a view obscures the tremendous influence of Joe Hill’s songs and the importance of cultural forms in the struggle for social change—of creating, as Hill’s biographer Franklin Rosemont put it, a “working class counter-culture.” Those in power were certainly threatened by the existence of such forms and, as we shall see, used a number of means to stamp them out.
In an iconic linocut poster of Joe Hill, Wobbly artist Carlos Cortez rightly celebrates the many facets of Joe Hill: “union organiser, labor agitator, cartoonist, poet, musician, composer, itinerant worker, arbetarsangaren”—whose songs, as Cortez points out, “are still being sung.” Musicologist and author Wayne Hampton cites Joe Hill as “the most important protest songwriter in the history of the American labor movement,” placing Hill alongside John Lennon, Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan as the four most powerful “Guerrilla Minstrels” of the twentieth century.8 Indeed, the influence of Joe Hill and his songs have reached far and wide:
the rich ore of Joe Hill’s life and legend has been mined by many writers and poets. Joe Hill is found in books of fiction by Archie Binns; Elias Tombenkin; John Dos Passos; Margaret Graham; Alexander Saxton; and a number of others. He is found in plays by Upton Sinclair; Louis Lembert; and Arturo Giovannitti. He is found in poems by Kenneth Patchen; Kenneth Rexroth; Carl Sandburg; Alfred Hayes; and Carlos Cortez… Joe Hill appears in every kind of book from cultural studies to regional history books to books on revolutions and natural history…9
Not bad for a Swedish migrant worker, who, after emigrating to America in 1902 and working a string of jobs (including work on the San Pedro, California docks), found a home agitating and organising on behalf of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Many a Wobbly (and historians) believe that it was Hill’s organising that prompted his arrest and execution for the murder of shopkeeper John G Morrison, and his son, on the night of 10 January 1914. The murder—which appeared to Police as a crime of revenge—was attributed to Hill despite circumstantial evidence and international outcry. On 19 November 1915, Joe Hill faced the firing squad to the dismay of Wobblies, liberals, and even figures hostile to labour (such as US President Woodrow Wilson).
Admittedly, Hill’s trial and execution, so publicly played out in America and around the world, makes for rich folklore. But such an event alone does not explain the longevity of Hill’s influence. As Gibbs Smith points out in his seminal biography of Joe Hill, the simple reason was the legacy of his songs: “without them Hill would probably have been just another forgotten migrant worker.”10
Joe Hill’s songs spoke to, and engaged with, his fellow-workers, “turning into lyrical expression their everyday experience of disillusionment, hardship, bitterness, and injustice.”11 From rhymes about strikes to parodies of religious hymns, the songs of Joe Hill were both educational and organisational tools—conveying radical ideas more success-fully than a pamphlet or book ever could. And they were popular too: “Joe Hill’s songs swept across the country; they were sung in jails, jungles, picket lines, demonstrations. IWW sailors carried them to other countries. Wobblies knew their words as well as they knew the first sentence to the IWW preamble.”12
The songs of Joe Hill were certainly well received in Australasia. In New Zealand, The Little Red Song Book, one of the IWW’s most popular pamphlets consisting of revolutionary parodies and prose, helped spread Joe Hill’s songs amongst the labour movement of the day. Even the New Zealand weekly, Truth, quoted Joe Hill’s lyrics on occasion:
All of which reminds “Critic” of the words of Joe Hill’s song:
You will eat bye-and-bye,
In the glorious land above the sky:
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.13
On Australian street corners Wobblies battled the Salvation Army in song, using Hill’s work and the Little Red Song Book to tremendous effect. “We used to have some really good singing at our meetings,” recalls Tom Barker, influential member of both the New Zealand and Australian IWW, and editor of its paper Direct Action:
as a matter of fact, we usually picked up the Salvation Army crowd when they had finished and marched away… we were waiting behind the girls with the poke bonnets and, once they’d given the big drum a bang and set off, we’d take over, put up our platform and carry on with the philosophy of the working class as we saw it.14
At union meetings up and down Australia one could hear “many a sweet voice singing cheerfully the songs of the IWW.”15 A particular favourite of Australian workers was ‘The Preacher and the Slave’ (also known as ‘Pie in the Sky’) quoted above.
Such popularity suggests that Joe Hill was no stranger to Australian and New Zealand shores, at least in song. Culturally, the IWW was well established ‘down under’ at the time of Hill’s final act—the dividing and distribution of his cremated remains. The story that his ashes came to New Zealand after his execution is not as far-fetched as it seems on first reading. Whether they made it past the New Zealand authorities however, is a story in itself.
The myth of May Day 1916
While his songs about capitalism, the plight of the working class and the possibility of a better world live on, so have myths around the distribution of Joe Hill’s ashes—nurtured by contributions from friend and foe alike. These contributions, factual or otherwise, have helped shape the prevailing account of Joe Hill’s ashes.
Joseph Hillstrom was cremated at Graceland Cemetery on 26 November 1915, his funeral the previous day having filled all 5,000 seats of Chicago’s West Side Auditorium.16 According to almost every narrative on Joe Hill, his ashes were then scattered around the world on 1 May 1916, (May Day). Barrie Stavis, author of the biographical play The Man Who Never Died, wrote:
Joe Hill’s ashes were placed in many small envelopes. These were sent to IWW members and sympathizers in all forty-eight states of the United States except one, the State of Utah… and to every country in South America, to Europe, to Asia, to Australia, to New Zealand and to South Africa. With fitting ceremonies and the singing of his songs, on May 1, 1916, the ashes of Joe Hill were scattered over the earth in these many countries.17
This, or similar variations on the May Day 1916 theme, has become Wobbly folklore. However it was not until the first anniversary of Hill’s death six months later (19 November 1916) that his ashes were actually distributed. Tiny packets containing the ashes of Joe Hill were given to delegates in Chicago for the IWW’s Tenth Convention, due to take place the following day. The rest of the packets were then posted on 3 January 1917.
The New York Times of 20 November 1916, reported: “one hundred and fifty of the envelopes were given to the IWW delegates at the Joe Hill meeting… the remaining 450 will be sent to IWW locals throughout the land.”18 In slightly more poetic terms the Industrial Worker, paper of the American IWW, noted:
in the presence of a great gathering of the workers and with impressive ceremony, Wm D. Haywood, General-Secretary Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World presented packets of the ashes of our murdered Fellow Worker to the delegates to the tenth convention of the organization and to fraternal delegates from the organised workers of other countries.19
Each packet bore a photograph of Joe Hill and the headline: “Joe Hill. Murdered by the Capitalist Class. November 19, 1915”; on the reverse was Hill’s Last Will and the words, “We Never Forget.” Packets that were sent by mail included a letter detailing Hill’s last wishes and a card instructing each “Fellow Worker” to “kindly address a letter to Wm D. Haywood, Room 307, 164 W. Washington St., Chicago, Ill., telling the circumstances and where the ashes were distributed.”20
Unfortunately none of these return letters have survived. Nationwide raids on IWW headquarters by the United States Government on 5 September 1917, and the subsequent destruction of IWW files has meant the loss of valuable information regarding the final distribution of Hill’s ashes. “From the Chicago HQ alone the authorities confiscated over five tons of material,”21 material that could have clarified what kind of ceremonies took place, when they took place, and where.
Of the few that have been documented it appears none took place on May Day 1916, as previously believed. One reference to a May Day ceremony appears in the 1932 novel Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos, though it mentions no year. In 1948 Wallace Stegner wrote in the New Republic that “little envelopes of Joe Hill’s ashes were scattered next May Day  over every state in the union and every country in the world.”22 Two years later in his fictional account of Joe Hill’s life, Stegner opens with a chapter titled “May Day 1916”, which describes a ceremony at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle. The notion that such ceremonies took place simultaneously around the world in 1916 is also reaffirmed: “…on that May Day, in every country in the world and every state in the Union except one, tiny envelopes of Joe Hill’s dust were being scattered.”23
There is evidence of such a ceremony in Seattle and it did take place on May Day, but in 1917, not 1916. Several thousand Wobblies and their supporters marched to Mount Pleasant Cemetery and scattered the ashes of Joe Hill over the grave of fellow IWW martyrs John Looney, Felix Baran and Hugo Gerlot, victims of the Everett Massacre.24
Of course it is not impossible that some kind of informal ceremony could have taken place before the ashes were officially given out, but it seems odd that the IWW would promote an early ceremony and therefore detract from the highly symbolic gathering organised for the anniversary of his execution.
Significantly, Stegner’s embellished account appears to be the source of the incorrect date used by subsequent historians. His novel was the first of a string of books released around the 1950s that revisited the life and death of Joe Hill and helped nourish his legend, although Stegner’s book and his earlier article was far from sympathetic to Hill—believing him to be “as violent an IWW as ever lived” and guilty of the murder for which he was executed.25
Instead of fertilising the world on May Day 1916, it seems that the ashes of Joe Hill were still firmly sealed in the IWW safe, waiting to be released on the first anniversary of his death.
To supporters in every inhabited continent on the globe
If the mistaken date on which Hill’s ashes were scattered has been accepted for so long, it is plausible that the list of countries where they were sent could also be wrong. Unlike the mistaken date however, the list of places said to have received Hill’s ashes originates with a more authoritative source.
Ralph Chaplin’s 1948 autobiography Wobbly was the first to list the countries where Hill’s ashes were sent, including New Zealand.26 Before Chaplin’s book, references to where they were actually sent were vague, preferring ‘in every state of the union’ or simply ‘around the world.’ Chaplin—a fellow IWW artist-poet and member of the five-person committee in charge of Hill’s cremation—kept Hill’s memory alive with frequent articles on Joe Hill in widely distributed labour papers such as New Masses and International Socialist Review.27 His eyewitness account of the funeral and cremation is the primary source for biographers of Joe Hill.
It must be considered that at the time of writing his book Chaplin simply listed current or past locals from around the world in order to give the act a sense of grandeur, regardless of whether the ashes were actually sent there or not. Chaplin had been the editor of the American IWW’s Eastern newspaper Solidarity, had written numerous poems about Hill, and was an accomplished Wobbly propagandist. However his listing of specific countries is likely to be credible, due to his intimate involvement with Hill’s funerals and cremation, and his central role within the organization itself. Of all the Wobblies active at that time, Chaplin’s cultural sensibility would have made him at the least interested in, if not the instigator of, such an encompassing event.
Ironically, by 1948 Chaplin had become a Christian, and while not going as far as repudiating the IWW he certainly was not writing his autobiography in order to preach the gospel of the ‘One Big Union.’ This, and the fact that a number of countries did receive Hill’s ashes as Chaplin described, lends credibility to Chaplin’s list.
One country that is known to have received Hill’s ashes by mail in 1917 was New Zealand’s nearest neighbour, Australia. Much to his surprise, Tom Barker received an unexpected package one Saturday morning:
to my astonishment, I got a parcel from the IWW organization at Salt Lake City containing a portion of the ashes of Joe Hill. We decided that we would have a ceremonial depositing of the ashes on the following Sunday in the garden near the Domain [the largest public space in central Sydney], so we could say that we had Joe planted firmly in Australia. The plan would have worked except for one thing—about two hours afterwards the police raided us.28
Barker and his fellow Wobblies were removed while the police went to work, ransacking the offices and confiscating material. When Barker returned, Hill’s ashes had gone. Asking the Chief at the Central Police Station about them, he was told: “you’re too late, I threw them in the back of the fire.”29
If Wobblies in Australia received Hill’s ashes by mail as Chaplin had indicated, there is reason to believe New Zealand Wobblies could have been sent them as well. According to the proceedings of the Tenth Convention of the IWW, no New Zealander was present at that convention, which suggests any ashes bound for New Zealand would have been posted there rather than distributed by hand in Chicago.30 At that time Australia and New Zealand shared the same postal shipping lines, with Sydney mail arriving from the Northern Hemisphere by way of Auckland.31 It would have been no more difficult to send Hill’s ashes to an address in New Zealand than to send them to Australia. In fact, New Zealand had been receiving a steady stream of IWW material by mail ever since the IWW’s 1905 inaugural convention in Chicago.
Sowing the seeds of rebellion
The modernisation of international postal lines, the inter-national character of IWW ideas, and the transient nature of those who adhered to them meant New Zealand Wobblies were far from isolated. The popularity of the IWW’s songs and the influx of IWW literature in New Zealand suggest that Chaplin’s claim of New Zealand receiving Hill’s ashes is highly credible.
The IWW’s origins and growth in New Zealand was typical of working class fermentation around the globe in the years leading up to the First World War. In response to the failure of unionism divided by trade and in order to combat the ever-increasing scope of capital, the ideas and tactics of revolutionary syndicalism gained adherents in many corners of the world. Radical socialists and anarchists found fertile ground for their ideas amongst the working class, and New Zealand was no different.
In 1908 the first IWW Local was formed in the capital, Wellington, with the intention of transcending trade unionism that “plays into the hands of capital to the enslavement and misleading of labour.”32 Before the outbreak of the First World War other Locals were formed in the cities of Auckland and Christchurch, while informal groups sprung up in industrial towns such as Huntly, Waihi and Denniston. In 1912 the Auckland Local “received its charter from the IWW headquarters in Chicago, becoming Local 175.”33
However, New Zealand’s connection to the American IWW goes back even further than 1908. According to Roth a number of Kiwi miners were present at the 1905 inaugural convention of the IWW in Chicago, including “Jones, later secretary of the Paparoa Miners’ Union.”34 William Trautmann, co-founder of the IWW and key speaker at the Chicago convention, was born in New Zealand and often spoke of his New Zealand roots.35 The New Zealand Socialist Party, through their paper Commonweal, had “voiced the creed of the Industrial Workers of the World” since 1906,36 while roaming revolutionaries such as Canadian H M Fitzgerald—much like IWW literature—bridged the gap between northern and southern hemispheres. ‘Fellow-worker’, the term Wobblies used to address each other in America, quickly replaced ‘comrade’ in New Zealand.37
Pamphlets and newspapers of the IWW had a wide circulation in New Zealand. The Wellington branch of the Socialist Party “found that it failed to anticipate the demand for American pamphlets.”38 According to the Secretary of the Waihi branch, imported IWW anti-militarist pamphlets were “finding a ready sale” in Waihi.39 Chunks of IWWism and Industrial Unionism, two New Zealand IWW pamphlets, sold in quantities of 3,000 and 1,000 copies each, while the Industrial Unionist, newspaper of the New Zealand IWW, reached a circulation of 4,000 (when the population of the entire country was little more than a million).40
As Mark Derby has pointed out, the distribution of cheap printed propaganda was vital to the spread of IWW ideas and tactics. “New Zealand Wobblies relied on the impact of IWW literature such as the Little Red Songbook,” moving from town to town “sowing the seed of rebellion.”41 The existence and spread of such material in New Zealand would suggest that Hill’s ashes, like past Wobbly propaganda, could have easily been sent to the Dominion.
The popularity of IWW, anarchist and revolutionary syndicalist literature in New Zealand is further illustrated by the formation of the Christchurch IWW Local in 1910. The city’s branch of the Socialist Party had no money in their social and general accounts, while the Literature Committee, which operated on a separate fund, had full coffers. Needing money for an upcoming election campaign, a motion was passed to join the three accounts together:
Unfortunately for this scheme the membership of the Literature Committee were anarchist to a man, and had no use for elections… Immediately the meeting concluded the Literature Committee went to work. By the small hours of the following morning they had completed their labours, which consisted of the ordering of over £100 worth of pamphlets and booklets… when they had finished, their finances were in the same state as the rest of the branch.42
Not surprisingly, at the following meeting the resignation of the Literature Committee was called for. The anarchists in question cheerfully left the Party and promptly formed themselves into a branch of the IWW. Some months later a rather large amount of wicker hampers packed with printed material started arriving from overseas—the second result of the Literature Committee’s nocturnal activities.
For those in power, the influence of the New Zealand IWW’s literature and its revolutionary adherents was no laughing matter. Faced by a militant working class and the eruption of outright class war during the strikes of 1912 and 1913, what one local Wobbly called the “deliberately organised thuggery by [Prime Minister] Massey and Co.”43 used violent means to quell the unrest, and the IWW itself. Striking workers faced naked bayonets and machine guns in the streets of Wellington, while special constables (volunteer, untrained additional police, mainly recruited from farm workers) revelled in cracking heads. The most militant agitators, including Wobblies, were arrested, or fled the country to dodge arrest.
Repression of the New Zealand IWW did not stop after the collapse of the strike in late 1913. The IWW and its members were monitored, scrutinised and silenced after the Great Strike and for the duration of the war that followed. Their literature and printed material became a primary concern for the state. By the time Hill’s ashes were divided into 600 packets and distributed worldwide there were no longer any IWW Locals in existence in New Zealand, only individuals scattered across the country.
Echoes of the IWW
After the defeat of the Great Strike, prominent Wobblies such as Tom Barker, Frank Hanlon and Harry Melrose moved on to more fertile shores, the harsh repression experienced during 1913 having “shattered the strong movement which Barker and others had built up.”44 The majority who did stay in New Zealand adapted to life without their own organization, and the increasingly stifling conditions of a nation heading towards an even larger confrontation—the First World War.
However the IWW in New Zealand was not dead, and there were certainly possible recipients of Hill’s ashes in the country in 1917. IWW and revolutionary socialist orators could still be found on street corners around the country leading up to and during the First World War, although no longer packing the punch they once had. Wobblies continued to organise during the war years—albeit quietly—either within other organizations, or on their own.
The Australian IWW paper Direct Action listed IWW contacts in the New Zealand cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch up to 15 February 1915. The 1 October 1914 edition carried a news piece titled “From the Locals”, in which H J Wrixton, Secretary Treasurer of the Wellington Local, described the prevailing militarism and unemployment in the capital.45 Bill Murdoch, manager and publisher of the by-then defunct Industrial Unionist, was prominent in the Waterside Workers Union: “a big man with a big voice… there was seldom a meeting when it was not heard.”46 In 1915-16 Christchurch Wobbly-anarchist Syd Kingsford was still in the city working as a carpenter, though he kept his political activities quiet after the outbreak of war. Fellow Christchurch Wobbly Reg Williams did not, and was jailed accordingly. Other Wobblies set up “escape routes for conscientious objectors” during the war, “smuggling them in coal bunkers of ships to Australia.”47
In 1915 IWW stickers measuring two inches by two and a half inches were reported to frequent the Wellington wharves. Bearing the title “How to make your job easier”, these silent agitators advocated the direct action tactic championed by the IWW: the ‘go-slow.’ “Get wise to IWW tactics. Don’t be a pacemaker, someone has to be the slowest, let it be you… Fast workers die young. Live a long life. Join the Industrial Workers of the World, the Fighting Union.”48 In a cheeky swipe at conscription, one sticker was stuck in the middle of a National Registration poster.
Another silent agitator to appear in Wellington was Tom Barker’s infamous anti-war poster, To Arms!—a satirical poster calling on “Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and other Stay-At-Home Patriots” to fill the trenches. Four copies of the poster were “smuggled across the Tasman… and pasted up outside the Supreme Court in Wellington,” causing the judge to suspend the court until the offending posters were removed.49
IWW and radical literature continued to find willing readers via well-known Wellington tailor and anarchist, Philip Josephs. One such reader was another Wobbly-anarchist, J Sweeney. On 3 November 1915, he wrote to Josephs from the small South Island town of Blenheim for one year’s subscription to Mother Earth and Freedom, anarchist journals from the United States and Britain respectively. As well as ordering literature, Sweeny asked Josephs to “remember me to the Direct Action Rebels in Wellington,” indicating there were still Wobblies active in the capital at that time. With typical Wobbly flair, Sweeney signed his letter: “Yours for Direct Action. No Political Dope.”50
Josephs’ distribution of foreign literature such as Mother Earth, his involvement with the IWW, and the fact that he was active for most of the war could have made him a recipient of Hill’s ashes. A Latvian-born Jew, Josephs had been actively involved in radical circles since his arrival from Scotland in 1904, eventually forming New Zealand’s first anarchist collective, Freedom Group, in 1913. A frequent speaker on topics such as ‘Anarchism and Outrage’, and ‘Socialism vs. Orthodox Religions’, Josephs also helped other ‘firebrands’ spread the word. “With the help of our anarchist friend and comrade P Josephs” wrote Barker in 1913, “I had 11 propaganda meetings in 14 days.”51
As well as organising speaking tours, it appears that in 1915 Josephs’ shop was, or had been, the Wellington head-quarters of the IWW. Any postage to the Local was received care of Josephs,52 as the New Zealand Police soon discovered. On 8 October both Josephs’ home in the Wellington suburb of Khandallah and his Cuba Street shop in central Wellington were raided by the Police. As well as “eleven newspapers in foreign print,” the Police found numerous IWW material, including “a number of unused official membership books, rubber stamps, and other gear used in connection with that constitution,” as well as IWW pamphlets.53 In one memorandum the Police stated: “it would appear from books found in Josephs’ possession that he obtains such literature from America.”54
However Josephs was not the only supporter receiving IWW literature in the mail at that time. Others around the country, and the Maoriland Worker, paper of the New Zealand Federation of Labour, regularly received copies of IWW newspapers Solidarity and Direct Action. But by 1917 the Federation had a deep-seated lack of sympathy for the IWW and unlike the labour movement in other parts of the world, failed to take up the cause of Joe Hill’s defence.55 The trial and execution of Joe Hill did manage to grace its pages, but only just—featuring in a mere eight articles (less than 500 lines). Most of them were straight news stories without editorial comment.56
This faint echo of IWW activity during the war is enough to suggest that there were Wobblies in New Zealand eligible to receive Hill’s ashes. Their activities, and wider working class objections to New Zealand’s involvement in the war, were also enough to set the repressive gears of the state in motion. For the National Coalition Government, headed by anti-labour conservative William Massey, socialist activity represented the threat of larger resistance to its involvement in the First World War, or even worse, a possible repeat of the growth experienced by militant labour leading up to the revolutionary moments of 1913. The government took measures to clamp down on any non-conformist activity it deemed seditious. “Any rhetoric which might encourage the development of strikes, conscience, or cowardice” was repressed,57 and the pretence of war conditions was used by the state to further cement its hold.
On 23 October 1914, the War Regulations Bill passed all of its readings in Parliament without a single word of debate. The resulting War Regulations Act empowered the executive branch of the National Coalition government to regulate all aspects of national life without reference to Parliament.58 During the course of the war, the regulations (initially of a purely military nature) were extended to cover dissent of the political kind. Individuals and organizations deemed capable of seditious activity were singled out and scrutinised—the activities of militant labour in particular.
Seditious activity was a category of elastic dimensions, defined by the state in such a way as to encompass a broad range of activity—including anything deemed critical of the New Zealand government, the war effort, and conscription:
Clause 1 provides as follows: ‘No person shall publish or cause or permit to be published or do any act with intent to publish or to cause or permit to be published any seditious utterance.’ ‘Seditious utterance’ is defined in Clause 3 of the Regulations as any utterance which is published with a seditious intention or the publication of which has seditious tendency.59
The final say on what exactly constituted seditious intentions often fell to Sir John Salmond, Solicitor-General of New Zealand from 1910-20. It was Salmond who widened the original definition of sedition laid out in the Crimes Act 1908, and the man behind the War Regulations Act. During his term as Solicitor-General, Salmond often “relied on common law authority to justify, in cases of necessity, state action which would otherwise be illegal.”60 It was his opinions to the Minister of Defence, the Police Department, and other arms of the state that sanctioned the censorship and repression of those in defiance of the War Regulations.
The Solicitor-General pursued sedition furiously, often in a way that blurred the lines of legality. “For Salmond, ‘legality’ ended when the State’s peril began.”61 If his advice to use special constables and naval forces against workers during the Great Strike, and the flurry of prosecutions during the war was anything to go by, ‘Salmond’s State’ had “a low threshold of pain.”62 As well as recommending that pacifists, unionists, and members of the Anti-Conscription League be prosecuted for ‘mischievous agitation’, Salmond ordered that the bells of Christchurch’s Lutheran Cathedral be melt-ed down on the grounds that they were made in Germany.
Rather than mere legal sanctions, such persecution under the War Regulations was clearly politically motivated. The Defence Department had earlier recommended the “wholesale arrest of agitators, leaders and resisters,”63 while Police or detectives could be relied upon to attend every public labour or anti-conscription meeting.64 Richard Hill, foremost historian of the New Zealand Police Force, notes that censorship “gradually increased in severity and in political rather than military significance.”65 Rather tellingly, those convicted of publishing information deemed valuable to the enemy were fined amounts ranging from 5/- to £10, while anyone who publicly criticised the actions of the New Zealand government was fined £100 or received twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. Of those convicted during the war for sedition, “almost all were socialist or pacifist.”66
When fiery unionist and Federation of Labour organiser Robert Semple was arrested for sedition in December 1916, Salmond recommended he be given “as long a term of imprisonment as is practicable.”67 Semple had told coal miners to resist conscription, which he believed was the “beginning of the servile state aimed not at the Kaiser but the working classes.”68 He was jailed for twelve months—his speech prompting the government to further the reach of the War Regulations Act and increase its prosecutions. (Ironically, Semple became a Cabinet Minister in the 1935 Labour Government and would later conscript New Zealand workers to kill their fellow-workers during World War Two).
As well as Semple, other labour leaders (including future Prime Minister Peter Fraser) suffered the long arm of Salmond’s law. Strikes in essential war industries were outlawed and defined as seditious. Socialist objections to conscription, Christians who argued that militarism was contrary to their religious beliefs, and sometimes, harmless banter between friends, were all defined as seditious. By the war’s end 287 people had been charged with sedition or disloyalty: 208 were convicted and 71 sent to prison.69
The New Zealand state was a world leader in using wartime regulations to political ends. As John Anderson, historian on the use and abuse of censorship during the First World War, points out: “the English government was more tolerant of criticism than the Massey administration, and did not readily initiate prosecutions for sedition.”70 In Australia, the Deputy Chief Censor:
requested that if anarchist literature was to be prohibited, action should not be taken by his office, because he did not think he was warranted in using his power against books which… were not objectionable from the standpoint of a military censorship.71
The New Zealand authorities, however, were quite happy to use the powers at their disposal to silence political opposition. When, in 1918, the British government advised that it was lifting export restrictions on British paper the Labour Leader, the New Zealand government “immediately urged that the prohibition be maintained.”72 Salmond and his cohorts insisted that they were using their discretion “in the public interest,” even though much of the suppressed material was of no military significance and “had circulated freely throughout New Zealand before the war.”73
Even after the end of the First World War the New Zealand government increasingly invoked the War Regulations in order to restrict the movement of socialists and their literature. The regulations “were entrenched, one year after armistice, by an Undesirable Immigrants Act, giving the state the power to ban entry to anybody deemed ‘disaffected and disloyal.’”74 Although the War Regulations were amended in 1920, it took a further 27 years for the Act to be repealed.
German-born children of the devil
Members of the IWW were even more of a target than pacifists or labour leaders, due to their advocacy of direct action at the point of production, their fostering of an oppositional working class counter-culture, and their radical critique of capitalism. As Joe Hill wrote: “war certainly shows up the capitalist system in its right light. Millions of men are employed at making ships and others are hired to sink them.”75 Not surprisingly, New Zealand’s Crown Prosecutor “repeatedly stressed the distinction between sincere objectors… and ‘parasites’, ‘anarchists’, and other IWW types.”76
One livid writer in the Otago Daily Times wanted “doctrines bearing the sinister IWW brand” to be stamped out:
The stuff is poisonous—to a degree revolutionary and even blasphemous… in a time such as this, when the struggle in which the nation is engaged emphasises the vital importance of harmony and efficiency… the blatant proclamation of pestilential revolutionary doctrines such as the IWW preaches is little removed from treason.77
As a result, a number of Wobblies were arrested and given maximum jail time under the War Regulations. ‘Rabid Orator’ and past Committee member of the Wellington IWW, Joseph Herbert Jones, was imprisoned for a speech made to 500 people in Dixon Street, Wellington. “I want the working class to say to the masters,” said Jones, “we don’t want war. We won’t go to the war.”78 During his court appearance Jones read a long and ‘inflammatory’ poem that received applause from onlookers in the court (the text of which, regrettably, appears to have disappeared without a trace). The judge was not impressed, nor did he share Jones’ view that all he had done was defend the interests of his fellow-workers. He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.
Another militant to receive a twelve month sentence was Sidney Fournier. Fournier had caused “hostility and ill-will between different classes of His Majesty’s subjects” by opposing the Conscription Act and calling on workers to fight the only war that mattered—class war:
The view of us workers is that we should be fighting the only war in which we can at least become victorious— that is, the class war, or the war between the classes of people who own and control the wealth in all the countries that are now at war, and the people who labour and are exploited by the wealthy classes in all countries. The truth is this war is being forced on us by conscription, because as we know they take any opportunity that will produce them more wealth and give them more opportunity of oppression, until a peace could be brought about to their advantage, as they conceive it.79
When Fournier was arrested he was found to have in his possession a membership card of the IWW, a book on sabotage, a manifesto against conscription and other “anarchist literature.”80 This, and his speech, was enough to seal Fournier’s fate. On his release he was blacklisted and prevented from working on the Wellington wharves.
For a few in power the persecution and jailing of Wobblies was not enough. One Member of Parliament wanted to take a leaf out of Australia’s book and make it legal to deport individuals associated with the IWW. MP Vernon Reed asked in Parliament whether Prime Minister Massey had considered the provisions of the Unlawful Associations Amendment Bill introduced in Australia, “aiming at the destruction of the IWW and kindred institutions, and providing for the deportation or undesirables; and whether he will introduce into Parliament a measure having similar objects?”81 In reply, Massey stated that such a law was under consideration, although it was apparently never introduced.
When they were not being arrested or threatened with deportation, it seems the Wobblies were causing all sorts of problems on the home front—if one believes the newspapers of the day. In line with their fellow-workers around the world, Wobblies in New Zealand quickly became scapegoats for any kind of unscrupulous activity during the war. The press was quick to dub the IWW as ‘Hirelings of the Huns’ and tar workers involved in labour disputes with the IWW brush. As one Wellington poet put it:
If you need a scapegoat, don’t let it trouble you.
Put it all down to the I-Double W.82
In 1917 alone over 300 newspaper articles mentioned the IWW—next-to-none were favourable.83 A Wellington Waterside Workers’ Union member noted in the Evening Post: “it used to be the ‘Red Fed’ bogey; now it is the IWW.”84 In one bizarre article, ‘The Critic’ responded to an auctioneer’s listing of ‘famous IWW hens’ in the Manawatu Evening Standard with: “‘IWW hens?’ If these belong to the order of ‘I Wont Work’ they will probably get it where the Square Deal would like to give it to their human prototypes—in the neck!”85 When the shipping vessel Port Kembla was destroyed off the coast of Farewell Spit, one writer in the Ashburton Guardian put it down to pro-German sabotage, stating: “this Dominion is not by any means free of the noxious IWW element” and “this type of human being should be put out of existence on the first evidence of abnormality.”86
Such war hysteria, coupled with state repression, made it near impossible for New Zealand Wobblies to raise their heads above ground during the later years of the war, let alone celebrate the death of one of their martyrs. To do that, Hill’s ashes also had to evade the watchful gaze of Salmond’s State and the strict censorship of correspondence, a feat in itself.
Guardians at the gate
The ashes of Joe Hill would have arrived in New Zealand at a time when the state was on high alert and guarding against such incendiary material. Even though the packet destined for Australia was received without incident, the odds were stacked against Hill’s ashes making it into New Zealand. State surveillance of mail was in place ahead of Australia, and as early as 1915 the New Zealand authorities had specifically singled out literature by the IWW as a primary concern. International and domestic mail was thoroughly checked by a number of censors, and the post office boxes of suspected individuals were monitored for seditious content.
Even before the outbreak of war, steps were taken to give the state more power to halt the importation of ‘indecent’ literature into the country. The Customs Act 1913 allowed Customs officers with warrants to search any house, premises, or place suspected of harbouring uncustomed or indecent goods, including books and printed material. From then on Customs worked closely with the Post and Telegraph Department, and during the war, with the Police and Defence Departments.
As a way of keeping tabs on the influx of imported literature, Customs adopted a system of publication lists that compiled titles of banned books.87 IWW literature was soon added to the list. In 1915 MP John Hornsby raised questions in Parliament about the “circulation in this country of pamphlets of a particularly obnoxious and deplorable nature, emanating from an organization known as the Independent World’s Workers [sic]—commonly referred to as the IWW.”88 Hornsby asked whether immediate steps would be taken “to prevent the circulation through the post of the harmful publications in connection with the propaganda of this anarchial [sic] society—a society which openly preached sabotage, which meant in plain English, assassination and destruction of property?”89 The resulting Order in Council of 20 September amended the 1913 Customs Act, “prohibit[ing] the importation into New Zealand of the newspapers called Direct Action and Solidarity, and all other printed matter published or printed or purporting to be published or printed by or on behalf of the society known as ‘The Industrial Workers of the World.’”90
The response to this action was mixed. The New Zealand Federation of Labour hardly batted an eyelid at such brazen censorship of a fellow labour organization. The Maoriland Worker “failed to raise its voice in protest against the restriction and the only mention of it occurs parenthetically in the issue of 27 October 1915,” that is, over a month later.91 In Australia, Direct Action reported the law in typical IWW fashion. An article headed “Kaiserism in New Zealand” declared “the fact that the employing class of New Zealand found it necessary to exclude… IWW papers and literature… is the best tribute to the influence of direct action propaganda.”92 In another article, Direct Action predicted the increase of its popularity:
Since Massey & Co’s special law was enacted against ‘Direct Action’ there is a greater demand in New Zealand for the paper than ever, and if the law remains in force for a year or two we hope to have a wider circle of readers in New Zealand than even in Australia.93
Direct Action was certainly sought after in New Zealand—by the state. Two months after the Order of Council was in place, the Post and Telegraph Department reported the witholding of “14 single copies [of] Direct Action; 2 bundles [of] Direct Action;” as well as “6 bundles [of] Solidarity.”94 When Charles J. Johnson was arrested in 1917 and found to have “an enormous amount of IWW literature” in his possession, including three copies of Direct Action, the Chief Detective said “with the greatest confidence” that “this man is a danger to the community.” Johnson asked to be let off with a fine; the magistrate replied, “Oh, I can’t let you off with a fine in these conditions.” He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.95
As well as doing his utmost to silence seditious utterances, Solicitor-General Salmond took a keen interest in halting sedition of the printed kind—especially that of the IWW. When Joseph Ward, the Postmaster General, asked Salmond whether the International Socialist Review fell under the Order in Council of 20 September, Salmond replied:
there is not sufficient evidence that the International Socialist Review is in any way connected with the Industrial Workers of the World. Nonetheless this publication is of a highly objectionable character advocating anarchy, violence and sedition. All copies of it therefore should without hesitation be detained…96
Salmond quickly added that the right to detain other objectionable material “is in no way limited by that Order in Council.” In other words, servants of the state had free rein to censor any literature they deemed seditious, whether it was written into law or not. He ordered that the International Socialist Review “should merely be detained” but “all IWW publications should be destroyed.”97
The likelihood that Hill’s ashes received such treatment is very high. It did not help that the packet containing Hill’s ashes was explicitly revolutionary in appearance—even the clumsiest of censors could not have missed “Murdered by the Capitalist Class”—unless, of course, it was hidden inside another envelope. Even so, the state knew the names of New Zealand Wobblies and their sympathisers, and did not hesitate to open and withhold their mail.
A public mischief and a public evil
While the Customs Act and the Order in Council only targeted IWW literature (such as newspapers and pamphlets), the correspondence of IWW members and other ‘subversives’ was also watched and withheld. The packet containing Hill’s ashes would very likely have been posted as correspondence to an individual Wobbly, making it a prime candidate for censorship. Whether on its own or inside another envelope, such correspondence to a monitored individual would have been gold to the watchful eyes of a censor.
“Immediately on the outbreak of hostilities a strict telegraph censorship was instituted,” wrote Postmaster Ward, and “a censorship of foreign postal correspondence was also established.”98 Domestic correspondence—both inwards and outwards—was closely monitored, so much so that some gave up on receiving mail entirely. On discovering that almost all of his mail (including Christmas cards) was being withheld, Charles Mackie, Secretary of the National Peace Council, advised his friends not to bother writing.99 According to official reports of the Post and Telegraph Department, 1,580 letters were withheld from delivery between 1914 and 1918.100
Both Customs and the Post and Telegraph Department had a number of censors working within their ranks, the latter including the Deputy Chief Censor, W A Tanner. But it was the military that managed censorship during the War. Tanner and other censors located across the country answered directly to Colonel Charles Gibbon, who was both Chief Censor and Chief of the General Staff of the New Zealand Military Forces. Postal censors were mostly officers of the Post Office and worked in the same building “as a matter of convenience”, but censors acted “under the instructions of the Military censor. The Post Office is bound to obey the Military censor.”101 The Defence Department’s earlier interest in the wholesale repression of agitators clearly carried over to agitation of the handwritten kind.
Salmond also took a keen interest in postal censorship, ensuring the monitoring of correspondence was carried out in full—whether it fell within his legal scope or not. Salmond often kept censored material sent to him, and regularly conferred with Gibbon on censorship matters: “I have been called upon to advise as to the censorship in New Zealand of correspondence and mail matter: and I have constantly acted as the legal adviser to the censorship.”102 However on one occasion his legal advice was deemed far from sound, causing an official enquiry into the censorship activities of the Post Office and the actions of Salmond himself.
The Auckland Post Office Enquiry, or the Bishop Enquiry as it became known, examined the censorship of correspondence pertaining to the Protestant Political Association (PPA), a sectarian religious organization headed by the vocal Reverend Howard Elliot. It was revealed that on the order of Salmond the post office box of this association was monitored, and all of its correspondence opened. In a memo to Colonel Gibbon, Salmond had gently instructed that the PPA’s “mischievous” material be censored: “perhaps steps could be taken by the Auckland censorship to see that all circulars… are examined, and if necessary, suppressed.”103 As a result a huge amount of PPA correspondence was opened and censored, so much so that the PPA, an organization with a wide influence and many followers, cried foul.
When cross-examining Salmond during the enquiry, Hubert Ostler, Counsel for the PPA and a past student of Salmond’s, hinted that the actions of his former teacher went further than mere legality:
(Mr H Ostler) Are we to understand that you are really the censor of New Zealand, Mr Salmond?
— (Salmond) No.
It sounds like it, does it not?
— No, I said I was the legal adviser.
But advise, of course, and when you advise the Military authorities they follow your advice, do they not?
Ostler had no doubt that Salmond had overstepped his legal bounds. Yet, in the end, the enquiry officially sanctioned his censorship activities and that of the Post Office. Salmond did not escape lightly however, with some likening him to the Kaiser and saying he was “practically running the country.”105
In a stirring closing submission, Ostler remarked:
the action of the Solicitor-General in this case shows pretty conclusively that his practice of constitutional law is considerably weaker than his knowledge of it must be. In plain terms, I say the Solicitor-General’s action was unconstitutional and quite illegal. The people of this country, I say, will require the Solicitor-General or any other paid servant to act as a public servant, and in accordance with the law, not as a master and above the law, like a dictator.106
Yet act as a dictator Salmond did—sanctioned by the state as a necessity. “The existence of a state of war has made the establishment of censorship necessary,” wrote Massey in agreement.107 This state of war was not only directed at the Central Powers, but at the enemy within—elements perceived by the state as subversive and a threat to the running of their war machine. The IWW and its tactics of direct action represented a spanner in the works; printed material was one of its tools. Like the PPA, the correspondence of Wobblies fell victim to Salmond’s necessity.
Marked men in New Zealand
The New Zealand authorities had their eye on the correspondence of individual Wobblies. In 1915 Salmond asked Post-master Ward for “the names and addresses of the persons to whom these objectionable newspapers and magazines are sent.”108 As a result, New Zealand Wobblies—like Charles Mackie of the National Peace Council—became marked men for the duration of the war. One 1919 memorandum to the Minister of Defence noted that, on the advice of Salmond, “postal censorship is still being maintained on… inward correspondence from certain countries to specially marked men in NZ.”109 This special attention from the state ensured the mail of a number of Wobblies and their sympathisers was specifically stopped and opened, leading to raids on the homes of IWW members by Police, and—more often than not—imprisonment.
“The Johns and military pimps are on the look out for the correspondence of men known in our movement,” wrote William Bell in a letter that never reached its destination.110 Alongside detailed information on a number of Sydney Wobblies on trial for counterfeiting £5 notes, Bell’s letter described his attempt at trying to secure a dummy address “for the purposes of ordering leaflets without an imprint for secret distribution at this end of New Zealand.”111 Also mentioned in Bell’s letter was “a private meeting of picked trusted militants” due to take place at his bach [rural cottage] that week, confirming that Wobblies were still active in 1917 (albeit discreetly).112 Obviously Bell was not discreet enough. He was arrested and sentenced to eleven months imprisonment—his letter and earlier distribution of a pamphlet around Auckland having alerted the authorities to his activities. (During his hearing, Bell, like Fournier, provoked laughter in the courtroom. When the magistrate, referring to a comment in Bell’s letter, asked him what a ‘snide-sneak’ was, Bell replied: “A man who plays both ways. We have plenty in the Labor movement, unfortunately”).113
The letters of Wellington anarchist Philip Josephs, and anyone writing to him, were withheld after Salmond was alerted to orders for literature addressed to Emma Goldman, the US-based anarchist, feminist, and editor of Mother Earth. Salmond advised,
that the best course… is to arrange with the Post Office to have all correspondence addressed to Josephs whether within New Zealand or elsewhere stopped and examined. It may be that such examination will show that Josephs’ is an active agent of the IWW or of other anarchist and criminal organizations.114
One such correspondent was Syd Kingsford. “Please have enquiries made and report furnished regarding a man named ‘Syd Kingsford’, of 136 Tuam Street, Christchurch, who appears to be an agent in Christchurch for the distribution of anarchist and IWW literature.”115 Two Police intelligence reports show that he was under constant surveillance, while Colonel Gibbon made sure his correspondence was also censored: “the necessary action has been taken to have correspondence for… Syd Kingsford censored.”116
J Sweeney was another Wobbly-anarchist under the state’s spotlight. His November 1915 letter to Josephs (quoted earlier) never made it past the censor, who instead forwarded it to Colonel Gibbon so Police could find more Wobblies to monitor: “Herewith please receive a letter addressed to the anarchist P. Josephs. I forward it, as you may possibly wish the Police to know who are his correspondents in New Zealand.”117
The withheld correspondence of Sweeny, Kingsford, Josephs and Bell are but a few recorded examples of a larger targeting of Wobblies in New Zealand, “men whose correspondence it [had] been considered necessary to censor.”118 Although no record of the detention or destruction of Joe Hill’s ashes in New Zealand has been found, the monitoring of New Zealand Wobblies and their private correspondence points to a less than ceremonial fate.
Remains to be seen
The actions of Salmond and the censorship of correspondence illustrates a heightened level of surveillance and suppression by the New Zealand state during the First World War. Fearful of wartime industrial unrest and in order to avoid a repeat of 1913, the National Coalition government (and Solicitor-General Salmond in particular) used the pretext of war conditions to suppress any hint of labour militancy. As the visible expression of such militancy, the deeds and words of the IWW were targeted and suppressed, almost certainly including the little packet containing the ashes of Joe Hill.
Considering that Philip Josephs was one of the main distributors of IWW literature in New Zealand, that his correspondence was closely monitored on orders from Salmond, and that Salmond had previously ordered all IWW material to be destroyed rather than detained, the fate of Joe Hill’s ashes in New Zealand seems pretty clear. Regardless of whether they were sent to Josephs or another Wobbly in the country, it is almost certain that the packet containing the ashes of Joe Hill would have been stopped by one of the many censors, opened, and destroyed. Such action was within the guidelines set forth by Salmond and in keeping with the massive amount of material censored during the war.
When, at the conclusion of the First World War, Charles Mackie requested that his withheld material be forwarded to him, the Military’s Chief of Staff replied that the large quantity of confiscated material had been destroyed.119 “Most detained correspondence was destroyed,” confirms John Anderson, “except when it contained articles of value which could then be transmitted safely.”120 The lack of any record of the detention or transmission of the packet containing Joe Hill’s ashes lends weight to such an outcome.
As a result, it is highly likely that Hill’s ashes never made it beyond the national border. The monitoring of correspondence that existed in 1917 alone is enough to suggest that the ashes of Joe Hill never made it past state officials. That Sir John Salmond, War Regulations, Orders in Council, and various members of Parliament specifically targeted the IWW on a number of occasions surely sealed the deal. It would have been a small miracle for Hill’s ashes to see the light of day in the Dominion.
If Hill’s ashes miraculously managed to evade Salmond and his censors and some kind of ceremony had taken place, there are no oral or written records that recall such an event. There is no mention of any ceremony in the Maoriland Worker, even though the paper covered Hill’s execution and funeral. There is no mention of any ceremony in mainstream New Zealand newspapers, although the conservative Evening Post had covered the distribution of Hill’s ashes in Chicago and had previously jumped at the chance to publish anything IWW-related.121 No records, anecdotes or rumours of what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand have been uncovered. Of course there are always other possibilities, people to be interviewed, and archives to trawl, but it seems such historic silence indicates a job well done on the part of the censors.
It is possible that the packet of ashes received by Tom Barker in Australia could have contained another portion for his fellow-workers in New Zealand. Considering the transient nature of Wobblies at that time and his previous prominence in the New Zealand IWW, the American IWW may have wanted Barker to forward a portion of the ashes to his own contacts in New Zealand. If so, the ashes destined for New Zealand went up in smoke with its Australian counterpart.
Another alternative to Hill’s ashes being destroyed by the censors is illustrated by an example in the US. Toledo Wobbly George Carey did not release his portion of Hill’s ashes until 26 June 1950, and did so in a quiet ceremony on his own accord.122 Could the packet of Hill’s ashes in New Zealand have slipped through the state’s net undetected, quietly released by a New Zealand Wobbly fearful of repression if acting publicly?
Though this theory may please some (including the author), it seems unlikely. What is more likely is that the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand, like the New Zealand IWW itself, became a victim of state repression—targeted, suppressed, and denied the chance to “come to life and bloom again.” Sadly, the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand may have gone no further than the bottom of a state servant’s rubbish bin.
Jared Davidson is the author of This is Not a Manifesto: Towards an anarcho-design practice, Rivet, and other writings on design and anarchism. A poster-maker turned labour historian, Remains to be Seen is his first attempt at historical research. Jared is a member of the Labour History Project, designer of the Labour History Project Newsletter. He is also a member of the anarchist collective Beyond Resistance.
Download: remainstobeseen.pdf 5.47 MB
Article by Kerry Taylor on the origins of the Communist Party of New Zealand, which includes information on the New Zealand Socialist Party, the New Zealand IWW, and revolutionary syndicalism.
Article on three prominent socialists in New Zealand — including E.J.B Allen, a syndicalist who was sympathetic to anarchism — by Erik Olssen.
Download: Socialism_in_New Zealand.pdf
According to labour historian Mark Derby, Sidney Fournier “was surely one of the most colourful figures in the history of the NZ labour movement - ‘captain of pickets’ in Wellington during the 1913 waterfront strike, and in the 1951 dispute he was still on the front lines, urging the wharfies to press on until capitalism was overthrown.”
It is unknown whether Fournier was ever a paid-up member of New Zealand IWW, “but he was certainly very close to the Wobblies. In 1917 he was given 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour for opposing conscription. In his room were found weapons, ‘a number of anarchistic pamphlets of a violent character, with highly-coloured titles’, and a blank IWW membership card. During the 1930s Depression he was active in providing relief for unemployed workers in Christchurch but was eventually banned from Trades Hall, as he was too leftwing for them.”
Author and labour militant Dick Scott dedicated his book 151 Days to Sid, whom he met and greatly admired. Dick told Derby that in his final years in Christchurch Sid lived in a house he had built himself of rammed-earth, which we would now describe as an eco-house, and practised many of the daily routines of environmental awareness - organic gardening, recycling, renewable energy etc - which are only now becoming common, saying that these practices were necessary to align one’s daily life with one’s political beliefs.
A colourful character who should be remembered.
Download the article here.
Article on the New Zealand IWW by H Roth. From Here and Now, March 1952