Leo Woods: Waihi, the Great Strike and the NZ IWW

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).


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.

Waihi Strike

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 Conversation with a Syndicalist from New Zealand: Max Nettlau talks to Percy Short

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.


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.



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.

The Workers’ University

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,”[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Wellington was also seeing posters advertising IWW literature for sale in 1915.[4]

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.[5]

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.”[6] 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[7] 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.
7. Ibid.


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.

Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill’s ashes in New Zealand

Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's ashes in New Zealand

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 [1916] 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.

Seditious intentions

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?
— Usually.104

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.

  • 1. Joyce L. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1964, p. 130.
  • 2. Gibbs M. Smith, Joe Hill, Utah: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1969, p.188.
  • 3. Alec Holdsworth to Bert Roth, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), Wellington.
  • 4. Fran Shor, ‘Bringing the Storm: Syndicalist Counterpublics and the Industrial Workers of the World in New Zealand, 1908-14’, in Pat Moloney and Kerry Taylor (eds), On the Left: Essays on socialism in New Zealand, Dunedin, 2002, p. 71.
  • 5. Ibid., p. 69.
  • 6. For an excellent exception see Franklin Rosemont, Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, Chicago: Charles H Kerr, 2003.
  • 7. Wallace Stegner, ‘Joe Hill: The Wobblies’ Troubadour’, New Republic, 1948, p. 24.
  • 8. Mary Killebrew, ‘”I NEVER DIED…”: The Words, Music and Influence of Joe Hill’, online at http://www.kued.org/productions/joehill/voices/article.html.
  • 9. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices, pp. 155-56.
  • 10. Smith, Joe Hill, p. 15.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices, p. 127.
  • 13. New Zealand Truth, 12 April 1919.
  • 14. Eric Fry, Tom Barker and the IWW, Brisbane: Industrial Workers of the World, 1999, p. 27.
  • 15. Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 119.
  • 16. Smith, Joe Hill, pp. 179-190.
  • 17. Barrie Stavis, The Man Who Never Died: A Play About Joe Hill; with Notes on Joe Hill and his times, Haven Press, 1951, p. 115.
  • 18. New York Times, 20 November 1916.
  • 19. Industrial Worker, 2 December 1916.
  • 20. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices, p. 157.
  • 21. Melvyn Dubofsky, ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, Manchester University Press, 1987, p. 86.
  • 22. Stegner, ‘Joe Hill: The Wobblies’ Troubadour’, p. 23.
  • 23. Wallace Stegner, Joe Hill: A Biographical Novel, Penguin Books, 1990, p. 18.
  • 24. Paul Dorpat, ‘Wobblies Unite’, Seattle Times, 22 June 1997.
  • 25. Stegner, ‘Joe Hill: The Wobblies’ Troubadour’, p. 20.
  • 26. Ralph Chaplin, Wobbly: the rough and tumble story of an American Radical, University of Chicago Press, 1948.
  • 27. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices.
  • 28. Fry, Tom Barker and the IWW, p. 27.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Industrial Workers of the World, Proceedings, 10th Convention, 1916, Chicago: IWW Publishing Bureau, 1917.
  • 31. Howard Robinson, A History of The Post Office in New Zealand, Wellington: RE Owen, Government Printer, 1964, p. 178.
  • 32. Grey River Argus, 20 January 1908.
  • 33. Erik Olssen, The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour 1908-13, Auckland, 1988, p. 132.
  • 34. Industrial Workers of the World, ‘Industrial Workers of the World (subject)’, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, ATL, Wellington.
  • 35. Mark Derby, ‘The Case of William E. Trautmann and the role of the ‘Wobblies’’ in Melanie Nolan (ed), Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2005, pp. 279-299.
  • 36. Olseen, The Red Feds, p. 3.
  • 37. Olseen, The Red Feds, p. 129.
  • 38. Olssen, The Red Feds, p. 17.
  • 39. Maoriland Worker, 25 August 1911.
  • 40. Peter Steiner, ‘The History of the Industrial Workers of the World in Aotearoa’ in Industrial Unionism, Wellington: Rebel Press, 2006, p. 6. Online at http://www.rebelpress.org.nz/publications/industrial-unionism
  • 41. Mark Derby, ‘A Country Considered to be Free: New Zealand and the IWW’, online at http://libcom.org/history/country-considered-be-free
  • 42. ‘Anarcho-Syndicalism in the NZ Labour Movement’, NZ Labour Review, May 1950, p. 26.
  • 43. Alec Holdsworth to Bert Roth, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, ATL, Wellington.
  • 44. Derby, ‘A Country Considered to be Free’.
  • 45. Direct Action, 1 October 1914.
  • 46. Frank Prebble, ‘Jock Barnes and the Syndicalist Tradition in New Zealand’, Thrall, Issue 14, July/August 2000, online at http://www.thrall.orconhosting.net.nz/14jock.html
  • 47. Derby, ‘A Country Considered to be Free’.
  • 48. Colonist, 11 November 1915.
  • 49. ‘NZ Wobblies’, Lecture Notes, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, ATL, Wellington.
  • 50. J Sweeney to P Josephs, 3 November 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 51. Industrial Unionist, 1 October 1913.
  • 52. Direct Action, 15 February 1915.
  • 53. Report of Detective-Sergeant James McIlveney, 12 October 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 54. Memorandum for Superintendent Dwyer, 21 October 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 55. Norman D Stevens, ‘IWW Influence in New Zealand: The Maoriland Worker and the IWW in the US: 1913-1916’, 1954, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, ATL, Wellington.
  • 56. Ibid., p. 12.
  • 57. Paul Baker, King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War, Auckland University Press, 1988, p. 168.
  • 58. Alex Frame, Salmond: Southern Jurist, Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1995, pp. 166-167.
  • 59. Evening Post, 16 January 1917.
  • 60. Alex Frame, ‘Salmond, John William – Biography’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, online at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3s1/1
  • 61. Frame, Salmond: Southern Jurist, p. 167.
  • 62. Ibid., p. 169.
  • 63. Baker, King and Country Call, p. 156.
  • 64. Ibid., p. 166.
  • 65. Richard Hill, The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove: The modernisation of policing in New Zealand 1886-1917, Palmerston North, 1996, p. 359.
  • 66. Stevan Eldred-Grigg, The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WW1, Random House New Zealand, 2010, p. 327.
  • 67. Frame, Salmond: Southern Jurist, p. 174.
  • 68. David Grant, Field Punishment No. 1: Archibald Baxter, Mark Briggs & New Zealand’s anti-militarist tradition, Wellington: Steele Roberts Publishers, 2008, p. 33.
  • 69. Ibid., p. 36.
  • 70. John Anderson, ‘Military Censorship in World War 1: Its Use and Abuse in New Zealand’, Thesis, Victoria University College, 1952, p. 246.
  • 71. Ibid.
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. Ibid., p. 247.
  • 74. Eldred-Grigg, The Great Wrong War, p. 457.
  • 75. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices, p. 131.
  • 76. Baker, King and Country Call, p. 168.
  • 77. Otago Daily Times, 13 September 1915.
  • 78. Evening Post, 19 January 1917.
  • 79. Maoriland Worker, 24 January 1917.
  • 80. Evening Post, 16 January 1917.
  • 81. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (NZPD), 1917 p. 859.
  • 82. ‘NZ Wobblies’, Lecture Notes, Bert Roth Collection, MS-Papers-6164-120, ATL, Wellington.
  • 83. Online search of Papers Past for 1917: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
  • 84. Evening Post, 5 February 1917.
  • 85. New Zealand Truth, 7 July 1917.
  • 86. Ashburton Guardian, 21 September 1917.
  • 87. Paul Christoffel, Censored: A short history of censorship in New Zealand, Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, 1989, p. 10.
  • 88. NZPD, 1915, p. 469.
  • 89. Ibid.
  • 90. The New Zealand Gazette, 20 September 1915.
  • 91. Stevens, ‘IWW Influence in New Zealand’, p. 8.
  • 92. Direct Action, 9 October 1915.
  • 93. Direct Action, 23 October 1915.
  • 94. IWW Publications: Interceptions of., 15 November 1915, ‘Miscellaneous Administration Matters—Prohibited Literature—”Janes Fighting Ships”, Newspapers and other Printed Matters’, ACIF-16475-C1-98/-30/25/17, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 95. Evening Post, 20 October 1917.
  • 96. J W Salmond to Comptroller of Customs, 29 November 1915, Crown Law Office, Wellington.
  • 97. Ibid.
  • 98. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR), 1915, F1 p.4.
  • 99. Baker, King and Country Call, p. 78.
  • 100. AJHR, 1915-1919.
  • 101. AJHR, 1917, F8 p. 8.
  • 102. AJHR. 1917, F8 p. 3.
  • 103. Ibid.
  • 104. AJHR, 1917, F8 p. 45.
  • 105. Frame, Salmond: Southern Jurist, p. 177.
  • 106. AJHR, 1917, F8 p. 122.
  • 107. AJHR, 1917, F8 p. 7.
  • 108. J W Salmond to Comptroller of Customs, 29 November 1915, Crown Law Office, Wellington.
  • 109. Memorandum to the Minister of Defence, 6 November 1919, ‘Communications—Censorship Of Correspondence to and from New Zealand—Instructions Re’, AAYS-8638-AD1-705-8/41/1, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 110. New Zealand Truth, 14 July 1917.
  • 111. Ibid.
  • 112. Ibid.
  • 113. Ibid.
  • 114. J W Salmond to Commissioner of Police, 20 October 1915, Opinions – Police Department 1913-1926, Crown Law Office, Wellington.
  • 115. Memorandum for Superintendent Dwyer, 21 October 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 116. Memorandum for Colonel Gibbon, 28 October 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 117. W A Tanner to Colonel Gibbon, 4 November 1915, ‘Censorship of correspondence, P Joseph to Miss E Goldman, July-November’, AAYS-8647-AD10-10/-19/16, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 118. ‘Censorship of Correspondence, National Peace Conference, June 1915 – July 1920’, AAYS-8647-AD10-11/-19/33, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 119. ‘Censorship of Correspondence, National Peace Conference, June 1915 – July 1920’, AAYS-8647-AD10-11/-19/33, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
  • 120. Anderson, ‘Military Censorship in World War 1’, p. 72.
  • 121. Evening Post, 6 January 1917.
  • 122. Kornbluh (ed), Rebel Voices, pp. 156-7.

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'Our motto, no compromise': the ideological origins and foundation of the Communist Party of NZ

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.

Download: no_compromise.pdf

W. T. Mills, E. J. B. Allen, J. A. Lee and Socialism in New Zealand

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

Sidney Fournier: obituary

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.

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Prophets from across the Pacific: The influence of Canadian agitators on New Zealand labour militancy in the early twentieth century

H M Fitzgerald (ATL photo 1/2-007676-F)

From a paper presented to the conference ‘Canada and New Zealand: Connections, comparisons and challenges’, Wellington, New Zealand, 9 February 2010, by Peter Clayworth.

Labour situation in New Zealand and Western Canada 1900-1907

The early twentieth century saw the growth of unprecendented labour militancy in much of the English speaking world, including Canada and New Zealand. In both dominions sections of the working class challenged employers and the state through the organisation of revolutionary industrial unions. In New Zealand, there was the NZ Federation of Labour, the ‘Red Feds’; in Canada, the One Big Union. In both dominions the industrial challenge was smashed with the defeat of major strikes by a coalition of Government, employer and opposing class interests; using a combination of legislation and coercion- the 1912 Waihi and 1913 Great strikes in New Zealand; the series of strikes surrounding the Winnipeg General strike of 1919 in Canada.[1] This paper examines links between these events through the influence of western Canadian activists on labour militancy in New Zealand.  

Labour relations in Western Canada and New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century appeared, superficially at least, to be two quite different situations. Western Canada’s large extractive industries, such as mining and timber milling, were dominated by large companies, relying to some extent on itinerant labour forces. Industrial conflict was widespread, especially as employers often refused to recognise unions. State and federal governments made little effort to enforce labour legislation. The similarity of conditions and the mobility of workers and ideas across the 49th parallel meant that both moderate and militant American unions established locals in Western Canada. The Western Federation of Miners, the American Labour Union, and, from 1905 onwards, the Industrial Workers of the Worlds, the IWW or Wobblies, were in Western Canada fighting for workers rights and advocating versions of socialism and revolutionary industrial unionism. Revolutionary industrial unionism was the idea that workers should organise in large combined unions on an industry rather than a craft basis, in order to be able to combat the large combinations of employers. The eventual goal was the control of industry and society by the workers, although the revolution spoken of was not necessarily envisaged as a violent one.[2]

Western Canada was also the birth place of the Socialist Party of Canada, a small but very influential working class party. The SPC taught that capitalism could not be reformed but must be overthrown. Their version of Marxism held that a revolution was inevitable once the working class became aware of its class position. The role of the party was to stand in elections, not because elections would change matters, but because this was the most effective platform to educate the workers on the class struggle. In its early days the SPC held that union activities were irrelevant as reform was impossible- despite this official line, many party members were in fact union activists and some of the more militant unions backed the SPC.[3]

New Zealand was regarded by many Canadian labour activists as a “working man’s paradise”, whose progressive social legislation should be copied in Canada. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894 was admired as it gave legal recognition to unions, with compulsory arbitration of disputes by an Arbitration Court, making decisions that were legally binding on both employers and workers. Lock-outs and strikes were illegal and supposedly unnecessary. The New Zealand unions, weakened by their total defeat in the 1890 Maritime strike, had welcomed this legislation as a great benefit to working people. New Zealand became known as the ‘land without strikes, a utopian example to the world. But by 1906, following the death of the populist Premier King Dick Seddon, disillusionment was spreading among New Zealand workers. Many workers had come to see the Arbitration Court as favouring employers, while proving unable or unwilling to deal with inflation or improve working conditions.  In 1908 a successful miners strike at Blackball on the West Coast was to prove a key event in sparking off the challenge to the arbitration system and the subsequent organisation of militant New Zealand unions into the NZ FOL. North American ideas of industrial unionism were to provide theoretical back up to this growing militancy- two figures who came to prominence at Blackball were the public voices of such ideas. One was Pat Hickey, a New Zealander, had recently returned from the USA where he had been involved with the Western Federation of Miners. The other figure was a Canadian revolutionary H. M. Fitzgerald.[4]

H M Fitzgerald

In 1907 the tiny Socialist Party of New Zealand, keen to shatter the apathy of the working man’s paradise, imported a firebrand orator, ‘Fiery Fitz’ Harry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s background remains something of a mystery, we are not even sure which country he was born in. He was a presser by trade, but became a professional agitator and was said to have fought in a revolution in South America. In Canada he was based in British Columbia, where he was an activist for the SPC. In an age where platform oratory was an art form critically examined by its audiences, the SPC was renowned for the quality of its speakers. Fitzgerald was acknowledged to be the master of them all, described as “a platform general with no equal in all Canada.”[5] He regularly spoke to standing room only audiences at Vancouver’s Empress Theatre, seating capacity 1800. He assailed capitalism and religion through socialist parables of his own devising, such as ‘the Story of a Coat’ and the tale of his own ‘Descent into Hades.’[6]

In order to understand the impact of activists such as Fitzgerald, it needs to be remembered that unions and the small working class political parties were strands of a larger, vibrant working class culture that stretched across the English speaking world. Evangelical religion, women’s suffrage, and prohibition all competed with socialism for public attention. Public speaking, on any subject, was as much a form of entertainment as propaganda; lodges and friendly societies were an established form of welfare and fellowship; socialist newspapers had respectable circulations and included large sections on literature and sport; unions had their own brass bands, picnics and sports  days; while socialist Sunday Schools competed with the churches to educate the young.

Erik Olssen has described Fitzgerald as ‘the key figure in transforming New Zealand socialism.’ An independant thinker, Fitzgerald rejected the SPC line on unionism. He preached that workers should vote for socialists at the ballot box, while organising their unions industrially along the lines of the newly formed IWW. He helped broaden the appeal of the rather staid NZ Socialist Party from ‘typographers and civil servants’ out to the unskilled working class. With John Dowdal in Wellington he helped set up an IWW club and was also active in setting up a socialist choir. Fitzgerald’s Wellington winter lectures were so popular that they were continued through to December. These activities were pursued despite the fact that Fitzgerald was suffering from an incurable disease; apparently some form of tuberculosis.[7]

 In 1908 Fitzgerald toured the country speaking on socialism. While he was on the South Island’s West Coast, the heartland of the mining unions, the Blackball strike broke out. The miners struck in response to the sacking of seven comrades, resulting from a dispute in which the union had tried to extend the 15 minutes allowed for ‘crib’, their mid-day meal, to half an hour. Fitzgerald heard of the strike when he was a day’s journey away at Millerton north of Westport. Over the next two days, despite ill health, he travelled by foot, coach and train to Blackball, to Greymouth, and to the mining centre of Dunollie, delivered a series of impassioned speechs and finally collapsed on the platform at Blackball’s Steven’s Hall. Fitzgerald became the revolutionary conscience of the strikers, always encouraging them to reject arbitration and fight to the end for their rights. His stance was appreciated by the miners, who made him a member of the union. The conservative press, on the other hand, condemned him as a parasite who used agitation as a way to live off genuine workers.[8]

After continued speaking tours and organising, Fitzgerald returned to Canada around 1910. He was in New Zealand again in late 1911 and 1912, speaking for socialism and indistrial unionism. While in New Zealand he married a Miss Crowther, daughter of an official of the Dunedin Bootmakers Union. In 1914 Fitzgerald was back inVancouver, a principal spokesman for the SPC in support of Sikh activists from the Komagata Maru, who were challenging British Columbia’s racist immigration laws; not a popular stand among the majority of the white working class. By 1916 Fitzgerald was at the Tranquille sanitorium, dying of tuberculosis, but still writing impassioned letters to the left wing BC Federationist, hailing socialism while condemning the direction of the Socialist Party of Canada.[9]

J B King

By 1911 the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, had become a force to be reckoned with in the North American industrial scene. The ideas of the Chicago IWW, discounting electoral politics in favour of industrial organisation, had come to dominate over the  ideas of the Detroit IWW, which had emphasised the ballot box as a weapon to be used alongside the industrial union. In Western Canada the Wobblies organised unskilled workers - loggers, longshoremen, construction workers, teamsters and harvesters, as well as gaining a strong ideological foothold among miners in the Kootenays. In 1909 and again in 1912 the Wobblies were at the centre of major free-speech battles in Vancouver, organising mass arrests in the fight to overturn bylaws against political speech-making in the streets. The peak of IWW activity in BC was their organisational role in the Fraser River strikes of construction workers on the Canadian Northern line.[10]

John Benjamin King was a staunch activist for the IWW in British Columbia. He was born around 1870, probably in Canada, although some sources claim he was American. King had been a teamster, stoker, engine driver and miner. Fellow Wobbly Alec Holdsworth said that King told him he became a labour activist after realising the error of his ways following being beaten up as a strikebreaker. In 1909, King and a fellow miner were at the centre of a dispute at a copper mine at Greenwood following their dismissal for involvement with the militant Western Federation of Miners. King was a full time activist for IWW by 1911, based with the Vancouver local. He helping organise the teamsters strike in Victoria, BC, a construction strike in Prince Rupert and the building trades general strike in Vancouver. He was described as a fine orator, but was also known as an advocate of sabotage as a strike weapon.[11]

After the defeat of the building trades strike in August 1911, King and two other Wobblies called Sullivan and Childs left Vancouver for New Zealand. On the ship they met two Yorkshiremen, Alec Holdsworth and Charlie Blackburn, who joined them as IWW activists in New Zealand. George Hardy, another Yorkshireman who had joined the IWW in Vancouver in 1909, also made his way across to New Zealand at this time. While the organsing activities of the Red Fed’s were at their height at this time, the IWW were only a small presence. An IWW group existed in Christchurch, but the Wellington IWW club appears to have been defunct by this time. John Dowdall still flew the red flag for the Wobblies within the Wellington Watersiders Union. The radical pamphlets produced by Charles H Kerr Co of Chicago were also widely distributed among New Zealand workers, spreading Wobbly ideas on One Big Union to combat the capitalist class. As Wobbly activist Tom Barker later explained it, there was a free flow of ideas and people backwards and forwards between San Francisco and Vancouver in the east, and New Zealand and the eastern ports of Australia. For working class activists interested in left wing ideas, North America was as much a source of information as Britain and Europe.[12]

King and his comrades were soon busy preaching on the street corners of Auckland and spreading their message further afield. With Tom Barker, a New Zealand activist originally from Westmoreland in England, King and the others formed a vibrant local of the IWW in Auckland. Barker later noted that the lack of other entertainment for the large youthful population in Auckland, made it a very active place politically at that time.  King became an organiser for the Labourers’ Union and toured the North Island preaching the industrial unionist message. The Wobblies became the left wing of the labour movement, advocating industrial rather than political action and condemning any move by the Red Feds perceived as a move towards moderation. King settled in the mining town of Waihi where he gave economics classes to miners. Waihi became the centre of one of the most bitter strikes in New Zealand history, when the miners’ union struck in reaction to the creation of a breakaway engine drivers’ union.  The miners’ union, including those engine drivers who refused to join the new organisation, considered the engine drivers’ union to be a scab body set up with the support of the bosses. King soon became a member of the strike committee, where he encouraged a militant stand by the strikers.[13]

King attended the Red Fed’s 1912 May conference, where he unsuccessfully called for a general strike in support of the Waihi miners, denounced the nationalisation of industries in favour of the Wobbly idea of direct worker control and urged the Federation to push for industrial rather than political action. The Waihi strike continued to escalate as employers and the state flooded the town with scab workers and police, while strike leaders were imprisoned for refusing to pay good behaviour bonds. (The strike’s opponents were particularly incensed when strikers sang a parody on the national anthem with the lines “God Save Our J B King”). Violence increased, ending in November 1912 with the storming of the miners’ hall, the killing of unionist Frederick Evans and the eviction of union members and their families from the town. J B King had already left the New Zealand in August 1912, departing under circumstances that remain mysterious, and making his way to Sydney.[14]

In Australia, King continued his activities as a Wobbly agitator, later being joined by his old comrade Tom Barker, who had left New Zealand as a consequence of persecution following the great strike of 1913. King, as General Organiser, revamped the local Wobblies into Chicago style activists, preaching industrial organisation and denouncing electoral activity. He travelled the country promoting the aims of the IWW and distributing its paper Direct Action. With the outbreak of war the IWW became the spear head of anti-militarist movement and bitter opponents of conscription. In 1916 King was a leader of the successful campaign to free Tom Barker, who as editor of Direct Action, had been imprisoned for publishing an anti-militarist cartoon. King himself was arrested in August 1916 for forging bank notes, in what may have been a plan among a small group of Wobblies to debase Australia’s wartime currency. He was further charged in September 1916 as part of the ‘IWW twelve’ who were accused of a treason for an alleged arson campaign in Sydney.  The Wobblies maintained the charges were a frame up but the twelve were found guilty of seditious conspiracy- King was sentenced to five years imprisonment.[15]

After a prolonged broad-based campaign for the men’s release, King was one of last of the twelve to be set free, emerging from jail in September 1921. He continued to work as a labour activist, torn between his old industrial unionist ideas and the appeal of the newly emerged Communist Party. Eventually joining the Communists, he spent the early 1930s in the Soviet Union. He returned to Australia and New Zealand in 1936, on a tour extolling the virtues of the workers’ state. While touring the South Island, King disappeared, never to emerge on the political scene again. Rumour had it that he retired to Queensland to live on the pension.[16]


The IWW activism sparked off by J B King and his fellow agitators helped build up the labour unrest in New Zealand during and after the Waihi strike. The ideas they presented gave ammunition to those more radical workers, who worried that the Red Feds were playing into the hands of the moderate unions and the employers. The IWW also stimulated the fears of farmers and employers organisations and the government, who became determined to break the power of the Federation of Labour, seeing all militant labour unions as dangerous revolutionaries. The confrontation came with the Great Strike of November 1913, the largest industrial dispute in New Zealand’s history. The Red Feds were defeated by a combination of employer and state power and violence, along with their own inability to win the support of the moderate unions and the rural working class. Following their defeat many of New Zealand’s revolutionary industrial unionists went on to work within the reformist Labour Party, founded in 1916, while a minority helped found the small but influential Communist Party in the early 1920s.[17]

Labour militants in Western Canada also had their trial of strength with employers and the state. The Socialist Party of Canada shifted from disparaging union activites to support for the industrial unionist policy of One Big Union. In 1919 disatisfaction with post war working and living conditions, combined with the lack of union recognition, led to the outbreak of strikes across Canada, with the central feature being the Winnipeg General Strike of May-June 1919. As in New Zealand the strike was broken by a combination of legislation and state violence, with fear of the One Big Union and the possibility of a Bolshevik revolution acting to build the conservative backlash against the unions.[18]

Some of the SPC and One Big Union activists were to be involved in the early Communist Party and to have a role in events in New Zealand.  John Amos “Jack” MacDonald of the SPC was brought over to New Zealand in 1921 to help organise and publicise the fledgling New Zealand Communist Party. Instead his visit brought with it much of the factionalism that had dogged the SPC in Canada. In Blackball he met miner William Balderstone and his wife Annie, who had both been SPC activists in British Columbia. Annie was the daughter of prominent Canadian unionist and political campaigner Frank Henry Sherman. Bill Balderstone, originally from Hull, England, had met Annie and come under the influence of Frank Sherman while working in the mines of Fernie, BC. The Balderstones were to become the most militant and uncompromising Communists on the West Coast, with Blackball for a while acting as the headquarters of the Communist Party. Later, in their new role as ‘tribute mine’ operators, the Balderstones themselves were to be the targets of a strike that split the Blackball community in 1931.[19]


Canadian activists had a role as prophets bringing in some of the more radical ideas of North American revolutionary industrial unionism to New Zealand, at a time when the concensus of the Liberal era was giving way to discontent and labour militancy. The transcience of these activists was not unusual, as this was a time of great mobility for the working class, especially the white English speaking working class who could move with relative ease through the British Empire and the USA. Among these workers were small but significant numbers of activists, whose activites were strands of the broader working class culture of the time. The economic conditions of the early twentieth century produced class conflict in many industries. This ensured the travelling activist had an audience for their views, but never with the guarantee of a sympathetic hearing. Advocacy of revolutionary industrial unionism was a global phenomenum in the early twentieth century. The stories of H M Fitzgerald, J B King and other Canadian activists in New Zealand illustrate not just a Canadian-New Zealand connection; but also this international feature of the history of the working class.


[1] For the Red Fed period in New Zealand see E. Olssen, The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour 1908- 1913, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988; L. Richardson, Coal, Class and Community: The United Mine Workers of New Zealand 1880-1960, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1995; M. Nolan (ed.), Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2006.  On Canadian labour militancy in the early twentieth century see A.R. McCormack, Reformers, Rebels and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement, 1899-1919, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1977; D J. Bercuson, Fools and Wise Men: The Rise and Fall of the One Big Union, McGraw Hill Ryerson, Toronto, 1978; G.S. Kealey, ‘1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,’ Labour/Le Travail, 13(Spring 1984),  pp 11-44.

[2] McCormack, Chps 2 & 6; Bercuson, Chp 2, J. Mouat, ‘The Genesis of Western Exceptionalism: British Columbia’s Hard-Rock Miners 1895-1903, Canadian Historical Review, LXXI, 3, 1990, pp 317-345, E.S. Pickett, ‘Hoboes Across the Frontier: A Comparison of Itinerant Cross-border Laborers Between Montana and Western Canada,’ in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Spring 1999 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3951/is_199904/ai_n8840736/print downloaded 7 August 2007.

[3] McCormack, Chp 4, Bercuson, pp 47-52; A. Seager, ‘Socialists and Workers: The Western Canadian Coal Miners, 1900-1921, Labour/Le Travail, 16 (Fall 1985), pp 23-59.

[4] J. Holt, Compulsory Arbitration in New Zealand: The First Forty Years, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1986, especially Chps 1-4. Olssen, pp 1-49, Richardson, pp 52-125. On Canadian interest in the New Zealand Arbitration system see Mouat pp 339-340.

[5] Roy Dovore, ‘Politicians out of the Past’, radio broadcast 27 August 1959, reprinted in The Western Socialist, Vol 26, No. 211, 1959, pp. 9-11. From http://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/politicians.out.of.the.past.1959.v26n211.htm downloaded 1 Feb 2009.

[6] H.O. Roth, biographical notes on H. M. Fitzgerald, MS-micro- 0714-27, Alexander Turnbull Library; R. Devore, ‘Politicians’; D. G. Steeves, The Compassionate Rebel: Ernest Winch and the Growth of Socialism in Western Canada, J J Douglas, Vancouver, 1977,  p. 14; P Campbell, ‘“Making Socialists”: Bill Pritchard, ‘The Socialist Party of Canada and the Third International’, Labour/Le Travail 30 (Fall 1992), pp 45-63 (see in particular p. 55), Grey River Argus, 3 March 1908, p. 3; NZ Truth, 4 January 1908, p. 8, 11 December 1915 p. 3.

[7] Olssen, p 17.  Commonweal, October 1907 p. 3, November 1907 p. 3, January 1908 p. 3.

[8] Commonweal,February 1908, p. 4; March 1908, p. 4. Grey River Argus, 29 Feb 1908, p 3, 3 March 1908, p. 3, 4 March 1908, p 2, 27 March 1908, p. 3.

[9] Roth , Fitzgerald biographical notes, Grey River Argus, 6 Sept 1911, p. 8, Poverty Bay Herald, 31 Oct 1911, p. 5, P. Campbell, ‘East Meets Left: South Asian Militants and the Socialist Party of Canada in British Columbia, 1904-1914,’ International Journal of Canadian Studies, 20 Fall 1999, pp. 35-65. BC Federationist, 29 Sept 1916.

[10] McCormack, Chp 6, Bercuson, pp 40-42; M. Leier, ‘Solidarity on Occasion: The Vancouver Free Speech Fights of 1909 and 1912,’ Labour/Le Travail, 23 (Spring 1989), pp 39-66.

[11] H O Roth, Biographical notes on John Benjamin King, MS-papers-6164-121, Alexander Turnbull Library, A. Holdsworth to H. O. Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, MS-papers-6164-120, Alexander Turnbull Library, The Labour Gazette, Vol X, Govt Printer, Ottawa, 1910, pp 52-66, V. Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp 38-39, F. Shor, ‘Left Labor Agitators in the Pacific Rim of the Early Twentieth Century,’ International Labor and Working Class History, 67, Apr 2005, pp 143-163 (see in particular p. 151).

[12] Holdsworth to Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, H. O. Roth, Biographical notes on George Hardy, MS-papers-6164-120, Alexander Turnbull Library, Olssen pp. 86, 117, 127-130. P. H. Hickey, Red Fed Memoirs, Worker Print, 1925, p. 9. E C Fry, Tom Barker and the IWW, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Canberra, 1965, http://www.iww.org.au/history/tombarker/  downloaded 25 Nov 2003, Chp 3 pp 3-5.

[13] Holdsworth to Roth, 18 July 1961 & 5 August 1961, Roth, Biographical notes on J B King, Olssen, pp 130-134, Shor, pp 153-154.

[14] Roth, biographical notes J B King, Shor, pp 153-154, Olssen, pp 135-160, H. Holland, ‘Ballot Box’, and R. S. Ross, The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, Worker Printery, 1913.

[15] Roth, biographical notes J B King, Burgmann pp 36-38, 202-245, Fry Chps 4-6.

[16]N. Jeffrey to H.O. Roth MS-papers-6164-121, Alexander Turnbull Library, Roth, Biographical notes on J. B. King, Burgmann pp 229-245.

[17] Nolan (ed) Revolution, Olssen pp 180-223.

[18] G. S. Kealey, ‘1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,’ Labour/La Travail, 13 (Spring 1984), pp 11-44. G. Friesen, ‘“Yours in Revolt”: The Socialist Party of Canada and the Western Canadian Labour Movement’, Labour/La Travail, 1 (1976), pp 139-157.

[19] K. Taylor, ‘“Jack” McDonald: A Canadian Revolutionary in New Zealand.’ Labour/Le Travail, 32 (Fall 1993) pp 261-268. Richardson, pp 196-197, 230-233.

Ki Te Iwi Maori Katoa


This is a message to you to explain the reason the workers of New Zealand are striking and to show that this strike concerns you. The top bosses of the shipping companies and the Government mean to destroy the unions of New Zealand workers, so that they can succeed in lowering the wages of the workers. The newspapers are concealing the most important point. These bosses are looking for people to act as policeman to fight us. Not one of you should participate in these treacherous dealings. This is disgusting work. We and you are workers together and we all suffer from the same affliction. It was these bosses who confiscated your land, they who shot your ancestors in days gone by. This thieving gang is your enemy - people without feelings. You are our dear friends. And so, we must always hold fast to our mutual love. All workers should be of one mind regarding this battle. Therefore do not help our mutual enemies. We are all workers together, We are ever one tribe - the tribe of workers. 

(Industrial Unionist Nov 29th 1913)

Troublemakers: The Early Years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa

Excellent zine by Frank Prebble.


This pamphlet is not meant to be an introduction to anarchism. It is a brief outline of some of the groups and people who became associated with anarchism and revolutionary unionism before the outbreak of World War One in Aotearoa. In those early years the socialist, and syndicalist movement had an incredible influence in this country; a degree of organisation and militancy that has not, I believe, been matched since. Of course the socialist movement of that time bears no resemblance to what passes as socialism today; the super welfare state, and authoritarian state communism. Except for a handful of books, mostly published in recent years, those early struggles remain largely unknown, overshadowed by the events of October 1917, and November 1935 in radical mythology.

This pamphlet is not complete, much of the information we have is very fragmentary and a lot more work needs to be done. I have drawn most of the information from secondary sources. This obviously is not adequate enough and relies on other people’s interpretation of primary sources and interviews.

In conversation with others I was told of an anarchist group in Wellington in 1913, “after their meetings they used to have street fights with the coppers. I don’t know anything else about them." An old communist… "there was a well dressed fella who carried a book of Bakunin around under his arm when he was talking at street meetings”. “There was a family called the Webbs in Auckland who were quite active, also a Sacco-Vanzetti defence committee”.

On another occasion somebody told me that there was an I.W.W group active during the 51 Lockout, or that there was a libertarian socialist group in Auckland in the 1950’s. And so it goes on. Some of this information we have been able to verify. However our first breakthrough was when a comrade in Germany sent a translation of a page from Max Nettlau’s “History of Anarchism" dealing with Aotearoa. This covers the years 1890-1913, the period covered by this pamphlet.

It is also important to point out that not all the people dealt with here called themselves anarchists or libertarians, and even if they did, many of them didn’t remain so. But it’s what they did and who they associated with that places them within the movement. People have always struggled against tyranny and oppression; nothing new about that, but those who have struggled the most, and suffered the most, very rarely leave behind an account of their sacrifices or their triumphs.


Perhaps the most important sources of information on anarchist and anti-authoritarian history are the works of Max Nettlau (1 865-1944). In particular his Die Geschichte Des Anarchismus (the History of Anarchism). Chapter ten deals with “Anarchist propaganda and Industrial Unionism in Australia and New Zealand”. Unfortunately only one page deals with Aotearoa, and this finishes in 1913. Nettlau was an Austrian anarchist active in the movement for over sixty years. He contributed to nearly all the major anarchist publications of his day, and wrote many biographies of leading anarchists, including Bakunin and Malatesta. He accumulated a huge collection of anarchist material which is gathered together in the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. This is the translation of the page on New Zealand.

    In New Zealand the Maoris, in no way a primitive people fought long and bravely but were bloodily and almost totally exterminated. Then several decades were let pass and gradually New Zealand emerged again as the model colony, the paradise of work laws and a second England. This suggestion had its effect, perhaps like Canada now has less cold and snow since people have systematically avoided talking of “Our Lady of the Snows”. But perhaps such transformations do not occur, and there were many disappointed new immigrants. No libertarian voices were actually audible until 1914. Nevertheless, the constriction of the workers through work- legislation and developing militarism in New Zealand in the years before 1914 generated somewhat greater opposition than in Australia. In 1901 Tom Mann found the miners in the gold mines of Waihi on strike against the laws of the arbitration court, and during a visit five years later he found a new conflict there. Freedom(1), January 1913 (English anarchist paper founded in1886) tells of the terrible incidents of the strike in Waihi in November 1912 as 1,800 workers and their families were driven out of the town, their houses destroyed. “Waihi’s Black Week”.’ According to the Maoriland Worker, 6 December, the Federation of Labour declared the strike ended by notifying, “After participation in the greatest industrial struggle in New Zealand’s history, one of the most persistent, peaceful and clearly defined struggles for Industrial Unionism in Australasia, we feel ourselves compelled to come to this resolution in the face of forces being assembled against us, composed of the government with all it’s union destroying powers, the tribunal and all its degrading partisanship, indeed every conceivable aspect of capitalism.” This example shows what a yoke the workers have laid upon themselves, and how their strength is wasted struggling against it. After this they would have little interest in idealistic socialism. (2)

    This real New Zealand is not to be found in apologetic writings (e.g. the Fabian Tract, no 74, “The State and its Functions in New Zealand, ” London Dec 1896, but at least in some of the local worker’s papers, some of which have reached Freedom since 1911. The Maoriland Worker, official organ of the N.Z. Federation of Labour stood for Industrial Unionism, as did the Social Democrat. Here may belong “Unionism Old and New”, the substance of a lecture delivered before the Auckland Trades and Labour Council October 1910: by H. Scott Bennett printed by the Auckland Socialist Party 1910. “Labours Leg Iron” or “Liberal and Labour Party Arbitration Acts in New South Wales” with a brief reference to the N.Z. Arbitration Act by H.E.Holland, Maoriland Worker pamphlet 1912. This concerns the strike at Broken Hill. To combat militarism appeared, “Gaoling the Boys. Will the people of N.Z. stand for it ?”. Issued by the Anti-Conscription League Wellington. In Christchurch appeared the “Anti-Militarist”, Sept 1911. I only know of this issue. In the last mentioned city the only Australian Ferrer publication of which I know was published.. “Ferrer And His Enemies” by W. W. Collins, published by the N.Z. Rationalist Association 1911. Since that time no news of recognizably libertarian stirrings has reached me.’

Notes. (1) In January 1913 Freedom (London) was able to be obtained at four places: Wellington, Christchurch, Invercargill and Auckland. P. Josephs the seller in Wellington who, for example, reviewed English anarchist literature in The Maoriland Worker, was the only anarchist there in 1911 and could only occasionally distribute Freedom and brochures from London. S Trunk, the militant German anarchist, previously in London, migrated to New Zealand Where his brother in-law Lutjohann lived, and nothing more was heard from him. This was a little before or after 1900. Towards the end of 1898 Paul Robin travelled to New Zealand but came back to Paris after several months. Michael Flurscheim visited New Zealand in 1904 in the course of his journey to investigate the possibilities of establishing a colony in the spirit of his land reform ideas. In those years appeared “A Federated Home, Wainoni” from the Canterbury Times 5 April 1899.

(2)Tom Mann, “Socialism. Does New Zealand stand in need of it?” Wellington 1901, mentioned in his “Memoirs” is unknown to me. The date should read 1902, because he first stepped foot in that country in January of that year.


One person not mentioned by Nettlau is Arthur Desmond. Desmond is cast as a rather flamboyant and eccentric character. He was born in Hawke’s Bay of English / Irish parents in about 1859, although his background and date of birth has never been confirmed. Throughout his life he made a point of covering his tracks. He worked as a cattle drover and unsuccessfully contested the general elections of 1884 and 87 on a platform of land reform and single taxation. Single tax was the name given by the economist Henry George to his proposal that taxation should be confined to land rent; land being, in his view, the real source of wealth. Desmond received considerable support during the 87 campaign, and obtained a majority of votes in Taradale the second largest town in the electorate. He bitterly attacked the local establishment describing bank directors as “scoundrels”, estate owners as “blood-sucking leeches”, and of course the local press as “hirelings of monopoly”.

After his defeat in the election he realised that there wasn’t much of a future for somebody with his vindictive talents in Hawkes Bay. Not to mention work. He found employment in the timber mills of Poverty Bay and on farms in the Waikato. He later wrote.

    'Many a time when lying on my back in a bush whare or a tent after a day of grinding toil, have I resolved that if ever I had a chance to sweep away such a brutal system, it would not be neglected.'

Arthur Desmond was a supporter of Te Kooti the leader of the Hau Haus, and probably met him. He was attracted to the Communism of the Maori people, and especially their communal land ownership. When Te Kooti announced his intention to visit Gisborne in 1889, Desmond was the only person who spoke in his support. The settlers organised a meeting to prevent Te Kooti’s visit. Five hundred people packed into a school-room at Makaraka and there was talk of bloodshed and massacres. They decided to arm themselves and stop Te Kooti. Desmond spoke on behalf of Te Kooti. He told the meeting that he was acquainted with many of Te Kooti’s followers, and that Te Kooti meant them no harm. All he wished was to visit the place of his birth. The meeting erupted in an uproar, and he was thrown out.

Desmond had lived with the Maoris at Te Karaka, who were members of Te Kooti’s Ringatu church. He had moved there to study the songs and stories of the Maori people. The real reason the colonists feared the visit was that they thought Te Kooti would prevent the sale of Maori land. A few days later on the 21st Feb another large meeting took place, this time in Gisborne. Eight hundred people attended and passed a resolution to stop Te Kooti by any means necessary. Again Desmond spoke in favour of Te Kooti’s visit. He told the assembly that he had a message from the Maori leaders at Te Karaka, and informed them that they had no right to interfere in what was to be a peaceful visit. Again the settlers wouldn’t listen, and a fight broke out. Desmond, slightly out numbered, had to be “escorted” from the meeting by the police. He was described as the “pakeha emissary from the Hau Hau’s” in the NZ Herald, and, according to the paper, was lucky to get out of the meeting alive. By this stage Poverty Bay was in a panic. The government stepped in and arrested Te Kooti and his seventy followers, many of them women and children, at Waiotahi. Te Kooti was charged with unlawful assembly and despatched to Mount Eden gaol. He was later released and returned to the Waikato. Arthur Desmond deeply admired Te Kooti and wrote a poem dedicated to him. (See Desmond’s poem: Song of Te Kooti)

After this Desmond moved to Auckland. He was an active member of the Timber Workers Union and represented the union on the Auckland Trades Council. He also toured Northland organising for the newly formed Gum Diggers Union. During the Maritime strike he published a paper called the “Tribune”, and became one of the militant leaders of the strike in Auckland. In the “Tribune” he said

    How can we expect just legislation and equal laws when those who control private plundering concerns are our legislators.

In the midst of the strike he was extremely vocal in his condemnation of the employers, and especially the small group who had a strangle hold on commerce in the Auckland region. The Bank of New Zealand was the spearhead of this capitalist domination. However the “Bank” also had it’s own problems not dissimilar from todays. Corruption and bribery were rife, and Desmond didn’t waste any space in the “Tribune” in his condemnation. He squatted an office belonging to the Auckland Employers Association. After three weeks the employers discovered the identity of their unwanted guest and promptly demanded that he vacate the office and hand over the key. In retaliation perhaps, Desmond forged a confidential letter from a cabinet minister to the Auckland Employers Association. From an election platform he accused the Association of corruption and conspiracy. The letter was obviously a forgery and the cabinet minister Mr E Mitchelson took proceedings against Desmond for criminal libel. The Tribune ceased publication and Desmond was once again on the move this time to Wellington where he worked on the waterfront.

By late 1892 he was in Sydney. He was involved with the anarchist Active Service Brigade, and a paper called “Hard Cash”. The 1890’s was a time of depression and saw the collapse of many weak financial institutions. Desmond was arrested for chalking on a bank “Going Bung”. The Active Service Brigade’s aim was to “change the present competitive system into a co-operative and social system”. The government and press tried to implicate the Active Service Brigade and Desmond in various dynamite plots and intrigues. By late 1894 he was in Britain, and then he worked in the United States. What happened to him after this is a mystery. According to some he was killed in World War 1; others say he was killed during a rebellion in Mexico. Arthur Desmond never described himself as an anarchist, but because of his association with anti-authoritarian ideas and groups he is often regarded as such. He was an individualist anarchist along the lines of Max Stirner.


Photo: Alexander Bikerton

The later half of last century saw some major advances in science and technology. There was a belief that science would solve many of the social problems of humanity, and would sweep away many repressive and superstitious institutions. One person who shared this belief was Alexander Bikerton. He arrived in New Zealand in 1873 to take up his appointment as Professor of Chemistry at Canterbury College, the forerunner of todays university. He immediately began a course of popular lectures which attracted hundreds of people. He was a born actor and an exceptional teacher. Public lectures at that time were regarded as popular entertainment. Bikerton was a pioneer in science education, and champion of original investigations. He regularly demonstrated Nikola Tesla’s experiments. Tesla was a pioneer in the development of alternating current when General Electric and Thomas Edison were promoting direct current. He remains a rather obscure scientist, principally because many of his inventions would have destroyed the profitability of many companies that are now multi-nationals. When he died the United States government impounded the entire contents of his safe, only they know what it contained.

Within a short period of time Bikerton became unpopular with the Christchurch establishment, dominated as it was by the Church of England. During the course of conversation the Bishop urged him to study the Bible. Later, when asked what he thought of it, he replied “Really excellent. I have decided to put myself down as a Christian at the next census.” “Good heavens!” exclaimed the clergyman, “What religion did you state at the last census?” “Church of England”, replied Bikerton. Bikerton also developed a scientific theory which he called partial impact. This he believed explained the birth of stars. However it also directly contradicted the teachings of the Book of Genesis, and of course those of the Bishop. He regarded himself as a state socialist and supporter of the single tax movement. Nevertheless by the late 1880’s he had become convinced that genuine communism would be easier to attain than any steps taken towards it. In a letter to the Lyttelton Times he outlines his libertarian communist views.

    For a quarter of a century I have struggled with the many difficulties of the human problem in the various aspects presented by hunger and love; and never for an hour, during all these years, did 1 see a satisfactory solution to its many complexities. Then, studying human evolution from the Darwinian stand-point, 1 saw that the ethics of Christ yielded a scientific solution, and this has satisfied me for nearly a dozen years …. the true mode of life is that described by Christ under the name of the Kingdom of Heaven, a state in which no one lacks anything because no one owns anything … a state in which there is no law, because love is supreme. And to this state only is man’s emotional nature consonant; a condition of rivalry in generosity, instead of competition in greed. Let me at once affirm that I believe progressive taxation (single tax), land nationalisation, and state socialism, could they be obtained, would be incomparably better than our present system. Many champions of these panaceas own them to be but steps towards Christian communism; they think these things attainable, and the higher life not immediately attainable. Close on forty years study of the problem convinces me that the Kingdom of Heaven is easier, far easier to attain to than any of the supposed steps towards it, so I devote most of my efforts to this conviction. But I do not neglect the other view. I have been the means of circulating thousands of socialistic books and periodicals, and are ever ready to do my part in working with socialists, knowing them to be the salt of the earth. '

In 1893 Bikerton became a member of the Christchurch Workingmen’s Society and soon afterwards President of the Tailoresses and Presses Union. He was also one of the founders of the Kingsley Club. The Club had a membership of 400 and organised benefit dances concerts and lectures on a weekly basis. In 1898, along with others he established the Federative Home at Wainoni. He had purchased the property some years before. Wainoni was to be an experiment in communal living. By autumn 1899 the Federative Home was well established with about thirty members. All domestic work was done co-operatively and most of the members had outside jobs. However the community did support a few industries such as a fireworks factory. Bikerton was also one of the founders of the Socialist Party. Many socials and picnics were held in support of the party at Wainoni. The Federated home itself covered several acres of garden. At the centre was the main house built from materials recovered from the Christchurch Exhibition of 1882. From contemporary accounts it was very impressive. A report from the Canterbury Times of 1898 recounts.

    As we wheeled into the entrance gate we obtained a good view of the establishment. The entrance hall, reception rooms are in the centre, with the vinery to the right and the fernery and conservatories to the left.. From the roof we look down upon the orchard, garden and terraces. Peaches apricots, and nectarines are under our feet’.

In an interview in the Lyttelton Times in 1902 Bikerton comments.

    A federated home is much simpler, much cheaper, and much more sociable and happy than the separated homes in which we lived formerly. Our domestic duties are discharged on the principle that everybody should do what he or she likes best…. the only thing approaching a regulation is a time table of daily duties. Each family has its own rooms or cottage, but the drawing room is there for all visitors, and the social hall is there for everybody’.

Photo: The Federative Home

The home boasted a large library, a gymnasium, tennis court and several other social amenities. In all it appears that the members lived an idyllic existence.

In 1900 Bikerton returned briefly to England, there he met Kropotkin several times and Malatesta. He criticised the anarchists for not pursuing, “sound and logical methods” to achieve anarchism. By this stage Kropotkin was not an enthusiastic exponent of experimental colonies. Most had been dismal failures. Bikerton may have renewed his friendship with Paul Robin. Robin had travelled to New Zealand in 1898 arriving in Auckland. We don’t know if they met personally but almost certainly exchanged letters. Robin was very influential in libertarian educationalist circles in France. Angus McLaren’s book “Sexuality and Social Order" briefly mentions Robin’s visit to Aotearoa and his friendship with Bikerton Robin wrote in "Regeneration" (April 1908)

    I saw in the Antipodes ingenious housewives who made for themselves for a derisory price an object having the same efficacy as the best brands of pessaries, ovules and cones.'

Emma Goldman mentions Robin in her autobiography, “Living My Life

    Who was Paul Robin? My friend informed me that he was one of the great libertarians in the field of education. Out of his own means he had bought a large tract of land on which he established a school for destitute children. Sempuis the place was called. Robin had taken homeless waifs from the street or orphan asylums, the poorest and so-called bad children. “You should see them now!” Victor said; Robin’s school is a living example of what can be done in education by an attitude of understanding and love for the child.'

Emma Goldman was in Paris where she attended the Neo-Malthusian Congress. She met Robin and several other delegates. Her friend was Victor Dave an anarchist member of the First International and friend of Bakunin. The congress met in secret and every session was in a different place. We don’t know if Bikerton attended this conference. Perhaps he did.

Bikerton returned to New Zealand, but by 1903 the Federative Home began to falter. He estimated that the place would need at least one hundred members to prosper. The numbers rarely rose above thirty. Many of the members would not co-operate in the running of the place and Wainoni became for many a free boarding house. After the home eventually failed Bikerton turned the property into an amusement park. By this stage he had been dismissed from Canterbury College. The amusement park also failed. In 1910 he once again returned to England leaving his family behind. He tried to gain recognition for his scientific theory of partial impact, from the scientific community. No one was interested. He never returned to Aotearoa, and died in England, at the age of 81 in 1928. His last years were spent in virtual poverty, regarded as a crank and eccentric. Bikerton was a great scientist, a person far in advance of his times.

Photo: The Federative Home Commune Members


Michael Flurschiem arrived in Wellington in 1898. He was a supporter of the single tax movement and monetary reform. On arrival he was greeted by the Single Tax Society and spoke at a meeting of the Socialist League and Trades Council. Flurscheim was a wealthy industrialist from Germany who decided to sell his business and devote his money and time to the promotion of monetary reform. Its philosophy was based on the same principles as todays green dollar systems. In October 1898, he established the New Zealand Commercial Exchange Co Ltd with offices at the corner of Willis and Manners Streets, Wellington. Those who joined the exchange agreed to carry out transactions without the use of money, a barter system using exchange notes. It was stated on the notes that “the holder of the note is entitled, on or within a reasonable time after presentation, to goods or services of the New Zealand Commercial Exchange Co Ltd, who are liable to supply goods or services”. Flurscheim vigorously promoted the advantages of the scheme. He wrote many articles and letters to the press, published a pamphlet “Business without Gold” and launched a journal “The Commercial Exchange Gazette” later renamed the “Pioneer of Social Reform”. He was convinced the exchange would flourish.

    There is nothing to prevent our club from gradually embracing all members of the community, and it is in the interests of every member to help extend the circle so as to have it embrace all trades, so that anything wanted by the members can be supplied in mutual exchange.'

His efforts had the desired effect. Several hundred shopkeepers and trades people joined the exchange within a few months. But the scheme began to falter. The main reason for this was a campaign of slander in the press by a one time friend and business associate. This tended to undermine the credibility of the exchange bank. Flurscheim withdrew from all involvement. He left Wellington and established another exchange in Auckland, and by June 1901, it had enrolled a thousand local members. In 1902 he wrote ‘Clue to the Economic Labyrinth” which he dedicated to the people of New Zealand. In this book he advocated land nationalisation, the abolition of interest and a co-operative exchange system. He also advocated the co-operative control of production and distribution.

Flurscheim left New Zealand in about 1905. Many of his business ventures, including a soap factory in Wellington failed and he eventually returned to Germany where he died in 1912.


By the turn of the century there were only a few hundred active socialists in Aotearoa, but with the arrival of 190 men and women who intended to form a co-operative colony, the number almost doubled. The colony was backed by William Ranstead the financial supporter of the “Clarion”, a socialist weekly magazine published in England. The colony was never established and the “Clarionettes”, as they were known dispersed throughout New Zealand. Nevertheless they did help to establish the first New Zealand Socialist Party.

The first branch was set up in Wellington in July 1901. The party represented most shades of socialist thought from Marxists, Fabians, parliamentary socialists, to syndicalists and anarchists, and was loosely organised. Soon after other branches were formed in Auckland and Christchurch. Tom Mann was an early organiser for the Party. Mann along with Benn Tillett, who also visited Aotearoa, had been organisers of the successful 1889 London dock strike. By 1903 the Party had established a journal called the “Commonweal”, based in Wellington and edited by Robert Hogg. Wellington became the centre for a group of anti-parliamentary socialists. Hogg declared in the first issue of “Commonweal”.

    Our aim is revolution, not reform, because we mean to abolish the foundation of all existing institutions.'

At first the growth of the party was slow but by 1907-08 the increase in membership was dramatic. In April 1908 the party claimed 3000 members. That same year they held their first national conference. The first objective was; The establishment in New Zealand of a co-operative commonwealth founded on the socialisation of land and capital. The conference condemned political action by a two to one majority. However they did stand candidates on several occasions. Branches of the party were established in many small mining towns, including Waihi and Huntly. In Runanga, on the West Coast party members included the mayor, town clerk, headmaster and local Methodist minister.

An amusing incident occurred in Christchurch in 1910 and is related in an article, “Anarcho-Syndicalism in the New Zealand Labour Movement”, written forty years later in the “N.Z. Labour Review”, a Communist Party journal.

    The local branch of the Socialist Party was facing an election campaign with empty coffers, and little prospect of filling them. The Literature Committee, however who operated a separate fund, were solvent to the extent of £40. A motion was therefore moved to amalgamate the general funds of the Branch, (nil), the Social Committee (nil), and the Literature Committee, for use in the election campaign. Unfortunately for this scheme the membership of the Literature Committee were anarchist to a man, and had no use for elections. One of the Committee’s members had the vote on this motion shelved on the grounds that since it amounted to the rescinding of the previous decision which had decided on the operation of separate funds, a special notice of motion would first have to be given. The irony of an avowed anarchist employing such legalist arguments was apparently lost on the meeting and the matter was held over.

    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 booklets, sending a third of the amount of each order as deposit. When they had finished, their finances were in the same state as the rest of the branch. The first result of this nocturnal activity was that at the following meeting the resignations of the entire Committee were called for, and cheerfully tendered, the offending members promptly forming themselves into a branch of the I. W. W.

    The second result did not eventuate for some months, but when it did it took the form of a stream of large wicker hampers packed with printed material, to the total number of over 100,000. The Socialist Party disclaimed ownership of them and they were distributed by a group of individuals, most of them being taken in bulk lots by trade union branches, principally those of miners and waterside workers.

    The great majority of this and other similar literature coming into the country at this time was anarcho-syndicalist, and the speeches made at meetings and conferences during this period leave no doubt as to the widespread effect it had. The little Marxist literature that was available was swamped by that of the I. W. W., the British Independent Labour Party and various exponents of single and land tax theories.

The article continues to outline the influence syndicalism had within the labour movement and goes on to describe Semple, Fraser, Savage and co as anarcho-syndicalists which is even for a communist stretching imagination a little too far. We can only assume that the literature had more value than a handful of votes. But the real point of the article was to point out what the communists perceived as the follies of syndicalism to the watersiders of 1950.


One member of the Wellington Socialist Party was the anarchist Philip Josephs. Josephs was a Russian Jew who worked as a tailor. In January 1905 he spoke in support of the Russian revolution and became a member of the party. For two years he ran their economics class and contributed to the “Commonweal”. In an article entitled “Trade Unionism in New Zealand: Is it a failure”, he describes the state of the workers movement and the effect of the arbitration act on unionism in general.

    The Conciliation Board and arbitration Act has dealt Trades Unionism in New Zealand its death blow … The workers have been robbed of their fighting weapon, the strike. The union meeting is a place for transacting routine business only, instead of a rendezvous of the advanced guard of progress and a school of preparation for the great coming event, the social revolution.'

Josephs remained an active member of the party and helped revive the Anti-Militarist League in Wellington in 1912, and was elected secretary. He often advertised Freedom Press pamphlets in various publications including the Maoriland Worker. In July 1913 he along with others set up the anarchist Freedom Group. The Maoriland Worker reported on July 18th that

    At No 4 Willis Street on July 9th, a meeting was held to form an Anarchist Group, to be called the Freedom Group. Its object is the self education of its members and the propagation of anarchist principles. It was decided to have weekly meetings, commencing at 8pm every Wednesday, at Joseph and Co’s rooms, 4 Willis Street. “The subject of the discussion next week is “What method should we adopt to change the present system?”. It is announced that those interested will always find a warm welcome, and visitors are invited to take part in the discussions.'

The Freedom Group appears to have lasted for at least a year so maybe they did have “street fights with the coppers”, or perhaps this relates to an incident during the November General Strike. Philip Josephs remained active for a number of years. In 1915 he was arrested for possessing banned literature when the police raided his workshop. He apparently returned to Russia after the 1917 Revolution and was back in Aotearoa in the early 20’s although we cannot be certain of this. A. G. Solomon was involved in the Russian Famine Relief Campaign in 1922 and an Army Intelligence document from 1927 suggests that Solomon and Josephs were the same person.

Another anarchist involved with the Wellington Socialist Party was Thomas Fauset McDonald. He arrived from Australia around 1906 and was involved with the Hutt Valley Socialist Society in early 1908. McDonald was a doctor specialising in tropical diseases. He had been active in the English movement in the 1890’s and was a friend of Nettlau’s. However McDonald was a racialist who published several articles and pamphlets outlining his ideas. He was condemned by his comrades in the Socialist Party in an editorial in the “Commonweal” in July 1907 when he became president of the White Race League.


Todays trade and industrial unions date from around the turn of the century, and some go back much earlier. Many, especially the unskilled unions, were very militant. They quickly absorbed the ideas of Industrial Unionism and Syndicalism that were sweeping the world. ‘Re word Syndicalism comes from the French, meaning union, but in English speaking countries it is generally considered to mean revolutionary unionism. Although there are differences between Industrial Unionism and Syndicalism the terms are for all practical purposes interchangeable. Industrial Unionism wasn’t new to this country and has its origins in South Canterbury, with the formation of the shearers unions in the 1880’s. It made sense for seasonal workers to combine in terms of industry instead of craft. Many workers would move from shearing and other pastoral work to the meat, dairy, and flax industries or perhaps onto the wharves, or into the mines. So it made sense to form the “One Big Union” on the job instead of remaining divided into several craft unions. The travelling union card. Pat Hickey, one of the leaders of the Red Federation of Labour, maintains in his memoirs that members of the Federation never thought of themselves as miners or watersiders but as “Federationists”, and as members of the working class.

The basic ideas of Syndicalism are; direct action in the work place and community; a decentralised union structure with no paid full time officials; all decisions made at a general assembly of workers; and recallable delegates assigned to carry out the decisions of the assembly. Syndicalists generally feel that political parties are a divisive influence within the workers movement. They reject ballot box politics for direct action and consider the general strike to be the most powerful weapon working people have against the employers and the state. But it wasn’t enough to fight for better wages and conditions. The industrial unions were seen as the building blocks for a future co-operative society. They were the training ground for a better future.

The story of the I.W.W. in Aotearoa cannot be told without considering the wider labour movement. The Wobblies weren’t a small sectarian group isolated from the tumultuous events of those times. Often they were at the centre, and the leading spirit within the militant workers movement. At no other time did the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism have such a wide popular appeal. After the defeat of the 1891 Maritime Council, the workers movement in New Zealand went into decline. Depression years followed. In 1894 the Liberals introduced the Industrial Conciliation, and Arbitration Act, and we’ve had it in various forms ever since, until recently. The I.C.A. Act did encourage the formation of unions but it also curtailed the right to strike, and tended to divide the union movement. However by 1905 working people were again becoming restless. 1905 also saw the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States. The ideas of the Wobblies, as they were called, began to filter through to New Zealand. There was now a new air of militancy especially amongst the miners. Between 1900 and 1911 the workforce in the mines increased by nearly 75%. With this increase also came the atrocious working and living conditions, intransigent employers and of-course mine disasters. The miners, wharfies, shearers and labourers were the backbone of the new movement. Many militants from Europe and America toured New Zealand and Australia advocating Industrial Unionism. The newly formed Socialist Party organised many of these tours and began publishing articles on Industrial Unionism in it’s paper, the “Commonweal”.

In 1907 Ben Tillet, of the London Dockers, toured New Zealand preaching revolutionary Industrial Unionism. Pat Hickey was one of the organisers of the tour on the West Coast. Hickey had spent some time in England and Ireland. He worked in the U.S.A. and was a member of the Western Federation of Miners. The miners were the driving force behind the I.W.W. but left shortly after it was formed. It is important to point out that up until 1908 the American I.W.W. had two distinct factions; those who supported both revolutionary political action and organisation at the point of production, and those that repudiated politics for direct action on the job. There was a split in 1908 and the supporters of politics and Daniel De Leon formed the Detroit I.W.W. The majority became what was known as the Chicago I.W.W., the anti political union. In New Zealand up until 1911 the labour movement generally supported both revolutionary politics and Industrial Unionism, but by 1911 the movement split into two groups; the militants advocating direct action in the workplace, and the others ballot box politics.

In 1907 H.M. Fitzgerald arrived in Aotearoa from Canada. He became a Socialist Party organiser and toured the West Coast in 1908. He was a revolutionary socialist and syndicalist. Before his tour he established a branch of the I.W.W. in Wellington. One hundred workers attended the first meeting. But the most significant event of 1908, besides the famous strike in Blackball, was the formation of the first Federation of Labour, the “Red Federation”. The Federation was strongly influenced by the ideas of the I.W.W. and Syndicalism. However it was a mixture of the old conservative craft unions, and industrial unions. The leadership of the federation played a difficult juggling act between revolutionary politics on the one hand and syndicalism on the other. The Federation was mostly made up of miners unions to start with and growth was slow. The first test of the Federations strength came in late 1908 when a new workers compensation act provided for employers liability for occupational diseases such as miners consumption. The mining companies demanded that the men undergo a medical examination before being re-employed after Christmas. The Federation threatened strike action, the government intervened and ordered the State Insurance Department to issue policies without prior examination.

Events in Australia had a profound influence on New Zealand labour. There was a constant flow of workers between the two countries and the west coast of America. During 1909-1910 strikes by miners in Newcastle and Broken Hill, converted the majority of miners in this country to Industrial Unionism. Late 1909 saw the arrival of Harry Scott Bennett from Australia. He had been active in the Victorian Socialist League and the Labour Party, whom he represented in the Victorian Parliament in 1904. He lost his seat in 1907. He was briefly a member of the Australian I.W.W. in 1908, but however he resigned in September of the same year. Bennett was first employed by the Federation, then the Socialist Party in Auckland. He toured the West Coast, and then Auckland province. In February 1910 he visited Christchurch, where he received an enthusiastic response, especially from the General Labourers Union. The Labourers Union had been growing rapidly since 1908. The leadership supported the Labour Party, but an increasingly militant rank and file supported the Federation and industrial unionism. By January 1911 an Industrial Unionist Club was established by the militants who organised open air meetings and sold pamphlets. A branch of the I.W.W. was also formed and S.J.Roscoe, a shearer, was one of its leading members. The I.W.W. group applied for membership of the Federation and was admitted in June 1911. But it wasn’t until January 1912, after a long and protracted battle with the conservative leadership of the General Labourers Union that the labourers finally voted to join the Federation. After his South Island tour, Bennett returned to Auckland where he worked on the Socialist Party’s paper the “Leader”. The Socialist Party was extremely active during this period. In February 1911, Bennett established a weekly paper the “Social Democrat”. The “Leader" had to close because of a libel case.

Cartoon: Syndicalism - the employers nightmare

The Federation of Labour continued to increase it’s membership. In February 1912 there were forty three affiliated unions with a total membership of fifteen thousand. Miners, shearers, and watersiders made up ten thousand members. However the anti political socialists began criticising the leadership for its inaction, and apparent willingness to accommodate political action. The conflict was particularly intense in Auckland. Throughout 1911 and into 1912 a series of industrial disputes developed. The most important involved council labourers affiliated to the Auckland General Labourers Union. Six hundred labourers went on strike over working conditions. The council capitulated but it was only a partial victory. Early in 1912 the employers refused to recognise the union and agree to an “award”. The union placed the matter in the hands of the Federation who did nothing. By February the union was de-registered, even though they had left the arbitration system. The dispute dragged on, and by March the council and employers had formed a scab union which was gaining members. The dispute collapsed out of inaction by the Federation. Their answer was to organise an alternative candidate to Parr, the mayor who smashed the labourers in the forthcoming council elections. The electoral results were disastrous for the Labour candidate. From then on the “Red” Federation leadership began to lose credibility and the I.W.W. began to increase its influence and membership.

Photo: John Benjamin KingThe I.W.W. was particularly strong in Auckland. One of its leading members was John Benjamin King. Born in Canada in the 1870s he worked as a miner teamster and stoker. During 1910-1911 he was a member of the Vancouver local of the I.W.W. He was elected organiser for the city and took part in a mass strike by construction workers in Prince Rupert. After the defeat of the Vancouver strike, King left Canada for New Zealand. He arrived in August 1911, and worked in Auckland as a labourer. He joined the General Labourers Union and was soon elected to the executive. He worked closely with Bennett, the editor of the “Social Democrat” who was urging the Federation to adopt the I.W.W. model of organisation. The “Social Democrat” advocated industrial sabotage as a weapon in the class war. Another prominent figure during this time was Tom Barker. He was secretary of the Socialist Party in Auckland. However, following the defeat of the labourers, and the disaster at the ballot box, he resigned and joined the Wobblies. After a stay of three months in Auckland, King went on a North Island tour and after speaking at Waihi decided to stay and work as a miner. He organised an economics class and enrolled about thirty miners. Back in Auckland the I.W.W. was becoming more active. In March 1912 they formed a propaganda club. Each Sunday they had speakers down at the wharves. They applied for a charter from Chicago and became Local 175. A propaganda branch was established in Wellington and one already existed in Christchurch.

May 1912 saw the beginning of the Waihi strike. The engine drivers wanted to secede from the “Workers Union” which covered all aspects of the mining industry in the town. Bill Parry the president of the union, tried to convince the drivers to stay. He failed. The strike began on May 13th. Parry assured the miners that the Federation would support strike action. A strike committee was elected, King being one of the members. The engine drivers formed an arbitration union. However the leadership of the Federation did not approve of the strike. King called for a general strike but this was also rejected by the leadership. The miners were on their own. The third conference of the Federation was held in Wellington during the same month. King attended as a delegate, and advocated a general strike to support the miners. This was defeated. There was also an ongoing strike by miners at Inangahua and a wildcat at Hikurangi. The executive didn’t want to discuss the Waihi strike, nevertheless it agreed to send a delegation to the mine owners and start negotiations, which failed. The strike dragged on. The executive reduced the struggle to one of money. Thirty five thousand pounds was raised but it was not enough to defeat the mine owners. The strikers boycotted employers, and stores that sold goods to the scabs. The strike committee organised the distribution of food and fuel to the workers through the unions co-operative store.

In July the Liberal government fell from power. By September Waihi was in a state of virtual class war. The owners decided to open the mine with scab labour. Pickets were strengthened. The police brought in reinforcements. On September 7th fifty to sixty miners including the strike committee received summonses. They were charged with inciting. Over the next two months police prosecuted eighty two workers, and imprisoned sixty five of them in Mt Eden jail. During this time women took the brunt of the work on the picket lines, and became the backbone of the strike. Pressure mounted on the Federation to call a general strike. The employers announced towards the end of September that they would re-open the mine. But not until the second of October did they attempt to do this, and then with only fourteen scabs. Fifteen hundred workers assembled to stop them. The Wobblies sang a parody of the national anthem “God save J.B. King”, and jostled the police and scabs to the mine. Meanwhile the Federation decided to call a one day general strike, but only in Auckland. There was utter confusion. Only the wharfies and part of the General Labourers Union struck. Another country wide strike was called but support was patchy. This eroded support for the Wobblies and they accused the executive of discrediting the most powerful weapon working people possess, the general strike. In Huntly the strike was general but the owner refused to allow the workers back and a lockout ensured. The scab union in Waihi continued to gain members. By November there were one hundred men at work. Tension mounted in Waihi. Fist fights became frequent and the union store was ransacked by scabs. All this led to the tragic incident at the union hall when George Evans was murdered by scabs as they stormed into the hall. This was virtually the end of the strike in Waihi. All the strikers were hounded out of town and the strike collapsed.

Photo: Miners and Workers Union Hall

After the strike many of the Waihi miners found work in Auckland and joined the Labourers Union. Photo: EJB AllenThey blamed the Federation for the disaster, and the Labourers Union voted to leave the Federation. The militant labour movement was led by the Wobblies in Auckland and Huntly until the defeat at Waihi. The Federation tried to isolate the militant north by calling a “Unity” conference. At about this time E.J.B. Allen arrived in Aotearoa. He had considerable influence because of his involvement in the syndicalist movement in England. He had worked closely with Tom Mann in the Industrialist League, and their paper “The Industrialist" was printed by the Freedom Group in London. The anarchists were very active in the league. In 1908 he spoke at the Haymarket commemoration along with Malatesta and Rocker, and published an essay on anarchist communism in which he bitterly criticized the authoritarian socialists of the Socialist Labour Party. The following year he wrote a pamphlet "Revolutionary Unionism" which was reprinted in Wellington in 1913. He arrived in Auckland in March 1913 and became President of the General Labourers Union and contributed to the "Industrial Unionist”.

The unity conference met in January 1913, and the leadership once again began to toy with the idea of political action. The I.W.W. was excluded from the conference. During this period the Wobblies devoted their energies to the basic task of winning back their local influence. They attempted to gain control of the arbitration union that had been set up in Huntly during the lockout. Wobblies also attempted to gain work in the Waihi mine. The company had blacklisted most of them. They led the fight back against the employers. In the same month the Auckland I.W.W. launched their own paper the “Industrial Unionist”. It had an editorial committee of five. One of the five was Bill Murdoch a watersider. He was to continue being active in the syndicalist movement for many years, and was a member of the “One Big Union Club” in Auckland in the 20’s. Jock Barnes remembers him as “a big man who was always heard at union meetings”. This was in the mid thirties. A second unity conference was called for in July. This same month Paddy Webb, one of the leaders of the Federation, was elected to parliament for the Grey district on the West Coast. The July conference set up a new United Federation of Labour and discussed the establishment of a new Social Democratic Party. Within four months of the founding of the new Federation it was involved in the second major labour dispute in New Zealand’s history.


Not long after he joined the I.W.W. Tom Barker was appointed national organiser. He travelled south to Wellington and after several meetings around the docks and the railway workshops a branch was established. In Christchurch he was arrested for selling literature and fined ten shillings. He stayed in Christchurch for about a month and once again a branch was re-organised. Then on to the West Coast mines where he no doubt met Ted Hunter, a Wobbly organiser, miner and musician. Hunter wrote a regular column for the Maoriland Worker under the name “Banjo Hunter”. The nickname “Banjo” could relate to either the banjo shovel used by face workers or the musical instrument. On the eve of the strike, in October Barker was back in Wellington speaking at the Post Office square. In the same month the Huntly miners went on strike and were promptly locked out by their employers. In Wellington the watersiders struck over travelling time and the dispute spread to all the main ports and to the mines of the West Coast. Barker was asked to organise public meetings in support of the strike.

'By relays of speakers, by I.W.W. songs which were catching on, we kept these meetings going continuously and at the same time we did not neglect the organising of the pickets. When the government brought in volunteer farmers as strike breakers the workers retaliated. The road into Wellington has steep gorges on one side and was fenced off from the sea by barbed wire. At night time when we got word from cyclists that the farmers were coming we would stretch this barbed wire across the road then get up on the hillsides and pry big stones down on them…. the farmers would make a dash for it and land up in the barbed wire, in many cases getting badly cut.'

Photo: Tom BarkerBack in Wellington Barker relates in his memoir instances when the strikers attacked the specials barracks. Within a few weeks riots became continuous and the gun smiths were doing a roaring trade in the sale of revolvers. The police never caught on to this until all the guns in Wellington had been sold. However in Auckland all was quiet until November 8th when eight hundred farmer volunteers occupied the wharves armed with revolvers and pick handles. They also raided the offices of the Watersider’s and tore down a banner from the front of the building which proclaimed “Workers of the World Unite. One Big Union”.

Within a few days Auckland was in the grip of a general strike. Seven thousand workers struck and thousands more were idle. Barker went back to Auckland to assist in the production of the Industrial Unionist which was coming out every second day.

'Everyone was buying the paper.' Barker continues, 'I remember being in Queen Street I had sold seven hundred copies of the paper. I was absolutely weighed down with coppers. I could hardly move and had them stacked along the side of the street…. along came a policeman who asked me to go to the police station with him.'

He ended up back in Wellington charged with sedition. The General Strike in Auckland, led by the I.W.W. forced the Federation of Labour to call a one day national strike for November 10th. It was a failure, and the next day many leading militants and wobblies were arrested. including the editor of the Maoriland Worker. Allen was appointed temporary editor. The government and employers were beginning to gain the upper hand. Nevertheless by the second week in Auckland the strike remained solid although four hundred scabs were already at work on the waterfront. After November 10th the Federation tried to extend the strike into the countryside. There was a lot of support from the rank and file of the Shearers Union, nevertheless the executive decided not to enter the struggle. Three organisers published an appeal in the Maoriland Worker, and there were several wildcat strikes, especially in the North Island. The Federation then tried unsuccessfully to involve the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. Time was running out. The I.W.W. continued to campaign for an all out general strike, and urged the shearers to force the farmers home; if a strike wouldn’t bring them back then sabotage certainly would, they believed. They also urged the strikers to form a workers militia to clear the streets of scabs and special police. Although the strike was general in Auckland, it was a different story in the rest of the country. Support in Christchurch was patchy. However Lyttelton was at a standstill. Nothing moved in Westport, and in Dunedin the entire strike committee was arrested. But the final blow didn’t come from the government and employers but from the executive of the Seafearers Union when they broke ranks and came to a compromise agreement with the shipping companies. This, along with a drift back to work by some of the smaller unions forced the Auckland Strike Committee to cancel the strike on the 23rd of November. However the Watersiders, Labourers, and Drivers remained solid as did six hundred seafearers of the Auckland union. The I.W.W. bitterly criticised the strike committee for not consulting the rank and file before they acted. Meanwhile several militants had been arrested for concealing explosives, and the papers were full of stories of conspiracies. One allegedly involved a plan to blow up the Wellington express. History was to repeat itself in the 1951 Waterfront Lockout. The last issue of the “Industrial Unionist" was printed on the 29th of November. They certainly went out in an optimistic mood. Along with reports on the progress of the strike in Wellington and Christchurch they carried news of sailors refusing to do bayonet drill on the H.M.S. Psyche anchored in Auckland harbour. They once again called for a General Strike and printed an amusing report about the NZ Herald advocating sabotage; a bag of sugar in concrete to make it crumble, and some cod liver oil in the varnish to stop it drying. Along with an advert for Allen’s pamphlet "Revolutionary Unionism", Bill Murdoch wrote an article condemning Trade Unionism and outlined the basic ideas of Industrial Unionism and Syndicalism.

After November the 23rd the militant unions were left isolated. The wharfies held out until just before Christmas, and the miners into the new year. With the defeat of the strike the scabs ran riot. Charlie Reeve a leading member of the I.W.W. was beaten up when he tried to board the Maheno bound for Sydney. The end of the strike also destroyed the I.W.W. as an organised group although Industrial Unionism remained a powerful force within the labour movement. It took nearly two years for the Auckland watersiders to recapture their union from the ‘arbitrationists” and readmit many of the sacked strikers.


The defeat of the 1913 strike didn’t have the same devastating effect as in 1890 or 1951. Many militants began organising in the countryside. Indeed much of the gelignite stolen in Auckland was put to good use in the gum diggings of Northland. Many Wobblies became active in the Shearers and other rural unions, and the employers once again began to complain that they still needed to “finish the job”. Early in 1914 Tom Barker moved to Sydney to “fan the flames of discontent”. This is literally what happened. Charlie Reeve and J.B.King were among twelve I.W.W leaders accused of arson and conspiracy in 1916. They all received extremely harsh sentences but were released in 1920. Bill Murdoch went on to become an organiser of the One Big Union movement in Auckland in the 1920s, and a militant in the Auckland Watersiders Union.

From the turn of the century up until 1914 were the years of insurgent labour. The First World War ripped the guts out of the militant labour movement. The rise of social democracy on the one hand and Bolshevism on the other, effectively divided the movement and I believe, destroyed it. We have waited seventy years for the Bolshevik myth to be finally destroyed. The myth of state socialism was exposed by the anarchists of the First International in the 1870’s. Until recently many labour historians considered the crowning achievement of the workers movement to be the formation of a labour party. The 1980’s should have killed that idea.

When I started to research this pamphlet I knew nothing of the early libertarian movement and thought, like most that it didn’t rarely exist in this country. How wrong I was. — Frank Prebble


As I have already said in the introduction much of the information for this pamphlet has come from secondary sources. I am particularly indebted to the late Bert Roth for all his help and his many excellent articles in such magazines as Here and Now and Monthly Review. Bert wrote several books on the labour movement all well worth reading.

Erik Ollsen’s “Red Feds" is the best book dealing with the period up to 1914, well its the only one.

Other books include

  • The Road The Men Came Home" By Edward Hunter, a semi auto- biographical novel photo copy available from Lib Press.
  • The Memoirs of Tom Barker" photo copy also available.
  • The Red and the Gold" by Stanley Roache
  • Miners and Militants" by Len Richardson
  • The Denniston Miners Union" by Len Richardson
  • Scholar Errant" R.M. Burdon. (The life of Alexander Bikerton)
  • Tom Barker and the IWW - Oral history recorded and edited by E.C. Fry

Tom Barker and the IWW

This oral history — recorded and edited by Eric Fry — recalls the life and times of Tom Barker, including his radicalisation in New Zealand and involvement in the 1913 Great Strike. Also details his organising in Australia and beyond.

Download: PDF 18.56mb

Industrial Unionism: two pamphlets on the IWW in New Zealand

Industrial Unionism is a pamphlet with two local articles on the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) in New Zealand, from Rebel Press.

The History of the the IWW in New Zealand, written by Peter Steiner, details the activities of the I.W.W. around the turn of the 20th Century, the prominence of the union during the famous 1912 Waihi miners strike, and their decline as a result of the ensuing repression during the Great Strike of 1913. The article also includes information about recent attempts to set up the I.W.W. in Dunedin.

Aim, Form, and Tactics of a Workers’ Union on IWW Lines, by Frank Hanlon, was written in 1913 and has been retrieved from the archives of the Turnbull Library. Despite its age, it clearly sets out the principles of industrial unionism in an easy to read manner, and makes the distinction between industrial unionism and trade unionism altogether clear.

Taken from Rebel Press, New Zealand.

Download: IUNZ.pdf 1.89 MB