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).

THE LABOUR MOVEMENT

Waihi Socialist Party

If my memory serves me right in the year 1910, but definitely 1911 and 1912 Waihi boasted the existence of a Socialist Party, and together with the militant Waihi Miners’ Union invited socialist and labour leaders near and far, who addressed massed meetings in the Miners’ Union Hall at the weekends. The first person I had the honour to listen to was the great socialist leader Tom Mann, who declared he was a revolutionary socialist. Then followed Ben Tillett and Alderman [Edward] Hartley. The strike year 1912 attracted more speakers chief among whom were a person named [Harry] Fitzgerald, a brilliant orator, and one Jack [John Benjamin] King, a visitor from USA who [illegible] the principles of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). He formed an economic class on Marxism and delivered several lectures. He made a great impression on the miners. After he left NZ for Australia, Prime Minister Massey was going to deport him. Other notable leaders who came to Waihi were Tom Barker (IWW), H Scott Bennett, great social reformer and member of Auckland Socialist Party, H E Holland, Robert Semple, Paddy Webb, Peter Fraser, R F Way and others.

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!

The IWW

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.

A CONVERSATION WITH A SYNDICALIST FROM NEW ZEALAND

We had the pleasure to speak with a comrade from the antipodes who has come to Europe to get to know the syndicalist movement of the various countries.

A few weeks ago, the Auckland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World received a letter from an official syndicalist publication in Europe to gain an insight into the recent big strikes in New Zealand.

Our comrade Percy B. Short, together with another comrade, was tasked to draft a response; but because Short was on his way to England, it was decided that he would personally deliver the answers and further information and also get an insight into the European movement.

Having been a member of the Sydney I.W.W. branch for some time in the past, Short has knowledge of the whole revolutionary-syndicalist movement and we were pleased to be able to talk about both movements. Our conversation was even more interesting because our comrade is Maori by birth, the son of a native of New Zealand, the people who is more and more pushed to the side but keeps standing tall with unbelievable energy and endurance.

So that our readers can orientate themselves a little, we would like to mention that a revolutionary syndicalist publication, Direct Action, is published in Sydney (New South Wales), meanwhile the Industrial Unionist stems from Auckland. The Maoriland Worker is published in Wellington, New Zealand. The editors of that paper are comrade Harry Holland and J.B. Allen, the latter is a revolutionary syndicalist who was active in England for years.

The revolutionary trade union movement in Australia and New Zealand is organised along the lines of the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World of the Unite States, where a vast amount of propaganda literature in the antipodes is from. Through the principle of Industrial Unionism (ie. the federation of the various industries), the syndicalist movement in Australasia and North America differs from the organisational point of view of the old trade associations.

First of all we discussed the general forecast of revolutionary syndicalist propaganda with comrade Short. We were thoroughly surprised when told that this propaganda is particularly successful amongst Maori because of the past of this people with their indigenous communism.

Amongst Maori, a worker who acts as a scab and steals the bread out of their comrades’ mouths is basically unheard of because their old sense of solidarity stemming from their tribal customs prohibits such actions.

We talked at length about anti-militarist propaganda which has started over the last few years since the introduction of military service in New Zealand. Several young men, sentenced to jail, started a hunger strike, just like the Suffragettes in England now. The anti-militarist movement is still alive.

Finally, it was the trade union movement and the behavior towards the conservative organisations that interested us the most:
- Are the conservative unions, we asked, who are organised under the Arbitration Act gaining or loosing influence?

- At present, replied Short, 80,000 workers live in New Zealand. 65,000 of those are organised under the Arbitration Act and 15,000 under the labour federation act . The latter settle their disputes with the employers directly.
- And how are the strikes in your ‘workers’ paradise’, the ‘country without strikes and lock-outs’, as our social reformers in Europe like to call it?
- The strikes are growing, both in terms of numbers and in intensity.
- And the law on strikes, which makes them illegal?
- The compulsory Arbitration Act has had its head smashed in New Zealand (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).

Short explained how the national government conceals reality.

- You will probably remember the big strike of the miners in Blackball a few years ago. The government went so far as to sell the council house of the strikers who were sentenced to pay a fine. However, no one dared to buy it. Finally, the government paid for the fines under the pretext, that they were paid for by the miners – an utter lie confronted with much protest of the miners.

Until just a few weeks ago, as you will recall, we had a general strike across New Zealand, which spread to all cities and across almost all industries.

Short explained further that in Australia, where the legislation is less stringent and the attempt of reconciliation is preceded by arbitration, the situation is less tense and revolutionary syndicalism has progressed immensely.

We would have liked to continue our conversation but, as we have already mentioned, comrade Short’s visit wasn’t only about passing on information, but also to obtain information. Because his time was limited, we had to promise to resume talking about the European movement at a later point.



GERMAN TRANSCRIPTION

EIN GESPRÄCH MIT EINEM NEUSEELÄNDISCHEM SYNDIKALISTEN.

Wir hatten das Vergnügen mit einem Genossen von den Antipoden zu sprechen, der nach Europa gekommen ist um die syndikalistische Bewegung der verschiedenen Länder kennen zu lernen.

Vor einigen Wochen erhielten die Industrial Workers of the World der Sektion Auckland ein Schreiben vom Herausgeber eines offiziellen syndikalistischen Organes in Europa, um Auskunft über die letzten grossen Streiks in Neuseeland [zu erhalten].

Unser Genosse Percy B. Short wurde mit einem anderen Genossen beauftragt, die Antwort zu redigieren; da aber Short nach England reiste, wurde er ersucht, persönlich die Antwort und alle ferneren Auskünfte [zu] überbringen, um seinerseits auch über die europäische Bewegung Erkundigungen einzuziehen.

Da Short auch einige Zeit Mitglied der Sektion der I.W.W. in Sydney war, und also die ganze revolutionär-syndikalistische Bewegung kennt, waren wir sehr erfreut über beide Bewegungen mit ihm sprechen zu können. Unsere Unterhaltung war desto interessanter, weil unser Genosse von Geburt ein Maori ist, ein Sohn der Einborlinge [sic] Neuseelands, des Volkes das immer mehr von den Blanken verdrungen wird, sich aber mit unglaublicher Energie und Ausdauer aufrecht erhält.

Um unsere Leser einigermassen zu orientieren, bemerken wir an erster Stelle dass in Sydney (Neu Süd-Wales) ein revolutionär syndikalistisches Organ besteht, Direct Action, während in Auckland der Industrial Unionist erscheint. Ferner wird in Wellington, Neuseeland, der Maoriland Worker herausgegeben. Die Redakteure dieses Blattes sind die Genossen Harry Holland und J.B. Allen, der letztere ein revolutionärer Syndikalist, der in England Jahrelang tätig war.

Die revolutionäre Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Australien und Neuseeland ist ganz nach dem Muster und mit den Statuten der Industrial Workers of the World der Vereinigten Staaten organisiert und unsere Antipoden verdanken den selben auch einen betrachtlichen Teil ihrer Propagandaliteratur. Durch das Prinzip des Industrial Unionism d.h. der Föderation nach Industrien, unterscheidet die syndikalistische Bewegung in Australasien sich ebenso wie in Nord-Amerika vom organisatorischem Standpunkt aus von den alten Berufsvereinen.

Wir haben uns allererst mit Genosse Short unterhalten über die allgemeinen Voraussichten der revolutionär-syndikalistischen Propaganda und mit einer wahren Überraschung hörten wir dabei, dass ganz besonders unter den Maoris diese Propaganda durch die Vergangenheit der Bevölkerung mit ihrem Urkommunismus begünstigt wird.

Unter den Maoris scheint ein Arbeiter der als Streikbrecher seinen Kameraden das Brot aus dem Munde nimmt, so gut wie ein unbekanntes Wesen zu sein, dessen bestehen schon durch das alte Solidaritätsgefühl in den Volkssitten ausgeschlossen ist.

Lang sprachen wir weiter über die anti-militaristische Propaganda, welche in den letzten Jahren seit der Einführung des Militärdienstes in Neuseeland angefangen hat. Verschiedene junge Burschen, zum Gefängnis verurteilt, begangen den Hungerstreik, gerade wie es jetzt auch die Suffragets in England machen. Die anti-militaristische Bewegung dauert noch stets weiter.

Schliesslich war es die Gewerkschaftsbewegung und zwar das Verhalten zu den konservativen Verbänden, das uns am Meisten interessierte:

- Sind die konservativen Gewerkschaften, so fragten wir, diejenigen eben, die unters Gesetz auf den verpflichteten Schiedsspruch organisiert sind, im Fortschritt begriffen, oder büssen sie vielmehr an Einfluss ein?

- Augenblicklich, antwortete Short uns, gibt es auf den 80000 Arbeitern, die in Neuseeland leben, 65000, die unter dem Arbitration-Act organisiert sind, während 15000 unter einem anderen Gesetz sind, das auf der Arbeitsföderation; letztere regeln ihre Streitigkeiten mit den Unternehmern direkt.

- Und wie geht es mit den Streiks in ihrem Lande dem ‘Arbeiterparadies’, dem ‘Lande ohne Streiks und Aussperrungen’, wie unsere Sozialreformer in Europa es so gerne nennen?

- Die Streiks nehmen immer mehr zu in Anzahl und in Intensität.

- Und das Gesetz auf die Streiks, wodurch dieselben verboten sind?

- Das Gesetz den Verpflichteten Schiedsspruch ist den Kopf eingedrückt in Neuseeland (Arbitration is killed in New Zealand).

Und Short setzte uns auseinander, wie die Landesregierung es macht, um die wahre Lage zu verbergen.

- Sie werden sich wohl, schon vor einigen Jahren her, [an] den grossen Streik der Bergarbeiter in Blackball erinnern. Die Regierung ist dabei soweit gegangen, den Hausrat der zu Geldbusse verurteilten Streiker verkaufen zu lassen; Niemand wagte es aber davon zu kaufen. Schliesslich bezahlte die Regierung nun selbst die Geldbussen, unter Vorgeben, dieselben seien von den verurteilten Bergarbeitern selbst bezahlt, eine Lüge wogegen Letztere laut ihren Protest erhoben.

Noch vor wenigen Wochen, wie sie sich gewiss erinnern, haben wir noch einen Generalstreik in Neuseeland gehabt, der sich über alle Städte und über fast alle Arbeitskategorien ausdehnte.”

Short setzte uns weiter auseinander, wie in Australien, wo die Gesetzgebung weniger streng ist und wo der Versuch zur Versöhnung der Schiedsrechtsspruch vorausgeht, der Zustand nicht so gespannen ist und der revolutionäre Syndikalismus auch dort grosse Fortschritte macht.

Gerne hätten wir das Gespräch noch fortgesetzt, aber wie wir schon sagten, was Genosse Short nicht allein gekommen um Auskunft zu geben, sondern auch um Auskunft zu holen, und das seine Zeit bemessen ist, haben wir versprechen müssen, das Gespräch wohl wieder aufzunehmen, aber um diesmal  über die europäische Bewegung zu sprechen.

Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW: letters to Maoriland Worker

The following are transcribed letters from the Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW to the Maoriland Worker during 1911. The IWW in Christchurch formed after splitting from the New Zealand Socialist Party in 1910:

The city’s branch of the Socialist Party had no money in their social and general accounts, while the Literature Committee, which operated on a separate fund, had full coffers. Needing money for an upcoming election campaign, a motion was passed to join the three accounts together:

Unfortunately for this scheme the membership of the Literature Committee were anarchist to a man, and had no use for elections… Immediately the meeting concluded the Literature Committee went to work. By the small hours of the following morning they had completed their labours, which consisted of the ordering of over £100 worth of pamphlets and booklets… when they had finished, their finances were in the same state as the rest of the branch.42

Not surprisingly, at the following meeting the resignation of the Literature Committee was called for. The anarchists in question cheerfully left the Party and promptly formed themselves into a branch of the IWW. Some months later a rather large amount of wicker hampers packed with printed material started arriving from overseas—the second result of the Literature Committee’s nocturnal activities.

Remains to Be Seen, Jared Davidson

They seem to have died out, only to be revived again by a visit from Tom Barker in September 1913, with Ernie Kear (the late-secretary of the Passive Resisters Union) becoming secretary of the CHCH IWW (Local 2) and opening their HQ at 180 Cashel Street. They had large meetings at the Addington Workshops, The Clock Tower, and Cathedral Square, as well as holding joint meetings with the PRU.

In both groups anarchist Syd Kingsford played a prominent part, becoming the literature secretary and distributing anarchist papers supplied to him by Philip Josephs (Wellington). In 1913 he was fined with Barker for obstruction—speaking at an IWW meeting from a soapbox at the Clock Tower.

11 June 1911
WANTED - IWW CLUBS

I think the time has come to have IWW clubs in the four large centres and any industrial district where there are Industrial Unionists, in order to organise and educate the workers of New Zealand for the NZ branch of the IWW; also to make house to house free distribution of papers and books on Industrial Unionism and to supply matters on Industrial Unionism for the workers. I think the members fee should be 1s per month. It would be a good idea to import the best books on Industrial Unionism from America. I think it would be useless to hustle Political Action for the workers without a strong drilled army of Industrial Workers to back demands.
J. SWEENY


23 June 1911
IWW CLUBS

Dear Comrade,—In this week’s issue Fellow-worker Sweeny advocates the formation of IWW Clubs in the four centres. I have to inform him that in Christchurch we formed a club nine months ago, and have sinced changed it to a recruiting union of the IWW. We have adopted the preamble and as far as possible the constitution of the IWW of America (V. St. John, secretary), are carrying on a propaganda for Industrial Unionism. We have just decided to supply THE WORKER (MW) with matter on Revolutionary Unionism, and the first installment will be sent along shortly. Workers requiring the latest pamphlets on Industrial Unionism may obtain them from me. I think Fellow-worker Sweeny’s idea is a good one and would be pleased to supply a copy of our preamble and constitution to anyone interested.
—Yours in revolt, SYD. KINGSFORD.
107 Riccarton road, Christchurch.


23 June 1911
IWW

Canterbury Recruiting Union—At the monthly business meeting, fellow-worker P.Hickey of THE WORKER was present by invitation. He addresses the meeting re enlisting unions’ support for THE WORKER. At the conclusion of an instructive and interesting discussion, the unions agreed to take 3 dozen WORKER per week. F.W.Shepherd’s resignation of the office of general secretary was accepted with regret, and S.J.Roscoe elected to fill the vacancy. A committee was set up to supply the WORKER with literature on Industrial Unionism.

At a special meeting the business was re-forming ourselves into a recruiting union of the NZFL. The idea being to circulate trade unions in and around Christchurch asking them to receive speakers who would place the case for Industrial Unionism before them. After considerable discussion, the following motion was carried: “That this union take a ballot of the members re joining the NZFL; also that each member be supplied with 3 copies of THE WORKER, so that they are clearly understand the Federation’s position’”.
S.J.ROSCOE, secretary.
 

21 July 1911
IWW JOINS FEDERATION

S.J.Roscoe, Secretary-treasurer Canterbury Recruiting Union IWW reports that a ballottaken by the branch re joining the NZFL was carried overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.


1 September 1911

(letter by Kingsford in reply to an article by H.J.Hawkins, General Secretary IWW Clubs of Australia, NSW Executive on 4 August, who claims the CHCH group and those of the Chicago IWW are “frauds”, “bogus”, “fakirs”, “slum proletariats”, “Anarchists”…)

THE IWW

Dear Comrade,—I notice an extract in this week’s WORKER from a letter sent to you by H.J.Hawkins, relating to a “crowd of anarchists” in Christchurch. I do not know if you know the history of the IWW and the incidents that happened at the 4th Convention in 1908, but if you want any vindication of our claim to unofficially representing the IWW in New Zealand I can supply you with all the particulars. I am in possession of information to show you that the IWW (Vincent St.John, General Secretary and treasurer) is the real IWW, and the SLP and its supporters left the organisation in 1908 and started an imitation one with the same name. Just let me know if you are interested, and I will send you full particulars.
—Yours in revolt, SYD KINGSFORD, Literature Secretary, Christchurch IWW Unions. PS—this letter is quite unofficial
(no space to enter into the matter—Ed.)

'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

‘Don’t be a conscript, be a man!’: A History of the Passive Resisters’ Union, 1912-1914

By Ryan Bodman.

ABSTRACT

The Defence Act 1909 introduced compulsory military training (CMT) into New Zealand. Shortly thereafter, an anti-militarist movement was born as a means to combat what some considered to be an unwarranted intrusion of militarism into public life and an excessive allocation of power into the hands of the government. The movement that opposed the Defence Act has been discussed at length by a number of scholars and the success of the movement, in placing considerable stress on the training scheme, has been noted. However, little has been made of the specific impact of the Passive Resisters’ Union (PRU), an anti-militarist group consisting entirely of young men directly affected by the Act. As such, it is the aim of this essay to analyse the role that this union played in the movement to oppose CMT. Employing both primary and secondary sources, this essay demonstrates that the most intensive pressure placed upon the training scheme arose from the unique actions and tactics of the PRU. To highlight this point, the PRU’s unique approach in opposing CMT is broken into four parts – membership restriction, civil disobedience, publicity, and humour – and discussed in detail.

In addition, the union’s activities are mapped chronologically alongside the campaign against CMT, serving to highlight the effects of the PRU’s actions on governmental policy and public opinion. In making these points it becomes clear that the PRU was not simply one part of the anti-militarist movement that opposed CMT, but rather the union was the crucial component of the campaign as its unique approach precipitated the movement’s successes.

Download: PDF 228kb

Wyatt E. Jones: watchmaker and anarchist

"WYATT E. JONES

WATCHMAKER AND ANARCHIST,

Manchester st, CHRISTCHURCH.

Try the new shop for New Jewellery and Watches.

Exploitation at a Minimum.

ORDERS TO ANY PART OF NZ PROMPTLY EXECUTED.”

Anarchism in New Zealand

Our comrade, P. Josephs, of Wellington, New Zealand, has succeeded, almost single-handed, in building up an agency for the distribution of anarchist literature on quite a large scale. For six or seven years he carried it on in the usual way, by attending meetings and trying to interest individuals by conversation and the gift of an Anarchist paper or pamphlet, with very poor success. But thinking it time to try other methods, about twelve months ago he inserted an advertisement of pamphlets and books in the Maoriland Worker, the official organ of the New Zealand Federation of Labour, which has a large circulation. Immediately orders and inquiries began to flow in, the business increasing so quickly that he had not enough stock to keep up with it. This was soon remedied, and large advertisements brought still bigger business. Now he has issued a four page list of books and pamphlets on sale, the variety of which is a striking testimony to the interest he has aroused in Anarchism. Agencies have also been established in Canterbury, Otago, and Auckland.

At the present moment there is no Anarchist movement., as we understand the term, in New Zealand. But from articles and speeches reported in the Maoriland Worker from time to time the influence of Anarchist ideas can he easily traced, and it is certain that comrades will shortly he holding meetings and carrying on more active work. Credit is due to the editor of the Maoriland Worker for his sympathy and assistance; in fact although not an Anarchist, his opponents have charged him with advocating Anarchism in his paper.

Our comrade Josephs’ initiative and energy have met with the success they deserved, and should be an object lesson to those who are sometimes only too ready to sit down and bemoan their own impotence.

— From FreedomSeptember 1912, the English anarchist journal started by Kropotkin. 

Fuel of the future: New Zealand reactions to the Haymarket Martyrs

A short article on reactions to the Haymarket Affair by the New Zealand labour movement, by Mark Derby.

We propose this week to honour the memory of the Chicago Martyrs…. November 11 is an anniversary to make the blood burn as its retrospect becomes fuel of the future. Twenty-four years ago some heroes of the mighty past were robbed of their lives and thus made moulders of a mightier present…’

The Maoriland Worker, the fiery weekly newspaper of the early New Zealand labour movement, devoted much of its issue of 10 November 1911 to commemorating an historic tragedy in the US. That event was the execution in November 1886 of four labour leaders accused of a bomb attack that killed seven police officers in Chicago’s Haymarket Square.

The convicted men, including a German-born upholsterer named August Spies, had been active in the campaign for an eight-hour working day. The bomb attack took place at a time of mass strikes and demonstrations, and violent repression by the police. Four unarmed strikers had been shot and killed by Chicago police just the day before the bomb attack, and Spies had called on all workers to arm themselves in retaliation.

Yet there was no firm evidence to link Spies and his fellow accused to the fatal bombing. They were anarchist scapegoats, and victims of a wave of anti-labour hysteria. Their cases provoked outrage and expressions of support around the world and May 1, the date of an eight-hour-day demonstration that led directly to the Haymarket bombings, became the official holiday of the international labour movement.

Far-off New Zealand was briefly and curiously invoked during the trial of one of the accused men. August Spies was asked about the explosives he admitted possessing when he printed a revolutionary circular in the office of a leftwing German-language newspaper.

Q. How many bombs did you have in the office of the Arbeiter Zeitung?

A. I think there were four of these shells that looked like that [indicating], and I think two others. They were iron cast, and given to me by a person, I believe his name was Schwape or Schwoep, who left for New Zealand.

Spies said that this man, a shoe-maker from Cleveland, had visited the Arbeiter Zeitung office three years previously and then announced his intention to travel to New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, given the vagueness of the details, New Zealand immigration records of the time cannot confirm his arrival here and in any case the Illinois Supreme Court gave no weight to such an alibi.

On November 11 1886, Spies and three fellow defendants were hanged: Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer and George Engel. A fifth, Louis Lingg, killed himself in prison. The three remaining men were saved by international outrage at this injustice. A new and less vindictive governor of Illinois investigated their case, denounced what had happened and pardoned the three.

The four Haymarket Martyrs became icons of the worldwide labour movement. The December 1906 issue of Commonweal, the radical journal of the NZ Socialist Party, noted that the Party’s Wellington branch had recently held a ‘Chicago Martyrs’ commemoration meeting addressed by comrades such as Phillip Joseph, a Russian-born tailor and well-known local anarchist. A visiting speaker from Australia, Dr TF McDonald, ‘also referred to the US Governmental conspiracy which led to the judicial murder of Parsons and his comrades’, before proceeding with his prepared speech on the philosophical inheritance of Kropotkin, Bakunin and others.

The Commonweal was edited, in his spare time, by Wellington journalist Robert Hogg, who worked for the national liberal daily, the New Zealand Times. It was probably Hogg who reported in the Times on a meeting of anarchists in Wellington in 1907. The lead speaker said he said known personally some of the comrades of the executed men.

‘These men had been brutally murdered because they had dared to show the wage-slaves how they were exploited by capitalists…. The capitalist class, who composed the State, deemed it necessary to get rid of these organisers, and so they were flung into prison and some eventually murdered.’

The 1911 issue of the Maoriland Worker quoted above included a glowing review of Frank Harris’s Haymarket-inspired novel The Bomb, portraits of the eight convicted men, a reprint of US socialist leader Eugene Debs’ impassioned memorial oration for them, and a six-column editorial titled ‘The Chicago Martyrs – the men and their message’. The paper made powerfully clear its contempt for the judicial process that had convicted and sentenced the men. ‘We are inclined to agree with the view that the bomb-throwing was the work of a Pinkerton’ [a hired detective].

The principle of the eight-hour working day, one of the key demands behind the May Day demonstrations in the Haymarket, had been adopted in New Zealand ahead of most other countries but could only be put in practice here among some craft unionists. A tiny group of land barons and speculators, the ‘governing families’, controlled the legislature and threw out every Bill intended to guarantee the eight-hour day to all. One politician declared that if it was passed, the Bill would destroy the fabric of society since servants could refuse their masters’ demands to work at any time.

From 1890, even though their working hours were still not guaranteed in law, New Zealand workers were granted an annual day’s holiday to celebrate the founding of the eight-hour day. Along with the United States, Australia and Canada, and unlike almost every other country in the world, that holiday is called Labour Day and is not held on 1 May. From as early as 1896, socialists in the labour movement could recognise this as a failure of solidarity. ‘The time has come,’ said one, ‘when New Zealanders should stretch out the hand of comradeship to their brothers across the seas by joining the May Day movement.’ That view, sadly, did not prevail and today New Zealand’s Labour Day is an entirely depoliticised day off work, while May Day goes almost unnoticed.

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