Fighting War: Anarchists, Wobblies and the New Zealand State 1905-1925 

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In July 1913, a 23-year old Christchurch cabinet-maker, Passive Resisters Union member and anarchist named Syd Kingsford penned a stinging letter in the Evening Post. “Not content with robbing my class of the major portion of its product,” wrote Kingsford,

the robber class has the colossal impudence to demand that the sons of the robbed workers shall don a uniform, shoulder a rifle, and be prepared to defend the possessions of the robbers… What does it matter to me if the robbers sometimes fall out and quarrel over the division of the spoil wrung from the workers? The point is that I am robbed with impartiality by the capitalist class, no matter what country I am in, or what nation I happen to belong to. To me, no country is so superior to another that I want to get shot in its defence. I prefer to work for the time when national barriers will be thrown down, and the workers united for the purpose of evading a system of society which causes war.
As this lengthy quote makes clear, Kingsford believed war was a product of capital accumulation, power in the hands of a few, and the nation state. This position was shared by other anarchists, as well as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies)—a revolutionary union organisation with a small but influential presence in New Zealand. Indeed, Kingsford was the literature secretary of the Christchurch branch, and helped to distribute IWW newspapers such as the Australian Direct Action, which in October 1914 argued: “Workers, you have nothing to gain by volunteering to fight the battles of your masters.”
There is no doubt that such a position was a minority one in New Zealand, both before and during the First World War, and its influence on events is difficult to quantify. However this paper suggests that such a stance was a major concern of those in power. Fearful of wartime industrial unrest and in order to avoid a repeat of the 1912 and 1913 strikes, the National Coalition government used the pretext of war conditions to suppress any hint of labour militancy. As a visible expression of such militancy, the actions of anarchists and Wobblies were scrutinised by the state, leading to sedition charges, jail time, or deportation from the country.
This paper looks at some of this working class radicalism, and the reaction to it by the state. Much of this activity was centred on the distribution of radical literature–‘mental dynamite’ in the form of penny pamphlets, newspapers, and other ephemera. Ports and postboxes became the battleground for an intense cultural struggle—a struggle that questioned the war, the nature of work, and authority itself. This battle for minds had material results. Intense state surveillance and a raft of legislation not only determined who could read what, but who would be considered a legitimate resident of the so-called ‘workers paradise’ that was New Zealand.

The Industrial Workers of the World

Arguably, the most militant of the pre-war labour organisations in New Zealand was the IWW. Formed in Chicago in 1905 by a conglomerate of socialists, Marxists and anarchists, its founders were disenchanted by the craft nature of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and its exclusive membership criteria. Instead, the IWW sought to organise all workers, especially the so-called ‘unskilled’ neglected by the AFL. As well as being open to workers of any gender or colour, the IWW promoted the ‘One Big Union,’ a fighting union that—through the solidarity of workers organised along class lines instead of trade, and the tactical use of the strike weapon—would abolish the wage system.
Its widely quoted preamble stated:
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 workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, and abolish the wage system [1908 Version]
Although the IWW initially promoted both industrial and political action, it split in 1908 over the rejection parliamentary politics. For the Chicago IWW, the political arena was controlled by capital and therefore the place to make change in society was the workplace. As one New Zealand wobbly argued, “Parliament is a mirror reflecting conditions outside. When your face is dirty, do you wash the mirror?”
The IWW advocated building a new world in the shell of the old, which meant how the union and its struggles was conducted were just as important as the outcome. As a result, direct democracy and the curbing of power in the hands of a few was core to the organisation. “The IWW considered a reliance on leadership as fostering dependence amongst the working class,” notes Stuart Moriarty-Patten. New Zealand Wobblies decried the local labour movement as “cursed and hampered by leaders.” Instead, “active, intelligent workers [should] determine to do their own thinking… to fight on all occasions for complete control by the rank and file and against sheep-like following of leaders.”
As a result the IWW was much more than a simple union movement. As well as fighting for better conditions and shorter hours, the IWW fostered education, internationalism, and a radical working class counterculture through the influential use of song and graphics. Although not without its faults, the appeal of the IWW made it social and cultural movement on an international scale.

The IWW and anarchism in New Zealand

New Zealand’s first IWW local was formed in Wellington in December 1907, and other locals were formed in Christchurch and Auckland—both of which received official charters from the IWW headquarters in Chicago. Informal groups sprung up in industrial towns such as Huntly, Waihi, and Denniston, and the cultural norms and tactics championed by the Wobblies—such as the general strike, sabotage, and the go-slow—soon spiced the local discourse.  The rally-cry of ‘a fair day’s wage’ was dropped for ‘abolish the wage system;’ ‘fellow-worker’ replaced ‘comrade’; and for a period, the New Zealand Federation Of Labor (FOL) adopted the IWW’s revolutionary preamble.
Pamphlets and newspapers of the IWW had a wide circulation in New Zealand. According to the Secretary of the Waihi branch of the Socialist Party, imported IWW anti-militarist pamphlets were “finding a ready sale” in 1911. Chunks of IWWism and Industrial Unionism, two locally produced 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. These figures do not indicate their true readership however, as workers shared their copies or would read the columns out loud in groups.
The distribution of cheap printed propaganda was vital to the spread of IWW ideas and tactics. Their wide circulation in New Zealand was thanks in part to anarchists like the Latvian-born Jewish tailor, Philip Josephs, who spread the gospel of revolutionary class struggle from 1904 onwards.
Anarchists like Josephs believed that hierarchical social relations were unjust, as they ensured that wealth, property and power remained in the hands of the few, while the rest of society had no access to such benefits. The focus of much anarchist agitation therefore was capitalism and the state. These would be replaced by self-determined, voluntary associations that worked together in both the workplace and the community, bound together by the balance of individual freedom and collective responsibility. Far from advocating disorder, anarchists believed in a new social order organised from the bottom up.
After his arrival from Glasgow, Josephs distributed these ideas via a steady stream of international anarchist literature from his tailor shop in Wellington, and played an influential role in the working class counterculture of the day. A key player in the formative years of the New Zealand Socialist Party (NZSP), Josephs spoke publicly on anarchism religion, the Russian Revolution of 1905, and later, during the Great Strike of 1913. In Wellington he worked with anti-militarists, unionists, and especially the IWW, while keeping up a steady mail-order network of anarchist newspapers across the country.
During that year Josephs also founded one of the first anarchist groups in New Zealand. This was the Wellington Freedom Group, which was formed in July at Josephs’ tailor shop. The Freedom Group was active in promoting anarchism via the soapbox, discussion nights, and radical literature. Meanwhile, in 1913 another anarchist group was also active in Auckland—working closely with the IWW and distributing ‘No Gods, No Masters’ posters around the city.
These groups were the culmination of work by Josephs and other anarchists around New Zealand. Anarchists like Wyatt Jones, Len Wilson, Fay MacMasters, Carl Mumme, J Sweeney and Syd Kingsford were active in the wider labour movement, imparting revolutionary ideas, tactics, and influence. Although often missing from the indices of New Zealand labour histories, Erik Olssen notes that anarchism was “more influential than most have realised.” Their efforts ensured a revolutionary syndicalist perspective was heard within New Zealand labour circles before and during the First World War. This also included activity within and alongside the wider anti-militarist movement.

Anti-militarism and pre-war resistance to military training

Although there was some resistance to the Boer or South African War, New Zealand anti-militarism grew out of opposition to the Defence Act of 1909. This Act “represented New Zealand’s attempt to re-organise its defence forces along the lines agreed to at the Imperial Naval and Military Conference held in London in July and August of that year.” It made registration and military training compulsory for males between fourteen and thirty years of age, and enabled magistrates to deal out a considerable amount of punishment to those who did not.
As well as more temperate church groups who aimed “to appeal to the middle class by focusing on issues around the militarization of youth and society in general,” syndicalists of most shades rejected compulsory military training (CMT). But in contrast to their unlikely comrades, they rejected militarism for decidedly anti-capitalist reasons. The FOL viewed CMT as “a weapon of capitalist imperialism” which could be used against the interests of workers and the working class itself, both “domestically and internationally.”
Syd Kingsford, Philip Josephs, Carl Mumme—alongside a number of Wobblies and syndicalists—were at the forefront of the anti-militarist struggle before the First World War. Not yet organised into specifically anarchist collectives, they were active in larger organizations like the FOL, the NZSP, the Passive Resisters Union (PRU), and various anti-militarist groups.
Writing from his tailor-shop-cum-radical bookshop in 1911, Josephs decried CMT and conscription as a capitalist weapon and a form of state oppression. As well as filling his shop with anti-militarist material, he used the pages of the FOL’s newspaper, the Maoriland Worker, to put forward a decidedly anarchist position on militarism in its New Zealand form. In “The General Strike As a Weapon Against Conscription,” Josephs analysed the arguments for and against CMT, and urged the militant miners’ unions to call a general strike. As well as challenging conscription, a general strike would also target “that section who monopolise the nation’s wealth, and thereby deny the masses of their original rights to the wealth they created.” “Many will say such actions would be too harsh,” Josephs added. “What have the Government done by passing such an Act? The Government have ignored you. They forced conscription on you suddenly, and if they have the right to commit such a harsh act, it is also right for the workers to do exactly as their opponents have done to them.” True to his internationalism, Josephs made it clear that “the deprivation of the workers’ wealth and rights exist in every country alike. Our enemies are not abroad. They exist in our midst.”
The call for a general strike was not a fanciful one. Despite labour laws that outlawed strikes in return for union recognition, workers across New Zealand had been challenging the state and employers with wildcat strikes since 1906. Likewise, anti-militarism was strong in mining towns where branches of the NZSP and the IWW existed. Josephs was well placed to gauge the mood of the day.  His bookshop, national and transnational postal contacts, and his role of secretary of the Wellington Anti-militarist League placed him amongst a vibrant network of syndicalists, anarchists, and pacifists, ensuring Josephs was on the pulse of anti-militarist resistance.
The apex of this resistance was the South Island city of Christchurch, where groups such as the Anti-Militarist League, the National Peace Council (NPC), and the militant PRU conducted anti-militarist agitation in the form of stickers, pamphlets, mass open-air meetings, and civil disobedience. Pledged to “resist coercion, conscription, and compulsory military training under all circumstances, and in defiance of all pains and penalties,” the PRU confronted military drills nightly in an attempt to persuade their fellow workers to refuse training. Barracks would be found plastered with stickers declaring ‘The military strike is now on!’ while verbal tactics were employed to great ends. Their lively paper, Repeal, also aided the fight, featuring scathing satire and anti-militarist articles (including writing by Christchurch anarchist and regular soapboxer, Wyatt Jones). True to their pledge, PRU members refused all cooperation with the state. When prosecuted, they ignoring fines: when jailed, they refused orders and staged successful hunger strikes.
However, the militant resistance of the PRU and Josephs’ advocacy of the general strike sometimes clashed with the conciliatory stance of their Christian cohorts. Writing again in the Maoriland Worker, Josephs lamented that, “the meetings held to protest against the Act are a little too respectable. Nothing will be gained by such methods. You want to show your direct power against the governing classes, in order to make them realise the danger in passing such laws in the future.”
Yet despite disagreements over methods, anarchists remained active in the broader campaign. It was beginning to have some effect: in some regions military drilling was in a shambles thanks to constant PRU disruption and well-organised anti-militarist agitation. In Christchurch during 1911 only 25% of those eligible for CMT turned up. A year later, after the first 12 months of CMT, 3,187 youths were prosecuted for refusing to parade—by 1913 this number increased to 7,030. Anti-militarism also permeated further into the wider labour movement: in 1913 the FOL (now the United Federation of Labour) took steps to adopt the Hardie-Vaillant resolution that called for a general strike in the event of war.
As resistance grew the New Zealand government stepped up its prosecutions, targeting prominent syndicalists and anti-militarists. In February 1914 alone over 400 prosecutions were initiated in Christchurch. Had the refusal to drill, pay fines, or perform military duties in detention continued, it is possible that CMT in New Zealand may have broken down and forced the government to abolish the Defence Act altogether. However, the outbreak of the First World War changed the situation dramatically.

The outbreak of war

On the outbreak of war the anarchist and IWW position was fragmented and weak; partly due to the defeat of the 1913 Great Strike, but also because of the intense jingoistic mood of the day. Many of the IWW’s leading members had fled New Zealand to escape prosecution, but there were still IWW locals in Auckland, Wellington, Denniston and Christchurch. Wobblies continued to soapbox on street corners across the country and were active in the workplace, especially on the waterfront.
Yet times were tough for those openly against capitalism. Radicals found themselves up against a wartime government itching to prove its loyalty to the British Empire. The National Coalition of William Massey and Joseph Ward took measures to clamp down on any non-conformist activity it deemed seditious, using the pretence of war conditions to muzzle dissent—whether it was opposition to conscription (in the form of the 1916 Military Service Act), or challenging economic conditions. Numerous War Regulations empowered the executive branch of the Coalition government to regulate without reference to Parliament, and before long a number of these were directed at the IWW.
Richard Hill notes that these regulations, initially used for military purposes, “gradually increased in severity and in political rather than military significance.” For example, war regulations were soon unleashed on socialist speakers and strikes in industries deemed essential to the war effort. Rather tellingly, those convicted of publishing information deemed valuable to the enemy were fined a maximum of £10, while anyone who publicly criticised the actions of the New Zealand government was fined £100 or received twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.
Not surprisingly, anarchists and especially Wobblies were targeted due to their advocacy of direct action in the workplace, the fostering of an oppositional working class counterculture, and their radical critique of capitalism. New Zealand’s Crown Prosecutor “repeatedly stressed the distinction between sincere objectors… and ‘parasites’, ‘anarchists’, and other IWW types.” As a result, a number of Wobblies were arrested and given maximum jail time during the war.
Wobblies had been scapegoats for all kinds of scrupulous activity before 1914, but in wartime the press found new ways to discredit the IWW. Hysterical headlines were quick to dub Wobblies as “Hirelings of the Huns” or “German-born children of the devil,” and any union radicalism was tarred with the IWW brush.
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!” When the shipping vessel Port Kembla struck a German mine off the coast of Farewell Spit in 1917, 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… this type of human being should be put out of existence on the first evidence of abnormality.”
Wobblies also became the favourite target of New Zealand’s most prominent cartoonist of the day, William Blomfield. Many of his newspaper covers and drawings during the 1915-25 period depicted the IWW in a dark light—as crazed extremists or German provocateurs, or lazy workers. Cartoonists tended to convey the issues (and fears) of the day in order to stay relevant, so Blomfield shedding so much ink on the IWW may indicate that their influence was much larger than previously recognised.

IWW propaganda and the go-slow

Ironically, this scare mongering by the press publicised IWW methods such as the go-slow far more than Wobblies could ever have done on their own. Indeed, employers and the government were especially alarmed by the go-slow—working at a slow pace to reduce production and hurting the boss (all while on the job and receiving a wage). Put to good use by watersiders, miners, drivers, and tramway men during the war, the go-slow was abhorred as a significant threat to the established economic order.
“It is the most serious problem that we face at the present time,” wrote Defence Minister James Allen to Massey in January 1917. “[Alexander] Herdman has been taking evidence on behalf of the Police about going-slow… as far as Defence is concerned, if any man is proved to be going slow’ [before a military Service Board]we shall cancel his exemption… we cannot possibly allow this fatal practice to get hold in New Zealand or else the nation is doomed.” Not only did these tactics threaten war profits and the government’s lucrative commandeer with Britain (which made up 90% of the country’s exports); the go-slow had the potential to question the work ethic central to the wage system itself. As a result, War Regulations of 16 February 1917 included going slow in the category of seditious strikes.
Authorities were also dismayed at the volume of IWW ephemera still finding its way around the country. Bearing such lines as “Fast workers die young” or “Go Slow! Do Not Waste your Life,” IWW stickers peeked out from walls and lampposts across New Zealand. In a cheeky swipe at conscription, one sticker was stuck in the middle of a National Registration poster. As late as 1927, Wellington customs found 125 of these stickers in the baggage of a SS Maheno seaman named Evans.
Another ‘silent agitator’ that caused uproar was a satirical poster by ex-New Zealand Wobbly Tom Barker. ‘To Arms!’ called on “Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and other Stay-At-Home Patriots” to replace the workers in the trenches. Four copies 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.
Anti-war pamphlets were also making their rounds. War and the Workers was a pocket-sized booklet printed by the Auckland IWW that implored workers not to become “hired murderers.” Sold from their Swanson Street office, the booklet insisted, “Those who own the country [should] do the fighting! Let the workers remain home and enjoy what they produce.” After being distributed at the Buckle Street Drill Hall in Wellington, the booklet was forwarded to Solicitor-General John Salmond. Salmond urged for war regulations to be extended so that immediate powers would be available to punish those responsible for such “mischievous publications.”
In Parliament MP John Hornsby also raised concerns about IWW ephemera, decrying the “circulation in this country of pamphlets of a particularly obnoxious and deplorable nature.” Hornsby asked whether immediate steps would be taken to prevent the circulation of such “harmful publications.” The resulting Order in Council of 20 September 1915 specifically prohibited “the importation into New Zealand of the newspapers called Direct Action and Solidarity, and all other printed matter published by or on behalf of the society known as ‘The Industrial Workers of the World.’”
Direct Action was a lively newspaper published by the Australian IWW that found its way to New Zealand via seamen crossing the Tasman, or by mail. Two months after the Order of Council was in place, the Post and Telegraph Department reported the withholding of “14 single copies [of] Direct Action; 2 bundles [of] Direct Action;” as well as “6 bundles [of] Solidarity.” A number of these copies were then used by Police to chase up New Zealand subscribers listed in its columns. In December 1915 detectives in Auckland, Napier and Wellington hunted for a subscriber listed as Erickson. At first they thought he was a Wellington socialist named Frederickson, but soon concluded he was in fact Carl Erickson, a casual labourer and friend of Wellington anarchist Philip Josephs (who was also a Direct Action subscriber). The Police report noted that both men had donated to the Barker Defence Fund, set up after Tom Barker was convicted for publishing an anti-war cartoon in Direct Action.
The military also used a 1915 edition of Direct Action to investigate the Workers’ University Direct Action Group, a ‘workers university’ that had been set up by Auckland Wobblies. According to Direct Action, lessons dealt with “economics, biology, physiology, Social Democrat fallacies, State Ownership ie State Capitalism fakes, Law and Authority Bluff, the anarchist doctrines of ‘Total Abstention’” and “scientific sabotage, the most potent weapon of the intelligent militant minority.” They also had IWW literature on hand for the ‘worker students’. After their Queen Street landlord forced the workers’ university to disband, its members were lucky to escape imprisonment (if they did at all).
One radical who was not let off the hook was prominent 1913 striker Charles Johnson. Johnson was arrested in 1917 and found to have “an enormous amount of IWW literature” in his possession, including three copies of Direct Action. 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.

Censorship of correspondence

As well as the suppression of IWW publications, war regulations also made it illegal to “incite, encourage, advice or advocate violence, lawlessness and disorder, or express any seditious intention.” What exactly constituted a “seditious intention” was interpreted broadly by the state, and included the contents of private correspondence.
Both Customs and the Post and Telegraph Department had a number of censors working within their ranks, the latter including the Deputy Chief Censor, William 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.
“During the course of the late war,” wrote Tanner, it was necessary
to examine secretly the correspondence of certain persons who were supposed to be disaffected, and who were working to defeat the efforts of the New Zealand Government in meeting its obligations regarding the war by advocating [the] ‘go slow’ or inciting to resist the Military Service Act.
Instructed to “suppress whatever was of a seditious or treasonable nature,” Tanner believed his work “gave the Police the necessary opening… to break up the organisations whilst still in the act of formation.”
One of those under Tanner’s watchful gaze was Philip Josephs. After letters to US anarchist Emma Goldman were spotted in October 1915, Josephs was arrested and “detained all day in the cooler until 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” when he was released without being charged. While Josephs was in police custody, two detectives searched his shop in Cuba Street and took possession of all books and papers on anarchism. They then repeated their search at his Khandallah home.
As well as holding a considerable stash of anarchist literature, it appears Josephs’ shop had been the Wellington Local of the IWW. Police found “a number of unused official IWW membership books, rubber stamps, and other gear used in connection with that constitution,” as well as IWW correspondence, pamphlets and papers.
One such correspondent was Syd Kingsford. Two Police reports show that after the raid he was put under surveillance, while the chief military censor, Colonel Gibbon, made sure his correspondence was also censored. Another was J Sweeny, a Blenheim-based labourer who was writing to Josephs to order anarchist newspapers. In a letter that never reached its destination, 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.”
Other censored letters written by an Auckland Wobbly, William Bell, give a sense of the level of surveillance put in place by the state. “The Johns and military pimps are on the look out for the correspondence of men known in our movement,” wrote Bell, who was trying to secure a dummy address “for the purposes of ordering leaflets without an imprint for secret distribution at this end of New Zealand.” Also mentioned in Bell’s letter was “a private meeting of picked trusted militants” due to take place at his bach, confirming that Auckland Wobblies were still active in mid-1917, albeit discreetly. Obviously Bell was not discreet enough. He was arrested and sentenced to eleven months imprisonment.
(During his hearing, Bell 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”).

Seditious soapboxing

The introduction of conscription in August 1916 and subsequent opposition to it by parts of the labour movement saw the War Regulations move from targeting the written word to the spoken word. This was not surprising, given that Defence Minister James Allen had earlier noted: “We are right for conscription and it is only the fear of what might happen in Labour circles that prevents it being adopted here.”
‘Rabid Orator’ and past Committee member of the Wellington IWW, Joseph Herbert Jones, was imprisoned for sedition in January 1917 after soapboxing 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.” During his court appearance Jones read a long and ‘inflammatory’ poem that received applause from onlookers in the court. 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 radical to be jailed for 12 months was William Parker, a watersider who told a Wellington crowd in 1917 that the only way to stop conscription was with a general strike. In 1919 Parker was in court again, having distributed locally produced flyers promoting the go-slow, the lockout of the oppressors, and building a new society in the shell of the old. After amusing the large crowd of watersiders in the back of the court by “verbally annihilating His Worship”, Parker was sentenced to 12 months for ‘IWWism’ (sedition).

The Case of Carl Mumme

Probably the most extreme recorded repression against an anarchist during the First World War was the case of Wellington cabinet-maker and unionist, Carl Mumme. Born in Germany, Mumme was secretary of the Furniture Workers’ Union in 1897 and a founding member of the NZSP. He was a staunch anti-militarist involved in various Wellington campaigns, and also represented the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners on the Wellington branch of the FOL. In 1913 he joined the anarchist Freedom Group and gave a number of key lectures.
Despite being naturalized in 1896 and having spent close to twenty years in the New Zealand, Carl was arrested in May 1916 and shipped out to the detention camp at Matiu Somes Island. Carl’s wife Margaret and their five children (the youngest being two years old) were not told of his arrest—it took two days for them to find out what had happened.
Carl’s anti-militarist and anarchist beliefs ensured a stormy relationship with the camp commandant, Dugald Matheson. After refusing to address Matheson as ‘Sir’ and for alluding to mistreatment in letters to his wife, Carl was repeatedly punished for insubordination. This included forced exercise, bread and water rations for 21 days, confinement to concrete cells with no shoes or socks, and abuse from guards. Expressing his “utter contempt for a man who is an open enemy of all Governments” Matheson wrote in one report that, although no evidence of conduct hostile to the camp could be proved, Mumme was “an infidel a social democratic agitator and an active anti-militarist… posing as a martyr.”
Despite sureties from prominent unionists and desperate letters from his near-destitute wife, Mumme remained in detention for the rest of the war, and after—his freedom blocked by police and military command. “Mumme is a Socialist apparently of the revolutionary type [and] is exactly the type of man who should be deported,” wrote one chief detective. While never deported, Mumme was not released from internment until 13 October 1919—close to a full year after Armistice.
As well as internment, the deportation of radicals from New Zealand became another way of silencing dissent, and was used on numerous occasions. In 1917 MP Vernon Reed asked in Parliament whether 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 of undesirables; and whether he will introduce into Parliament a measure having similar objects?” In reply, Massey stated that such a law was under consideration. The result was the 1919 Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act, which merely formalised what was already covered under the war regulations. A number of Wobblies were deported from New Zealand under these regulations.
Wobblies not already in jail were kept under close surveillance during the later years of the war. In October 1918 the Defence Department had their eyes on Nita aka Lila Freeman, a female Wobbly active in Wellington. Correspondence of “an anti-conscriptionist and seditious nature” between Nita and a fellow Wobbly named ‘Don’ was discovered by the military censor, which sparked further surveillance. ‘Don’ had been giving classes on political economy and socialism in Blackball, and it was hoped ascertaining their identities would lead to arrests: “in all probability the woman will be arrested on some charge at an early date,” noted the file.
Although it appears Nita Freeman was never arrested, by the war’s end at least 287 people had been charged with sedition or disloyalty—208 were convicted and 71 sent to prison. That radical syndicalists such as Wobblies and anarchists made up the numbers is hardly surprising, considering the similar treatment handed out to their comrades internationally. Indeed, like other countries across the globe, the New Zealand state attempted to use wartime conditions to cement its hold over militant labour. Although further comparative research is needed, some writers have argued New Zealand was a leader in using military means for political ends. John Anderson noted: “the English government was more tolerant of criticism than the Massey administration, and did not readily initiate prosecutions for sedition.” And in the words of Scottish anarchist Guy Aldred, “of all British Dominions, for scientifically suppressing revolutionary thought the New Zealand Government is the worst.”

The fight continues

Despite the cease of hostilities in Europe, surveillance of anarchists and the IWW did not end with the First World War. Industrial unrest and social revolution immediately after the war’s end was a deeply entrenched concern for the New Zealand Government. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, coupled with unrest around the globe in 1918-1919, was seen as potential source of increased revolutionary activity in New Zealand. Bolshevism would now compete with the IWW for the state’s attention, and for the title of New Zealand’s favourite scapegoat.
As well as international upheavals such as mutinous soldiers, police strikes and the downfall of various regimes, the cost of living and dissatisfied returned servicemen were also seen as catalysts to major unrest. The government passed a range of anti-firearms laws, and watched closely the rhetoric of political parties like the New Zealand Labour Party and the Communist Party of New Zealand.
The state also kept tabs on the second wave of syndicalist organisations, such as the Alliance of Labour and the One Big Union Council. Formed in 1919 to promote class solidarity between watersiders, seamen, miners’ and railway workers, the Alliance of Labour was decried by the Reform government as nothing less than the IWW in disguise. Indeed, their promotion of direct action and rejection of parliamentary politics saw them align with the IWW, causing the Employers Federation to lament the “lawless tendency on the part of Extreme labour.” In the end however, the Alliance failed to live up to its revolutionary rhetoric.
In Auckland around 1920, Wobblies like Bill Murdoch, George Phillips and Leo Woods helped to form the One Big Union Council. Leo Woods had sat on the Thames strike committee during the 1913 Great Strike, and in 1917 was thrown into what he called “one of Massey’s concentration camps, Kiangaroa Prison Camp,” for 18 months. After his release, Woods became the literary secretary of the One Big Union Council and was delegated to smuggle banned literature from Sydney. He would go on to help found the Communist Party in 1921. The secretary of the Council was former wartime-secretary of the Auckland IWW, George Phillips, who, like Woods, had been jailed for refusing to be conscripted.
For those in power monitoring these developments, the possibility of a general strike seemed imminent. Recorded industrial disputes had risen from 8 in 1915 to 75 in 1921. As a result, Prime Minister Massey urged his party faithful to “secure good men to stem the tide of Anarchy and Bolshevism.” This radical tide, complained Massey, “is worse than folly… the matter must be taken in hand and stopped.”
Massey’s red baiting had significant support from a number of high profile allies. The Protestant Political Association, led by the vehement Reverend Howard Elliot, vowed to oppose “Bolshevism and ‘IWWism’ in every shape and form.” Also active was the New Zealand Welfare League, formed in July 1919 for the express purpose of curbing the activities of revolutionary labour, IWW doctrines, and Bolshevism. The League’s active press campaign featured large format newspaper articles on the IWW and their “criminal” attitudes towards work, property rights, and state authority.
The red scare whipped up by conservative interests allowed the state to extend its wartime grip into peacetime. Tanner was kept on as censor in July 1919 by Defence Minister Allen, who wrote to Massey that, “a good deal of valuable information comes to the government through the medium of the censor, and it was thought wise not to lose this information.” The war regulations that created Tanner’s job were also extended under the War Regulations Continuance Act of 1920 (which was not repealed until 1947).
Other forms of surveillance continued apace. In his history of the New Zealand Police Force, Graham Dunstall notes that in January 1919, Police Commissioner John O’Donovan sent a confidential memo to officers across New Zealand:
In the view that considerable industrial and other unrest is reported from other countries and may extend to this Dominion it is necessary that special precautions be taken to keep in touch with the movements and actions of persons of revolutionary tendencies who are already here, or who may arrive
Meetings of radicals continued to be attended by police and fortnightly reports were sent to Police Headquarters. Detectives in each district systemised this work by compiling an index of individuals who had “extreme revolutionary socialistic or IWW ideas,” and amassed boxes of detailed files.
The Wobblies remained a perceived threat well into the 1920s. In September 1920 Commissioner O’Donavan sent a nationwide memo giving the names IWW prisoners about to be released in Sydney, warning detectives to be on the look out in case they arrived in New Zealand. Also under surveillance was another Australian Wobbly, John B Williams, who was in New Zealand to form branches of the One Big Union (OBU). Numerous police reports tracked his progress around the country, noting that a branch had been formed in Auckland in May 1920 (its secretary was Andrew O’Neill, secretary of the General Labourers Union). In Christchurch Williams addressed a meeting attended by police, who were concerned at his comments that “he was in New Zealand to form ‘One Big Union’ and behind the movement were the IWW men recently liberated in New South Wales.”
A year later police focus turned to the formation of the Communist Party in Wellington—yet Wobblies still warranted extra attention. When Andy Barras addressed a meeting at the Socialist Hall on 27 March 1921, police noted that a member of the IWW had questioned parts of his speech. “If a communist member was elected” noted the Wobbly, “what guarantee was there that he would not jump the fence and go to the side that was prepared to pay him most?”
At this stage Wobblies were still seen as more of a threat than communists. A 1926 report on a Mauritius Wobbly and waterside worker Eugene De Langre noted, “he has come under my notice for more than a year, and although I am given to understand that he is not a member of the Communist Party, he is probably worse by the fact that he is a member of the IWW.” De Langre had been promoting the go-slow to his fellow watersiders, and teaching “some young seamen outside the Wellington Shipping Office to sing revolutionary songs, the ‘Red Flag’ etc.” When police raided his sleeping quarters and found over 50 copies of IWW newspapers and pamphlets, he was regarded as “one of the worst IWW members trading in this country. It is hoped the Customs Department will deal urgently with him.”
The surveillance of De Langre and the mention of Customs highlights the increased patrolling of New Zealand ports, and the targeting of literature and mail. One Wobbly to be caught in this post-war net was Henry Murphy, an Australian labourer based in Auckland. In April 1919 Murphy wrote to a fellow worker in Australia that military deserters were being picked up every day; detectives “run the rule” over passengers arriving by ship; and that two Wobblies, “Nugget and Scrotty,” had been “turned back”. The letter was intercepted by a censor and handed to police. “Murphy appears to be a dangerous character of the IWW type,” noted the censor. “He is an admirer of the Bolsheviks and is gradually drifting towards anarchy, revolution and outrage… his hatred of work is one of the traits of the IWW character.” Murphy was hauled before the court for failing to register as a reservist under the Military Service Act, where he declared, “anti-militarists have done more for democracy than all the soldiers who went to Europe.” He was sentenced to 14 days hard labour and was due to be deported under the war regulations, but instead he agreed to leave New Zealand voluntarily.

Deporting ‘undesirables’

Murphy’s ‘voluntary’ deportation foreshadowed a law change designed to further extend the state’s reach over radicalism. In November of that year, the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act was passed into law. This Act gave the Attorney-General power to single-handedly deport anyone whom he deemed “disaffected or disloyal, or of such a character that his presence would be injurious to the peace, order, and good Government” of New Zealand. He could also prevent anyone landing in the country, which meant Customs and Police further cemented their wartime responsibilities of monitoring the harbours. However the Defence Department was kept in the loop by having copies of every alien identity certificate sent to them. The military would then match these certificates up to their own black list of “revolutionary agents and undesirables.”
According to Massey, the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act would be used against those who “favour Bolshevism and IWWism.” It was soon put to good effect. Two Wobblies named Nolan and McIntyre were prevented from landing in New Zealand and promptly sent on their way to Sydney—their fares paid by the government. But one Wobbly who wouldn’t go quietly was the Australian seaman and returned serviceman, Noel Lyons.
In May 1925 seamen on board the SS Manuka refused to leave Wellington until their food was improved. However as the Union Steamship Company made clear to reporters, the real issue was “the deliberate attempt to institute job control” via the go-slow. Using the pretext of IWW literature and posters found on board the ship, Lyons was read the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act and given 28 days to leave New Zealand. Instead, Lyons and the crew walked off their Sydney-bound vessel singing ‘Solidarity Forever,’ and convened a meeting at the Communist Hall.
300 people packed into the Manners Street Hall to hear Lyons speak about the ‘ham and egg’ strike. “I have been described as a paid agitator,” argued Lyons, “but it is a well known fact that all who take an active part in attempting to better the condition of the worker… develop whiskers overnight, and appear as a Bolshevik.” Despite resolutions of protest from numerous unions, Lyons was imprisoned for two weeks before being shipped to Australia. On his arrival Lyons made the most of what the NZ Truth called ‘the new spasm of [the] IWW,” organising mass meetings and reviving the Sydney IWW. In January 1926 he was joined by the ex-Wellington watersider, Eugene De Langre.
The deportation of Lyons highlights how the authorities would pick and choose when someone was to be considered a New Zealander, a British subject, or foreign immigrant. The Reform government’s loyalty to Empire and their making of the world ‘safe for democracy’ did not seem to contradict the deportation of British subjects. “New Zealand is more conservative than England,” noted Lyons on his arrival in Sydney. “They regarded me as a foreigner… It is too funny for words. When I was on my to France as an Australian solider, they did not say I was an undesirable… But now, when I put up a bit of a fight for humanity, they turn me out of the country.”


Noel Lyons was not the only radical to be deported in the post-war years, nor was he the first. But his case is indicative of the systematic surveillance put in place after the First World War, and the attitude of the New Zealand government towards anarchists and the IWW. Although their treatment pales in comparison to the violence and mass deportations inflicted on the American IWW, the National Coalition and Reform governments clearly felt threatened by such working class radicalism. Class struggle and revolution from below; the flouting of law; the go-slow and challenging the work ethic; such tactics not only hindered the war effort, they also called into question the social relationships needed for capitalism and the state to function. As a result, the Defence, Police, and Customs Departments, as well as scores of legislation, was used to during the war to ensure anarchism and the IWW never regained its pre-war strength.
It is clear anarchism and the IWW formed but a tiny part of the working-class radicalism of the day. Likewise, the ‘anarchist’ and ‘IWW’ label was thrown about rather hysterically by the press, making the identification of Wobblies during the war even harder. However the actions of anarchists and Wobblies during 1905-1925, and the reaction to them by the state, indicates a discernible legacy of revolutionary syndicalist radicalism in New Zealand—one that reached well beyond the Great Strike of 1913. It also forms an important sub-narrative to New Zealand’s home front experience, and wider conscientious objections to the First World. While it is hard to measure their precise influence on the local labour movement, I hope the examples above help to question what Kerry Taylor has called the “premature obituary” of the IWW and revolutionary syndicalism in New Zealand.

The text for this paper was based on two public talks given in Wellington—‘Reds and Wobblies’ (People’s History Talks), and ‘Seditious Intentions’ (Rethinking War Conference). The main sources used were:
Records at Archives New Zealand: Army Department, Customs Department, Post and Telegraph Department, Department of Internal Affairs, Police Gazettes, Old Police Records, Sir James Allen Papers, Prime Ministers’ Department
Records at the Alexander Turnbull Library: Bert Roth Collection, Papers Past
New Zealand Parliamentary Debates
New Zealand Gazette
New Zealand Official Yearbooks
Baker, Paul, King and Country Call: New Zealanders, Conscription and the Great War, Auckland University Press, 1988
Bodman, Ryan, “‘Don’t be a Conscript, be a Man!’ A History of the Passive Resisters’ Union, 1912–1914,” Thesis, University of Auckland, 2010
Burgmann, Verity, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism – the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Melbourne, 1995
Davidson, Jared, Remains to Be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill’s Ashes in New Zealand, Rebel Press, 2011
Davidson, Jared, Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism, AK Press, 2013
Derby, Mark, ‘Towards a Transnational Study of New Zealand Links with the Wobblies’
Dunstall, Graeme, Policeman’s Paradise? Policing a Stable Society, 1917-1945, Dunmore Press, 1999
Eldred-Grigg, Stevan, The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WW1, Random House New Zealand, 2010
Gustafson, Barry, Labour’s Path to Political Independence: Origins and Establishment of the New Zealand Labour Party, 1900-19, Auckland University Press, 1980
Hill, Richard, The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove: The modernisation of policing in New Zealand 1886-1917, Dunmore Press, 1996
Moriarty-Patten, Stuart, “A World to Win, a Hell to Lose: The Industrial Workers of the World in Early Twentieth Century New Zealand,” Thesis, Massey University, 2012
Olssen, Erik, The Red Feds – revolutionary industrial unionism and the NZ Federation of Labour 1908-1913, Auckland 1988
Roth, Herbert, Trade Unions in New Zealand: Past and Present, A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1973
Weitzel, R, “Pacifists and Anti-militarists, 1909–1914,” New Zealand Journal of History, 1973

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.

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

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

23 June 1911

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

23 June 1911

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

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

21 July 1911

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

1 September 1911

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


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

'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.


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



Manchester st, CHRISTCHURCH.

Try the new shop for New Jewellery and Watches.

Exploitation at a Minimum.


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.