The Rise of Socialism in New Zealand
1890 to 1916
Why Socialism in New Zealand?
The external essay standard AS29134 asks you to explain the significance
of an event to New Zealand.
A major historical force was socialism which demanded equality and
fairness and a redistribution of wealth.
Emerging from the social deprivation of the Industrial Revolution
socialism called for equal treatment for all, for a sharing of wealth and for
a welfare net.
New Zealand had a growing reputation for egalitarianism.
In New Zealand the forces for change were also seeking reform.
The key to this is what were the forces of change and how did each
country deal with these demands for change?
New Zealand in 1890
New Zealand was a British colony.
It was mainly British, the majority being English
although a significant number were now New
All of its systems of Government and Justice
originated in Britain.
In the 1896 census there were only 42,000
Most settlers had migrated to New Zealand to
escape the social and economic restrictions of
the ‘old country’.
This combined with the work ethics of
‘Mateship’ led to a desire for egalitarianism
and social justice.
The Migrants: Push and Pull
Early attempts at migration had sought to
bring a particular type of migrants.
In 1850 the Wakefield schemes targetted
specific groups within Britain.
They had sought a ‘slice’ of British society,
including all social classes.
This did not happen and most of the
migrants were working or middle class.
Many had some level of education.
Many of them wanted better working
conditions than they had left behind.
Most wanted their children to have more
opportunities than they had had.
Samuel Parnell & the 40 hour week.
On the voyage form GB Parnell, a builder was asked to
build a shop. The employer offered the same conditions
as applied in Britain. (Start at 6am, a 12 hour and a 6
'There are,' he argued, 'twenty-four hours per day given
us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep,
and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for
men to do what little things they want for themselves. I
am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o'clock,
but it must be on these terms or none at all.‘
'You know Mr. Parnell,' Hunter persisted, 'that in
London the bell rang at six o'clock, and if a man was not
there ready to turn to he lost a quarter of a day.' 'We're
not in London', replied Parnell.
Other employers tried to impose the traditional long
hours, but Parnell met incoming ships, talked to the
workmen and enlisted their support.
The eight hour working day thus became established in
the Wellington settlement and around the country.
Since the 1890’s labour day was celebrated as a holiday.
Mateship in the Bush Frontier
Most early migrants wanted land.
In GB only the wealthy owned land.
In NZ owning land was seen as the path to
This meant purchasing and breaking in land for
farming or working in the ‘Bush’.
The work was dangerous and male orientated.
In the “Bush frontier’ men often lived and
worked in ‘gangs’. Some stayed together for
Neighbours often assisted each other in large
The frontier developed a particular type of
male-centric society with values based upon
hard work, honesty and the equal treatment of
Dishonesty or shirking were anathema to a good
The Long Depression 1878-1892
In the 1860’s NZ had prospered.
Cheap land and high farm prices saw many
farmers borrow heavily on future earnings.
In the 1870’s wool prices fell, gold began to
become scarcer and the rabbit plague
destroyed many farms in the South.
The Bank of Glasgow had lent heavily to both
NZ public and private investors.
In 1878 the Bank of Glasgow collapsed. Other
banks also suffered.
Its international investments were recalled
creating a worldwide depression.
The Government was heavily in debt which
did not encourage business leaders.
In 1882 the Australian market for NZ wheat
Economic downturn led to Political instability.
The downward spiral (Recession become a
for wool fall. This signals
a general decline in
As suppliers incomes
fall they also cut costs
employing fewer workers
and cutting back on spending
Public & Private Retrenchments
continue. Business confidence is low
so little is invested in new ventures –
people prefer to keep their money.
fall, they cut costs
by employing fewer
labourers and cutting
back on spending.
Lenders (banks) demand
loans be repaid.
Reduced tax revenue
forces the Government
to reduce spending,
especially in employment
and supplies. (Retrenchment)
Negative growth in 3
consecutive quarters is an
Conservative Government, Conservative policies.
Governments tend to reflect the type of people
who elect them.
While the franchise was limited to the wealthy
the Government and its policies favoured them.
Since most of the voters were farmers of
manufacturers, laws tended to support them.
From 1860 to 1891 the Government was
conservative in its policies and its legislation.
Politics however began to change, the franchise
was expanded and by the 1890’s more
politicians owed their support to urban workers
and later to the female vote.
After the 1890 Maritime Strike, Labour Unions
began to look towards Parliament to create
The Liberals were the first to benefit from this
The Franchise(s) and Electoral Equality
1840 New Zealand was administered by the Governor
and a chosen cabinet.
1852 – First Election: Voting for Males aged 21 who own
or rent land (£50 Rural £10 Urban). Maori
disenfranchised through communal ownership.
1860 – Franchise extended to (Gold)Miners.
1867 - 4 Maori Seats established. A ‘short term’
1879 - Franchise broadened – land ownership
requirement abolished. All males over 21 may vote.
1889 – Representation Act establishes a country quota.
(Smaller constituencies). Favoured farmers.
– Ends Plural voting.
1893 – Women receive the Vote.
– Effective Universal Suffrage.
– Women would not receive the vote in the US and GB
until after WWI.
Trade Unions: defending workers
The idea of Unions was exported
Unions began in the 1850’s, but they
were few and far between.
Governments were openly hostile to
From 1876 the Trades Council in
Auckland was able to co-ordinate
Union activities in areas of common
Most laws actually favoured the
employer, until the 1878 Trade
Union Act they had no legal standing.
The Long depression made it harder
for workers as wages and conditions
were driven down.
The ‘Sin of Cheapness’
As the number of factories grew so did
demand for labour and despite lower
rates paid to women, many saw more
opportunities in this work than in
In 1889 Dunedin Reverend Waddell
preached his sermon on the ‘Sin of
Cheapness’. (Think ‘The Warehouse’)
Hours were long and pay was usually
low. (Piece)Work was often taken
home to fulfill quotas.
Few factories complied to any
standards and were very dangerous to
work in. (No Social Welfare)
It was amongst women that the first
Unions began to flourish.
The 1890 Maritime Strike
The Wharves and Shipping were the
lifeblood of New Zealand’s trade.
By 1890 export of meat, wool and dairy
products were becoming our largest export
The Unions wanted to improve their wages
They chose to support a strike in Australia
by closing our wharves as well.
There was little public support and the
Government took the upper hand.
Scabs were employed to break the strike.
A strike of several weeks was broken and
the Unions were left severely weakened.
After losing the 1890 Maritime Strike, Unions chose to
support the Liberals against the Conservatives.
The Liberal’s wanted a strong central Government.
Government should treat everyone equally.
To care for the Disadvantaged.
Where Monopolies existed they should be able to
They wanted to encourage people to stay in the
country (rural areas) by breaking up the Big Estates.
The previous Conservative Governments had
supported Wealth and Privilege over Democracy.
They wanted Labour Reform and created a Bureau of
Industry (the Labour Department)
A “Social Laboratory”
Under the Liberal Government 1893-8 New
Zealand earned a reputation as a “Social
Laws passed during this period seemed aimed at
creating a “better world”.
Equality was created through Universal Suffrage.
Workers conditions were protected in factories
and shops (Acts).
Collective bargaining was allowed and created a
settled Industrial climate.
Social Welfare began with the Pension.
Many felt New Zealand was leading the world in
Social, Economic and Political equality.
This became a point of pride for many.
A progressive NZ had created a better world for
the working man.
The Liberals: their Acts of Parliament
1891 Land and Income Tax Assessment Act: taxed land especially absentee
1892 Land for Settlements Act: Set aside £50K to buy large estates.
1892 Lease in Perpetuity Act: Allowed existing Leasers a 999 year lease on their
1892 Compulsory Purchase: Allowed government to buy land
1893 Local Option Act: Allowed Local voters to decide on Prohibition in their
1893 Advances to Settlers Act: Allowed farmers to lend cash to improve their
1893 Government Electoral Bill: gave Women the Vote
1894 Bank of New Zealand Guarantee Act: Gave the Government power to
appoint its President and Auditor in return for a Guarantee that saved it.
1894 Factory Act: Required factories be registered and inspected, setting minimum
1894 Shop and Shop Assistants Act: Regulated work and conditions in shops.
1894 Industrial Arbitration and Conciliation Act: Set up to settle industrial
disputes, its decisions were binding on both parties.
1898 Old Age Pension: Paid a pension to those of ‘good’ character.
Political Equality = Social Change: Suffrage
The campaign began in the late 1880’s when attempts
at Temperance failed.
The WCTU led by Kate Sheppard sought to effect social
change through the franchise.
Alcohol was their target. At first temperance later
By denying women the vote, it was claimed the
Government had classed them with juveniles, lunatics
The franchise department of the WCTU took the three
major petitions to Parliament in 1891 to 1892.
The petitions were presented by Sir John Hall,
supported by Alfred Saunders, John Ballance and
Many of middle class men were teetotalers.
In 1893 despite interference by Seddon Suffrage was
Sir John Hall
Labour: Arbitration & Conciliation
The rise of Unions and Collective Bargaining
had led to considerable Industrial unrest in
This had eventually led to the 1890
Losing this confrontation led the Unions to
seek political support in the Liberals.
The 1891 election saw the most urban
electorates swing across to the Liberals.
William Pember Reeves sought to stop
unnecessary confrontation when he
introduced the 1894 Industrial Arbitration
and Conciliation Act.
Now Unions and Employers were forced to
accept decisions by a tribunal when
negotiation broke down.
Social Welfare: Pensions
In Victorian societies the view was held that the poor
were poor because they did not work hard enough.
One aspect of every frontier society was the large
number of men. (Miners, Bush Workers etc)
With no immediate or wider family to call on they
relied upon charity to care for them as they grew old.
By the 1890’s the number of “Indigents” threatened to
overwhelm the local charitable organisations.
The Liberals encouraged by Seddon, introduced a
It excluded those of “poor character” and the Chinese.
Maori were excluded because they lacked the birth
In 1898 NZ was the first nation to introduce such a
Defying the Arbitration Act.
From 1900 Unions began to feel that the Act was being
used against them.
In 1906 the Auckland Tram Drivers went out on the
first illegal strike.
Wellington Slaughtermen soon followed and won a pay
In 1908 the Blackball Miners forced the Mine Co. to
double their lunch break to 30 minutes after a 3 month
“Right Minded New Zealanders were pitted against
Socialist Union Agitators”.
The Miners Federation became the Federation of
By 1910 Watersiders, Shearers and Tramwaymen had
also affiliated. (joined)
The Federation of Labours journal was called the
The Maoriland Worker
• It contained traces of
the new Unionism along
with a sprinkling of
• It regularly condemned
the effects of
The Socialist Threat
By the 1890’s more and more countries
found themselves under threat from the
evils of Socialism and Unionisation.
Socialist wanted better conditions, better
pay through a fair distribution of wealth.
The US based organisation International
Workers of the World (Wobblies) led
The 1905 Revolution in Russia was driven
by these sentiments and almost toppled
the Tsars Government.
World wide unions were coming under
attack from Employers, the Media and
Governments as enemies of the
Union members were harassed and
attacked, beaten and jailed.
Who has benefited from the ‘product of labour’?
Liberals v. Reform and Unions
The Liberals under Joseph Ward, won again in 1908 but
were only a shadow of their former selves.
Ward relied on Union support and was unwilling to
confront the Unions.
In the next 4 years Unions made more demands that were
resented by the Employers.
By deregistering from the Arbitration Act they could freely
In 1912 the Reform Party under Massey defeated the
Liberals with support from both social Conservatives and
Immediately the Government took a harder line against
The 1912 Waihi Strike
The Arbitration Act no longer seemed to work for the
Tribunal Judgements lacked consistency and decisions
often favoured the Employers.
When a dispute over wages failed to reach a resolution the
Employer attempted to bypass the existing Union by
creating a new Union.
Under the Act any settlement with new Union would
become binding on all workers on the site.
The Unions called a strike.
The Employers brought in Scabs to work.
In a final incident an attack on the Union Hall led the
wounding of a constable and the death of a Unionist.
The Strikers &Union supporters were driven from the
“Socialism, Syndicalism and Anarchy”
Internationsally unions were seen as
Socialists – enemies society.
The United Federation of Labour (UFL)
was created in July 1913 at the Unity
400 Delegates represented 60,000
The Employers Federation responded
by created a “defence’ fund to “oppose
extreme agitation, syndicalisers and
Massey’s government made it clear
they would support any assault on
The Great Strike of 1913.
By 1900 refrigeration had created a
national system based around the
farming of sheep & cattle, their
processing, transportation and
export to overseas markets.
Impediments (Strikes) to this system
threatened the entire economy.
Unions controlled both
transportation by rail and sea.
When trouble began on the
Wellington wharves, Massey was
determined to crush the challenges
to good order. (and profit).
Town vs Country
About 1912 New Zealand became an urbanised
Traditional (Rural) society felt threatened.
Unions (Syndicalists) were seen as a symbol of
Massey hoped to use the Farmers Union against
the Militant Unionists.
Initially rural volunteers showed little interest in
Later they called upon 25,000 strong Territorial
Thousands of “Mounted Specials”, and hundreds
of foot answered this call.
Many of the farmers felt they had a duty to
defend the nation from the socialists.
Strikers grew to hate the “Specials” and almost
all violence was aimed at them.
Crushing the Unions: Bring on the Cossacks
The Strike quickly grew from a minor dispute
between the shipwrights and the Union
Months of negotiation proved fruitless.
The Shipwrights then affiliated (joined) with the
Wellington Watersiders .
Returning from a stop work meeting in October
the shipwrights were locked out.
Scabs were employed. The strike then escalated.
Soon wharves all around the country were
The Employers were determined to crush the
United Federation of Labour.
Massey wanted to use his Rural supporters. To
force the issue.
Mounted Police at Mercer Street prepare to charge
War in Wellington
“Wellington had become an armed camp. At
night the sinister sound of massed hoof beats
could be heard ...... as hundreds of “specials”
wended their way back to Buckle Street.”
The streets of Auckland, Wellington and
Christchurch would echo to the sounds of riot
Fighting included clubs, stones, bottles and
eventually rifles and pistols.
Gunfire was exchanged across Taranaki Street.
Soldiers manned machine guns outside
Strike leaders did not encourage attacks on the
Police but the Cossacks.
The Unions Defeated
Initially the Unions held the upper hand.
But by December 1913 the Unions were
Scabs were quartered on the wharves, or on
ships making them difficult to reach.
The wharves were defended by lines of
Massey’s ruthlessness and the ever present
Specials wore them down.
Union leaders were jailed and imprisoned as
were some strikers.
In Wellington they were forced out of the
Opera House to the Olympia Skating Rink.
Unable to stop the loading of ships and
losing public support they were forced to
call off the strike action.
Why did it fail?
The strike failed because most businesses were small
and their working relationships more personal.
Workers and Employers often worked together.
Most workers were not as a group unhappy enough
to support a total strike.
The Unions lacked the organisation and ability to
wage a long campaign.
Unions lacked the political support in Parliament.
Mainstream Media were almost completely against
Finally when scabs were employed on board the
ships, (Freyberg = stokers etc.) the strike was
What was the outcome of these strikes?
The “Red Feds” were for a short time
excluded from many sites but began to
work their way back into the Unions.
It left behind an entrenched class based
political system. (Melanie Nolan)
It reinforced the growing urban/rural split
especially in political support.
The Reform Party was now the established
party of rural NZ and social Conservatives.
With the Liberals in decline the Unions
realised they needed a new political ally.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) held
out some hope, and it would eventually
become the Labour Party in 1916.
Many of the union leaders from
1908/12/13 would go on to become
important political figures. (Holland,
Socialism and WWI
Socialists were against the War. (or any
They could not see any reason why workers
should become involved.
The war seemed to be an argument
between Governments about a trivial
matter. (The assassination of Franz Josef)
Increased Imperial rivalries reinforced by
expanding armouries appeared to be for
the benefit of large companies, not workers
Increasing Nationalism also seemed
designed to drag workers into believing in
war as a good thing.
Many Union leaders, including Holland,
Semple and Fraser were imprisoned
because of their opposition to the war.
Many men refused to serve in the war,
they were ‘conscientious objectors’.
Some objected on religious grounds
(Jehovahs Witnesses or Christians)
Many refused because of their Political
beliefs. (Mainly Socialists)
Many socialists believed the war was a
It was fought to keep the rich, rich and
was fought by the poor. (Workers).
While there were volunteers this was
only a small issue.
After 2 years fewer were willing to go to
Until 1916 this was not an issue, but
Conscription made this illegal.
Why was the strike significant?
It was a demonstration of the growing demand for
equality in both New Zealand and around the world.
It was an example of major changes in New Zealand’s
NZ had just become an Urbanised society and with it came
a shift in emphasis.
Urban workers demanded more rights and better wages.
Such Socialist or “Communist” ideas threatened the
It was an example of the older established order fighting
back. (Country Vs Town)
It showed the power of the Government and its
willingness to attack the Union movement.
The Government used the law/changed the law and was
prepared to employ the armed forces (Navy & Army) to
enforce its will.
Their Significance to People
The 1913 Strike was an opportunity for the “Red Feds” to confront the
Government and regain the standing lost at Waihi the previous year.
For the Reform Party it was a chance to reinforce their dominance over the
Unions and to stop the march of Socialism in the Cities and return to more
traditional values and standing.
There were few in the country who were not effected.
– Thousands of Mounted Specials descended onto the cities determined to
enforce their values onto the weak and immoral city, leaving farms untended
– For thousands of striking workers it was weeks of wages lost and families that
went hungry, or accepted charity.
While the strike lasted barely 6 weeks its effects were felt for decades.
– Red Feds were jailed.
– Many were unable to obtain work in their normal trades.
– Unions left the Liberals and moved towards the SDP and later Labour.
– Union Leaders would eventually lead the Labour Party to victory in 1935.
Perspective Assessment: Group Work
Identify the groups that would be best to interview
– Get the widest range of views.
Identify 4-5 people who could be interviewed.
For each person identify:
– The group or trade they might be a member of.
– Their age....?
– Their family situation....?
– Their level of education....?
– What their view of the strike might be....?
– Why would they hold this view.....? (See above)
– How might the strike have effected them...?
– What roles/actions they might have taken in the strike...?
– Why might they have done this......?
– How significant might they see the strike in their personal lives or for the
Eliminate the weakest candidate(s) .... KEEP THREE!!!!