A Peoples’ History of Auckland- From the general strike to the ADB summit: 1912-1995

A series of snapshots into radical undercurrents and outbreaks of people power in Auckland, New Zealand.

Submitted by omar on July 23, 2007

A Peoples’ History of Auckland- From the general strike to the ADB summit. 1912-1995
IWW, 1912

In April 1912 Tom Barker, George Hardy and J.B. King formed a branch of the anarcho-syndicalist union the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Auckland. According to historian Fran Shor, “Auckland’s inner city ambience engendered forms of class conflict and solidarity in the public sphere that resounded with the IWW message.” The IWW was famous for its antimilitarism, atheism and revolutionary socialism around the world. Tom Barker a leading agitator and organiser for the IWW in New Zealand wrote of the situation in Auckland in 1912, “the class war is on, the fight is raging, so brothers organise closer into one fighting organisation.” The IWW wanted to use the working-class weapon of the general strike in class war against the bosses. It got its chance in 1913 when a sympathy strike on Auckland’s wharves with a dispute on the wharves in Wellington was near broken up by armed militia called Specials. There were claims that one-fifth of all Auckland specials were King's College Old Boys. This provoked the workers into calling a general strike in the city to protest the armed invasion of the workplace by police. From 8 November 1913 a general strike took place in Auckland and the city was momentarily suspended by the working-class. A strike committee was formed and Barker was asked to take charge.

“He began organising night raids on the specials, panicking them into barbed wire traps or into ambushes where they could be pelted with fistfuls of nuts and bolts taken from local railway workshops. A wood yard turning out batons for the specials was successfully razed. Farmers were threatened with similar arson should they come strike-breaking into town.”

The atmosphere in the city was jubilant,

“There were parades and mass meetings. Strikers assembling at Victoria Park gave a huge cheer to marching waitresses, the cheering, though, as nothing compared to that for the striking newspaper delivery boys. A strike committee handed out groceries from the basement at the Trades Hall and erected a huge marquee out the back where meals were cooked and served.”

However eight days later, the strike ended without a revolution and the workers returned to work.

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace as long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few who make up the employing class, have all the good things in life.”

Preamble to the IWW constitution.

From: “Bringing the Storm: Syndicalist Counterpublics and the Industrial Workers of the World in New Zealand, 1908–14,” by Fran Shor, in On the Left: Essays on Socialism in New Zealand. and, http://unite.org.nz/tom_barker_of_auckland_and_the_world

Auckland Docks, 1951

In 1951 the New Zealand wharf workers union was locked out of ports across the nation for 151 days after what started as a strike for a pay rise. The government used the armed forces to load and unload cargo while police held picket lines of miners at bay. Waikato miners and hydro workers went out in sympathy strikes. During the lockout police closed union halls and harassed the speakers at public meetings. Cops raided union members houses and the union printing machine was hidden in a van that drove up and down Queen Street, distributing leaflets hot off the press.

To feed the locked out workers the entire community pitched in to supply food to families. Boot repairers and barbers offered their services for free to the wharfies. There were violent clashes along Auckland’s waterfront and on Hobson Street as scabbing workers defended by police broke through picket lines with batons and bayonets. On Friday, June 1 1951, police attacked a 1200 strong march resulting in a riot along Queen Street with bottles and fists thrown at cops. After 151 days the strike was called off and workers returned to the wharves having been defeated by government support for the shipping companies.

Bastion Point, 1977-1978

The Orakei headland which stands above Okahu Bay on Auckland’s now gentrified Eastern Suburbs was in 1978 the site of a massive showdown between the Tangata Whenua, Ngati Whatua and the colonial state in annexation mode. In 1977 the National government began to start subdividing land they had confiscated from Ngati Whatua over the last hundred and fifty years. The current subdivision was part of a long process of marginalising and alienating Ngati Whatua from their traditional homeland at Okahu Bay. The state had in 1951 evicted the tribe from their pa and burnt down their houses. However resistance was strong to the subdivision and in 1977 the Orakei Maori Action Group led by Joe Hawke, a Ngati Whatua rangatahi, occupied the land that was to be subdivided. Over 150 protesters set up a sustained occupation with caravans, electricity and a meeting house. Trade unions voted to abstain from working on the subdivision and Pakeha groups added their support financially and logistically. The camp culture that sprung up during the occupation spread the message of Maori autonomy and cultivated cultural rediscovery among the occupiers. After 506 days of occupation 600 cops attacked the point and ended the occupation. In 1984 a march on Waitangi to protest land grievances temporarily reoccupied Bastion Point. The subdivisions never occurred and in later years the Waitangi Tribunal later returned the land to Ngati Whatua, but it took considerable struggle to achieve this.

From: Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Ake Ake Ake by Ranginui Walker

Auckland University Engineering School, 1979

On May 1 1979, 14 activists attacked a posse of white engineering students who were practicing a mock haka that they were going to perform at the engineering graduation festivities. This tradition of white students painting caricatures of Ta Moko on their bodies with lipstick and dressing in grass skirts was over twenty years old and for the last ten years Maori students had tried to stop the performance with no success. The Maori activists attacked a practice session of the denigrating haka; tore the skirts from the students and as Ranginui Walker says, “in less than five minutes of direct action, the gross insult of the haka party was stopped.” After a media frenzy concerning the hiding the students got, eight of the activists were found guilty in the courts and sentenced to periodic detention for their role in challenging a culture of white supremacy on campus.

From: Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Ake Ake Ake by Ranginui Walker

Eden Park, 1981

In 1981, Auckland’s inner-city suburbs were the scene of the huge confrontations between thousands of anti-Apartheid protestors and thousands of militarised police. During the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand, two Rugby test matches were planned for Auckland and the Eden Park where the matches were to be played were to be guarded from Tour protestors by 2200 police and army personnel. Eden Park was fortified with jumbo bins, roadblocks, barbed wire and chicken wire fences. Police imposed a curfew on the local area and conducted house-to-house searches looking for hidden Tour protestors within the fortified area surrounding the stadium. On the day of the first match hundreds of plywood shields, chest protectors, helmets, buoyancy vests and padding were distributed to the over 7000 protestors who turned up to the protest. Marching from Fowlds Park the protestors practiced their quasi-military manoeuvres (running, charging, holding positions, splitting into columns) in the streets on the way to the park. The 7000 split into smaller sections that probed the police lines, scuffling regularly with Riot Police and attempting to break through the barricades. In Kowhai School, Patu Squad comprised of the hardest core of militants, Maori and Pacific Islanders attacked the police line and engaged in hand to hand combat with the heavily armed police. The protests did not end the test but definitely tested the defences of the state.

The second test on September 12 was the site of even more spectacular confrontations. Groups of activists blockaded roads to the park, and locked down the Harbour Bridge and international airport. Approximately 6000 joined the attack on Eden Park launching multiple raids. One used a protestor safe house within the police perimeter as a base to attack the park with flares, fireworks and smoke bombs. An aeroplane made 58 passes over the rugby ground strafing it with flour bombs, one of which hit an All Black prop in the head. Another group of protestors attacked the rugby ground with fireworks and smoke bombs after they had infiltrated the grandstand disguised as rugby fans. These 31 stopped the game for 2 minutes. On the outside street fighting on Sandringham Road between police and protestors escalated suddenly. The police “Red Squad” went out of control, batoning and kicking anyone they could get their hands on. Protestors led by Patu Squad militants rallied and fought back along Marlborough Street with scoria boulders, fences and milk bottles. The melee carried over onto Onslow Road and protestors armed themselves with more rocks and bits of wood and engaged Red Squad again and again, fighting in self-defence and against the state. Hundreds more cops were called in to charge and scatter protestors, who fled smashing a cop car on their retreat.

“A squadman stood in front of a helmeted Polynesian, whirling his baton in a fancy figure of eight pattern, and the kid stood in front of him with a stick of his own. Again and again he went through the policeman’s defence and jabbed him.”
From: By Batons and Barbed Wire by Tom Newnham

Aotea Square, May 1995

“More than 2,000 bankers, business leaders, politicians, lobbyists and journalists crowd into the city for the 28th annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank. For the New Zealand government, it is a chance to show off what they are calling “The Turnaround Economy”. For other New Zealanders the ADB symbolises the selling-off of their homeland, the final betrayal of Aotearoa. A volatile coalition of trade unionists, Maori nationalists, student activists and the unemployed meet together in they city to challenge the power of international capital.”

On Wednesday May 3rd 1995 2000 students protesting neo-liberalism broke through police lines in Aotea Square outside of where the ADB summit was being held. They were only prevented from reaching the summit by a police baton charge.

On Thursday 300 anti-ADB protestors protesting the destruction of social welfare in Aotearoa fight police down the alley between the Post Office and the cinemas. Cops attack protestors mercilessly.

Over the two-days of the summit Maori, NGOs, students, environmentalists, anarchists and unionists conspired to break up the party for neo-liberalism and to protest the world wide imposition of neo-liberal capitalism.
From: “The Search for Political Power in New Zealand”, New Zealand Political Review by Chris Trotter