The Day British Seamen Said "No!" - A history of the Amalric Revolt

This is an account of the strike of British ships’ crews in New 
Zealand during October and November 1975. “Strike of ships’ 
crews” is a correct description of what occurred. In no way 
was it a strike of the National Union of Seamen; indeed the 
NUS, or more exactly its paid officials, its bureaucracy, did 
their damnedest to dismember and smash the strike.

Foreword

This is an account of the strike of British ships’ crews in New 
Zealand during October and November 1975. “Strike of ships’ 
crews” is a correct description of what occurred. In no way 
was it a strike of the National Union of Seamen; indeed the 
NUS, or more exactly its paid officials, its bureaucracy, did 
their damnedest to dismember and smash the strike as is demon-
started beyond argument by the photostats, newspaper cuttings 
etc used in the following material.

   Considerable care and scrupulous  honesty have been employed 
in the collection and preparation of documents, statements etc 
which follow, but let no one be under any illusion that the 
blokes uninvolved in bringing out this publication were, or are, 
disinterested or involved. This document is a tendentious 
document; it is partisan in favour of the ship’s crews; it is 
partisan in favour working-class rights, demands, privileges 
and traditions.

  Equally firmly this publication's biassed against scabbery, 
picket-breaking and any other form of strike-breaking or anti-
working class activity, and this most certainly does not ex-
clude the behaviour of some highly paid union officials who-
ever they may be.  Let union officials along with all others 
be judged and weighed in the balance of working-class honour 
and tradition, to be seen as of value or as of clay...

Note: It would be incorrect to condemn all the union offic-
ails who were called upon to show their true colours during 
these events.  A small minority did not break faith with the 
strikers and particular mention should be made of the energetic 
and honourable conduct of D. Clarke and especially J. O’Neill 
of the Auckland staff of the Seamen’s Union.

  This then, is what occurred, a story of ships’ crews banding 
together in free and democratic discussion, of ships’ crews 
taking action in defence of their own interests and conditions 
which is what real trade unionism is all about.  This was con-
frontation with the enemy class of shipowners and their agents,  
agents both overt and covert; it was a brave struggle, a prin-
cipled struggle and to a considerable degree a successful 
struggle.

  In the following pages you will see how the shipowners met 
this working class challenge, whom they used to do their 
dirty work, and how these people went about their strike-
breaking activity.  Names are named and why not indeed?  It is 
surely high time for us to look clearly and coldly at the 
realities confronting us.

  Self-delusion is a luxury today’s workers cannot afford.  You 
will for instance, read how one, the so-called “chocolate 
soldier”, a paid official of the Auckland Waterside Workers’ 
Union, was seen taking surreptitious photos of men dishing out 
leaflets supporting the strikers.  Such photos could be of no 
conceivable use except to either the shipowners to facilitate 
 identification and future victimisation of a trade union mil-
itant or alternately to the S.I.S. (secret police) or similar 
organs of repression.  This particular incident is an entirely 
typical and a most graphic indication of the moral degradation 
some people sank to under the pressure of this dispute.

  In concluding this foreword the writer wishes to salute in 
particular the men of the Amalric itself about which this 
struggle was centred.  The Amalric spirit of ferules stubble 
is certainly a bright and true beacon for the course ahead. 
The crew of this ship were in every way ordinary, every day 
men yet they proved themselves quite able to withstand soft 
soap and blandishments of all kinds.  They recognised and 
rejected the evils of racism and entirely succeeded in 
forging firm friendship and common cause between engine, 
deck and steward departments.  They did not flinch when 
under all manner of threats of burn-downs, loggings, sackings 
or expulsions.  They were implacable in their demand that 
the traditional right of men in industrial dispute to impose 
a picket line be observed and respected.  They were not 
daunted by lies and misrepresentations.

  And, perhaps even more importantly, they didn’t wilt when 
subjected to pointless 'meetings' chaired or demanded by 
union officials, the main, indeed the only purpose of 
such meetings being either to split their unity, or if this
failed, to drain them of nervous energy and rob them of the 
will to win.

  Let the shipowners look at the Amalric strike and let them 
feel the chill of defeats yet to come.

  And let British seamen, all seamen everywhere, take heart 
and be of good cheer.

  WE ARE INDOMITABLE!

Auckland April 4, 1976.

Dedicated to the officials of the NUS with 
acknowledgments to Lewis Carroll.

Speak harshly to your
  sailor boy,
Browbeat him when he
     sneezes,
For he can thoroughly
       enjoy
The squalor - if he
    pleases.

The Struggle Begins

On Friday October 17 1975, the crew of the SS Amalric 
erected a picket line on the gangway in support of their strike 
demands for increased safety at sea, a more realistic approach to 
wages, and a general up-grading of conditions on board. 
Two Waterside Workers Union officials approached the fourteen 
seamen including four Somali engine-room hands and offered to aid 
in negotiations on condition that the picket line be removed. 
While politely thanking the officials and welcoming any moral 
support or practical assistance, it was explained that it had been 
unanimously decided by the crew members involved that the picket 
line was to remain until full satisfaction had been achieved. A 
more detailed list of demands were shown to these officials that 
included, apart from the safety and wages issues, a number of items 
calculated to lift the sub-standard conditions that existed.
1. Cabins: Chairs, bunk curtains and carpets to
   be installed.
2. Suitable matting to be fitted in alleyways.
3. Radios: One for each messroom.
4. Washing machines: Two agitator type and two 
   spin-driers for each bathroom.
5. Toasters: Two large, one for each messroom.
6. Frypans electric: One for each messroom.

As one local working-cass paper reported: “for too long 
have these men endured atrocious conditions on their ship, which 
was virtually run by slave labour, the crews wages before the dis-
pute were $70 NZ gross per even day week and on this they were 
expected to support themselves and their families back home
.”

A statement was drafted, printed and distributed by the 
crew.  While not listing all demands it clearly set out the two 
major points.

Statement from the Crew 19/10/75

The crew of this ship are on strike for the following conditions: 

1. In the interests of safety at sea we demand the reintroduction of
watch-keeping at sea of 2 AB's in each watch.
This demand has been made necessary because the company has re-
duced the number of seamen to the barest minimum which obviously 
mean’s unsafe practices aboard this ship. (We don’t want another
“Captain Bougainville”).

2. Because this ship trades virtually entirely between the NZ coast and
the West Indies, it is necessary that our wages and conditions become
realistic with those of NZ seamen. This is our second demand.
To force the company to recognise the justice of our demands we 
have placed a worker’s picket line on this ship and we call upon 
bona fide trade unionists to recognise and respect this picket line.

Because we know how viciously British shipowners have acted 
against striking seamen in the past, we know full well we can ex-
pect reprisals and victimisation. We also know that the owners will 
do all they can to remove our picket line.
But we are determined to win, and feel entitled to ask for the 
understanding and support from all honest working-class people.
        As a result of this leaflet, sections of the public and the 
trade union movement became aware of the seriousness of the situat-
ion.

1. Are you aware that when you buy a ticket to travel Shaw Savill 
   you are doing business with a shipping company that is guilty 
   of operating at least one large ship, Amalric, on the high seas 
   and on the NZ coast with an unmanned navigation bridge. 

2. This the company that is so obsessed with the drive for pro-
   fits that it not only imposes poor wages and poverty on its 
   seamen, but also economises on man-power by placing only one man
   on bridge watch at night.  When this one man needs to check a  
   chart, call the cook or maybe investigate some noise, or perhaps
   even go to the toilet, the ship is travelling blindly through 
   the darkness. It becomes a floating bomb inviting disaster.

3. Shaw Savill are the people who are inviting New Zealanders to
   travel with them this summer on a 'happy holiday' cruise. 'Shaw
Savill
' is the company that is heavily involved with the tax-
   payers’ money, in the establishment of the so called NZ
   national line.

4. Think very carefully before you travel with Shaw Savill.
Would you sleep easily if you knew your son or daughter or other
loved one were in a ship at sea travelling blind?

5. In view of the normal perils of the sea-danger of fire etc, is
   this not a quite monstrous extra hazard to impose on Shaw
Savill ships’ crews? And also, is it not obvious that a large
   ship charging through the darkness with no one on look-out duty
   is a grave menace to the other craft, fishing vessels etc.?

6. Quite plainly, if the statements made in this document are true,
   and they are true and can be easily verified, then the present
   strike of the crew of the Amalric is not only entirely justified
   but is performing a valuable service by bringing this state of
   affairs out in the open.

Issued by:-
       NZ CITIZENS PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE

Full support from fellow Trade Unionists
Also, many telegrams of support were arriving:-

    “Boilermakers' Union pledges support and wish you
     success in your struggle.”

    “Full support for your just struggle. Local workers 
     right behind you.” (Three private citizens signatures.)

    “We fully support you in your just cause. All the best.”
       (Six signatures.)

    “Full support for your very just claims. Delegates
     and crew ‘MV Union South Pacific’.”

    “We the (A) crew on board the ‘Erne’ support the Amalric
     in their struggle for better conditions. “ Delegates
     (A) crew Erne.

    “We the workers, carpenters, labourers, engineers,
     Human Sciences block, Auckland University, support
     the crew in their struggle for better conditions etc
     and as trade unionists we respect and recognise your
     picket line. Yours fraternally, Job Committee,
     Hawkins Construction.”

                   "MV Union Auckland
    “We the crew of the above vessel give our full support to
     justified actions taken by the British seamen aboard the
     Amalric in their struggle against unsafe practices.

It is necessary at this point to add  that disciplinary 
action was threatened by Wharfie Officialdom against rank & filers 
who collected money on behalf of the striking seamen.

Auckland Seamen Pledge Support

On Monday 20th October, a meeting of Auckland seamen 
unanimously pledged support and furthermore guaranteed to under-
write the picket line if necessary.

Also on the morning of Monday October 20, the Master of the 
Amalric approached the members of the picket line at the gangway. 
He addressed them as follows :-

       “I have been informed that Shaw Savill is going to 
        throw the book at you. You will be sacked at two
o’clock this afternoon. If you continue to remain
within the vicinity of the ship you will be removed
by the police. You will then be deported back to
the United Kingdom and none of you will sail under
the British flag again.”

It became quite apparent that Shaw Savill had no intention 
of negotiating a settlement. Instead, coercion, threats and stand-
over tactics were the order of the day with the company confident 
in the knowledge it could rely on state forces (police) to do the 
dirty work for them.

Let it be made quite clear here that it was the local sea-
men’s stop-work (held later in the morning of the 20th) that forced 
the company to ditch their plans to sack and deport the crew. The 
British Union was told by phone that it would be unwise to fly out 
a replacement crew.

Meanwhile there was much activity behind the scenes. A tele-
gram was received from Mr Roger Wilkins, official of the National 
Union of Seamen
, requesting details of complaints and offering to 
meet the Amalric crew in the West Indies to discuss their problems. 
The absurdity of complying with such a suggestion is obvious to 
anyone familiar with the practices of monopoly shipping companies 
and the NUS.
To withdraw their picket and sail would be tantamount to admitting 
that bona fide claims did to exist. One can imagine the reception 
that would greet the crew in Trinidad. Unable to muster local 
(West Indies) support of rank and file trade  unionists, mass sack-
ing of the so called malcontents plus victimisation on arrival back 
in London, would surely have taken place. Quite corrupt, the 
telegram was unhesitatingly rejected.

Meetings were held aboard a number of British ships in  
Auckland where Amalric delegates gave detailed explanations of the 
facts leading to the dispute. Telephone calls and telegrams were 
also dispatched to British ships berthed in other New Zealand 
ports. In acknowledgement of the truth, British seamen on the New 
Zealand, and in two reported instances on the Australian coast, 
rallied behind the Amalric.

 Many more telegrams and statements pledging assistance 
and support rolled in.

Solidarity Pledge

We, the undersigned, confirm in this document our solid-
arity with the members of the N.U.S. of the Amalric in their 
dispute. We voluntarily agreed to withdraw our labour until this 
dispute is resolved to their satisfaction.”
                  (Twenty-five signatures A crew 'Fremantle Star
Unreadable text in brackets here)
                    
“We, the undersigned, being N.U.S. members do hereby 
show our solidarity in this dispute, but work as normal and 
continue picket.” (Thirty-one signatures ‘Port Auckland
       appended)

Telegram:- “Meeting today withdrawing labour. Picketing ship 
tomorrow. Keep in touch. Behind you all the way.” signed 
Strike Committee Auckland Star - Christchurch.

Telegram:- “Iberic crew stop-work one hundred percent 
today,” Signed: Strike Committee Iberic

Telegram:- Two members Auckland Star strike committee 
arriving 4.30pm request meeting all ships 7pm. Have all Brit-
ish ships South Island organised including Manapouri one hun-
dred per cent.” Signed: The Strike Committee.

Telegram:- “hope you achieve your aims, sorry could 
not gel anymore. We tried. Good luck. Signed: The five sup-
porters Megantic

 (Megantic was one ship that could not 
unanimously agree on supporting the Amalric. However, at a 
later date work did stop.)

“The crew of this ship all being members of the N.U.S. 
pledge their support to the crew of the Amalric by picketing 
the Wild Auk and only working essential duties.”
       (Thirteen signatures, Crew Wild Auk)

Clearly, British Seamen, having availed and armed them-
selves with the truth, were in no mood to be fobbed off by 
pathetic statements from some Auckland union officials; state-
ments that in effect exposed them as being no more than the 
lackeys and spokesmen for the shipping companies. No amount of 
importuning, coercion or exhortations were going to sway the 
seamen.

  Enter NUS Officials

The Shaw Savill Shipping Company, realising that the 
united and determined strength of the British seamen could not 
be broken without complete capitulation by themselves, was 
then forced to play another card. This was to import from 
Britain, Mr Roger Wilkins, assistant secretary of the British 
NUS to “clean up” the dispute.

It is interesting - indeed extremely revealing - to 
note that the air fare and accomodation expenses of My Wilkins 
were paid by Shaw Savill, the striking crew’s employer.

The first indication of the expected arrival of Mr 
Wilkins was a telegram received by the Amalric delegates that 
gave a flight number, date and landing time.

This prompted a decision by the crew to have a small 
delegation meet him at the airport and provide him with trans-
port to his city hotel. Also it would provide an opportunity 
to briefly advise him of the realities of the situation.

Unfortunately, this correct and respectful procedure 
was prevented by the arrival of a second telegram cancelling 
the first. It also suggested that future arrival arrangements 
would be made available to the delegates. The third telegram 
did not eventuate. Instead, Mr Wilkins arrived, met repre-
sentatives of several Auckland Waterfront Union Executives 
and had talks with Shaw Savill management before even con-
tacting the striking crews. Hardly the actions of a trade union 
official honour-bound by long-standing trade union principles
 to first and foremost represent the interests of the men.  
   
On October 22, Mr Wilkins finally met the striking seamen 
aboard the Amalric.  Perhaps one or two excerpts from the crew’s 
diary of that meeting will illustrate the role that Mr Wilkins 
intended to play.
   QUOTE : “At all times we (the crew) found Mr Wilkins negative 
   and obstructive.  His opening of the discussion was on the 
   basis of what we would not get rather than what we could 
   achieve.

   WILKINS : “I am not prepared to approach Shaw Savill on the 
   wage parity issue.
” ... “I consider your actions irresponsible.

   No agreements were reached at this meeting and a further dis-
cussion was set down for the following morning.

   It became clear that earlier statements by Hewitt and Clare 
of the Auckland Waterside Workers’ Union, proclaiming that they 
had settled all points in the dispute other than the wage parity 
issue, were the distortion of the truth.

   The subsequent meeting on October 23 was no more successful 
than the first.  Held in the morning and continuing till lunch 
time with nothing been gained, Wilkins was asked to adjourn till 
1 o’clock.  He appeared to be hesitant to do this and only the 
delegates’  insistence persuaded Wilkins to agree to a later re-
summation of the meeting. (Hardly an attitude by the crew as 
described by Hewitt in the Auckland Star on 25th October - “They’re 
on a losing course if they won’t even talk to their own represent-
ative.”

   Incredible at it may seem, Wilkins did not return for that 
afternoon session.  Nor does it appear that he had any intention 
of doing so.

   Information came to hand shortly after noon that the Executives 
of the Combined Waterfront Organisations were meeting at 2pm and 
Wilkins was to address them.  This knowledge naturally incensed 
the crew’s feelings and, fortuitously sighting Wilkins on the 
near-by wharf-side they, along with delegates and crew members 
from other British ships who had gathered aboard the Amalric 
during the lunch break to bring themselves up to date with pro-
ceedings, approached him to confirm the situation.  After several 
minutes of ducking and diving he concurred that he would in fact 
be unable to attend that afternoon.  Understandably feelings ran 
high.  Heated exchanges followed and Wilkins was given the first 
vote of “no confidence”.  As one seaman put it: “For all the good 
you’re going to be to us you may as well pack your bags and return 
home.
”  Wilkins then stormed off saying he would contact them later.

   Later it was - much later - considering the sensitive nature 
of the situation that existed at that stage.  It was apparent 
that it was nothing less than a well-worn tactical manoeuvre 
designed to isolate the Amalric crew from the rest of their 
supporting comrades, that Wilkins was employing.  On the evening 
of October 24th, Wilkins, accompanied by Auckland Waterside 
Workers Executive
members boarded a number of the British ships 
involved in the dispute and attempted to talk the crews into 
accepting his unquestioned authority.  But the seamen, understand-
ing the situation clearly and the recent actions of Wilkins still 
very vivid in their minds, totally rejected his overtures along 
with numerous votes of “no confidence”.   It was obvious that this 
line was not going to work.  The next morning another meeting of 
the CWO was held.  It called on all British seamen to accept 
authority of their union offical otherwise they ...   “would not 
recognise the current dispute”.  An unholy anti-working-class 
alliance was being forged.  At this point the Amalric crew felt 
it necessary to make a press statement :

   “We, the striking crew of true Amalric would like to take
   this opportunity to thank all the honest trade unionists
   who have given us such heartening support, particularly
   the seamen who have rallied to our cause, contrary to news-
   paper reports that the NZ Seamen’s Union has disowned us.

   We would like to know why the "safety at Sea” factors of this
   dispute have not been brought to the public’s attention.

   The company has so far made no meaningful offer although
   we are certainly only too willing to meet on any sensible
   common ground at any time.  We know our call is just and
   honourable.  We will continue to stand firm and reiterate
   our call for support.

   We would also like to state that a meeting of the five
   supporting British Ships have registered  an overwhelming
   vote of no-confidence in Mr Roger Wilkins.” 

   This statement was made available to Press, Radio, and T.V.,
   yet nowhere did it appear in toto.

   Confronted with this total rejection of coercion and stand-
over tactics,  Wilkins and the unholy alliance were on 
the horns of a very serious dilemma.  Not even threats that the 
Somali engine-room ratings would have difficulty in re-entering 
Britain (where their fails were domiciled) had any effect on 
the unity and determination to win this just struggle.

   A new round of negotiations was agreed to between the Amalric 
delegates, Wilkins, and Company representative, Mr Clapp.

   The attitude of Wilkins and company representatives at the 
first of the new round of meetings had undergone a decided 
change. Recognising that the picket lines were there to stay 
until the British Seamen were fully satisfied , many of the 
lesser demands were met. However, major points were still 
subject to a stubborn refusal by Shaw Savill to consider them. 
No real progress was attained at that meeting or the many more 
to follow.

     Arrival of McCluskie

   To aid and abet Wilkin and co. in their primary concern, 
that of breaking an “unofficial” picket line, National Secretary 
of the NUS, Mr McCluskie, arrived in Auckland to take part 
in negotiations. This did appear to speed things up a bit, but 
it must be remembered that many more trade unionists on and 
around the waterfront were sifting through the lies and the 
deceit not only of the press media, but also the double dealings 
of some of their own trade union bureaucrats; this understanding 
that some basic trade union principles were being arrogantly 
cast aside, led them to throw their open support behind the 
strikers.  On one occasion, when the Amalric’s galley was ordered 
to close down, offers from numerous groups and individuals to 
set up a catering service were immediately forthcoming. A New
Zealand Seamen’s Union Support Committee
 was formed, raising
incredible amounts of finance all of which was used to help cover
the costly expenses that a protracted struggle of this nature 
always demands.  It was this tremendous pledge of practical and 
financial assistance by rank and file unionists that gave rise
 to some of the initial breakthroughs. The Combined Water-
 front Organisation
was forced to officially give an assurance 
 that there would be no attempt to work the ship until the 
 dispute was satisfactorily settled.

       On Novermber first, Mr S. McCluskie issued the 
following statement:  “The National Union of Seamen gives 
a firm and clear understanding that all members and other 
persons serving in vessels involved in the Amalric dispute 
shall not be victimised in any way whatsoever”. (signed)
  S. McCluskie.

CWO  Statement

  “This CWO gives the assurance to the 
   Representatives of the NUS that unless 
   all complaints as listed are fulfilled then
   this committee of the CWO will in no way
   give any assurance to the Shaw Savill Albion
   Company
in facilitating the sailing of this
   vessel and furthermore will use our organs-
   ation to stop such sailing.”

   This was signed by the representatives of the
   following: Auckland Waterside Workers Union,
   Auckland Harbour Board Employees’ Union,
   Foremen and Timekeepers’ Union, Northern
   Districts Tally Clerks’ Union, Storemen
and
   Packers’ Union, Northern Drivers’ Union,
   N.Z. Seamen’s Union.

       As later pages of this document will reveal these 
pledges were not worth the paper they were written on with 
certain union officials abrogating and consciously sabotag-
ing these agreements.

       Confronted with this formidable and growing rank and 
file strength SSA Company agreed to many of the other 
demands but it was only after seemingly interminable 
meetings that a full victory appeared to have been won.
   
       Because the length of the dispute was primarily the 
fault of the SSA Co. to enter into meaningful negotiations 
it was demanded that a $9.00 a day allowance be paid not only 
to the Amalric crew but also to those delegates from other 
British ships involved in the day-to-day meetings and 
negotiations.  This was finally agreed to by the company 
and it was decided to lift the picket line to allow loading 
to commence and shore-side labour to start refurbishing the 
ship. It appeared to be the end of a gallant and just 
struggle.

                    Company Tactics

       However, it was not to be. There is no limit to the 
low and disgusting tactics to which shipping monopolies and 
trade union big shots are prepared to descend.  A spokesman 
for the company publicly proclaimed that the nine dollars 
a day allowance had been made to all except the crew of the 
Amalric.  Rather than paying the men and acknowledging 
unofficial action, SSA held that it would show it’s good 
faith by paying the $585 cheque to a charity (traditionally 
the Captains and Officers’ Guild).  An inflammatory statement 
such as the above was no spur-of-the-moment decision.  It was 
calculated deliberately to antagonise the crew.  Yet shipping 
monopolies are not stupid.  This determination to open up 
round three and further confrontation was obviously the 
result of much profound discussion at head office and good-
ness knows where else.  The company and it’s agents were 
about to play what they considered their trump card. 

Four of the British seamen aboard the Amalric had signed 
on in NZ.  They had previously shipped out of Britain and 
in fact were British -born, holding British passports and 
NUS union books

   This custom of British Seamen signing on outside a British 
port is no way unusual and is common practice.  British NUS 
regulations clearly set out the procedure to be followed on 
such occasions.   Union fees are to be deducted by the Master 
of the vessel at the rate of 40p per week.  As the four seamen 
involved had only plied between the West Indies and the NZ 
coast this opportunity to pay their re-entry fee had not been 
afforded them, but it is a clear and incontrovertible fact that 
the weekly union deductions were made and are shown as such on 
their pay off sheets, as was attested to by a NZ press corres-
pendent who admitted in print to viewing receipts for union fee 
payments.  The fact that the $15 had not as yet been paid was to 
be seen by Shipping Co NUS officials and some NZ trade union 
misleaders as some sort of ultimate weapon that could be used to 
split the unity of British Seamen.  As expected on hearing of the 
refusal by SSA to pay monies justly owing and agreed to, the 
Amalric crew re-erected the picket line on Saturday, November 8. 
Waterside loading gangs employed to work the 
ship gathered on the wharfside patiently giving the seamen 
on the picket line a good hearing as they explained the reasons 
for the new flare-up.

                     Union Heavies Crash Picket

   Then down the wharf strode the “heavies” of trade union bureau-
cracy - Clare, Hewitt and Leckie, along with NUS official 
McCluskie - with undue and indecent haste without even approaching 
the seamen, these betrayers of working-class unity ordered the 
wharfies to cross the picket line and commence loading.  What 
an expose of so-called union leaders! Their complete rejection 
of the traditional inviolability of a picket line condemns them 
for evermore. All their exhortations, insistence and demands 
could not budge the rank and file workers. Frustrated at their 
attempts to be great 'Generals' they even descended to hurling 
seamens’ placards into the sea and forcing their way up the gang 
plank calling for the wharfies to follow.

   It  was not to be. At that precise moment, the generals 
sold their souls and their class! And the rank and filers became 
their own leaders and rightfully respected the picket line. A 
further meeting on the following Monday on Captain Cook Wharf of 
Auckland
, Watersiders reaffirmed their decision not to break the 
picket line at the gang plank, so loading was not resumed. On 
Sunday, November 9, the Auckland manager for Shaw Savill, Mr 
J C Clapp, spent most of the day talking over the problem with 
Wilkins and McCluskie.  The exact nature of those talks was 
never revealed. However, on the Monday morning the company
sacked four seamen, claiming that they were not bonafide
members of the NUS.

   At this point it is most pertinent to recall that from the 
first arrival of NUS officials, recognition that the strike 
was justified was publicly declared by them. Of course the
NUS had little option but to give official sanction to a strike 
over issues so just. Yet at this stage the NUS deliberately 
used it’s authority to make use of any weak links in order to 
create a serious split in the hitherto solid ranks.  The bosun 
and others were spirited away to a suburban hotel.   The only 
one of the four Somali engine-room hands fluent in English was 
taken in the middle of the night and placed aboard an out-
going  aeroplane under threat of deportation. Police were 
stationed on the gang-way and plain clothes CID  men were on 
board.  The Shipping company and NUS officials had called 
upon State forces to aid them in smashing British Seamen who 
had the 'audacity' to challenge that which monopolies consider 
sacrosanct - the right to viciously exploit anyone and anything
in the name of profit. That the unholy alliance was now openly
in collusion, is born out by the following quotations:

          Auckland Star November 10:  “Today NUS officials 
          withdrew all it’s members from the Amalric until 
          such time as the non-union labour employed on 
          the Amalric is dismissed.”

          Auckland Star 11 November: “NUS has washed it’s
          hands of the four crew members.”

       It must be noted here that when the sackings took place 
on the grounds that the men were not bonafide union members 
and the technical breach of procedure was explained, an 
immediate offer was made by the seamen to pay the $15.  This 
was adamantly turned down by McCluskie and Wilkins. So much 
for their declaration of no victimisation. On Tuesday 
November 11, the following leaflet was distributed by the 
NZ Seamen’s Support Committee.

      New Zealand Seamen's Union Support Committee

       “After the crew of the Amalric had been on strike for 
two weeks Shaw Savill admitted that the vessel was both sub-
standard and unsafe at sea because of no look-outs at night,
thereby contravening the British maritime agreements and other 
safety at sea regulations.

       “Yet in spite of admission of gross malpractice the 
shipowners were sufficiently arrogant to try to save face by 
refusing to pay wages to the crew for time spent in rectifying 
the shipowners fault.

       “i.e. Shaw Savill wants to save face not only at the 
expense of the aggrieved sailors and firemen but also at the 
expense of other maritime workers, exporters and the entire 
New Zealand economy?

       “It is Shaw Savill that is imposing this present 
dispute on all those involved.

       “Furthermore, in their frantic attempts to smash and 
defeat those most gallant workers they are using all the most 
morally bankrupt union heads and others such as those who are 
already condemned as picket breakers and strike breakers.

        “They are using a great conspiracy of lies and slanders 
such as ‘The strikers are not Union members’. No words in this 
document could properly describe perfidy such as this.

       “Racially based threats against Somali down-below 
ratings (who have now been spirited away), police (uniformed 
and plain clothes) on the wharf etc...

       “The next move will almost certainly be the arrival of 
a National Union of Seaman (UK) approved scab crew./i]

       “The brave [i]Amalric strike has brought a new clean wind 
of change to the Auckland waterfront. 

     “Railwaymen, Watersiders, AHB men, seamen and others 
stand firm against strike breaking - defend the right of free men
to organise and defend their rights
”. 

       It was during the hand-out of these leaflets that the 
'chocolate soldier' was observed surreptitiously taking 
photographs of individuals engaged in it’s distribution.

       Although it appeared that the S.S.A. Co., had gained 
the upper hand there was evidence that the Amalric seamen 
were still winning increased sympathy among the rank and filers.

       As a result of the latest furore the Combined Water-
Front Organisation had to agree to send a representative to 
London to plead the case of the four seamen.  Mr. EM 
Delaney, Chairman of the CWO was appointed this task. 
Meantime the Amalric was to stay alongside. 

      On November 22 Mr. Delaney arrived back in Auckland and 
reported the outcome of his London talks to a full CWO 
meeting.   Under no circumstances would the British National 
Union of Seamen reinstate the four seamen.  However, they had 
“hammered out a compromise with the SSA  A $680 “redundancy” 
compensation would be paid to each of the seamen.  After a 
lengthy meeting the four former crewmen approved the compromise. 
At 1.35pm, three quarters of an hour after the CWO meeting 
and five weeks after the beginning of the dispute the Amalric 
cast off.

                         Appendix

       With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to 
review some of the strength and weaknesses that emerged from 
the clash of contending forces.

Amalric’ strikers strong points:-

(1)  Determination to jealously defend their personal power of 
     direct negotiation with Shaw Savill, thereby frustrating 
     any ‘toaster and fridge’ settlement. 

(2)  Maintenance of morale by keeping quarters clean, and 
     prohibiting alcohol on board for the duration of the strike. 

(3)  Religious and imaginative manning of the picket line at the 
     gangway, and accurate and descriptive statements by 
     leaflets, press, and T.V. etc.

(4)  Tolerant behaviour towards those elements of the Amalric's 
     crew who refused to take action in defence of NSU 
     ‘Professed’ policy.

(5)  Courage to refuse to accept that well worn excuse for 
     misery in British ships overseas, that ‘nothing can be 
     done till we get back to the UK

        It must be said that the above qualities were warmly 
approved of by many NZ waterfront workers, many of whom have 
personal memories of ‘the old days’, and excited curiosity as 
to how the ‘new’ NUS would react.  Which brings us to the 
negative features which resulted in considerable resentment at 
the open demonstration of traditional NUS intimidation and 
slander.

(1)  The inability of NUS members in other ships to stand up 
     to threats from Wilkins and McCluskie, and telegrams from 
     Slater.

(2)  The eventual success of sowing fears in other NUS
     members minds, that NZ seamen were hoping to capture 
     their jobs.

(3)  The slanderous attacks on the bona-fides of four NZ 
     domiciled but UK discharge-book holding sailors, who 
     were involved and who had been in the ship and paying 
     union dues for months, as has been the case in UK 
     ships which seldom return to the UK.  Does the NUS 
     deny that vacancies in Port Line, Blue Star and 
     NZS Co. ships, have been called and filled in Auckland 
     at the Shipping Office for years, (Turakina etc) without 
     any ex member of the NUS being required to pay the 
     $15 rejoining fee, until a union rep. comes aboard?

        Undeniably, this device to isolate and punish the strike 
leadership, (real or imagined) met with complete approval and 
co-operation from Shaw Savill, who up to this point did not win 
a round in this struggle.  In conclusion, let it be clear that a 
new spirit of rebellion against oppression is at large in the 
world of seafarers. Those who oppose it are already scraping 
the bottom of the barrel.

                   **********************

        In view of the strengths and weaknesses of the British 
seamen and allies in current struggles, (particularly the 
Ocean Monarch in Sydney and subsequently the Illyric in New 
Plymouth) to sheet home and win their justified struggles 
against ship owners, NUS and scabbery. We the class 
conscious NZ maritime workers stand ready to play our part 
in future struggles, which must develop.  To this end we call 
for financial assistance from all fellow workers supporting 
this pamphlet, and more particularly information and construct-
ive correspondence.

                     Job Struggle
 
  The valiant stand by a small group of British seamen 
showed how action from below, action at the grass roots on 
the job, can make useful and important gains for the workers.  
It is the workers on the job who are the prime mover in any 
struggle concerning wages and conditions. Why does the array 
of politicians, profiteers, the press media and all their 
agents and toadies gang up against the workers involved in 
unofficial or so-called “wildcat strikes”?  Every strike not 
only poses a serious threat to the direct employers concerned, 
to their profits, but conjures up the spectre of a revolution-
ary movement of the workers which will overthrow the rule of 
the master for good and all and replace that rule by that of 
the workers - a workers’ state.  The growing unity and solidar-
ity of the workers built from below and by-passing the union 
machine is what is most feared by the employing class.

  Undoubtedly the valiant fight of the Amalric seamen has helped 
a lot to expose one of the most rapacious and powerful imperial-
ist monopolies, part of the Conference line whose freight 
robbery exacts an ever-rising toll on the New Zealand working 
people.

  Despite all attempts to crush them - threats, abuse, 
restrainsts, red herrings and deceptions - the workers will con- 
tinue to engage in class struggle.  For the interests and aims 
of the workers and the capitalist bosses are diametrically 
opposed and irreconcilable.  The capitalists seek to maximise 
their profits by sweating the workers; the workers seek to 
protect their living standards, wages and conditions.  At 
present the capitalist class is plunged into a deep-going 
crisis and is intensifying its attacks to off-load this crisis 
on to the backs of the workers.  Its chief method at present 
is to slash real wages by bumping up prices (AKA 'inflation'). 
It uses unemployment and threats of unemployment, labour laws 
and anti-union propaganda, e.g. 'irresponsible unionism', as 
weapons to attack and discipline the workers. 

  Why were British Seamen’s Union officials flown out to New 
Zealand (at the company’s expense)?  The history of the Amal-
ric dispute
makes it abundantly clear that they did not come 
here to strengthen the just struggle of the workers; they came 
to “settle” the dispute; which meant to get the workers back to 
work with the least loss to the employer. Obviously they 
were doing a job for the bosses, acting essentially as their 
agents.  Why otherwise would the company pay their fares? And 
this, indeed, is the role of some union leaders (as the daily 
press openly states) throughout the whole trade union move-
ment today - in the interests of the capitalist class to keep 
a tight rein on rank and file action and struggle, to control 
their members rather than lead and educate them.

  Workers rarely take direct action unless conditions have 
become intolerable and they have exhausted all normal methods 
of negotiation and officially 'accepted industrial procedures.' 

  The careerists and opportunists in the trade unions naturally 
raise the bogey of an alleged threat to the interests of other 
unions and other industries when any section of the workers 
embark on the course of direct united action in defence of their 
wages and conditions.  But general and long term interests 
should take priority over temporary ones.  Whatever is gained 
by one section of the working class is bound to affect, like 
ripples, all others and react to the general advantage of the 
workers as a whole.  Undoubtedly the heroic stand of the 
Amalric seamen will rebound to the benefit of seamen
everywhere. The revolt by a small group of British seamen 
showed how action from below, action at the grass roots on 
the job, can make useful and important gains for the workers.  
It is the workers on the job who are the prime mover in any 
struggle concerning wages and conditions.  

   Early in the course of the struggle of the Amalric seamen 
it soon became apparent who were their friends and supporters 
and who were their enemies. Ranged on one side were the ship-
ping company and its branch representatives, the ship’s master 
and certain union officials (including the 'revisionists'). 
On the other were the workers in the waterside union and NZ 
seamen.  The utmost pressure from the rank and file was 
necessary to compel executive union leaders to do  their work-
ing class duty to back the Amalric seamen, and in one case,
waterside workers, as has been related, defied official dir-
ection to break the seamen’s picket line and walk up the gang-
plank to work the ship. With regard to this incident, it would 
be difficult to imagine a more heinous crime in the annals of 
trade union history and struggle than this attempt to smash 
a fellow workers’ picket.

   All honour and respect must be accredited to the rank and
file workers who upheld the banner of unity and the common 
interests of the workers by supporting the Amalric seamen in 
their struggle.  But despicable & unforgettable were the 
actions of union officials who tried to smash this struggle, 
employing all manner of tricks and threats. Typical of the 
dirt was the charge of 'Maoist' influence, a charge which was,
of course, immediately headlined in the monopolist press. 
What need is there for the monopolies through their press 
to make direct red-baiting attacks themselves when their 
fifth column agents in the union can perform this service 
for them? All they need to do is to quote the statement, 
though naturally enough their political bias is obvious from 
the emphasis they give to it.

   One union official said that there should have been con-
sultation at the beginning of the dispute. However, in the 
Amalric dispute it was quickly found that some officials 
who should have acted promptly to effect consultation were 
strangely cold and apathetic, if not antagonistic. In some 
industries and in some unions -- the shipping industry and the 
seamen’s unions in particular -- there is often no time to 
wait for orderly consultations. If union officials  were 
really doing their job, they would have taken up the question 
of long-delayed improvements in amenities, conditions and pay, 
long before the situation reached boiling point.

   What has been brought out in this dispute with crystal clarity  
is that no struggle, whatever the merits of the case, will be 
accorded endorsement and support unless officially approved. 
And what approval can be expected of those union officials who 
follow a policy of 'reasonableness, co-operation & harmony
with the master class? Clearly, Right-wing or 'revisionist' 
officials seek control of disputes so that they can be strang-
led at birth. What approval can be looked for in a union bur-
eaucracy which aims at more effective control of job delegates, 
job committees and job action, thus functioning in effect, 
as state servants by implementing state policy on indust-
rial relations?  None whatsoever.

  Rank and file workers must go their own road and take up 
struggle whenever they see fit. Naturally they will meet 
opposition. But the road of class and job struggle is ines-
capable and inevitable.  All honour and working class respect 
to the Amalric seamen who held aloft the torch of struggle 
for workers’ rights and conditions and thus showed the way 
forward for all workers.

Appendix

           On Saturday morning 8th November 1975 at Captain Cook Wharf in Auckland 
New Zealand, the crews picket line on MV “Amalric” was breached by leading officials 
of the Wharfies Union;  they did their best to lead and order rank and file watersides 
to also break the workers line - they refused.

           This betrayal of working class principles was also against the document 
they themselves, along with other Officials of other Unions had previously signed 
recognising the justice of our cause and pledging support.

           As for the document guaranteeing non-victimisation, we wish to make it public 
that Somali crew members have been told by Wilkins (NUS) that re-entry into the 
UK (where their wives and children live) will be denied them unless they resume 
work immediately.

                                                                                                                                        
                       Combined Waterfront Organisation
                         RE ‘Amalric’ Dispute

          This CWO gives the assurance to the Representatives of the 
          NUS that unless all complaints as listed are fulfilled then 
          this committee of the CWO will in no way give any assistance 
          to the SSA. Company in facilitating the sailing of this 
          vessel and furthermore will use our organisation to stop such 
          sailing.

        AUCKLAND WATERSIDE WORKERS UNION                                            
            
          AUCKLAND HARBOUR BOARD EMPLOYEES UNION

          FOREMEN AND TIMEKEEPERS UNION

          NORTHERN DISTRICTS TALLY CLERKS UNION 

          NORTHERN DRIVERS UNION        

          STOREMEN & PACKERS UNION      

          NZ SEAMENS UNION      

                                    
          Dated 4/11/75

————————————————————————————————————————————

                        The National Union of Seamen gives a firm and
                        clear understanding that all members and other 
                        persons serving in vessels involved in the 
                        Amalric dispute shall not be victimised in
                        any way whatsoever.
                             Signed by McCluskie on 1st November 1975

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bootsy
Aug 28 2017 02:50

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  • All honour and working class respect to the Amalric seamen who held aloft the torch of struggle for workers’ rights and conditions and thus showed the way forward for all workers.

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