Actions taken by those involved in the dispute
Initial Actions by Waterfront Workers
The Union regarded the dispute as a lockout by employers but the employers and ship owners viewed the refusal to work as an illegal strike actions. The waterside workers were determined to gain their employment rights and the “correct” 15 percent wage rise. The Wellington Workers Union protested by refusing to work any overtime from 13 February; Barnes hoped that this action would force the port employers to increase their offer. The workers’ determination to achieve their goals had led to the industrial actions. Waterside workers rejected the Government ultimatum calling on the waterside workers to resume normal work including overtime and to place their wage claim before the Waterfront Authority, failing that, the Waterfront Commision issued out on February 19th.On the same day, the waterside companies declared that “if they (waterside workers) were not prepared to work overtime they were not to lift their discs (sign on for work).” The waterside workers who were determined for industrial actions claimed that Government ultimatum was an “open lock-out by the employers” and a “calculated attack” on Trade Unionism and the forty-hour week.
Initial Government response to the Industrial Actions
The Government’s immediate response the strike actions by the Wellington and Taranaki waterside workers was the declaration of a state of emergency on 21st February and the National Government undertook a heavy handed tactics in order to deal with the “situation.” By the end of the month (Februrary), the wharves had reached a complete standstill as cargo piled up. PM Sidney Holland argued that New Zealand's economic and finaincial well-being was under threat.On 22nd February, PM Holland warned that New Zealand was on the brink of industrial warfare, and on 27th February, armed forces were ordered to work the wharves at Auckland and Wellington. The national broadcast that day, Sidney Holland was determined that the National would not give in and to "defeat" the Trade Union Congress.
Subsequently, the National Government introduced strict Draconian emergency regulations. The emergency regulations had allowed the Government the power to exercise:
A Waterfront Strike Notice was issued ordering all watersiders to back to work on Monday, February 26th, and the refusal to do so was a "declared strike" under the regulations. On that Monday, however, meetings of waterside workers in all ports rejected this ultimatum.
Declaration of State of Emergency 1951
We could give in to the strikers - but we won't.
(Coutt and Fitness, Protest in New Zealand)
The media assists with propaganda
During initial stages of the 1951 Waterfront Dispute, Walsh and the FoL who had had allied with the National Government, were responsible for the media assists for propaganda aimed at discouraging socialist, militant union workers in the Trade Union Congress for further industrial actions. He strongly believed that they (FoL) was being "dominated and controlled by the Communist Party." (Coutt and Fitness, Protest in New Zealand) New Zealand Herald cartoonist Gordon Minhinnick reinforced this message through portrayal of the watersiders as "lazy, overweight thugs." (Coutt and Fitness, Protest in New Zealand) Historian James Belich describes that the antagonism and hatred aroused by the FoL and the National Government towards the waterside workers: "Public antagonism to the watersiders was not an artificial construct of the government, though the government shared it, but a strand in modern folk culture... Wharfie jokes were common... An aerial photographer complained that his pirctures of the Wellington waterfront had been ruined when one of the wharfies moved. A wharfie was said to have complained to his foreman that a tortoise had been following him all day." (Coutt and Fitness, Protest in New Zealand)
Key Historical Idea
- The battle line has been drawn between the two "sides" of the industrial dispute and tension between these two sides escalated quickly; the National Government and the striking waterside workers. The radical waterside workers and the wharf companies had failed to reach the common grounds. With the tension for industrial actions, companies did not want to give into the waterside workers while the watersiders refused to work overtime.
- The National Government "kept" their promises they made in their campaign in the 1949 General Elections. The National Government confronted the militant unionist "head-on", and was confident that they would win in a power struggle between the militant unionism. It reflected the National's promise to "extinguish" the revival of communism in New Zealand. Members of the National Government believed that they would surely be able to get the upper hand of the striking workers. The Government aimed at isolating the WWU in order to weaken their power and influence on other unions.
- The FoL who worked with the Labour Government and later "teamed-up" with the National Party discouraged the waterside workers from further industrial actions. The FoL's strongly supported and were interested in preserving compulsary unionism, and "accused" the striking waterside workers as drop-outs from the compulsary unionism. With full support from the National Government, the role of FoL sought to "punish" the militant unionists.