There were some ridiculous statements by Martyn Bradbury at The Daily
Blog Bombast earlier this month continuing his snide comments about this site. His claims that the Labour activists founded the original Standard back in 1936 are bullshit. He gets there by ignoring the history of parent publications and where they formed from.
Clearly the bombastic author of that post was written by someone who spent his education in obtaining a master of ill-informed juvenile ranting rather than learning much of history of the local labour movement (or much of anything else). So I dug around to see what I could find on the net about The Standard 1.0 and it’s parent publications to give that Mr Bombastic some remedial education in the local history that he is so clearly lacking.
The first in the chain of publications that led to this site was started 5-6 years before the Labour party even formed. It was likely that it’s publication helped to form coalescence that became the NZ Labour party.
The Maoriland Worker was launched by the Shearers Union from Christchurch as a monthly publication. The first publication was published on 15th September 1910, stored at Papers Past as a sample copy.
The formation copy was evocative of how the labour movement ran its best publications then and now. Voluntary, largely donation based, and based around cooperation between people widely separated by location and beliefs.
In typical style and very like the formation of the current Standard, the launch was a shot in the dark based on the idea that the best way to find out if something worked was to simply start the damn thing running and see what happened afterwards. So they funded it for four costly editions to see how it went.
Towards the cost of these four issues, the N.Z Shearers’ Union will gladly receive contributions from Unions and Workers in sympathy with the movement to establish a Dominion Labour Paper.
10,000 copies of this Sample Issue have been printed, or which 5,000 have been distributed free through the post to wage-earners all over the country districts of New Zealand, and 5,000 will be distributed through the various trade unions and other bodies of organised labour.
There was a call for volunteers to contribute to the publication in a tradition that we continue to this day.
Workers all over New Zealand are requested to send in signed articles for publication. Union Secretaries are particularly requested to send along reports of important meetings, etc. The Editor will be very grateful for the receipt of marked papers, news, or notes on any kind which readers may be good enough to send.
comments letters to the editor, there is a familiar note – a plainly stated blunt statement of how why trolls and dumbarse comments weren’t welcome.
The object of this paper is to promote the solidarity of labour, and the Editor therefore reserves the right to exclude such letters as mitigate against this. No objection will be taken to strenuous fighting for a principle, provided the “fighting” is done on the lines laid down by the Marquis of Queensbury, and NOT on the lines of public-house brawling.
Our current equivalent is in the about
We come from a variety of backgrounds and our political views don’t always match up but it’d be fair to say that all of us share a commitment to the values and principles that underpin the broad labour movement and we hope that perspective will come through strongly as you read the blog.
And the policy statement that starts as
We encourage robust debate and we’re tolerant of dissenting views. But this site run for reasonably rational debate between dissenting viewpoints and we intend to keep it operating that way.
Most of that first issue bears an uncanny resonance with the reasons why the authors of the present day descendent publication continue to toil on the publication of this site and how they do so.
Obviously the appeal worked because in 1910, the “Red” Federation of Labour (not to be confused with the later Federation of Labour started in the 1930s) asked Robert Samuel Ross, a well known Australian socialist journalist, to become editor. He started in 1911 in Wellington, a post that he held until April 1913. That with the enthusiastic volunteers pushing the publication gave it a good solid start.
The position of this chain of publications is well stated by Papers Past
The Maoriland Worker is widely considered the most important publication of the New Zealand labour movement. Early in the 20th century the labour movement had two main strands – those wanting revolution and those working for reform and both had publications reflecting their views. Militant trade unionists did not fit easily into either camp. The Shearers’ Union in Christchurch felt the full weight of press condemnation after a 1910 wage dispute and decided to begin their own paper, The Maoriland Worker, as a monthly. The newspaper was produced in Christchurch for a short period, with Ettie Rout and Alexander Wildey prominent. When the shearers’ and miners’ unions combined forces, the paper now represented the ‘Red’ Federation of Labour and, early in 1911, moved its publishing office to Wellington.
The paper, now a weekly, grew rapidly in circulation and influence under the editorship of Australian Bob Ross. It had a circulation of 8,500 by 1912 and 10,000 by the beginning of the next year. It was at the centre of the Federation’s push for socialism. Unionists were enthusiastic ‘paper boys’ and there was a network of voluntary correspondents around the country. The Maoriland Worker’s editorial policy was firmly behind industrial unionism, international co-operation among unionists and pacifism.
The Maoriland Worker was produced to a high professional standard and included some of the most penetrating political cartoons of the period. Ross had left by 1913, and his replacement, Harry Holland, was later leader of the Labour Party. Holland was charged with sedition for his coverage of a waterfront dispute that snowballed into a general strike late in 1913. He was sentenced to a year in prison, and served a little over three months. When war broke out shortly afterwards, the Maoriland Worker took an uncompromising international socialist position and Holland editorialised that world revolution was at hand. He left the paper in 1918 when elected to Parliament at a by-election.
The weekly continued to express its radical views through the war years and until the early 1920s. During the First World War it struggled with libel costs, censorship and police harassment. In October 1921 The Maoriland Worker carried two poems by the noted British war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Three lines of ‘Stand to: Good Friday Morning’ attracted the attention of the authorities and the paper’s publisher was charged with ‘blasphemous libel’. John Glover was tried in the Supreme Court in 1922, still the only such case in NZ legal history. The trial was held at a time when any dissent was suppressed wherever possible and politicians were preoccupied with maintaining ‘social order’, religion an important component of this. Glover was cleared of the charge, but the jury added a rider to its acquittal noting that the publication of such material should be discouraged.
In 1924, the publication’s name was changed to the New Zealand Worker. The paper’s sub-title also changed. It went from ‘A journal of industrial unionism, socialism and politics’ to ‘A New Zealand paper for New Zealand people’. Although trade unions still funded its publication, control now rested with the Labour Party. The radicalism softened rapidly and substantially as the Labour Party sought electoral respectability.
As I will cover in later posts, successor to the NZ Worker was The Standard 1.0. It remained in the hands of the unions until its demise despite what the history deprived bombast thinks. However it became less about the heart and soul of the labour movement and more the publication engine of the parliamentary Labour Party. In my opinion, that eventual increasing proximity and control of the publication by the parliamentary Labour Party was part of the eventual problem of why The Standard 1.0 eventually died in 1960.
The volunteer effort of the early years fell away with the emphasis of the New Zealand Worker on getting a parliamentary wing for the labour movement. Trying to get and keep the parliamentary wing of the labour movement in parliament eventually shifted the focus in child publications away from the many issues of the labour movement and caused it to focus too much on the politicians.
The other part of the problem was implicit in the the very first publication of the Maoriland Worker. Talking about subscriptions and those first 4 issues, the editor said
It will be understood, of course, that the cost of bringing out these four issues by contract with a job printing firm is much greater than it would be if the workers had their own printing plant and establishment.
The final policy of all newspapers, except such as are established distinctly in the interests of a growing reform, is: Which pays best? In a haphazard way desirable reforms receive some encouragement at the hands of the commercial daily newspaper. Political reforms are given more or less commendation until the interests behind the Press feel themselves threatened, and then no degree of cunning or misrepresentation is too great for the editorial columns.
Apart from looking like the description of the current Mediaworks editorial policies, it also displays the issue about capital and funding. Ultimately the funders determine the course of a publication.
This can be seen quite clearly in the distortions that are the history of the Whaleoil blog. Because of its obsessive need by a broke (after his insurance disappeared) Cameron Slater’s need to please his larger funders of money and influence, the site would wind up getting into trouble doing the types of stories that please those funders. This is why Cameron Slater spends too much time in court. They’re still doing it today as far as I can tell.
The Standard 2.0, was deliberately designed by authors and myself who run it to be more like the early Maoriland Worker than Whaleoil or The Daily Bombast.
Having a small cost footprint from the start of The Standard 2.0 allowed us to run either on small donations or the minimal advertising we used for 4 years. We haven’t taken money from any organisation including the PR industry, political parties or even from unions like the Daily Bombast does.
In my view (as a fervent capitalist), there are some things that capital is useful for, but open political and social debate is not one of them. Having to get the funding for capital and operating costs to print the paper eventually forced the Maoriland Worker’s and its successor publications to compromise their voice to the detriment of our society.
The history of the tone of those publication’s voice walks side by side with that of their capital intensive printing plants. The formation of The Maoriland Work Printing and Publishing Company, started in 1914 (see excerpt right) shows the need to fund the large expenditures in capital and shortfalls in operating costs. Funding that is what caused them and their successor publications caused them to get closer to writing what their funders wanted to hear over many decades. But more on that whenever I get around to writing on those successor publications.
Today because of the lowered costs of production in a digital age, we don’t need the fortune required for the printing company that was required for the Maoriland Worker. The £16,000 for the capital of the Maoriland Worker printing arm was a lot of capital in 1914. This was the era when the best tradesmen had annual incomes of less than £200. This calculator reckons that in the British coinage we were using at the time £16,000 == £1,648,815 today. That would be some about $3.7 million in current NZ currency.
But the current annual operating cost of the Standard is way less than $3,000 per year for server and bandwidth costs. The hardware capital cost is probably less than $2,000.
We can and do run a volunteer run and written ‘newspaper’ with far better circulations than the Maoriland Worker ever achieved because of those low production costs and the low distribution overhead. But also because we get content written by people who don’t want to be journalists or editors – we already have occupations. We write because we want to express our opinions. It means that the site is free unless someone like you reading this post feels like donating.
We can do it with no tolerated external interference apart from obeying the current law (something Cameron Slater apparently has issues with) and the odd polite request from organisations we respect like unions or leftish parties.
We do so with added advantage that commenters can add their views as well in near real time. Many of them are even more interesting than the posts that spawned their comments.
We’re very careful about how much money we accept from anyone and the influence that they proffer.We don’t take money from large sponsors, political parties, or even the unions.
We allow citizens to post their opinions under pseudonyms or their own names as they prefer. People from unions like Helen Kelly, Stephanie and other can write here, as can ex-politicians like Bryan Gould. They write under their own names. Currently paid politicians and their staffers are restricted to writing guest posts under their own name. Commenters can write what they like provide dthey stay within the bounds of our very liberal behavioural policies. No-one gets paid for anything. Politeness is strictly optional. Being legal is mandatory.
Having learnt the lessons of the past (and those of other blogs in the present), that is what we intend to continue to do. That is what having sense of the history does for you. You don’t fall into the same operational organisational traps that the Bombast (set up and still supported by union funding) and Whaleoil (apparently mainly arsehole funding) appear to have tripped into.
You can spend time looking through some of the publications of the Worker here.