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On the waterfront: art & politics

Written By: - Date published: 12:01 pm, October 29th, 2013 - 81 comments
Categories: activism, auckland supercity, capitalism, class war, democratic participation, Revolution, workers' rights - Tags:

I wonder who decided to include such a divisive piece of artwork on Queen’s Wharf on Auckland’s waterfront?  Sir Bob Harvey seems to be a spokesperson in relation to it, but I would have expected him to have known better.  At least if they were including a piece celebrating the suppression of one one of the most significant strikes in NZ’s history, they would have thought to include both sides of the dispute.

Anyway, after Mike Lee protested, and Bomber threatened to deface it on Labour Day, the “art work” has been covered up. NZ Herald reports:

An artwork depicting controversial strikes on Auckland’s waterfront 100 years ago has been covered up ahead of its removal this morning to avoid upsetting descendants of harbour workers.

The two-dimensional black silhouette shows a baton-wielding “strike-breaker”, one of the rural Aucklanders employed to disrupt protesting dock workers in 1913.

The work is on Queens Wharf as part ofTamaki Makaurau – The Many Lovers of Auckland, a Waterfront Auckland project that tells the history of the waterfront.

Yesterday, city councillor Mike Lee protested to Waterfront Auckland chairman Sir Bob Harvey after reading the plaque attached to the work. It quotes strike-breaker Jim Ross from a 1913 newspaper saying, “From our homes in the backblocks of Auckland we came to help down the strike and keep the town’s name.”

An accompanying description gave a brief history of the role of strike-breakers and labelled Mr Ross “one of the many lovers of Auckland”.

Mr Lee said the artwork paid homage to “thugs and bashers on the people’s wharf. We have really lost our way if heritage experts believe vigilante thugs rounded up to attack striking working people are deemed to be heroes.”

Mr Lee’s great-grandfather and grandfather were both dock workers.

Labour Day commemorates past battles won for rights and fairness for NZ workers.

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

The date, 28 October, marked the first anniversary of the establishment of the Maritime Council, an organisation of transport and mining unions.

Dunedin Labour Day Parade 1894

Dunedin Labour Day Parade 1894, New Zealand History Online

It’s a sign of the times when the Auckland authorities, (or is it the unaccountable Ports of Auckland Ltd) show such disrespect for the workers of Auckland and the country.

Time for the many to unite against the few who so easily disregard important struggles for fairness and democratic rights.

81 comments on “On the waterfront: art & politics ”

  1. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 1

    There are some books I want banned while we’re about it.

    • Rogue Trooper 1.1

      “The Joy of Sex”?

      • fender 1.1.1

        LOL

        “The gormless National Party manifesto”?

      • greywarbler 1.1.2

        I remember managing to get a copy of Portnoys Complaint when it was banned in Oz. Just to see what the fuss was about. And Joy of Sex? Well what can one say. Two would make a better point of agreement. It’s all over-rated really. But not always. When there is time for reflection – sometimes yes, sometimes no. I am sure that L B..wn would agree.

    • karol 1.2

      At the very least, they should have included both sides of the dispute, showing why people were striking, and the ruthless treatment they got. Instead we get one side – that brutal and anti-democratic side, presented as a celebration.

      Distortion of reality in support of the elites, does not serve democracy.

      • King Kong 1.2.1

        I think the strikers of that time would be embarrassed about the squawking of “scatterbrained” woman in public.

        As well as being unbelievably sexist (many of them would be prodigious wife beaters) I bet they were almost wholesale racists.

        The truth must out!

        [lprent: See http://thestandard.org.nz/nationals-civil-war-continues/#comment-718087 for your most recent ban. ]

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 1.2.2

        Every piece of art has to show “both sides” now? How’s that going to work practically? And what happens if there are more than two sides?

        Maybe an illustration would help me understand, karol.

        Maybe you could draw me a picture showing the “other side” of the Death of Marat.

        http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/d/david_j/3/301david.html

        • McFlock 1.2.2.1

          Funny choice of example, there, given that David ended up in exile and not even his corpse was allowed back into France due in no small part to his paintings (some of which were banned from public viewing for decades) that certainly showed both sides (assuming each side took turns being in power and therefore sucked up to).

          Personally, my issue is not so much with the artwork as the caption. Interesting point as to how much of that is part of the artwork itself, though.

        • fender 1.2.2.2

          It’s not a piece of art though, it looks like an historical information sign.

      • Populuxe1 1.2.3

        I would think it would be very obvious to anyone but a complete cretin that the image is supposed to be one of fear and thuggish evil – a warning and admonishment, not a “distortion of reality in support of elites”. It’s not up to you to decide how an artist chooses to communicate an idea and this certainly seems a direct way of doing it. By your logic we should have monuments to H1tler and the Na51s because the Holocaust museums are only part of the story when any sensible person could see that one infers the other – or is this another example of that elitist assumption that ordinary people are somehow inferior and stupid and need everything spelled out to them slowly in small words so they don’t depart the true ideological path.

        • Tat Loo (CV) 1.2.3.1

          Awesome unprovoked self-Godwin.

          • Populuxe1 1.2.3.1.1

            A very provoked one, akshully. And appropriate considering their particular attitude to what art was acceptable and what wasn’t.

        • karol 1.2.3.2

          Well, it clearly wasn’t obvious to the people who put the image on the Wharf. It depends on the context and how it’s done. if you have images of such thuggery along side some images and information about the strike, it can show up the thuggery.

          Actually the website for the US Holocaust Museum has various museum has images from Nazi propaganda and references/links to various Nazi works of art and films.

          It is important to show how propaganda works.

          • Populuxe1 1.2.3.2.1

            This isn’t propoganda, it’s an art work or at least design, and a silhouette of someone wielding a baton seems pretty bloody obvious to me that it’s not about rainbows and unicorns, Tovarish Lunacharsky. – or do you also have problems with determining whether to cross or not cross because you can’t tell apart the little stylised people at the lights. This disturbing blindness to stylisation must cause you endless difficulty with public toilets.

            • emergency mike 1.2.3.2.1.1

              “Yesterday, city councillor Mike Lee protested to Waterfront Auckland chairman Sir Bob Harvey after reading the plaque attached to the work. It quotes strike-breaker Jim Ross from a 1913 newspaper saying, “From our homes in the backblocks of Auckland we came to help down the strike and keep the town’s name.”

              An accompanying description gave a brief history of the role of strike-breakers and labelled Mr Ross “one of the many lovers of Auckland”.”
              http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11147747

              It’s about context – it’s not just a stylised silhouette. Accompanied by the above text it surely does look an awful lot like anti-union propaganda. But I doubt that it is consciously that. Probably written by someone with a rather shallow grasp of workers rights and when to not applaud violence. And rubber stamped into existence.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.3

      At least it serves as a reminder of the true nature of treacherous authoritarian scum.

    • emergency mike 1.4

      You are welcome to suggest any books you want banned through the appropriate channels.

  2. Enough is Enough 2

    It is a sad day when we start censoring art – of any description.

    • karol 2.1

      But isn’t an official commemoration of a significant political struggle, that censors by omission, even worse?

      • vto 2.1.1

        Yes it is. This is entirely inappropriate for reasons that shouldn’t need explaining.

        By way of tangent – another piece of so-called “art” that is entirely out of place is the USA and New York foisting a pile of twisted 9/11 twin towers steel on the people of Christchurch on one of our prime corners of river and street public space. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM2VYH

        I don’t want the results of America’s political and military acts dumped in my house thank you very much and have said so about this piece of shit from day one. It is deemed a memorial to the firefighters, which is a crock. They should remove it. It is completely inappropriate.

        • Populuxe1 2.1.1.1

          And you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about and sound like one of those bitter nasty old people who write anal letters to The Press every time a sparrow craps on their car.

          • vto 2.1.1.1.1

            “And you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about”….

            … so where is the claim wrong

            … I look forward to something more than emptiness and vitriol

            • Populuxe1 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Then don’t look in the mirror.
              The fact that you can be so callous about the deaths of 2,606 innocent people and subsequent fatalities among emergency workers suggests that you are no better than any other small minded bigot. That particular sculpture is an acknowledgment of our sending emergency personelle to help as we have done for many other countries around the world in times of crisis. Your attitude is ugly.

              • Tat Loo (CV)

                Oh, Pop1, stop grandstanding. You’re not some morality police officer, no matter how much you would like to be. For starters, far more than 2606 innocent people have died because of that day, although as expected you can’t be fucked counting up to half a million or so.

              • vto

                That is surely clearly not what the point is.

                And neither was any point made about the deaths of 2,606 people, or your other dribble.

      • Populuxe1 2.1.2

        It doesn’t censor anything by omission. It is perfectly obvious what the art represents – a figure of fear and thuggish evil – and the victims are inferred. I suppose having a waxwork of Jack the Ripper means that Madame Tussaud’s condones the murder of prostitutes.

        • Pascal's bookie 2.1.2.1

          Pop, does anyone else interpret the work they way you do?

          The guy is quoted and then described as a hero of Auckland. Are any of the other hero’s treated in this ironic way?

    • felix 2.2

      I used to agree with that until I heard Coldplay.

    • fender 2.3

      Yes I agree, the word “art” is being used for stuff that isn’t too much these days.

      • Rogue Trooper 2.3.1

        ahhh, the prostitution of Art, and so the circle is completed.

        • fender 2.3.1.1

          It’s getting ridiculous, if I put up a fake 1km/h speed limit sign out on the road are we going to call that art, a prank or just a nuisance…

          • Rogue Trooper 2.3.1.1.1

            Crawling In their Skin. (Dad used to come home from work and describe the “crawlers” to us at the dinner table. RLB, never, never, never forgotten. Memory is such a privilege 😀

  3. vto 3

    .
    people have
    short memories
    no understanding
    where history
    resides

    doomed to repeat
    the thug against
    the worker
    the dollar against
    the people

    …………………………………..

    art to commemorate and memorialise?

    who is the brainless goof who thought that up?

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Could have been combined with a union panel of similar size next to it incorporating Jack London’s “The Scab”. But that would have taken thought and planning and doesn’t really deal with the power imbalance of the state forces vs a section of the workers anyway. Imagine the squeals if a Pro Union piece about the ’51 “Lockout” (the right and uninformed call it a strike) had been featured.

    Not comfortable with banning stuff but with the insensitivity at the very least displayed by Waterfront Auckland it should be removed post haste and returned to the creator in tiny pieces.

    http://www.iamll1005.org/definition_of_a_scab.htm

    • Murray Olsen 4.1

      Massey’s Cossacks loved Auckland like Jake Heke loved his wife. There should also be something commemorating the workers’ side. The stupid monument to thuggery should never have gone up, but I’m not happy with Mike Lee taking time out from his work to remove beggars from the streets to make this gesture.

  5. fender 5

    If the aim of an “artwork” is to spread propaganda, misinformation or a one-sided account of history it is no longer worthy of being called “art” despite art/craft being employed to convey the message.

  6. Pete 6

    I reject totally the idea that Massey’s Cossacks were anything but repressive thugs, but censorship of art sticks in my craw. Art is often provacative and challenges our views. You might argue this crosses a threshold from being artistic into being propaganda or whitewashing history, but lots of art is subjective.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 6.1

      This is a commercial design commissioned and executed to a brief set by the client. Not exactly fine art.

    • vto 6.2

      If it is art of course it is fine, but it has been portrayed as historical record / commemoration / memorialisation and that is where the boundary is crossed imo.

  7. Leopold 7

    Or the Port Authority could at least put up something of the same 1913 vintage:

    Too Old to Rat
    Or, The Old Unionist

    Henry Lawson, 1912

    I don’t care if the cause be wrong.
    Or if the cause be right —
    I’ve had my day and sung my song,
    And fought the bitter fight.
    In truth, at times I can’t tell what
    The men are driving at,
    But I’ve been Union thirty years,
    And I’m too old to rat.

    Maybe, at times in those old days
    Remembered now by few,
    We did bite OR in various ways
    Much more than we could chew —
    We paid, in sodden strikers’ camps
    Upon the black-soil flat;
    We paid, in long and hungry tramps —
    And I’m too old to rat.

    The Queensland strike in Eighty-nine,
    And Ninety’s gloomy days —
    The day the opera comp’ny sang
    For us the “Marseillaise”,
    The sea of faces stern and set,
    The waiting “bitter cup”,
    The hopeless hearts, unbeaten yet,
    The storm cloud rushing up.

    The fighting, dying Boomerang
    Against the daily Press;
    The infant Worker holding out;
    The families in distress;
    The sudden tears of beaten men —
    Oh! you remember that! —
    Are memories that make my pen
    Not worth its while to rat.

    I’ve wept with them in strikers’ camps
    Where shivered man and beast;
    I’ve worn since then the badge of men,
    Of Hell! and London East!
    White faces by the flaring torch!
    Wraith wives! — the slaves of Fat!
    And ragged children in the rain —
    Yes! — I’m too old to rat!

    • Rogue Trooper 7.1

      Prisoners everywhere
      Send me all you have
      Fears screams and boredom
      Fishermen of all beaches
      Send me all you have
      Empty nets and seasickness

      Peasants of every land (see how the Bulgarians live)
      Send me all you have
      Flowers rags
      Mutilated breasts
      Ripped-up bellies
      And torn out nails
      To my address…any cafe
      Any street in the world
      I’m preparing a huge file
      About human suffering
      To present to God
      Once it’s signed by the lips of the hungry
      And the eyelids of those still waiting…

      The Postman’s Fear – Muhammad Al-Maghut (Syria).

  8. chris73 8

    This is a good thing, a precedents been set and now anyone who doesn’t like any sort of art can moan about it enough and get it removed

    Its another small step towards the type of government i want 😉

    • felix 8.1

      “and now anyone who doesn’t like any sort of art can moan about it enough and get it removed”

      Nothing new there.

      • chris73 8.1.1

        Unfortunately

        • karol 8.1.1.1

          I think it’s the context and explanation with it that is causing offence. It’s part of series of art works entitled “Lovers Of Auckland.” The explanation glorifies the strike breaking thugs.

          • chris73 8.1.1.1.1

            And yet theres probably the same amount of people who think the strikers got what they deserved as there is who think the strike breakers were thugs

            • fender 8.1.1.1.1.1

              “…… strikers got what they deserved …..”

              They’d be the same people who would support the stabbing of tagging youth, shooting fleeing offenders in the back, and police planting evidence to secure a conviction no doubt. You have some ugly mates there chris73, why don’t you conduct your poll and shock us with the results.

              • chris73

                Well roughly 16-17% of the workforce are unionised and of that lot roughly 10% are government employees so really the people of NZ have kinda spoken

                • fender

                  Yeah the empty prisons also back up your claim NZers don’t care about GBH and other violence.

                • felix

                  Because 16% are in unions that means the other 84% must be totes keen on smashing their heads open with clubs?

                  Ladies and gentlemen, the intellect of the right.

            • Psycho Milt 8.1.1.1.1.2

              …got what they deserved…

              The world is never short of people willing to declare the victims of a beating “got what they deserved.” It’s fairly unusual for them to construct artworks celebrating their moral turpitude, however. What next? A heroic statue devoted to the nation’s wife-beaters?

  9. Ron 9

    Can someone please say now the waterfront ‘art’ was placed there and when it was. I get an impression that it is a fairly recent addition to waterfront but would like to know just how it was put there.

  10. i am uneasy about the reaction/censoring of this..

    ..given the execution/captioning/couching was clumsy in the extreme..(citing an opinion/reason as some sorta fact..)

    ..this is still our history..

    ..and an examination of the beliefs/brainwashing of these strike-breakers has inherent lessons..

    ..lessons that are totally relevant today..

    ..(personally..i am puzzled by the little concern shown for one in four children living in poverty..now/here/today/in 2013..seeing that indifference to such suffering as a current example of the myopia affecting/infecting these historical-thugs..

    ..hands up..!..eh..?..)

    ..and so i don’t see it as an either/or…

    ..both stories should/need to be told..

    ..not just the victors tales/reasoning celebrated..

    ..wholesale enthusiasm for censoring/re-writing history in such a way makes me shudder..

    ..whether it comes from the right..or the left..

    ..phillip ure..

    • karol 10.1

      Agreed that the full story should be told, rather than banning one side. But, in view of that fact that only one side has been presented in a celebratory way, what to do until the full picture is ready to be presented?

      • Populuxe1 10.1.1

        Do you have some evidence that anything was banned, or could it simply be that this was the most direct and uncluttered way of representing a horrible incident in NZ history

        • karol 10.1.1.1

          The NZ Herald’s description shows it was presenting only one view point. In contrast, the links to some of the official records in my post show how much was left out. it is clearly a very skewed representation.

          • Populuxe1 10.1.1.1.1

            Because he had the baton raised up in a threatening manner for the good of his health? Admittedly art is often reductive when applied to protest, but in this case there are a bunch of glorywhores like Bombast Bradbury (Bradbury, like in Farenheit 451) who are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. I am reminded of the tedious people who complained about the austere Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC because they wanted kitschy statues of soldiers or something. Taste =/= Ideology.

            • karol 10.1.1.1.1.1

              No, it’s the context and explanation with it that is causing most of the offence – it’s part of a series entitled “Lovers of Auckland”, and the print text with it glorifies their role, rather than presenting the full story.

              An image on its own is open to diverse meaning. Usually the print accompanying an image particularly helps anchor the meaning, along with the context.

              • “..it’s part of a series entitled “Lovers of Auckland”..”

                is there a section on len ‘down-trou’ brown..?

                ..the true history must be told..

                ..phillip ure..

              • Populuxe1

                Really? Because if what is offending you is having to entertain a perspective without neccisarily agreeing with it, Aristotle would be very dissapointed in you. As that principle also underpins democratic freedom of speech, I am also dissapointed in you. Or maybe it’s that persistant bigotry you have about the analytical abilities of non-academics, because I think they probably will see it as a darkly ironic artistic statement even without having read Derrida.

                But anyway, I don’t want to keep you from your next book burning. May I suggest the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – it has the ‘N’ word in it – yes I know the book and Mark Twain were anti-slavery, but the plebs might not understand that so better to be safe than sorry, eh?

            • Alphaville 10.1.1.1.1.2

              I hope Karol didn’t go see the last Auckland Triennial. Luke Willis Thompson’s work must have given her hives.

              (And don’t anybody tell her about Jeremy Deller!)

  11. TheContrarian 11

    I would have thought (it it may have been so – I don’t live in Auckland so can’t view the context myself) that the best way to present it, if at all, would be part of a series detailing the whole event and the climate of the time.

  12. binders full of women 12

    As a RWNJ & union member I say let it stay— it got people talking. I never knew they used lynch mobs to bash protestors, I thought it was just constabulary- the art has got people talking and educated me— pretty much what you hope for from art…. not some balanced view that made it’s way through a balancing & approval committee. The debate that has flowed has provided the balance. Do some counter art…

  13. joe90 13

    Mr Clemens: December 8,

    A couple of curious war-monuments here at Wanganui. One is in honour of white men who fell in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism.

    […]

    The other monument cannot be rectified. Except with dynamite.

  14. GregJ 14

    NZ History Net has a new Flickr site of images of the “Great Strike” of 1913 here plus an updated page giving details of the strike.

    As an aside it seems to be a particularly provocative act to have a piece of art work put up that tells only one part of the story on the 100th anniversary of the strike – a strike which was both a significant event for the country & the development of the Labour movement (even if the outbreak of WWI has tended to overshadow the event from a historical perspective).

  15. Not Another Sheep 15

    Fascinating records on the link, Greg.
    The National Library has also been running a series of events with guest speakers. I think there are a couple of these lectures to go. “Flashpoint of history” and “1913: still relevant after all these years?” still to come.

    http://natlib.govt.nz/events/2013/11

    It would be too incredible to think that such an amassing of the people in protest could happen again here in NZ; even a peaceful one on a massive scale, say before the next election.

    Today being arrested and imprisoned on Somes Island might be pretty cool?

    • Tat Loo (CV) 15.1

      A peaceful protest is a good idea. Just look out for the agent provocatuers though.

  16. vto 16

    The scum bastards who came out of rural Auckland to act as vigilantes and bash working people can go fuck themselves. They and the government of the day (a National type for sure) that enabled them to bash like they did have no place in the world I live in – they can go jump.

    Woody Duthrie shows it for what it is. Watch and weep.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyUagbsg-HI

    (fwiw we had family on both sides of this shit)

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