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Remember Waihi 1912: who now has the courage?

Written By: - Date published: 10:28 am, November 12th, 2012 - 21 comments
Categories: activism, class war, history, labour, police, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: ,

Fed Evans died in Waihi Miners’ Strike 13 November 1912

Tomorrow is the centenary of the death of Fred Evans on 13 November 1912, during the Waihi gold miners strike.  Out of this struggle of ordinary, but courageous NZ workers, grew the NZ Labour Party.  Who now has such courage to lead NZ politics in a new direction?

Historian Mark Derby says although the strike subsequently collapsed it was very significant as it led directly to the formation of the Labour Party.

Several of the figures active in the Waihi strike including Michael Joseph Savage, Bob Semple and Paddy Webb entered Parliament in the first Labour Government in 1935 and held office for a number of years.

As reported in the Bay of Plenty Times, the strike had begun in May 1912, and the government responded with very heavy handed and repressive police tactics.  The strike collapse and threatening police behaviour continued.

The Scarlet Runners, Messers Semple and Webb, running from police at Waihi  

Only one other New Zealander died (at a later date) during industrial action.  An illustration of the time, available on the National Library Papers Past web pages, shows Semple running from police.

As reported in the Bay of Plenty Times, the strike had begun in May 1912, and the government responded with very heavy handed and repressive police tactics.  The strike collapse and threatening police behaviour continued.

From Te Ara Biography of Evans:

Early on Tuesday 12 November (‘Black Tuesday’), Evans went to the hall to relieve one of the pickets. Strike-breakers soon turned up in force, and marched on the miners’ hall with police in attendance. A scuffle saw two or three strikers retreat inside. There was a struggle at the door, and Thomas Johnston, a prominent strike-breaker, was shot in the knee. Police and strike-breakers burst into the hall. The unionists fled, with Evans the last one out. Constable Gerald Wade led the chase. He was shot in the stomach, but managed to fell Evans by a baton blow to the head, and Evans went down under a hail of boots and blows. Evans, almost unconscious, was dragged off to the cells, and left for an hour and a half before being transferred to hospital. Wade’s injury proved slight. Evans never regained consciousness, and died the next day, 13 November. …

The New Zealand Federation of Labour organised an enormous political funeral. Evans’s body was taken to Auckland, where thousands of mourners lined the streets. After a Methodist funeral service he was buried at Waikaraka cemetery on 17 November 1912. At the inquiry into Evans’s death, Wade was found to have acted ‘in the execution of his duty’ and to have been ‘fully justified in striking deceased down’. May Evans was destitute; the FOL raised £1,100 for her and the children.

The F. G. Evans Memorial Library in Auckland’s Trade Union Centre is named in honour of Frederick Evans. Each year a commemorative service is held at his grave.

As reported in The Colonist, on 13 November 1912, there was talk of a general strike, but that never eventuated.

Uke has provided some other important links and comments on the commemoration and history of this strike.  Remember Waihi; Labour History Project;

The Labour movement grew out of this bloody struggle.  Where is it today when the neoliberal scam is being exposed and the future, especially for ordinary and powerless people is so uncertain?

Who today has such courage to take stat a new political direction for ordinary, and often insecure, workers and other low income battlers?

Update: Allison McCulloch’s Werewolf article, Waihi’s story is history in the present tense …  teases out some of the different perspectives on the tensions and conflicts during the Waihi strike.  The official history portrays a clash between the Federation of Labour, and  a “company inspired breakaway union”, plus some state violence.  It underplays the role of the company.

At a Centenary seminar last weekend, there was this on the programe:

Chasing the Scarlet Runners – Women in Waihi
The women of Waihi played an active and innovative part in the 1912 strike, often stepping well beyond the accepted bounds of female behaviour for that period. Some, known by the admiring name of the ‘scarlet runners’, acted as covert couriers for the strikers, often at considerable personal risk. This paper examines the place of women in Waihi during the most tumultuous events in the town’s history.

H/t: Macro

Update 2: The only other person to die during a protest in NZ was Christine Clarke, she was run over while on a picket with port workers in Lyttleton, in December 1999. She was 45 years old with two children. [H/t Nick]

21 comments on “Remember Waihi 1912: who now has the courage? ”

  1. Good post Karol and a poignant reminder of the reason for being of the Labour Party and the importance of its mission.  I get the feeling that the struggle is going backwards under the intensity of the power of international capital and the sophistication of the communication systems that it uses …

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      I get the feeling that the struggle is going backwards under the intensity of the power of international capital and the sophistication of the communication systems that it uses …

      And the politicians working with capital to save capitalism rather than admit that capitalism has failed the same way feudalism failed.

      • kiwi_prometheus 1.1.1

        And the same way Marxism/Socialism has failed.

        [lprent: Is there any reason to change your e-mail? Should I shift them to your usual one? ]

        • Daveosaurus 1.1.1.1

          Failed to the extent that Capitalist America now owes Communist China over a trillion US dollars. Some failure!

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.2

          The USSR failed the same way that capitalism is failing – a few at the top got all the benefits from the workers and everyone else got all the poverty and oppression (the bene bashing we get from the right is oppression). The USSR, and even China, isn’t commun1st – they were/are state capitalist.

          • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.2.1

            In the USSR ordinary workers and ordinary people never had any say. Power was always held by some centrally appointed Political Commissar or other apratchik.

            That’s not Marxian, that’s just another form of alienating and separating everyday workers and ordinary people from the economy, from politics and from power.

      • kiwi_prometheus 1.1.2

        And the same way Deconstructionism, Feminist ‘Theory’ and Cultural Studies have failed.

  2. karol 2

    Just caught up on an informative Tweet from Sue Moroney

    Police wouldn’t arrest the Scarlet Runners because arresting women would have been a bad look in the yes of the public #RememberWaihi

     

    • Macro 2.1

      Just found this I’m sure you will be interested 🙂 :

      from http://werewolf.co.nz/2012/08/100-years-on-the-waihi-miners-strike/
      “Chasing the Scarlet Runners – Women in Waihi
      The women of Waihi played an active and innovative part in the 1912 strike, often stepping well beyond the accepted bounds of female behaviour for that period. Some, known by the admiring name of the ‘scarlet runners’, acted as covert couriers for the strikers, often at considerable personal risk. This paper examines the place of women in Waihi during the most tumultuous events in the town’s history.
      Cybele Locke is a lecturer in history at Victoria University. She once played for a social netball team called the Scarlet Runners.”

  3. We live in a divided country these days, and media would paint any strikers as rouble rousers or criminals. Facing the facts, a large number of National party supporters are in fact Ayn Rand acolytes that live in total fear of the working class rising up or a Labour government ‘raising their taxes’; and many political commentators here [in the NZ Herald,etc] wouldn’t stand out from the American Tea Party.

    Then there is the curious situation of those that came from poor households, did well in education, and came back to bash those that didn’t do well as they did as ‘lazy’ and ‘burdens on the state’, don’t really need to mention those in the National government that meet that criteria.

    Even for someone like me who never watches tv and rarely reads papers, I can’t stand the bile that is repeated every day under the banner of austerity and returning to surplus.

    • karol 3.1

      Well you may do well to not read some papers in the next few days.  It would be heartening if they gave the Maritime Union some fair coverage.

      RNZ is reporting that facilitation has failed, while MUNZ says more industrial action is possible. MUNZ press release explains, saying the PoAL workers remain united.

      He says workers will not sign a POAL contract that continues to contain a contracting out provision after what they have been through.

      Meanwhile NBR focuses on accusations and acrimony, and the POAL case for “flexibility”.  POAL had released a letter to the workers in breach of the law.  MUNZ says it will be issuing proceedings.

      • Nick 3.1.1

        Karol, On the subject of this post and the Maritime Workers you might also have mentioned the only other NZ unionist killed in the line of protest (on a picket in Lyttelton not so many years ago by a car driven through the line). Chris Carruthers, a fabulous person and mother.

      • kiwicommie 3.1.2

        NBR just like most of the other business papers is nothing more than a mouthpiece for tired neo-liberal economics. They never raise a single new economic idea or academic paper. The ideas they spin are outdated in the rest of the world, but staying strong in New Zealand due to the stranglehold of the 1980s/Chicago Boys crowd over economic thinking in New Zealand.

        Their brand of thinking is holding NZ back economically, they see every problem in the economy as a result of high labor costs, protectionism, inflation,etc rather than as a direct result of a weak domestic economy (which comes from low wages, low incomes and increasing poverty and unemployment).

        The other major flaw in our economy is the failure to keep skilled NZ’ers here, by refusing to pay standard global salary/wage rates (the weird exception being top executives and CEOs). Businesses here pay peanuts and have large staff turnovers, they need to wake up and see that if they pay peanuts, their staff can just work for a few years, go overseas and get those global rates; leaving them without staff unless they can can con some foreigner into the ‘lifestyle’ thing. 😉

    • Wayne 3.2

      Well, I guess are correctly named if you think the Nats are the equivalent of the Tea Party Republicans

  4. Macro 4

    Waihi Drama Society have just finished season of a Play based on the book “The Red and The Gold”
    http://www.waihi.org.nz/events/the-red-and-the-gold-waihi-drama-society/

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