Equal Pay for Women: the Long Struggle

SFWU member Kristine Bartlett - a campaigner for the whole class

SFWU member Kristine Bartlett – a campaigner for the whole class

By Dougal McNeill

Kristine Bartlett is a hero. Her case put the question of equal pay back at the centre of politics. Bartlett has been employed for twenty years doing socially vital work as a carer for the elderly, and yet she was paid an insulting $14.46 an hour. This, Bartlett and the SFWU argued, breached the Equal Pay Act (1972) — her pay was less than men would get for work of the same level of skill. She won. The court ruled for the first time that the Act applied to comparisons between predominantly women’s jobs and men’s. This win makes clear the point that true equal pay must involve pay equity. Because low-paid women are concentrated in female-dominated industries such as cleaning and care, it’s not enough to look at pay differences within single industries.

[Read more…]

Māori and Communism in the 1930s

Workers WeeklyBy Dougal McNeill

The miseries of the Great Depression hit Māori workers particularly hard. Mass unemployment, poverty, slave-labour like conditions in relief works, poor housing and slumlords profiteering from renting out hovels – this was the fate of many hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. Māori workers, still concentrated in rural areas and in some of the most isolated and deprived parts of the country, suffered particularly intensely. And, in addition to their economic hardship, they had to face open discrimination and racism from the state and its agencies.

Cuba Street riotUnemployed workers fought back, and the early 1930s saw pitched riots in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Crowds smashed windows and fought with police in Queen Street and up Cuba Street. Labour’s first victory came in these years, followed by its second, more emphatic win on the back of social reforms. How the Communist Party of New Zealand responded in its paper, the Weekly Worker, to the racism Māori faced offers a fascinating insight into how organised militant workers can take up the question of oppression. A few articles from the paper in 1934 and 1935 give a snapshot of the Party’s organising.

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Vale Dick Morrison


We were saddened to learn of the death earlier this month of Dick Morrison, a veteran of the socialist movement in Aotearoa and a pioneering leader in the Gay Liberation movement.

Morrison was part of the generation radicalized by the movement against the Vietnam War, the struggle for black liberation in South Africa and the burgeoning trade union and Maori land rights movement in this country. Revolution was in the air, and many young radicals and thinkers – including Dick Morrison and also his sister, Meryl Morrison – were getting drawn to Marxist ideas.

[Read more…]

World War One: the Fight against Conscription

Maoriland WorkerAmidst all the patriotic furor this centenary, the real history of the war is all too easily forgotten.  The government and the opposition alike cry crocodile tears for the fallen and mouth “Never again!”, while daisy cutters are dropped on Afghanistan and the history books are (re)re-written.

In high-school classrooms and history-books, we are taught a version of the war in which a well-fed, well-bred (and mostly white) nation proudly sacrifices its sons for the lofty ideals of “God, King and Country”.  The little mention made of wartime dissent is limited to a few footnotes about ‘conscientious objectors’ who are presented as a tiny minority of isolated idealists, and perhaps a few comments on the rising cost of living.

This version of history was written by the ruling class, for the working class, to create a placid and pliant society that allows the prosecution of future wars.  The real history of the war is somewhat different.  In New Zealand, there was a great movement against the continued prosecution of the war, and for peace.  It wasn’t a minority, and it wasn’t isolated.  Hundreds were jailed, and thousands condemned the war in public meetings, in their workplaces, and on the streets.  This article tells just part of that story, the fight against conscription. [Read more…]

Con Devitt: One the Bosses Hated

Con Devitt


Con Devitt, an outstanding trade union militant, socialist and organizer, has died at the age of 86. Devitt, a long-time leader of the Boilermakers’ Union in Wellington, made an enormous contribution to the class struggle and the workers’ movement, especially in his important periods of leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

From a working-class home in Glasgow, Devitt was part of the wave of post-war migration from Britain to New Zealand. Many of these migrants brought with them traditions of union solidarity and class struggle from Britain: John Findlay was another Clydeside boilermaker turned New Zealand union leader. It’s for this reason that the media and the right-wing cultivated the stereotype of the “whingeing Pom” and the outside agitator. Whatever his accent, however, Devitt spoke in a language workers – whether migrant or local – could understand. His message was to stand up for your rights and to trust in your own strength.

Boilermakers worked over 60-hour weeks at one stage, with many men leaving the industry with permanent hearing loss and little support. There was plenty for unions to fight over.

For this commitment, Devitt and his comrades in the Boilermakers’ Union earned the hatred and scorn of the ruling class, the political establishment – Labour and National – and the Wellington and national media. A 1977 commission of enquiry into the heavy engineering industry blamed closures on the unions and talked up “disruptive tactics and restrictive practices imposed by certain sections of the Auckland and Wellington boilermaker unions.” A concerted campaign of slanders against Wellington and Kawerau boilermakers led to their unions being deregistered. National Prime Minister Robert Muldoon ranted against him. The Dominion and the Evening Post editorialised against his tactics and outlook. We should take all of this as a sign he knew how to do a good job standing up for his members. [Read more…]

Peace, Power & Politics at Dunedin’s Readers’ and Writers’ Festival


Maire Leadbeater, peace activist and historian, spoke about her recently published book Peace, Power and Politics: How New Zealand became nuclear free (OUP 2013).

Although the talk was one of just two politically oriented events of the festival, it was well attended and inspired a thoughtful series of questions and comments.

Maire Leadbeater is an experienced activist who is able to offer considerable insight into the history of the peace movement during the eventful years between 1975  and 2000. The most dramatic and significant period of this struggle were the years 1983 – 1985, which involved massive protests. The culmination of the struggle was the introduction of New Zealand’s nuclear free legislation in 1987. David Lange is often credited with the honour of this principled piece of legislation, Leadbeater argues that the credit really belongs to the thousands of grassroots activists and ordinary people who marched in the streets, blocked warships with tiny protest boats and declared ‘nuclear free zones’ throughout the country. She also related the peace activism of the 1980s to contemporary issues such as surveillance and joint military exercises with the US . Even though the nuclear free struggle resulted in success, we should not become complacent. [Read more…]

Fighting to Choose: the Abortion Rights Struggle in New Zealand

fightingtochoose__73920.1355261486.1280.1280[Alison McCulloch is a freelance journalist and abortion rights activist based in Tauranga.  Her history of the abortion rights struggle in New Zealand, Fighting to Choose, will be published by Victoria University Press next month. We spoke to Alison about her book and the campaign.]

Alison, you’re an active member of ALRANZ, the pro-choice organisation. Could you tell us a little about how you came to be involved in the campaign for abortion rights? What motivated you to start researching this topic?

I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember, and securing the right to access contraception and abortion is a major part of what I think it means to be a feminist. [Read more…]

Review: We Will Work With You!

This is a wonderful exhibition, and is bound to fascinate every left-wing person interested in art and design, or just curious to see some of the history of the many social and political struggles from the past decades in Wellington.

Some of the work and originality that the work building activist campaigns demands – in designing leaflets, getting out posters, thinking up slogans and songs – gives us just a little glimpse of the enormous wasted  creativity of working people, creativity too often smothered or ignored in jobs where people are just ‘human resources’ towards profits.

[Read more…]

The Fire Last Time: The Rise of Class Struggle and Progressive Social Movements in Aotearoa, 1968-1977.

“A dramatic upsurge in working class struggle, surpassing in magnitude the rise of the Red Feds from 1908 to 1913 and the 1951 Waterfront Lockout, took place in New Zealand from the Arbitration Court’s nil general wage order in June 1968 to the union movement’s defeat of the Muldoon Government’s attempted wage freeze in 1976.

The pamphlet describes and analyses these struggles and their impact on progressive social movements, particularly the anti-war, women’s liberation, and Maori protest movements.”

[Read more…]

The Significance of the 1912 Waihi Strike

This year marks the centenary of the 1912 Waihi miners’ strike, one of the most important – and violently contested – strikes in New Zealand history. Frederick Evans was matyred; political ideas and organisational questions clarified; and the role and force of the state made clear. The strike offers many lessons for today.

To mark the occasion, we have published a new pamphlet, The Significance of the 1912 Waihi Strike. This pamphlet aims to introduce the story of the strike to a new generation of unionists and activists, and to draw out its political significance.

You can buy a copy from our branches or you can order copies for $5 by emailing contact@iso.org.nz or by writing to ISO, PO Box 6157, Dunedin. You can also contact us by phone, either text or ring 022 312 8012.

The Significance of the Waihi Strike
by Martin Gregory
International Socialist Organisation
(ISBN 978-0-473-22214-7)


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