Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why do we ignore the New Zealand Wars? - Morgan Godfrey

Topographic plan and cross section of the Ōrākau pā. BAPP 24804 A1721 Box 179/a Green 34, Archives New Zealand

From E-Tangata: There is no shame in us pausing to grieve over the horrors and waste of human life in our overseas campaigns such as Gallipoli, but we shouldn't be proud of the way we pay so little attention to the homegrown battles that shaped our nation.

No one has built a tomb of the unknown toa. We don’t keep a cenotaph for the defeated tauā. There isn’t an obelisk for great rangatira. And, while we build and care for monuments to the men and women who perished in wars on foreign soil, as well as dedicate a day to those who fell at Gallipoli, we continue to ignore the lives lost in the New Zealand Wars.

It doesn’t quite add up. We commemorate New Zealand soldiers who were slaughtered for empire in the Turkish sands while we overlook the New Zealand soldiers and fighters – both Pakeha and Maori – who were slaughtered for empire in the muddy trenches at Orakau. Yet there is an explanation. New Zealand has got into the habit of tracing its nationhood to foreign campaigns in the early 20th century.

The nationhood myth, though, is misleading - maybe deliberately so - because it wasn’t a bitter defeat on foreign soil which forged modern New Zealand. It was the New Zealand Wars which did that.

New Zealand wasn’t like Australia, a vast and disconnected land which came together as a federation only in the early 20th century. Our nationhood really arrived before that with the war for control of the North Island. In eliminating the well-governed and well-functioning society which the Kingitanga had built, the government could finally cement the foundations of the New Zealand state.

Although ANZAC Day represents a kind of retrospective nationhood, the New Zealand Wars more accurately represent actual nationhood. Perhaps we ignore them because it’s not so clear who was dying for glory or good. War is often portrayed as a drama of opposites, but who was fighting for what in the New Zealand Wars?

The ANZAC Day narrative has become a simple story of bravery, comradeship, freedom and sacrifice. But the narrative for the New Zealand Wars hasn’t been shaped as clearly or as acceptably.  The truth is that invasion of the Waikato was a blatant land grab – Pakeha were never going to ignore the economic potential of Kingitanga lands. And so the Crown soldiers who died in the New Zealand Wars died for Pakeha control over the Indigenous people and over the New Zealand economy. That competition for control may be understandable but it doesn’t seem especially noble.

The Maori warriors who died did so in trying to preserve their rangatiratanga. That seems more noble as well as being understandable. So how do Pakeha come to terms with that?

Telling ourselves that we were on the right side at Gallipoli is more comforting than the moral ambiguity of the New Zealand Wars. That’s not to say the New Zealand Wars can be reduced to a morality tale. But it is true that the tales of bravery we hear on ANZAC Day are far more comforting for a young nation.

ANZAC Day encourages us to commemorate and honour the dead and the wounded from our overseas wars. There is nothing wrong with that. But before we can do that for victims in the New Zealand Wars we need to ask some questions – and come to terms with what happened. And why it happened.

New Zealand wasn’t ready to do this in the 20th century. But, with the historical settlement process coming to an end, now is the perfect time.

Michael King used to describe ANZAC Day as “the necessary myth”. Necessary in the sense that we needed a story about the birth of our shared sense of identity. And necessary as well in the sense that New Zealand needed an occasion of gravity to acknowledge the unimaginable suffering at Gallipoli and beyond.  Surely that necessity now extends to the identity forged through the suffering on our own soil.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'100 Years of Trenches' and other disrupting narratives

I've been enjoying reading '100 Years of Trenches', a blog that's not afraid to question 'Anzackery' and other myths around the First World War. It's written by Tim Leadbeater, and is well worth a visit: www.100yearsoftrenches.blogspot.co.nz

If you're in Wellington this week then check out 'Disrupting the Narrative', an exhibition on at Thistle Hall. “On Anzac day, Saturday 25 April, we’ve got a full afternoon of discussions followed by a night of performances" notes the Collective. "At noon, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, author of The Great Wrong War takes the stage for the keynote address. Peace Action Wellington follows with speakers discussing the contemporary implications of the First World War. The Labour History Project will discuss resistance at home and abroad during the war. Then, featured artists and historians will discuss the resistance of Māori in the war including Waikato and Tūhoe opposition to war. In the evening, the artists will take centre stage with discussions and performances along with some kai. All events are free and open to the public.” More information here: http://www.thistlehall.org.nz/projects/ww100.html

Redline continues to publish great content—here's some of their First World War posts: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/as-we-approach-anzac-day/

Vincent O'Malley shared his thought on air this week about the NZ Land Wars, and how it has been left out of the commemorations: http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/we-must-also-commemorate-those-fell-nz-soil-video-6293395

And on this note, Alison McCulloch's article about the differences between WW100 events and the Land Wars commemorations is a great read: http://werewolf.co.nz/2014/04/lest-we-remember/

Across the ditch, Paul Daley's writing on the First World War and the Frontier Wars in Australia is definitely worth reading: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/paul-daley. Another useful source is the Australian website, Honest History: http://www.honesthistory.net.au/

And of course, my own blog has a number of articles about war and militarism: http://garagecollective.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/anti-war

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Anzac Day 2015: a perverse spectacle?

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson
Anzac Day looms larger than ever this year, thanks to it being 100 years since the British invaded Gallipoli. New Zealand was part of that invasion, as was Australia. The overwhelming failure of the campaign left segments of their communities looking for some kind of justification. The myth of Anzac was crafted as a result.

A week out from 25 April, we have already been swamped with a number of remembrance-based projects, from oversized nurses ($8 million and a ratio of 2.4 seems to be the appropriate 'scale that they deserve'), to thousands of mini soldiers; from street re-enactments to chocolate biscuits, kids lunchboxes, and endless multimedia. Anzac Day 2015 has become a perverse spectacle—even more so than previous years.

Why is so much money, time and energy invested in the remembrance of Anzac Day? Why are the New Zealand Land Wars not given such attention? If death or sacrifice is the measure, then why do we not lament the hundreds of workers killed on the job each year? Or those killed and scarred as a result of domestic or sexual abuse?

This piece by David Stephens of the Honest History coalition was written last year and with an Australian focus. However it speaks to some of these issues, and is equally relevant to New Zealand.

Five arguments for downsizing Anzac Day 

Senator Michael Ronaldson, the Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, says that the forthcoming centenary will be the most important period of commemoration in our history. I beg to differ.

I want to present five arguments why we should make Anzac less important than it is now and as it looks like becoming in the next four years. I am not talking about Anzac Day (provided it is done with dignity) but about the Anzac tradition, or myth, or legend, that ever-widening khaki thread that runs through our Australian national tapestry.

My first argument for downsizing Anzac is the vainglory argument. “Vainglory” means “excessive elation or pride in one’s achievements”. Another definition is “boastful vanity”.

Quite simply, the way we commemorate and celebrate the military parts of our history is boastful and way out of proportion to the impact of our arms on most of the conflicts in which we have been involved. Of course, there are particular battles and campaigns where a case can be made that Australian forces were decisive – Beersheba 1917, France in the summer of 1918, El Alamein 1942, for example – but generally we have been bit-part players in overseas wars. In the Gallipoli campaign, birthplace of the Anzac legend, Australians made up just 6 per cent of the forces involved on both sides and 5 per cent of the casualties on both sides.

Our war commemoration is boastful also – boastful and insensitive – because it takes very little account of the broader human impact of war. Raw statistics are not, of course, the only way of supporting this argument (and every soldier killed in war is a tragedy) but how do the 100 000 or so Australian war deaths in the twentieth century compare with total deaths in wars around the world in that century?

We are measuring here not only military deaths but civilian deaths as well. Almost all Australia’s war dead were volunteers serving in uniform beyond our shores; in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, however, they tend to have wars in their own backyards which means they have more dead civilians.

One reputable estimate of total deaths in wars and conflicts in the twentieth century is 231 million. That makes Australia’s 100 000 around 0.04 per cent of the total.

We are not just Australians but citizens of the world. Our common humanity demands that we in Australia broaden our perspective on war and deaths in war to recognise the impacts of war beyond our own kith and kin. Wars are not just noisy and colourful highlights in a single nation’s history. They are not just occasions for commemorative exercises wrapped in patriotism and clouded with nostalgia. They kill people, lots of them, and they injure and traumatise lots more. We need to focus more sharply on what war does to people – the world’s people – than on what Australian people do in war.

We say that, beneath our commemoration of war, there is an abhorrence of war. We insist that we do not glorify war. These denials often come, however, as add-ons to moving, patriotic, feel-good – or at least bitter-sweet – ceremonies with lots of flags, eloquent speeches, remembrance of heroic acts, sonorous hymns, wide-eyed children and, now, sound and light shows. Rather than routinely repeating, as an afterthought to nostalgic commemoration, that mantra about not glorifying war, would it not be a more effective argument against war to highlight the impacts of war on civilian populations, the great bulk of that 231 million dead?

My second argument I call the strangulation argument. We do military history so well in Australia, through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Australian War Memorial and the various state memorials, through school curricula, through the endless flood of military history books, good, bad and indifferent, through military tourism for all ages, through movies and mini-series during the Great War centenary, through commercial hucksters flogging everything from Gallipoli champagne cruises entertained by Bert Newton or hosted by a retired General to a Gallipoli memorial swag, as well as lots and lots of commemoration, anniversaries of this battle and that, new memorials being built with government money, travelling exhibitions, re-enactments, performance art, symphonies, and so on, that there is a risk that some Australians, particularly young Australians, by the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, will think that really there is nothing in Australian history worth noticing except what occurs on battlefields.

Yet there is so much more to our history that we could be researching, presenting, popularising, and celebrating. We are a much more interesting country than we will seem if that khaki thread strangles all of the others.

Australian history is made by women, men, individuals, families, artists, philosophers, scientists, unionists, business people, public servants, soldiers and politicians. We carry the imprint of the First Australians, the builders of the CSIRO, the Sydney Opera House and the Snowy scheme, the pioneers of the bush frontier in the nineteenth century and the urban frontier in the 1950s, and “boat people”, whether they are convicts, post-war “ten pound Poms” and “New Australians” or asylum seekers. Australian history is to the credit – and the fault – of all of us, not just our Diggers.

My third argument is the devaluation argument, devaluation of the men and women who died. The type of commemoration exercise we engage in nowadays is really less about them – the Diggers – and more about us – about Australians today. Michael McGirr, writing in 2001, used the term “creeping Anzacism” to describe:
. . . the way in which the remembrance of war is moving from the personal to the public sphere and, with that, from a description of something unspeakable to something about which you can never say enough.
As fewer and fewer Australians actually know somebody who fought in World War I or World War II the commemoration of war has changed from a quiet remembrance of other people to an unrestrained endorsement of ourselves. As ideology comes to replace history, there are fewer and fewer faces to go with the stories. They have been replaced by a lather of clichés, most of which are as much about filling a void in the narcissistic present as lending dignity to the past.
People now seem to believe that in looking at the Anzacs they are looking at themselves. They aren’t. The dead deserve more respect than to be used to make ourselves feel larger.
I believe the tendencies McGirr described more than a decade ago have increased since.

My fourth argument is the bellicosity argument. “Bellicosity” means “an inclination to fight or quarrel”; it is sometimes rendered as “bellicoseness”.

Hugh White of the ANU has argued that the Anzac tradition encourages us to fight without thinking. I paraphrase his argument as follows. First, “soft” wars over the last 30 years – that is, wars with relatively low casualties – have made Australians more bellicose. Secondly, we regard the Australian-American alliance as vital to our national security so we are always susceptible to phone calls from the White House, seeking our involvement somewhere overseas.

Thirdly, Australians traditionally have not focused sharply on the purposes of war, either beforehand or in retrospect. We tend to go off to fight without too much analysis of why we are doing it. We don’t worry too much about whether and how fighting serves our national interest. Australians are altruistic warriors. Here is Prime Minister Abbott early in March addressing the troops returned from Afghanistan:
[Y]ou have fought for the universal decencies of mankind – the rights of the weak against the strong, the rights of the poor against the rich and the rights of all to strive for the very best they can. That’s what Australians do; we always have and we always will. Australians don’t fight to conquer; we fight to help, to build and to serve.
We say we are not militaristic. But the prime minister’s remarks suggest you don’t need to be militaristic to be inclined to fight.

Added to all this, says Professor White, is the reinforcing role of the Anzac tradition. While we steer away from why we fight, we focus sharply on how we fight, on the details of battles and the experiences of soldiers. (Think about all those military history books, all those commemorations of battles.) Professor White believes that part of the explanation for our failure to go into the purpose and cost of war is “the potent idea of war in Australian society, focused on the Anzac legend”. He writes about “the way Australians’ intense focus on military history, centred on the Gallipoli campaign, has shaped, and in some ways distorted, both our understanding of Australia’s history and our image of ourselves”.

My fifth and final argument for downsizing Anzac is the ideology argument. Geoffrey Serle years ago coined the term “Anzackery” to apply to the inflation, by excessive and bombastic commemoration, of a part of our history into a noisy myth. There are plenty of recent examples, many of them coming from our prime ministers on both sides of politics.

I believe there is a risk that Anzackery will develop into “Anzacism”, a form of state ideology, built on a narrow base, justifying a particular set of policies and punishing dissent. (And I’m here taking Anzacism a little further than McGirr did when he used the same term.)

Anzacism as a state ideology might have a number of characteristics. Let me compare these possible characteristics with state ideologies we have known in the past:
  • A linkage with traditional national symbols: thousands of national flags as the main feature of party rallies in totalitarian regimes; national flags as a dominant feature in Anzac Day marches.
  • A requirement for ritual observance: historians of the old Soviet Union refer to the “reverential” attitude towards Leninism; here, Angus Houston, chair of the then Anzac Centenary Advisory Board, said: “The Board is determined to ensure that the Anzac Centenary is marked in a way that captures the spirit and reverence it so deserves”.
  • Moving mass ceremonies affirming loyalty to the ideology: May Day ceremonies; Dawn Services.
  • Adoration of mythologised ordinary people: Stakhanov, the super-worker; John Simpson Kirkpatrick.
  • Intrusion into fields where ideology is not normally present but where people gather en masse: compare the attitudes of the crowds at the 1936 Berlin Olympics with those at the Anzac Day AFL match or the Anzac Test.
  • Loyalty tests: pledging loyalty to a state ideology as a feature of communist regimes; the prominence of Anzac in the citizenship literature of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

This may be an awkward attitude to have in the Anzac centenary years. Yet the freedom to have awkward views is presumably part of the freedom referred to on “the King’s Penny”, which was the large medallion received by the families of the men who died in World War I. The text on the medallion reads, “He died for freedom and honour”.

The last time I looked, it was not OK for children who believed in myths like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to lay into children who did not – and vice-versa. Nor was it acceptable for people of faith to seek to suppress the views of agnostics and atheists – and vice-versa.

The situation we are now facing is analogous. For example, a Coalition MP recently accused the ABC of lacking “situational awareness” for rebroadcasting in the centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War a segment which included questioning of the Anzac legend. Our group, Honest History, has been accused of the very same fault, labelled in exactly the same way, by a very senior Commonwealth official.

The myths and legends of our past must not become the basis of a jingoistic state ideology. An Anzac loyalty requirement – or any other pseudo-patriotic stipulation – is just as unacceptable as a fatwa against infidels or an edict against unbelievers.

David Stephens is secretary of Honest History (honesthistory.net.au). Honest History is a broad coalition of historians and others, committed to frank debate and expressing a diversity of opinions on specific issues.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Wobbly driplines: strikes, stowaways & the SS Manuka

TSS Manuka berthed next to Princes Wharf, Auckland, c.1909. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R35.

What do a Latvian anarchist, the Wobblies, ham and eggs, the Military Service Act, and The Australian Communist have in common? The TSS Manuka, a 4,505 tonne, twin screw passenger ship originally owned by the Union Steam Ship Company (USS Co.). Built in 1903 and wrecked off New Zealand’s southern coast in 1929, the Manuka was a floating fragment of class society—and of class warfare. It operated during a time of new ideas and a militant workers’ movement. It connected strikes across the Tasman, transported radicals and radicalism, and experienced its own on-board struggles. And like most things in 1914, was caught in the storm of war.

The Manuka and its crew
When the Manuka was built and delivered to the USS Co. in late 1903, it was the largest and fastest ship in their fleet. Made of mild steel and with a distinctively tall funnel, it was designed to add prestige to the aptly named ‘Red Funnel’ fleet. Although planned for the trans-Tasman route between New Zealand and Australia, the Manuka occasionally made the longer journey to Honolulu and Vancouver. It was also used as occasionally as a troopship during the First World War, making a number of passages to and from Egypt (although it was never given an official military troopship number).

Its civilian passengers travelled in style. ‘The [interior] framework is in waxed oak’ beamed the NZ Herald, ‘and decorated in ivory and gold. The ceiling is panelled to correspond; the upholstery is in sylvano velvet.’1 Passengers could dine, dance and smoke surrounded by red velvet and green buffalo hide, sleep on modern spring mattresses, and keep cool with the assistance of electric fans. The culinary department also impressed the Herald reporter. ‘Pantries are fitted with hot presses and steam boilers for water, coffee, milk, eggs etc’, and ‘fitted with all the modern conveniences.’2 Provisions were kept cool by large refrigerators, ready to feed nearly a hundred people at any one time.

If you were traveling first-class and full on fine dining, you slept in the middle of the vessel ‘where the motion and vibration are at a minimum.’ Second-class passengers bedded down in the less stable but still comfortable rear of the ship, where the officers and stewards also had their quarters.

The rest of the Manuka’s crew, however, worked, ate and slept in what little space remained. Usually this was the fo’csle (or ‘glory hole’ as it was more commonly known)—the cramped, wet, dirty and constantly pitching space at the front of the ship. Because of poor ventilation, the fo’csle became ‘an evil-smelling damp hole’ of close living and discomfort.3

Even these conditions were hard won. In 1893, seamen fought to extend the 72 cubic feet of cabin space allowed for each crew member to 120 feet—the space legally required for passengers. Indeed, the year the Manuka was launched saw a ‘brief but bitter dispute’ between the USS Co. and the Seamen’s Union over the condition of crew quarters.4 Seamen finally gained 120 cubic feet in 1909, but only for ships yet to be built—existing vessels like the Manuka were exempt.5

As Neil Atkinson explains in Crew Culture, the social organisation of the merchant ship was determined by traditional concepts of gender, power and class. Like their passengers, the crew were divided by a social hierarchy—the separation of living quarters aboard the Manuka reflected the social distances between officers and those who worked below deck. ‘As steamships grew in size and complexity, their crews were divided into three distinct departments: deck; stokehold or engine-room; and “providore” or catering (cooks, stewards, and stewardesses).’6 Thanks to the increasingly bureaucratic and managerial nature of 20th century steam ships, these spatial and social gulfs remained stark. Divisions between workers continued below deck, where the ‘Black Gang’—firemen, stokers, greasers and trimmers—fought heat and grime under the watchful eyes of marine engineers, ‘who were themselves a new breed of professional-managerial employees at sea.’7

Firemen and trimmers on the TSS Manuka, c.1910. Owaka Museum Wahi Kahuika, CT79.1270b.
Solidarity Forever
Where you slept, ate or worked on the Manuka was literally determined by class. But class is not simply a measure of wealth or occupation; it is the result of a particular social relationship. The life of those on board was shaped by capital, in the form of their work; the state, in the form of the Arbitration Court and other legal sanctions; and the struggle against both, mostly (but not always) represented by the Seamen’s Union.

Crew were governed by legally enforceable articles (fixed-term contracts) that bound them to the service of the shipowner for a specified time, or for the duration of a voyage. ‘Seafarers faced prison sentences for refusing to work or leaving their place of work, the ship, without permission. Desertion—quitting the ship before the term of the contract expired—was punishable by up to three months imprisonment, with or without hard labour.’8 They also lost any clothes, personal belongings or wages owed to them.

Struggles against such measures took many forms, ranging from discreet, on-the-job acts like go-slows or spelling, to the formation of national and international organisations. The New Zealand Seamen’s Union was formed in 1880 although prototypes had come and gone before then. Rocked but not sunk by the 1890 Maritime Strike, the Union found protection in the 1894 Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act. While still controlled by articles, the Act and its compulsory arbitration courts recognised unions, set general working conditions for seamen through periodic awards, and settled disputes. However in return, workers lost the right to strike, which became illegal.

During the Manuka’s lifetime, union membership was a core part of a seaman’s experience. Although hard to imagine now, the closed shop was normal at that time. The union card ensured a seaman got work, and pay changed with whatever award or levy was in place. Non-union members were either scabs or blacklegs, and not welcome.

While employment and awards were an important part of union organising, the safety of the crew was a crucial concern. ‘Rust-buckets’ whose hull plates ‘punctured in the course of painting by being tapped with the handle of a paint-brush’ were all too common, leading to one of the highest rates of wrecks and deaths in the world.9 A number of workers were killed on the Manuka, such as Albert Hayward, a watersider who in 1917 stepped on a defective hatchway and fell 40 feet into the hold.10 Crew had their fingers mangled, shoulders smashed, and as the reports of the Marine Department show, suffered countless other injuries.

However the union meeting was more than just a place to talk pay and conditions. Although no occupation can confidently be equated with militancy, seamen were also renowned for their radicalism and solidarity with causes wider than their own. Alongside miners and watersiders, seamen were at the forefront of the syndicalist upsurge from around 1905-06, and many were influenced by the revolutionary ideas of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

‘Wobblies were internationalists in practice as well as in spirit’ writes Mark Derby. ‘They belonged to transitory occupations, they crossed and re-crossed the Tasman, the Pacific and much further afield, were often in danger of deportation or on the run, and in general they regarded their nationality as an accident of birth and a supreme irrelevance.’11 Seamen and the IWW were a perfect fit, and seafaring Wobblies or those sympathetic to IWW ideas joined those who argued against the arbitration system. Even after the defeat of the 1913 Great Strike, the Wobbly spirit remained present within the Seamen’s Union well into 1920s and beyond. IWW literature, international seamen, local advocates of the ‘one big union’, and the use of direct action tactics all kept the ideas of the IWW alive.

The nature of their work meant seamen were also at the forefront of what is now called transnationalism. Webs of action and interaction criss-crossed between ports, and along these lines passed radicals, rituals, literature, and modes of struggle.

‘The maritime world has geographic and industrial features that have the effect of creating a unique working-class culture’ writes Paula de Angelis. ‘Its transnational economic structure and work force create conditions where the need for international co-operation amongst workers is easily perceived, and the difficulties of applying national controls and discourses to the labour force in the face of this perception have contributed to the persistence of radical philosophies such as syndicalism in the industry.’13

Anarchist historian Michael Schmidt notes that one of the IWW’s most successful branches, the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union (MTWIU), ‘integrated Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Auckland into a global network of ports: Cape Town, Hong Kong, Canton (Guangzhou), Shanghai, Manila, Rangoon (Yangon), Yokohama and San Francisco among them. This had a direct impact on labour organising in all those cities.’14

Transnationalism was a multi-directional process. Those who brought ideas into port also left with them modified or clarified. For example, in 1916 the IWW launched a fishermen’s strike in Fiji, ‘probably under the influence of the Australian IWW or New Zealand IWW’ which, in turn, had been influenced by Canadian Wobblies such as JB King.’15 Tom Barker, a Britsh-born Wobbly who was radicalised in New Zealand, went on to organise for the IWW in Australia and the anarcho-syndicalist Federación Obrera Regional Argentina. He also wrote a seaman’s guide to syndicalism called The Story of the Sea: Marine Transport Workers Handbook, published in 1923 and no doubt read by Noel Lyons, instigator of the ‘Ham and Egg Revolution’.

The Ham and Egg Revolution
During its time in service, the Manuka was held up by a number of strikes, such as those triggered by watersiders refusing to work any ship in port, or due to larger withdrawals of labour during events such as the 1913 Great Strike. For example, newspapers reported the Manuka stuck at port due to major watersider strikes in 1908, 1910, 1913, 1921, 1922, and again in 1928. No doubt there were many more unreported cases.

Striking firemen are depicted as holding up the public and the USS Co. NZ Truth, 18 January 1919.

The Manuka was also held up by the militancy of its own crew, or by a particular section of the crew. Despite the legal might facing them, throughout 1915 ‘troublesome firemen’ of the Manuka’s Black Gang refused to work until they were paid the same as firemen picked up in Sydney. At one stage volunteers had to be called from the steerage passengers to make up the numbers!16 Further strikes during wartime agitated for better working conditions, while in 1917 the Manuka’s crew joined a ‘seditious strike’ that froze the Wellington wharves for a fortnight.17

Post-war discontent and on-the-job forms of control saw a flurry of strikes in January, May, June and July 1919 alone. Interestingly, the May dispute saw the Manuka's crew refuse to sail unless three of their fellow workers, sick with influenza and quarantined on Matiu Somes Island, were moved to more suitable quarters.18 This is one of many examples of seamen using their power for more than bread-and-butter issues.

Again, discreet acts of everyday resistance were bound to have gone unreported. However one case of job control—dramatic, at least, in the eyes of the capitalist press—did make the headlines. This was a series of actions in 1925 led by a Wobbly coal trimmer named Noel Lyons.

The quality of food served to seamen had always caused discontent, especially when compared to the fine dining lavished upon first class passengers. In May 1925 the situation came to a head on the Manuka, when the crew refused to leave Wellington until their food was improved. The press quickly dubbed the incident the ‘ham and egg revolution’, and mocked the crew for their ‘unreasonable’ demands.

However as the USS Co. made clear to reporters, the real issue was ‘the deliberate attempt to institute job control’ via the go-slow.19 Throughout the voyage Lyons and the crew had used the go-slow to good effect, hindering the running of the ship. Using the pretext that IWW literature and posters had been found on board, Lyons was read the 1919 Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act and given 28 days to leave New Zealand. Instead, he and the crew walked off their Sydney-bound vessel singing ‘Solidarity Forever,’ and convened a meeting at the Communist Hall.

Three hundred people packed into the Manners Street hall to hear Lyons speak about the strike. ‘I have been described as a paid agitator,’ he argued, ‘but it is a well known fact that all who take an active part in attempting to better the condition of the worker… develop whiskers overnight, and appear as a Bolshevik.’ Despite resolutions of protest from a range of influential unions, Lyons was imprisoned for two weeks before being shipped to Australia. However, this transnational radical was far from deterred. On his arrival Lyons made the most of what the NZ Truth called ‘the new spasm of [the] IWW,’ organising mass meetings and reviving the Sydney IWW.

Noel Lyons arrives in Sydney after being deported from New Zealand. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/201155941
Yours for the OBU
Twenty years before Lyons and the crew of the Manuka flaunted the syndicalist tactic of the go-slow, another transnational figure who popularised such methods had walked the same decks. In March 1904, Latvian anarchist Philip Josephs steamed into Wellington aboard the Manuka. With him were his wife Sophia, four daughters, and the seeds of one of New Zealand’s first anarchist collectives, the Freedom Group, which he formed in 1913.

I’ve written about the influence of Josephs on New Zealand’s working-class counterculture in past issues of the LHP Bulletin, and elsewhere.20 His advocacy of syndicalism, his involvement in the New Zealand Socialist Party and the Wellington IWW, his tailor shop-cum-radical bookstore, his distribution network of radical literature, and his participation in public meetings and strikes, are just some examples. And while the Manuka may arguably have first brought organised anarchism to New Zealand (in the form of Josephs), he in turn influenced the anarchist movement abroad. His international mail network helped to form arguments against state socialism, and countered reports of New Zealand as a workingman’s paradise.

Another syndicalist to cross the Tasman on the Manuka was John B. Williams. His 1920 visit was two-fold: to fundraise on behalf of Broken Hill miners embroiled in a bitter strike, and to set up locals of the One Big Union. (The OBU had continued the syndicalism of the Wobblies after the Australian IWW was declared illegal during the First World War). After a brief visit back to Sydney, he returned to New Zealand in 1921 as an organiser for the New Zealand Workers’ Union (NZWU), where he agitated amongst North Island public works labourers.

The Special Branch of the New Zealand Police—set up in 1920 to spy on ‘extremist labour agitators’ like Williams—closely monitored his return. After attending a meeting in Christchurch, Detective Sergeant Gibson reported that Williams had told the audience ‘he was in New Zealand to form the “One Big Union” and behind the movement were the IWW men who had been recently liberated in New South Wales.’21 These were the Sydney Twelve—Wobblies that had been charged with treason, arson, sedition and forgery in 1916. Alarmed that Williams had formed a branch in Auckland, detectives pondered whether they could use the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act to prohibit further IWW and OBU speakers into the country.

Their fear of an IWW resurgence in New Zealand never eventuated, for the Twelve did not arrive, and the OBU movement was overshadowed by the Alliance of Labour. Yet Williams remained a prominent organiser for the NZWU well into the 1930s, and in 1927 he led a strike at the Arapuni Power Station, the first government-built hydroelectric station on the Waikato River.

Appropriate swag
Who knows how many other radicals arrived aboard the Manuka during this period? However, the ship did more than transport radicals. Seamen were especially prolific in smuggling mail, penny pamphlets, and revolutionary newspapers in and out of New Zealand, especially during the First World War and the red scare that followed.

Vessels laden with IWW literature helped to fan the flames of discontent wherever they docked. ‘All boats from America were met by one or more of us wearing our IWW badge in case there should be a Wobbly on board with the appropriate swag,’ recalled Alec Holdsworth of the Auckland IWW.22 The effect of such ‘swag’ was not lost on the authorities. In 1915, the government banned the entire output of the IWW from New Zealand, and in 1920 extended War Regulations to cover communist material and other revolutionary works.

One radical who was caught in the net of censorship was William Blair, a communist watersider based in Wellington. In June 1921 Blair sold The Australian Communist to an undercover detective, who then charged him under the 1915 War Regulations for selling seditious literature. Rather than go to court, Blair took an assumed name and boarded the Manuka with a one-way ticket to Sydney. Unlucky for a second time, he was stopped by police and jailed for two months. (He later wrote a scathing report on prison conditions and ‘the tortures of the ‘dummy’ or solitary confinement’ for NZ Truth).23

Blair was not the only one to try and escape New Zealand aboard the Manuka. During the First World War, a section of its crew acted as agents of freedom for those trying to avoid military conscription.

New Zealand Expeditionary Force Recruitment poster, WE Smith Ltd, Sydney. Archives New Zealand, AD1 9/169/2/1.

The 1916 Military Service Act forcibly pressed all non-Maori men aged between 20 and 46 into military service, summoning them through a ballot of the national register. Resistance to the ‘body-snatchers’ included newspapers, flyers, mass rallies, seditious strikes, ‘going bush’, or skipping the country. The Seamen’s Union issued a number of anti-conscription circulars, and stood in solidarity with strikers deemed unpatriotic for fighting wartime profiteering. Some seamen also formed the final link in an ‘underground railway’ of working-class conscripts leaving New Zealand.24

On 21 August 1918, six labourers—Jeremiah Courtney, Bernard Bradley, Michael O’Conner, Thomas Prendergast, William Collins and Patrick Toohey—were arrested by Sydney police after a three hour search of the Manuka. Five of them were caught while leaving the ship posing as firemen, while the sixth was found hiding in a lavatory. As a number of them were wanted for desertion from Trentham military camp, they were bundled back to New Zealand and jailed for three months on the charge of leaving the country without a permit. ‘A sturdy-looking crowd of men like you might have been expected to do something better than funk it, as you did,’ remarked magistrate Frazer.25

If it had not been for a tip off from the New Zealand military, these anti-militarists may indeed have ‘funked it’. Before leaving New Zealand, every passenger ship was thoroughly searched for anyone leaving without a permit: one constable would guard the gangway as the second combed all areas of the ship, assisted by the Chief Deck Officer and the Engineer on watch. This was how Samuel Fitzgerald, another defaulter avoiding military service, was caught. Found boarding the Manuka, he was sentenced to a year’s hard labour for desertion in March 1917.

However, the six labourers had been buried deep in coal by sympathetic firemen and later hidden in the fo'csle. ‘I have no doubt that the six men... were actively assisted by firemen’ wrote Police Commissioner O’Donovan in his report to the minister. ‘It is of course possible that some of the engineers knew something of what was going on, but there is no evidence of it.’26 In fact, the Chief Engineer had found three military defaulters on an earlier trip and reported them to the authorities—highlighting the social divisions amongst the crew.

The Manuka and its crew was not the only USS Co. vessel with an eventful past. But a focus on this ship enables a micro-level entry into a larger and more complex story. This includes the working-class counterculture of seafarers, the transnational nature of seamen and syndicalism, on-the-job forms of class struggle, and resistance to First World War conscription.

Were these experiences and events relating to the Manuka typical of the period? It is hard to make any conclusions without comparative research of other USS Co. vessels. Yet in a way, the life of the Manuka reflected the journey of the syndicalist movement itself. Built and launched as syndicalism was expanding its influence, the Manuka—like syndicalism—was rocked by strikes, affected by agitators and printed agitation, pioneered new forms of on-the-job action, and was divided by war. After riding out the turbulent 20s, the Manuka was finally wrecked in December 1929, just as the depression was beginning to hit New Zealand’s shores. The 283 passengers and crew on that voyage survived, as would the ideas of the IWW in New Zealand. Wobbly driplines had nurtured its growth, which in turn, grew into a culture and ethos that persists in certain labour circles today.

Republished from LHP Bulletin 63, April 2015.

1. NZ Herald, September 1903
2. Ibid.
3. Neill Atkinson, Crew Culture: New Zealand Seafarers under Sail and Steam, Wellington: Te Papa Press,
2001, p. 30
4. Conrad Bollinger, Against the Wind: The Story of the New Zealand Seamen’s Union, Wellington: New Zealand Seamen’s Union, 1968, p. 49.
5. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p. 30
6. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p. 16
7. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p. 17
8. Atkinson, Crew Culture, p. 96
9. Bollinger, Against the Wind, p. 75-76
10. Thames Star, 25 May 1917
11. Mark Derby, ‘Towards a Transnational Study of New Zealand Links with the Wobblies’, available online at http://redruffians.tumblr.com/post/2616013507/towards-a-transnational-study-of-new-zealand-links
12. Driplines are the area directly located under the outer circumference of the tree branches. This is where the tiny rootlets are located that take up water for the tree.
13. Paula de Angelis, ‘Tom Barker and the Syndicalism of the Sea: The Underground Influence of the IWW’, Presentation, 2012, p. 7
14. Interview with Michael Schmidt, Imminent Rebellion 13, 2014, p. 60
15. Ibid.
16. Evening Post, 17 December 1915; ‘Te Anau (ship) and “Manuka” (ship) - Trouble caused by action of firemen’, M1 Box 1014/ 15/3/179, Archives New Zealand, Wellington Office.
17. Bollinger, Against the Wind, p. 126
18. NZ Herald, 15 May 1919
19. NZ Herald, 22 May 1925
20. LHP Bulletin 54, April 2012; Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism, Oakland: AK Press, 2013.
21. Det. Serg. Gibson to Chief Detective, Christchurch, 21 April 1921, ‘CPNZ: Wellington District:
Sympathisers and Contacts, Vol.1’, Box 6/ 21/5/10, Archives New Zealand, Wellington Office. An earlier OBU Council in Auckland had been formed during 1920 by Wobblies active in the 1913 Great Strike, but it had a brief existence. See LHP Bulletin 56, December 2012.
22. Derby, ‘Towards a Transnational Study of New Zealand Links with the Wobblies’
23. NZ Truth, 5 November 1921
24. Bollinger, Against the Wind, p. 122.
25. Evening Post, 28 August 1918

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Love radical books and ideas? Support AK Press!


DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/akpressfire 
BUY A HALF-PRICE eBOOK: http://www.akpress.org/downloads.html

From AK Press: In the early morning of March 21, the building behind ours caught fire. Two people lost their lives. The fire  moved to the mixed-use warehouse building we share with 1984 Printing and 30+ residents. Everyone in our building got out safely, but several units were completely destroyed. There was extensive water and smoke damage to other units, including the ones occupied by AK Press and 1984 Printing.

On the afternoon of March 24th, the City of Oakland red-tagged our building, which prohibits us from occupying it. We don't know how long this will last, but it obviously means we can't conduct business as usual.

We know how many of you support what AK Press does and the important role it plays in independent and radical publishing. A lot of you have been asking what is the best way to help us in the midst of this chaos and disruption. In fact, the outpouring of support and mutual aid has been pretty damn amazing. There was a small army of people here helping with clean-up over the weekend, and we've already raised some emergency funds from generous donations via PayPal (thank you!!) while we were working out the logistics of coordinating a larger fund drive.

But we and our neighbors can all still use help, and we want to make sure everyone affected benefits from the same kind of mutual aid we have seen. In our case, while we have lost thousands of books and pamphlets, our first concern is the smaller presses who we distribute. Several of them had inventory damaged. We want to make sure we are able to pay them so that they can keep going and reprint their books. Second, we are concerned about all the work we are currently unable to do: the books not being shipped out, the files not getting sent to the printer while we are kept out of the building. We are working out the details of our insurance, of what stock is and isn’t covered, but we won't see any insurance money for quite a while and we’ll definitely need some support until that happens, and to make sure our losses aren't passed on to other publishers we distribute.

Our neighbors at 1984 Printing had a ton of paper, materials, jobs in progress, and computers damaged. Residents of the building lost varying percentages of their belongings. Some lost everything.

So, if you can help, it’s pretty simple: whatever you donate will be evenly split three ways between AK Press, 1984 Printing, and our affected neighbors.

And all of us will be very, very grateful.

The AK Press Collective

It's been almost two weeks since the fire at our warehouse and we know some of you have been waiting for an update and wondering how you can plug into the relief efforts. Very briefly, here is where things stand: our building is still red-tagged by the City of Oakland. We are hopeful that, after more inspections and some repairs are completed, we'll be able to stay. In the meantime we have been able to get some access to our stock and so we have been able to send out orders for titles that weren't damaged. We are still waiting for insurance inspectors to come and review the damage in our unit, and until that happens, we can't make any more progress with clearing out destroyed stock. So at this point there is just a lot of waiting, which we can't do much about, and it means it's going to be a while still before our work can return to any semblance of "normal."

We can't thank you enough for all of the support we've gotten in the last two weeks. Your generous donations to our crowdfunding campaign add up to almost $45,000 so far, and that money will be shared with 1984 Printing and our neighbors in the building who have been displaced by the fire. We plan to give out the first round of checks this week. We're not quite to one-third of our goal, so if you can still donate, please do! Recovering from the fire is going to be a long and difficult process, and your support will help us all get back on our feet sooner.

Besides donating, here are a few things folks can do to help (since some of you have been asking!):
• Spread the word about our fundraiser, even if you can't give yourself.
• Organize a benefit. Maybe you're in a band; maybe you can organize a film screening or a house party. Make it a benefit for our fire relief fund and we'll happily share it on our events calendar. Please understand that we are stretched pretty thin labor-wise at the moment so we probably can't send a collective member to your event, but we'll be ever-so-grateful for your help!
• Bookstores and other retailers: this might be obvious, but if you owe us money, now would be a great time to pay up! We've also heard from stores that want to have benefit events or donate a percentage of a day's sales to our fund, which is amazing and we certainly appreciate the mutual aid!
• And finally, yes, you can still place orders with us! Just understand that there will be slight delays shipping things out, so we appreciate your patience. If you're into this sort of thing, we suggest ordering e-books (which require almost no work to process and you can download instantly). And if you're able to support us more consistently, we would love it if more folks signed up as Friends of AK Press. You can do all of these things at akpress.org.

Thanks again, so much, for your support.
-The AK Press Collective

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Settler colonialism is a structure not an event - woodcut

This is a woodcut I made to illustrate a quote by Patrick Wolfe. Feel free to download and re-use it, or contact me for a high resolution TIFF version.