Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand

Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand

Melanie Nolan (ed.), Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2006, RRP NZ$37.95, ISBN 1-877257-40-0.

A new book from Canterbury University Press which takes a fresh look at the most violent strike in New Zealand’s history was launched by Prime Minister Helen Clark on 1 May 2006.

Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand is a collection of papers that arose out of a 2003 Trade Union History Project conference that brought together many of New Zealand’s leading historians to re-explore the 1913 General Strike.

The book was launched in the capital at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea on May Day (1 May), which the Prime Minister acknowledged as a very appropriate day to launch the important volume of essays.

‘On this internationally recognised day commemorating the achievements of the labour movement, we can also acknowledge a significant chapter in the history of organised labour in New Zealand” Miss Clark said.

“This book is not a romantic story, but rather a clear-headed account of the broad social implications of what was much more than an industrial dispute: it was a battle over democracy itself” said Miss Clark.

The editor of the collection, Melanie Nolan, Associate Professor of History at Victoria University, said the book addresses the relative neglect of the strike in labour historiography.

“While Erik Olssen‚Äôs 1988 book, The Red Feds, was comprehensive, the project of interpreting 1913 is not finished. All too often in New Zealand history once someone writes a classic, such as Olssen did, a topic is considered ‘done'” said Professor Nolan.

“In light of the discussion at the conference, participants agreed that some important aspects of 1913 remained under-explored. There was a sense that examining 1913 from moderate, gender and elite lenses would put a new perspective on many of the issues.”

The result is a challenging clash of views, as Revolution contributors debate the issues with a vigour that sometimes matches the event itself. Nevertheless, despite the differing takes on it, no one doubts that 1913 remains the most violent strike in New Zealand’s history. The strike, which lasted eight weeks and involved 16.7% of unionists, saw the military take to the streets with naked bayonets and machine guns for all to see.

Contributors include most of New Zealand’s labour historians, many of whom are members of the Trade Union History Project: Donald Anderson, John Crawford, Mark Derby, Miles Fairburn, Peter Franks, David Grant, Richard S. Hill, Jim McAloon, Donald M. MacRaild, Melanie Nolan, Erik Olssen, James Taylor and Kerry Taylor.