Paper Example: The Primary Concerns of Waterside Employees

Published: 2023-02-13
Paper Example: The Primary Concerns of Waterside Employees
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Revolution World Conflict resolution Employment law
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1479 words
13 min read

The 1951 Waterfront dispute was New Zealand's most significant industrial confrontation in the country's history. Even if it was not as much as violent as Great Strike that took place in 1913, it took place for 151 days involving more employees starting from February to July (Walsh, 2004). At the peak of the 1951 Waterfront dispute, 22, 000 wharves (waterside workers) together with other unionists were off work. The 1951 Waterfront dispute was caused by a culmination of several years of unrest on wharves. The waterside employees were the leading protesting group during the conflict. Waterside workers protested by refusing to work extra hours as they hoped it would force employers to increase their wages. Therefore, it was a result of the primary concerns of the waterside employees and their determination to attain their goals that had led to the industrial actions in 1951. The waterfront was known to occupy an essential strategic part of the export economy of New Zealand, and it had long been viewed as a flashpoint of industrial conflicts. New Zealand's two significant strikes before 1951 took place in 1913 and 1890 and they were primarily centered on wharves. This paper will discuss the major concerns of the waterside workers as the leading protesting group during the 1951 Waterfront dispute.

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The 1951 Waterfront dispute occurred during the climate of Cold War suspicion. The sides that were opposing denounced one another as terrorists, traitors, Commies, and Nazis. The dispute polarized politics and resulted in the splitting of the union movement, which left a bitter legacy. The government and workers described the dispute as a strike while the waterside workers described it as a lockout. While unrest mounted in several places and on the wharves, there was division in the labor movement. During April 1950, the union of waterside workers and militant unions withdrew from Federation of Labor and ended up forming a breakaway organization known as Trade Union Congress. The immediate cause of the 1951 Waterfront dispute was attributed as the economic situation after the war. After years of shortages and restrictions, the economy was growing (Coutts & Fitness, 2013). While the cost of living increased, workers started demanding higher increases in wages. During January 1951, the Arbitration Court ordered the award of 15% wage rise to all employees who were covered by the system of industrial arbitration. This failed to apply to the waterside employees given that the commission of waterfront industry regulated their employment. The union of waterside workers protested through refusing to work during overtime. All shipping businesses refused to hire waterside workers unless they began agreeing on working during extra hours (Walsh, 2004). Given that no agreement was attained; the members of the union were locked out. As a result, the country's wharves came to a standstill. Despite the impact of the 1951 dispute, the broader labor movement remained not united behind the waterside workers concerns.

A significant economic concern to the striking actions of the waterside workers was the dissatisfaction at the workplaces. The large numbers of Zealanders going overseas had led to considerable labor shortages at home. This made employees, especially most of the waterside employees, to stay behind where they worked for long hours. In 1936, Peter Fraser created Waterfront Control Commission which was an organization meant to run wharves (Nolan, 2004). Waterfront Control soon devised a system which carefully regulated the working conditions, wage negotiations, and labor shortages in waterfronts countrywide. The refusal of the Waterfront Control Commission to lead talks about the pay claims and working conditions significantly contributed to dissatisfaction among the waterside employees at the workplaces. However, it was after the war when the observed growing economic conditions needed more labor power, and used the labor shortage condition in advantage. Unions like New Zealand Waterside demanded better working conditions and pay for current waterside employees. However, such pay claims became rejected by the government and their employers (Coutts & Fitness, 2013). The dissatisfaction concern by the waterside employees with their economic condition worsened as there was a rise of inflation. Waterside workers felt the restrictions and hardships which the state had established during the time of war were only worsening even though the war had ended. All waterside firmly held the concern that the government's failure to change the hours for working on the waterfront was a great mistake which made them seek to the industrial action to challenge the government on the increasing dissatisfaction at the workplace.

The negative policy towards all waterside employees was another primary concern that led to the 1951 Waterfront dispute. While the state was mainly concerned with assisting Britain in recovering in the years of post-wartime, Fraser, the prime minister, also attempted minimizing any reforms to the existing working condition and keeping prices and wages down. The stance by Fraser that was against the unions representing the waterside workers was evident given that the state was looking at the leaders of the unions of the waterside workers as enemies of the country (Millar, 2015). There was the start of the formation of battle lines between the waterside unions and the government as Fraser had initiated the stabilization system having his major ally as Federation of Labor.

The schism seen in the Federation of Labor contributed a primary concern by the waterside workers during the 1951 Waterfront dispute. The rise in conflict between all constituting unions that were under the Federation of Labor (FoL) led to split of FoL into two parts: the Federation of Labor that was led by Walsh and Trade Union Congress (Locke, 2012). The Trade Union Congress was a militant group that was communist leaning which was developed by the union of the waterside workers. The schism associated with FoL was also seen as a rivalry which had been formed earlier before the 1951 Waterfront dispute.

A primary political concern by the waterside employees during the 1951 Waterfront dispute was the overall dissatisfaction of the labor government during and at the end of the war. The waterside workers felt that the government had broken its promise to deliver better policies and working conditions to the people working at the waterfronts as they largely contributed to the victory experienced at the end of the Second World War. The Prime Minister, Fraser, felt that it was the obligation and duty of the New Zealanders to support Britain in their struggle against Nazi Germany. During the war, Fraser had introduced military conscription, a comprehensive system of economic stabilization, censorship laws, and industry man powering (Nolan, 2004). However, despite criticism by the waterside people, there were some New Zealanders who accepted the restrictions and hardships of the war years. However, the waterside workers felt that the government was right for expanding the control over the New Zealanders' lives during the Second World War, but it was wrong to have the government maintaining similar restrictions and power after the war had ended. The waterside workers had the concern that they needed to be rewarded with a more significant share in the spil of the experienced victory. New Zealand was having a population of about 2 million during 1951 (Locke, 2012). There were about 8 000 men who worked the wharves countrywide. Most of the waterside workers felt that they had been betrayed by the harsh policies set by the government after many years of working at the waterfront and waiting for better conditions which they had been promised.

To conclude, the 1951 Waterfront dispute was the greatest and the most common industrial dispute ever seen in New Zealand. The 1951 Waterfront dispute was regarded as a lockout by employers although the ship-owners and the employers viewed the dispute as a refusal to work. The waterfront employees were dissatisfied with their wages and working conditions because of the current experienced financial hardships. The 1951 Waterfront dispute lasted 151 days, and the leading protesting group was the waterside workers who took action having the hope of driving change. Waterside workers protested through refusing to work for extra hours as they hoped it would force the employers to increase their wage. Therefore, it was as a result of the primary concerns by the waterside employees and their determination to attain their goals which had led to the industrial actions in 1951. The waterside employees had several concerns throughout the strike and what resulted at the end of the dispute were several short and long term implications for the employees as well as the citizens of New Zealand.


Coutts, B., & Fitness, N. (2013). Protest in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson New Zealand.

Locke, C. (2012). Workersinthemargins: Unionradicalsinpost-warNewZealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books.

Millar, G. (2015). "We never recovered": The social cost of the 1951 New Zealand waterfront dispute. LabourHistory, 108, 89-101. Retrieved from

Nolan, M. (2004). Shattering dreams about women in the lockout. In D. Grant (Ed.). The big blue: Snapshots of the 1951 waterfront lockout (pp. 59-82). Christchurch, New Zealand: Canterbury University Press. Doi: 10.1177/003231870105300115

Walsh, P. (2004). The legacy of '51'. In D. Grant (Ed.). The big blue: Snapshots of the 1951 waterfront lockout (pp. 151-157). Christchurch, New Zealand: Canterbury University Press Doi: 10.5406/Illinois/9780252036781.003.0008

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