The Maritime Union of New Zealand has welcomed the release of secret SIS papers on the 1951 waterfront lockout to Archives New Zealand.
Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the 1951 waterfront lockout was the most significant industrial event in living memory in New Zealand.
He says the Maritime Union still counts veterans of the 1951 dispute amongst its retired members.
The Maritime Union was formed in 2002 from the New Zealand Waterfront Workers’ Union and the New Zealand Seafarers’ Union.
Mr Hanson says the content of the papers would speak for themselves. He says the 151-day dispute was a lockout, not a strike.
“The fact of the matter is that the workers were locked out of their jobs by a National Government who wanted to destroy the most progressive and militant group within the New Zealand working class.”
Mr Hanson says the 1951 lockout was looked back on now as a time of shame when basic principles of free speech and freedom of association were overturned by a right-wing Government.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the so-called emergency regulations at the time swung close to fascism and a police state.”
Mr Hanson says the stress and hardship placed on families during the lockout was extreme.
“It was made illegal for anyone to supply food to the children of a waterfront worker. People’s lives were destroyed.”
He says the large quantity of research and publications on the 1951 dispute had noted the extreme nature of the State’s actions against its own citizens.
“The waterfront unionists and rank and file seafarers stood side by side in the dispute, along with thousands of other workers around the country. Many of these maritime workers had recently served in the Second World War against fascism but were turned on in their own country.”
Mr Hanson says that the National Government’s goal of smashing the waterfront union ultimately failed.
“The waterfront workers slowly rebuilt their unions, got rid of the scabs who had been brought into replace them, and over time managed to win back good wages and conditions.”
He says the main lesson to draw from history was that the National Party had never been a friend of working people, and that was something that working people needed to remember in 2008.