New Zealand maritime workers played a leading role in supporting the UK miners in their darkest hour, under savage attack from the Thatcher Tory Government
The following excerpt is taken with permission from Jagged Seas, the recently published history of the New Zealand Seamen’s Union, by David Grant. Copies can be found in most reputable bookstores and can be ordered online, via the publisher http://www.cup.canterbury.ac.nz/catalogue/jagged.shtml
“But the most dramatic expression of class solidarity during that decade indeed, arguably during any decade, involved New Zealand seamen, their union and the locked-out coalmin-ers of Yorkshire and Durham, victims of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s closure of many coalmines throughout 1984 as part of her government’s cut-throat monetarist policies and exacerbated by the brutality of the police in dealing with the miners and their families who protested against these closures.
Prompted by graphic photographs of beaten and bloodied miners appearing in the Seamen’s Journal, the Wellington branch donated an immediate $5000 to the miners’ fund, soon followed by numerous shipboard collections.
On top of this, the union decided it should donate a container load of lamb to the miners.
Dave Morgan’s idea was to buy some cheap meat from the freezing works, which watersiders would load gratis, and the Shipping Corporation deliver to Britain for nothing.
But Morgan found that the only way he could procure a container of New Zealand meat was to buy it from the Meat Board in London for $48,000.
Moreover, he was advised not to tell the board (so as not to create a dispute with the Thatcher government) that it was for the miners.
So the message was that the meat was for a reunion of retired members in the Highlands.
The British National Union of Seamen paid for it and billed the New Zealand union.
However, to make as much political mileage out of it as he could, NUS general secretary Jim Slater let the cat out of the bag when he publicly announced when it arrived in Britain that the meat was for the ‘striking miners in their fight with that fascist Thatcher.’
Fortunately by then the cargo had been paid for, and there was nothing the Meat Board or the Thatcher government could do. Later, striking miners Kevin Hughes and Derek France, who conducted a three-week education campaign in New Zealand (co-hosted by the Seamen’s Union), told the Seamen’s Journal that their union was hugely appreciative of the New Zealanders’ actions.
‘It was like Christmas seeing kiddies getting up on Christmas morning and getting into that sack of goodies. That was the expression that our people had on their faces at the sight of that lamb: There were 18,100 pounds of lamb altogether.
Morgan sent a telex to the Yorkshire miners: ‘New Zealand seamen consider the miners’ strike the most important struggle of our times against international capitalist monetarist policies. Their fight is our fight. Defeat impossible. Please convey our solidarity and bon appetit to our miner comrades.’
By February 1985 New Zealand seamen, with a union strength of 1200 and falling, had donated a phenomenal $53,742.53 to the strikers and their family.
The strike had by now lasted 10 months, but collapsed the following March after much heartache, and with strike leaders jailed for up to three years.
Such beneficence has been ongoing.
Among others in recent years the union has helped timber workers in Tokoroa, goldminers in Fiji, tugboat men in Australia, unions in South Africa and union health clinics in Newtown and Porirua.
In July 2001 the union donated $5000 to 120 striking low-paid fish process workers at the Sanford’s plants in Bluff and Timaru after they had been off work for seven weeks.
In October 2002 it donated the equivalent of £1300 to Liverpool dockers, both to assist the men in their strife and to purchase a plaque in the NZSU’s name for the wall of the dockers’ community centre established after the demise of their two-year battle against globalisation on their docks.
Morgan told a mass rally on St George Steps in the city that the ‘dockers’ struggle was our struggle’. In 2003 the union gave $2000 to the Steven Wallace appeal in Waitara towards the Wallace family’s private appeal against the police for the shooting death of their son; $5000 to assist striking pulp and paper mill workers and their families at Kinleith; and $2000 to the Peace Movement of Aotearoa, which was active in the anti-Iraq war movement.”