Interview with Jock Barnes, part 2

We continue here the 1991 interview with Jock Barnes, the legendary leader of the Waterside Workers in the 1951 Lockout


2 May 1951 police attack watersiders

Mass action builds against Emergency Regulations

Jock Barnes: ‘Sixteen or seventeen thousand workers came out. They were on strike. We were declared to be on strike. You had all the seamen, the Marine Cooks and Stewards, the vast majority of the miners. Their national officials way down in Nightcaps – Crook and Prendiville – they were “in the bag”. Prendiville got a reward afterwards: the United States gave hi m a free tour through the US. But the vast majority of miners, about 95 percent, came out.

‘Digressing a little – seven kiddies, I see a lot of them. Just to show you how good they were: the freezing works in Wairoa were at the bottom of Hunter Brown street. At the top was the big Doyle homestead. Con’s dad ‘Freezing workers, the whole of the Wellington, Taranaki, Marlborough area, and a lot of others individually, all came out, the lot. Con Doyle, a mighty man, was their president.

He had landed there about 1860. And every morning when the scabs were going down to work the kids – the youngest two years of age – would line the fence and boo the bloody scabs. You could imagine what it was like in a place like Wairoa.

Human Rights violated

‘Getting on to the comparison with what’s going on today;  it’s not generally appreciated that there’s really no difference between what happened then and what’s going on today. The United Nations has never been anything but a cover-up for the United States. As I said at a meeting I addressed a few weeks back, you could say it was a ventriloquist’s dummy, mouthing Washington’s words. That’s all it is. It’s never been anything different.

‘Now, in ’51 the Declaration of Human Rights, to which New Zealand was a signatory, they violated just about every clause. So, early on, we sent a lengthy cable across [to UN] itemising various clauses of the Declaration of Human Rights which they’d violated. We followed that up with lengthy correspondence giving chapter and verse in detail. I’ve still got it, pages of it.

‘After ’51 all these matters were left in my hands, and the last reply I got from them was four years later, from the ILO (International Labour Organisation) in Geneva, to which they’d referred it, saying they were still considering it. No doubt if I got in touch with them again they would say they were still considering it. Again, it’s a direct parallel with what’s going on today.

A repeat performance

‘This bunch, you know what happened in Korea, you know what happened in that unspeakable war, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. This one, [in Iraq] the United States and its lackeys – its London lackeys; outside of that it’s a collection of hired mercenaries being well paid – this one raises the question of this bunch here.

‘The whole thing is so relevant. I was speaking at a discussion group at Auckland University last October – early in the piece – nowhere near as big as it should have been – the lack of activity by students in New Zealand at the present time – it’s deplorable. One guy with a pronounced Yankee accent said “Saddam Hussein with all these atrocities, do you condone those?” I said “No, but tell me any country in the world where atrocities haven’t been committed? But ‘let’s have a look at his chief accuser, the United States. Vietnam – unspeakable what they did there; Cambodia, Laos.

‘Let’s have a look nearer to home: Chile and Allende, a CIA job. Thousands of workers massacred, military dictatorship Nicaragua – I’m reading a good one now; this was from one of the inside guys boasting of how well they did the job. Such things as when they mined all the Nicaraguan ports, that was ’84. Nicaragua referred it to the United Nations. It took them five years to condemn it. The Contra scandal with North [referring to US Colonel Oliver North]. I didn’t know until I read this that North was actually Commander-in-Chief of the Contras.

‘Peru at the present time. Using drugs as the excuse, they’ve got bases there now, what they call Green Berets and gunship helicopters. El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Grenada.

‘To come closer to home, just a few months back, Panama. The blood on the streets of Panama is hardly dry. You could say a hell of a lot more, but I just want to touch on East Timor.

No blockade

‘When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 they killed tens of thousands. At the time I was speaking of it had surfaced again because the sons and daughters of those they had slaughtered were fighting back. They call them “rebels” now, of course.  They [East Timor] referred the matter to the United Nations. The reply they got back in December 1990: “We’re still considering it and we still regard it as East Timor”.

‘East Timore is just across the Timor Sear, practically at Australia’s front door, not far from ours. No Australian cruiser sent over there, no blockade. Nothing from New Zealand, nothing at all. The reason why is that they were told by the United States – both Australia and New Zealand – do nothing about Indonesia and East Timor, and the fact on that have recently come out. [It was done] with the full approval of the United States’ oil barons that run the country, more than any of the others. They knew that under the sea is oil. And about 12 months ago Australia and Indonesia signed a treaty in which they are going to jointly operate the oil resources (I can give you the name of it if you like).

These things should be shouted from the housetops shouldn’t they? United Nations!

The FOL and the CTU

‘Four years ago it was the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Labour and it was their final one, since it’s now the CTU. I was invited down with the late Johnny Mitchell, Peter Purdue the same. My old mate Con Doyle (he died a while back), so we go down there as guests. Well, strike me pink, you’ve never seen such a blood moribund outfit in your life – it was frightful. And to cap the lot we’re up on the platform and there were some good guys – Bill Richards from Dunedin, he was a good guy. Next to me they’ve got Peter Butler sitting.

Now, Peter Butler was one of Walsh’s scab herding executive in 1951. One of his most distinguished acts was to go down to Invercargill and plead with the Invercargill Trades Council to get cracking and organise scabs for the Bluff waterfront. And they’ve got the bastard sitting next to me on the platform!

They were sitting there and sitting there; there’s the odd one asking a bit of a question. They’re like a team of parrots, they couldn’t give an answer, all they could say was: “You’ve got to vote Labour”. And occasionally they’d vary it: “Rogernomics is going to lead you into the next century”. Butler had a go, then it was my turn.

‘By Christ, I got hot. I mean, the old fuse, it’s a bit short at any time, so I gave them the message. I told them: “You’ve had two-and-a-half years of the worst government this country’s ever seen”. I gave them a brief record going from Savage’s days right through, how they’ve got consistently worse; and this crowd [the then Labour government] had got that bad that they were an extreme right-wing capitalist party. Socialism, it’s a dirt word. They even abandoned The Red Flag. I see at their last conference one or two of them got up and sang it, but hardly anyone knew the words. They’re asking to be forgiven their sins. They don’t call them  sins, though. What a bloody bunch!

Back to the bleak age

‘Anyway, I gave them the message. I told them: “They’ve taken you back to the worst evils of the last century – what they called laissez-faire capitalism, what the World Bank and the IMF today call their austerity programme; to the days – particularly in England and Wales, and to a degree in Scotland – when kiddies of six and seven were being killed in coal mines.”

‘Shaftesbury, I think it was, round about 1840 (some twinge of conscience, if you can call it that) he brought in legislation, I think it was limiting the age of any child to ten before they could work in the mines. Poverty such as we can only dream of. The classical example of course was Ireland. Between 1847 and 1851, two million men, women and children died of starvation and the inevitable typhus that followed it.

‘[I said]: “This laissez-faire capitalism – an open go for the master class and no controls. Rogernomics! Roger arseholes, that’s what you’ve advocated and are still advocating. They’re not going to get better, they’re going to get worse.” It was just on four years ago.

‘I’ve attended a few meetings where some of them have been present. There’s only one I regret, really, Johnny Mitchell. Johnny was a good fighter, but the SUP of course lined up with them [the Labour Party] as you know. All you got from any of them was the same old story – “you’ve got to support them”.


‘I told Johnny – we were going through the collaborationists in the Second World War – that the only way Hitler controlled the occupied territories was through the collaborators, Petain, and what have you, in France. As against that, you had the resistance fighters, the Maquis, kids of 16 or 17, that fought back. Holland, Norway (Qisling, of course). But anyway, there were resistance fighters: Yugoslavia, Czechoslavakia. Yugoslavia in particular, where they kept three German divisions occupied; fighting back. “They fought back; what have you bastards done? You’re worse, as the collaborators were. They rounded them up after the war. They shot or hanged the bastards, and that’s what they should do with you.” I’ve told that to quite a few of them; the only one I regret was Johnny because he was a good fighter, but he was still one of them. And they’re still doing it.

‘They call that calendar [pointing to the printed anniversary calendar] “The Spirit of 1951”. The spirit’s still there. The spirit’s been stifled, it wants to be brought out in the open. But while you’ve got this bunch of bloody collaborators down there, masquerading, no! and they are worse than the bloody crowd that are doing it.

‘I don’t know if you’ve seen the video they did on 1951, the Trade Union History Project. Anyway, they did their best to massacre that. It should have been something really great. It was supposed to be, too.’

Question: What did you think of the video?

Jock: ‘I’d give it about 6 out of 10. They couldn’t completely destroy it, but by Jesus, they did there best. For instance, those comments of Dick Scott’s: “We don’t want dead heroes, we want living fighting soldiers”, when I saw it up here I said to Scott[1]: “Well, you’ve had 40 blood years to produce your army of living fighting soldiers, when are you going to produce them? Because your ‘army of living, fighting soldiers’, none of the bastards have ever thrown a bloody punch”. I said: “As for the ‘dead heroes’, go and preach that philosophy in South Africa – I don’t think you’d live very long”.

‘That’s the bloody stuff that’s being peddled here. It’s bloody frightful. So, the spirit is there, but the collaborationists – as I told them: Bill Andersen, the bloody lot of them; Ken Douglas, he never came, the Vice-President, Angela Foulkes, she never opened her mouth, but I think I had the pleasure of giving her some hurry up, I said: “You’re worse. You’re the collaborationists, you’re worse than they are. The majority of them in parliament are bloody imbeciles, so you could excuse them, really. They don’t know what they’re doing – they’re bloody imbeciles. But you bastards know what you’re doing, and you’re doing it deliberately.” They are, too, but the spirit is there.

‘There has never been a time when you’ve had nurses, journalists, police, even the bloody screws threatening strike. They’re ready. Where’s the force to galvanise them for a general strike and you could fix these bastards in a couple of weeks. Yet you’re still collaborating with them.’

Jock continued with the interview by summarizing the record of imperialist rivalry for domination of the Middle East, from the bribe of fifteen thousand pounds sterling a year paid to the Emir of Kuwait in 1899 for proprietary rights, to the division of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire’s Arabian countries between Britain and France after World War 1, when Kuwait was detached by Britain from Iraq. He also included the fiasco of the Anglo-French attempts to regain their Middle East domination during the failed Suez adventure of 1956.

Among the issues Jock noted were, first, the betrayal of promises made to the Arab forces fighting the Turks in World War 1. Using guerrilla tactics, the Arabs drove the Turks completely out of Arabia.

‘Great were the rewards promised. Greater still the treachery’, said Jock. He pointed out that the secret Anglo-French agreement of 1916 known as the Sykes-Picot agreement ignored their promises to the Arabs, and allocated Palestine and Mesopotamia (now Iraq) to Britain, and Syria and Lebanon to the French.

Jock also commented that while Arab resistance forced the French out of Syria, in Iraq it happened still quicker, for in Iraq there were 36,000 British troops. ‘The final straw’, said Jock, ‘was that they were nearly all conscripts and they said: “We’ve had enough; we’re going home. That’s what actually finished that’. He also pointed out that in 1917 the Home Secretary Balfour, issued the Balfour Declaration promising the Jews a homeland in Arab Palestine. ‘Palestine’, says Jock, ‘which had been the homeland of the Arabs for 1400 to 1600 years.

‘Later on, after World War 2 the Americans came in with all the money and the American carve-up began.

‘Kuwait, where they had got proprietary rights, was still part of Iraq. It wasn’t until much later – about 1968, I think – before they declared it independent and stuck up this present family [the Al Sabah dynasty]. How many know this background – they don’t, do they? It’s just a constant betrayal from go to whoa. You’ve got the same thing goin on, American considered policy to dominate the world; American imperialism.

Question: In 1951 it seems unions were aware of international issues, but it doesn’t seem like that today.

Jock: ‘No, that’ is true, too. We had the Transport Worker – I’ve got all the editions here – in the war years too. We had correspondence with the US Pacific Coast a lot – Harry Bridges, you know. We’d given them a lot of assistance, you know, in their big strike of 1932-1933 and we got a lot of assistance from them in ’51. Then, the London Dockers and Belfast, Liverpool, we were corresponding with them all the time. But that is right. The knowledge of what is going on today – or rather the lack of it – is abysmal. As for any background, they just haven’t got a clue.

Question: What do you see as the role of Arbitration and Conciliation in the history of the New Zealand working class?

Jock: ‘The Arbitration Court? Harry Holland described it as the “leg-iron of labour”, and that’s all it was. And all these outfits, they’re all the same’. Jock’s view was that until there was some real, basic equality between workers and employers, ‘wipe the bloody lot’, it’s a leg-iron on labour. Wipe the whole of the judicial system’.

Question: How do you see the new legislation on Employment Contracts in the light of your experience?

Jock: ‘There’s only one answer to that – a general strike – fight the bastards!’

‘I’ve got a little quotation here from Nelson Mandela which I have used once or twice. (Incidentally, to revert to Panama, like Kuwait it was artificially created, in 1903. The United States provoked a stink with Colombia and grabbed Panama. Just the same!) Mandela in his Presidential Address to the ANC Conference, September 21st, 1963: “The time comes when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. We shall not submit, and we have no choice but to fight back by all means within our power.” That’s my philosophy, that tells the lot; you’ve got to fight the bastards.’

Question: Could you say more on what sections of the working class gave support in ’51?

Jock: ‘I’ve already mentioned the main national bodies. The Wellington and Marlborough freezing workers union came out to a man, but up here, no. There were many other individuals, though. At the Mangikino hydro job – over six hundred – the lot came out. Auckland gas workers, many of them; Wellington drivers – the lot, but only individuals up here.

‘The miners had it really tough because in the bigger places such as up here the wives could very often get work but – Ohura in the middle of the King Country is a good example – there was no work for the wives there, and the police blockaded the place, just starved them. Of course “carrying out the Regulations”. Just starved them into submission.

‘The Auckland Star for instance (I’ve got it here) in one of their articles says: “It might seem harsh, but if that was the only way to get watersiders to go back to work, they should starve them and their families until they do.” You see, they declared us to be “on strike” . We were a “declared strike”. The miners and the seamen, they didn’t make that a “declared strike” so they weren’t governed by the Regulations but we were, they were confined to us.

‘Well, after about three weeks the Star brought out another article and they said that as starving them was having no effect, police should be authorized to shoot any watersiders that didn’t immediately obey them. Well, of course, they already had that power, but for the Star to print it shows just how things were.

‘Now, right through the country people said: “Bugger it, I’m not going to scab*, but there were a hell of a lot who should have come out but didn’t. All told, wihtour eight and a half thousand, and sixteen or seventeen thousand on strike against the Regulations there were about 25,000 that fought them in 1951. And never before had you seen the womenfolk so united with their menfolk. That was a fundamental mistake they [the authorities] made.

‘Another thing, a direct comparison with America then and America now. John Foster Dulles, he was the forerunner of the CIA today, he was Truman’s worldwide emissary preparing the ground for the CIA, and Scotten, who was American Ambassador to New Zealand, they sat on each side of Holland at his Cabinet meetings, telling him what to do.

‘When I said that in a Town Hall speech here which I subsequently got two months for – that was only an excuse, you know – he denied it, said I was the usual liar. You’ll find that in 151 Days. [The book contains a picture of a Cabinet meeting at the time showing Dulles and Scotten on each side of Holland!] We put thousands of pamphlets out throughout the country, oh, I don’t know how many tens of thousands.

Questions: And did they have to be produced illegally?

Jock: ‘Oh, hell yes! Anyone picked up with those – three months jail right away. You had to move away from time to time, pinch your paper and what have you. I could tell you some good stories about that, too.

Question: What did you think of the use of Emergency Regulations during the dispute?

Jock: ‘Well, you just defied them. If you took any notice of them, they had a bloodless victory, didn’t they? We knew quite well if we’d settled on those terms, righto, you just post the white flag, and the union movement in this country was destroyed, because we were number one. Although we weren’t on our own, we were number one.

‘There was only one answer; if your’ in a fight, then you’re going to hurt the bastards as much as you can. You’re going to hit them that hard it’ll be a long time before they want another one. The truth of that was evidenced just a few months back. Remember when the firemen were on strike and the boss man was being interviewed on National Radio he was asked: “Are you going to bring in the arm?” He said: “No, we don’t want another ’51”. That’s how much we hurt the bastards’.

Question: What’s your opinion of a certain well-known trade union leader who went around telling workers: ‘We must never have another 1951’?

Jock: “Well, he’s in the bag, of course. Mandela sums it up, doesn’t he: you submit or fight. There are two choices. We fought, and we hurt them .

Question: What in your opinion, are some of the main lessons that have been learned from the dispute?

Jock: ‘There’s only one, really. Faced with a situation like that, when I’ve heard it said about me – by a journalist – that to me compromise means collaboration. Well, I suppose there’s a lot of justification in what he says.  But if you can compromise and you’re not getting five percent of the deal while the master class gets 95 percent, that’s not compromise – that’s collaboration. But if you can compromise without giving anything away really, and can get an equitable settlement, fair enough. But when you’ve got no show of anything like that, you have to fight.’

Final words

‘The workers’ fight is never lost; the only time they lose is when they bow their heads’.

‘If you play any game by their rules you’re beaten before you start. It’s class war, that’s all about it.’

‘Wholesale mass murder in Iraq.’

‘The British aristocracy – a bunch of chinless anthropoids.’

‘When you sum it up the boss is the workers’ best organiser.’

‘They’re selling everything in the country and with it all they can’t even pay the interest on the overseas debt. It’s getting more and more all the time. There’s only one answer – to repudiate the debt. Of course, they’re not going to do it, nor are the other crowd [Labour].’

‘I think they may have gone too far this time. Like the Bourbons and the Romanovs they never learn. Like Charles I and the Divine Right of Kings. They only way they got that out of his head was by severing it from his body. Very effective treatment.’

Question: Do you think the government would bring in emergency regulations if there were a general strike?

Jock: I wouldn’t put anything past them. Back in 1951 the Holland government didn’t draft the Emergency Regulations – the Fraser government did. Six years of Labour government. They drafted the scenario. This crowd have just carried on – with a different cast.

‘The whole thing has been softened up by six years of sell-out by the Labour fakers. Like the sell-out by the CTU.

‘It’s war. You’re on one side or the other, that’s all there is to it.’

See also: Behind the 1951 waterfront lockout


[1] Author of the book 151 Days. Despite Scott’s subsequent retreat from militancy, this is still much the best detailed account of the dispute and its many facets. [Editor]

* Scabbing in this sense means handling scab goods, ie those handled by scab labour or destined to be, as well as taking wharfies’ or strikers’ jobs.


  1. The Waterfront allways stands proud when the names Jock Barnes and Toby Hill are uttered.It was and still is a struggle based union even though through technology our numbers are somewhat diminished,we still punch above our weight.I am proud to be an official and caretaker in the Auckland Branch now Local 13 and can only aspire to continue the struggle for working class New Zealand.

    • A year or two back I saw first hand how that fighting tradition was still going strong.

      I’d gone into the Auckland union office to see one of the leaders of the union. He’d just been on the phone to a hapless Human Resources manager who was new to the waterfront. The HR guy had made the mistake of taking quite an aggressive approach to the union. So the union leader picked up the phone and spoke to the watersiders in Australia and the US.

      The ship in question was now the subject of an international dispute and would be held up at every port.

      It was a great example of the power of an organised group of workers standing united internationally. I don’t know what happened to the HR guy, but his arrogance cost the employers a helluva lot of money.


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