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1951 waterfront dispute

Police confront strikers on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets, Wellington, New Zealand
Police confront strikers on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets, Wellington, New Zealand 1951, Photograph by Photo News Ltd, courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand (Richard Scott Collection, PAColl-9508-2-66)

America's crusade against communism struck a chord in New Zealand during the 1951 waterfront dispute. The dispute remains the most bitter industrial conflict in the country's history.

History of the waterfront dispute

When New Zealand watersiders demanded better pay and conditions in 1951, their employers refused. The watersiders retaliated by refusing to work overtime – and were locked out.

Sid Holland's National Government declared a state of emergency. It branded the watersiders 'communist wreckers', and dispatched the military to run the ports and maintain the booming post-war economy.

Emergency regulations banned processions, public meetings, and publications supporting the strikers. Police could enter premises without permission. Union supporters risked prison by producing leaflets in secret.

After 151 days, the watersiders conceded defeat. Their leaders were not allowed back on the wharves.



© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.