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We reproduce here the text of a talk given by Rowan Cahill at the Labor History Weekend held on 3-4 August 1996 at St. Stephens Hall, Newtown, Sydney. The Weekend was ‘Organised by The Red and Black Forum and convened by Mr. Bob Gould. Rowan is co-author of The Seamen’s Union of Australia 1872-1972, Sydney, 1981.
The 1951 New Zealand waterfront dispute started in February of that year when a General Wage Order granted a IS per cent increase on all A ward rates except interim increases. The employers argued that waterside workers were only entitled to 9 per cent, since their last increase in late 1950 was an interim decision, but the wharfies were irate, since their understanding was that the 1950 decision was not an interim one. Further, the employers argued, wharfies had more than enough take-home pay via overtime. The workers countered that overtime involved the erosion of their own free time and should not be regarded as a reason to restrict general wage entitlements and destroy parities.
Since overtime appeared part of the problem the W atersiders’ Union (WWU) banned all overtime as from 14 February 1951. Employers immediately retaliated, locking out the entire New Zealand waterfront labour force.