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The 1913 Great Strike

Page 5 – The 1913 strike in Auckland

Watersiders working on Auckland’s coal boats struck on 28 October in support of the Huntly miners. The rest of the city’s watersiders came out the next day following the failure of negotiations in Wellington.

The Farmers’ Union began enrolling men from rural areas around Auckland as special constables, while foot specials were enrolled in the city. Mayor C.J. Parr and a group of businessmen formed a defence committee. Its goals included forcing strikers to register under the arbitration act and destroying the United Federation of Labour and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The strikers’ media

Mainstream newspapers such as the Dominion and the New Zealand Herald were strongly opposed to the Red Feds and the strike. The strikers, however, had their own media. The Maoriland Worker, a national weekly with a distribution of about 10,000, was the UFL’s official paper. The IWW considered the Worker too conservative and produced their own militant paper, the Industrial Unionist. The most widely distributed pro-strike paper was New Zealand Truth, at that time a muck-raking left-wing paper with a distribution of about 40,000.

Auckland was a major centre for union militants, in particular members of the IWW (the ‘Wobblies’). Nevertheless, there was little violence in the city during the strike.

Special constables began assembling at a camp on the Domain around 6 November. In the early hours of the 8th mounted and foot specials, along with regular police, descended on the wharves. They caught the strikers by surprise and took the wharves without a struggle.

Strike breakers guarding the Devonport Steam Ferry's offices
Devonport ferry terminal during the strike

In response, a general strike broke out across Auckland, involving at least 6000 workers. Unions striking included the seamen, tramwaymen, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, drivers, timber workers, building labourers, saddlers and bakers. Both Red Fed and arbitrationist unions took part. The strikers held firm for a fortnight before most of the unions started drifting back to work. The watersiders, seamen, drivers and tramwaymen remained on strike, but by this time a ‘scab’ (arbitrationist) union was working on the wharves.

How to cite this page

The 1913 strike in Auckland, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated