1947 Greymouth beer boycott

Page 4 – Industrial action

After the first week of the Greymouth beer boycott it became clear that the Licensed Victuallers' Association (LVA), supported by the breweries, was not going to yield. This wasn't just a local issue − it would be disastrous for hotels and the brewing industry if consumer pressure could force prices down elsewhere in New Zealand. One of the few unions to oppose the boycott was the Westland Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union, whose members were concerned about job security.

Scabs and troublemakers

One recent British immigrant found it too unpleasant to continue working at the Blackball State Mine after persistent jibes about ‘scabs drinking sevenpenny beer’. He clearly misunderstood the strong community feeling as he left saying that he didn’t want to be associated with ‘troublemakers’. There was a labour shortage at the time, so he easily found other work in Greymouth.

Initially, the boycott was good natured. But the stakes were raised on 16 October 1947 when bushmen at a Kumara sawmill refused to work with a man who had been seen drinking at a sevenpenny pub at Dillmanstown. The bushmen walked off the job, forcing the mill to close temporarily.

It seems likely that this was the start of an organised union campaign. There were six more stoppages over the next two months, mainly at mines, where workers refused to work with men who had frequented sevenpenny pubs. All the offenders left their jobs, after being given what the newspapers evasively called ‘a hot time'. There seemed to be a pattern of intimidation to these departures, as most signed letters saying that they had not been pressured into leaving. Mine managers were not involved − they kept out of sight as their top priority was to keep production going and avoid stoppages.

Spreading ripples

Defiantly keeping the price at 6d, the Central Hotel in Greymouth did a roaring trade for over four months. But there was always concern about how long it would continue to be supplied with beer from Speight's Brewery in Dunedin. The brewery must have come under pressure from the LVA, but when there was a suggestion that the supply might be cut off, the national office of the Transport Workers' Federation threatened widespread disruption. The Wellington correspondent of the Greymouth Evening Star reported on 29 November that:

Wellington is watching the boycott with new and uneasy interest, especially since the rumour, growing daily, lays the blame for the engineering of the boycott on Communist agitators within the Miners' Union. Not only a shortage of beer is feared but apprehension is felt that as the boycott becomes more and more national in scope householders and railways may be deprived of much-needed coal.

Union solidarity

The boycott was most effective in the area around Greymouth and the Grey Valley, where the influence of the West Coast Trades Council was strongest. Further north some workers ignored the boycott. Waiuta gold miners were united behind the boycott, and were unhappy that their Reefton colleagues took a more relaxed attitude. This led to a split in the Inangahua Gold and Coal Miners' Union, with the Waiuta miners subsequently forming their own union.

In the end, the resolution of the beer boycott came from an unexpected direction: the formation of Working Men's Clubs.

How to cite this page

'Industrial action', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/greymouth-beer-boycott/industrial-action, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Jul-2014