1947 Greymouth beer boycott

Page 5 – Working Men’s Clubs

It was often said that pubs were the real gold mines on the West Coast. Despite the socialist rhetoric about workers owning the means of production and distribution, there had never been much support for cooperative ownership of hotels and the beer supply. A number of Working Men's Clubs (WMCs) had been established in major urban areas since the late 19th century, but there were none on the West Coast. The beer boycott provided a catalyst for new debate.

A political solution

Long-established WMCs, run as chartered clubs, provided a model of cooperative ownership, but there were practical problems. No new charters had been granted since before the war, and there were bureaucratic obstacles as well as opposition from the prohibition lobby. The concept of WMCs appealed to Labour politicians as a solution to an embarrassing problem. Discussions went on behind the scenes with visiting Cabinet ministers during the Westland by-election campaign. Prime Minister Peter Fraser met a delegation and gave the go-ahead. Ray Scorgie, a founder member of the Greymouth WMC, recalled in 1994: ‘He gave us an assurance that if we applied for charters he would make sure that we got them. He told us that he'd see that we were left alone until such time as they were granted'.

With strong political and community support, the way was clear for groups to complete the paperwork, organise fundraising and look for premises. It turned into a race, won by the Brunner WMC, which opened on 21 December 1947. The Greymouth WMC opened the next day and Runanga on Christmas Eve. The clubs were financed mainly by debentures, and profits were used to develop facilities as well as put some money back into the community. Despite inevitable teething troubles, the clubs were popular, and were soon followed by others at Blackball, Hokitika, Reefton and Westport. All have continued to the present day.

A communist plot?

Not everyone was impressed by the WMCs. In a 15 November editorial, the Greymouth Evening Star complained:

If there is any need for an increase in the number of Communist ‘cells' already firmly implanted in this province - the evidence is that there are already far more than enough - then it is hardly likely that those people responsible for them will regard the proposed working men's clubs as other than a golden opportunity for spreading their atheistic and anti-democratic doctrine. There are more aspects to the beer boycott than meet the eye.

How to cite this page

'Working Men’s Clubs', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/greymouth-beer-boycott/workingmens-clubs, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Jul-2014