Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Families and the 1951 New Zealand waterfront lockout

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:35 authored by Millar, Grace

From February to July 1951, 8,000 New Zealand watersider workers were locked-out and 7,000 miners, seamen and freezing workers went on strike in support. These workers and those who were dependent on their income, had to survive without wages for five months. The dispute was a family event as well as an industrial event. The men were fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, and their lack of wages affected the family that they lived with and their wider kin networks. The thesis examines families in order to write a gendered social history of the 1951 waterfront dispute.  The discussion starts by exploring the relationship between waterfront work and watersiders' families before the lockout. Then it turns to examine the material support that families received and the survival strategies used during the dispute. It examines the decisions union branches made about relief and other activities through the lens of gender and explores the implications of those decisions for family members. The subsequent chapters examine the dispute's end and long-term costs on families. The study draws on a mixture of union material, state archives and oral sources. The defeat of the union has meant that union material has largely survived in personal collections, but the state's active involvement in the dispute generated significant records. The oral history of 1951 is rich; this thesis draws on over fifty existing oral history interviews with people involved in the dispute, and twenty interviews completed for this project.  The thesis both complicates and confirms existing understandings of 1950s New Zealand. It complicates the idea of a prosperous conformist society, while confirming and deepening our understanding of the role of the family and gender relationships in the period. It argues that union branches put considerable effort into maintaining the gender order during the dispute and set up relief as a simulacrum of the breadwinner wage. Centring workers' families opens the dispute outwards to the communities they were part of. Compared to previous historical accounts, the thesis describes a messier and less contained 1951 waterfront dispute. This study shows that homes were a site of the dispute. The domestic work of ensuring that a family managed without wages was largely women's and was as much part of the dispute as collective union work, which was often organised to exclude women. The thesis argues that homes and families were the sharp edges of the 1951 waterfront dispute, the site of both its costs and crises.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

950505 Understanding New Zealand's Past

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Macdonald, Charlotte; McAloon, Jim