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Wilfred (Bill) McAra collection on industrial relations on the New Zealand waterfront.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-D-5

Scope and Contents

The papers in this collection cover the period 1946 to 1953 and concern industrial relations on the waterfront in the years leading up to the 1951 waterfront dispute, the dispute itself, and the immediate aftermath. The collection includes minutes, correspondence, notes, reports, pamphlets and clippings. In 1946, the New Zealand Waterside Workers Industrial Union of Workers approached the Waterfront Industry Commission seeking better working conditions, including guaranteed minimum pay. Following an unfavourable decision from the Commission the Union assumed a more militant attitude, and there followed a succession of talks between the National Executive of the Union, including Jock Barnes and Toby Hill, and the Prime Minister Peter Fraser, the Minister of Labour Angus McLagan and a number of other cabinet members (see folders 2 and 4).

At this time a number of the more militant unions, including the watersiders, were also becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the policy of the National Executive of the Federation of Labour (FOL), which, under the guidance of its Vice-President, Fintan P. Walsh, supported the government’s post-war stabilization policy. In 1950, with the support of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) the militant unions broke with the FOL and formed the Trades Union Congress (TUC). They then tried their arm against the newly- elected Holland administration. The conflict that ensued culminated in the 1951 waterfront dispute (see folders 6,8,9 and 10) during which the militant unions were smashed. The New Zealand Waterside Workers’ Industrial Union of Workers was deregistered and replaced by a number of government supported ‘scab’ unions, while the means of response and even the democratic right of reply were removed by the infamous Emergency Regulations, 1951. It is from this period that the illegal mimeographed information bulletins arise (see folders 10 and 11). In the years after the strike, discrimination against the waterfront workers who had been deregistered was common, and many were prevented from ever working on the waterfront again.


  • 1946 - 1953


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted.

Biographical / Historical

McAra was for sometime the Chairman of the Shipwork Carpenters Section of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and Joiners’ Machinists Industrial Union of Workers, and was responsible for their amalgamation with the New Zealand Waterside Workers Industrial Union of Workers in 1946. In April 1949 McAra resigned from the Union to take up the position of editor of the People’s voice, the national weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of New Zealand.


0.3 metres (2 boxes)

Language of Materials



The collection was originally arranged and described by Michael Coleman in 1971. Coleman divided the material in each folder into small sections separating each with a folded piece of paper and assigning each its own description. Each section was then assigned a two part number, the first number referring to the folder in which the material can be found, and the second to the section within the folder. This resulted in a more detailed inventory than is usual for such a small collection.

In 2009 as part of a general revision of all of the McAra inventories, the original inventory for D-5 was updated and the collection re-housed into acid-free folders. A box of previously unsorted newspaper clippings was sorted into rough chronological order and placed in acid-free folders.

It was decided at this time to retain Coleman’s arrangement of the collection, including folder subdivisions despite this being somewhat complex. Accordingly, when using this collection readers are advised to request a whole folder of material rather than individual items.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Wilfred (Bill) McAra, 1969.

Related Materials

Major collection at A-139. Also 89/25, A-2, A-9, D-1, D-2, D-5, D-7, D-10 and D-11.


NRAM A860.

Inventory of the papers of Wilfred (Bill) McAra relating to industrial relations on the New Zealand waterfront, 1946-1953
Michael Coleman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand