Class at the margins : the Canterbury Hotel Workers' Union, 1908 to 1970 (1985)
AuthorsFerguson, Stevenshow all
The domestic workers in New Zealand's hotels, hospitals and restaurants have been at the margins of the historiography of the labour movement. Operating largely within the arbitration system, they have not been a group of workers in the front rank of industrial confrontation. Nevertheless, they have played an influential role within the labour movement, if not one which has attracted the attention of the media or of historians. As one of the largest sections of the working class, and a section which has continued to rapidly expand, their experiences are of significance in the history of the New Zealand labour movement. The Canterbury Hotel Workers' Union (CHWU) founded in 1908, has been one of the three key unions within the hotel and restaurant industry in New Zealand, and at various times has made a significant contribution to the wider labour movement. In its first decade of operation, under the leadership of Liberal politician John Barr, the CHWU secured award coverage for most of the industry's workers in Christchurch as well as a six day working week. After Barr's departure in 1918, the union was guided for the next 36 years by Reginald Brooks, a staunch advocate of the Labour Party and the trade union movement. The union increased its strength in the 1920's, and after surviving the challenges of the depression, was able to further expand its coverage and greatly improve its members' wages and conditions under the first Labour government. Following the post- war period of dissension within the labour movement, Les Short became the new secretary and chartered the union through the new problems of the 1950's and 1960's. In 1967 and again in 1970, the CHWU undertook direct industrial action, breaking with a past tradition which had seen it abstain from strike action. By the end of 1970, the CHWU constituted one of the largest unions in Canterbury. Representing over 5000 largely semi-skilled or unskilled workers, two thirds of whom were women, the union had been able to substantially improve the incomes and working conditions of its members, while at the same time contributing to the cause of the trade union movement and the Labour Party.