A history of the political labour movement in New Zealand, 1850-1913
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
A typically modern trend in democratic countries has been the entry of labour representatives into the political arena. New Zealand has proved no exception to the rule, but the history of her own labour movement, particularly in its earlier years, is still rather disconnected in the eyes of the general public. This thesis therefore attempts to recount the origins of that movement with the object of presenting a clearer idea of the nature of the beginnings of the party which constitutes the present government. It was at first intended to write of the Labour Party in later years, but preliminary investigation was sufficient to show that no such treatment could be adequate without a knowledge of the origins of the Party. Further investigation showed those origins to be worthy of separate study in themselves, and the history of the Labour Party is therefore left for other pens to write. The aim throughout has been to trace, not a party, but a movement, and to discover how much that movement was influenced by contemporary events and how much it was a natural and inevitable development.
A thorough study of the subject, giving an exhaustive survey of opinions and incidents, individuals and groups in every centre of population, would have required intensive and prolonged research which the writer was not in a position to carry out. The extra work would doubtless have made the history more comprehensive, but it is certain that the general conclusions arrived at would not have been modified seriously. Newspapers are generally regarded as an unreliable source of evidence, but in this case exception can perhaps be claimed for making extensive use of one paper, since it gave expression to working-class opinions without displaying the fanaticism of purely labour publications.
Thanks are due to the Central Office of the Labour Party in Wellington for the courtesy of the officials in placing material at my disposal. It is unfortunate that some of this material, which may have been of considerable value, went astray in the post, and was not traced. Thanks must also be expressed to the Hon. John Rigg, who was helpful in supplying newspaper cuttings and reminiscences dealing with the Political Labour League, and to Mr. E.J. Howard, M.P. for valuable advice. In some cases likely people who were approached, while showing keen interest, seemed unable to rely on their memories for anything definite; one supplied suggestions which were of no use; another, from whom much was expected, did not reply at all. During the whole period of research what impressed one most was the dearth of published material on the subject and the scant attention paid to the movement in general in comprehensive works. This made the task of constructing general outlines as a basis for work very difficult.
The investigation has suggested that the early organised labour parties in New Zealand were striving not so much for something they did not possess as to maintain certain privileges which they felt were slipping from their grasp. Their aim appears to have been not so much an emancipation from the present as a safeguard for the future. This, at least, is apparent to the mind of the writer, and it is hoped that his efforts may be of some use in clearing the mist which shrouds the infancy of labour in this country.