The history of railway unionism in New Zealand until the passing of the "Government Railways Superannuation Fund Act" 1902
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The industrial legislation of the present Labour Government of New Zealand has had the effect both of increasing the numerical strength of existent unions and of simulating the foundation of new ones in previously unorganised vocations. Some students of economic problems in the Dominion seek a solution in a properly directed development of trade union.
Indeed, from the earliest days of settlement New Zealand, the workers have been influenced by the trade union principles, which they brought with them from the Mother Country. It has, however, not been true to say that New Zealand has been ruled by trade union enthusiasts or principles. This seeming paradox can be explained when one realises that even today New Zealand is not a highly industrialised country; therefore the chief stimulus to trade union organisation has been lacking. I have endeavoured to show, in passing, how greatly the Industrial Revolution and all that it involved affected labour problems in England.
Conditions in New Zealand have not been identical and therefore the developments have been different. Nevertheless, the New Zealand working man has been influenced by developments in the trade union world in England and elsewhere. New Zealand unions have developed on new lines in a new country, from a starting point, which was the result of centuries of slow growth in an older land.
The railway servants have made up an important section of the working population of the Dominion. The railway system and its management has always been a subject of the utmost importance to New Zealanders. So much has depended on the system of communications and transport of which, through the greater part of the Dominion’s history, the railways have possessed the monopoly. The chief railway lines have been, from the date of their construction, the property of the State; except for two periods, when the control was in the hands of almost irresponsible boards, management was through Ministers of Public Works and of Railways. Any major question of railway control and management has been decided upon in Parliament. Public interest in railway affairs, more especially in the days of construction, was a lively one. When members of the staff attempted to organise trade unions, news-paper battles raged quite fiercely over the colony. Opponents of state control and of unionism foretold inevitable anarchy as the result of the existence of unions of railwaymen. With new conditions opinions changed. By 1890, when a Government with a progressive programme of economic and social legislation was elected, the right of railwaymen, as of other workers, to combine to secure a decent standard of life, was generally recognised.