The Christchurch tramway strike, 1932 : a research essay
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Most historians agree that the Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin riots of early 1932 were spontaneous outbreaks of rage by a people driven to take desperate measures against the conditions of the Depression. Yet little mention is made, and indeed known of, the so-called Christchurch 'riots' which occurred at the same time. The Christchurch demonstrations arose out of the Tramway Strike which followed the horrifying Auckland riot of a fortnight previous. Although there were no scenes of rampaging unemployed, running amok through the streets breaking windows and looting goods, a man was fatally injured during the Christchurch demonstration and incidents of violence on a smaller scale did occur.
Curiously, these incidents served to restrict further outbreaks of incendiary violence in the city, rather than to encourage it. Why was this so? What factors operating in Christchurch at the time of the Tramway Strike prevented the dispute from expanding into an uprising on the scale of that of Auckland, or Wellington, or Dunedin? Does the relative absence of social disruption indicate that Christchurch was united rather than divided by its depression experience?
The essay will attempt to answer this question in the light of the condition of the unemployed in Christchurch at the time. It will look at the origins of the Tramway dispute and the events which happened within the city itself as a result of the strike. Secondly it will investigate why the strike did not widen into a mass demonstration against established law and order as a result of dissatisfaction with the Coalition Government's economic policies. A final conclusion will follow a brief summary of the events following the Tramway Strike.