Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
Whitcombe and Tombs publishers and bookshop (a descendent of today’s Whitcoulls) became the site of a pitched battle during the great strike of 1913.
The 1913 Great Strike split Wellington. What had started as separate disputes over the sacking of mining unionists in Huntly and shipwrights’ conditions in Wellington turned into a confrontation between employers and the government and the militant unionists of the United Federation of Labour (the ‘Red Feds’) over the place and power of trade unions. The Federation of Labour stood for class struggle unionism, putting faith in workers’ power on the job and in the strike weapon, over arbitration and conciliation in cooperation with the bosses. This threatened the profits of employers and farmers, and they set out to smash the rebellious unions and send a message to workers across the country. From October to December 1913 there were fights, pickets, mass rallies and confrontations across Wellington. ‘Specials’ – often the sons of farmers – were given licence by the government physically to attack strikers. The police used force to try and break picket lines. But the workers organised for self-defence, too, and stood their ground. Nothing got on or off Wellington’s wharf.
The Labour History Project describe the significance of this site: “On 30 October special constables were chased into Whitcombe & tombs bookshop by strikers. Regular police arrived and, with clerks brandishing revolvers, held off the crowd. A window was smashed – some say by a stone, others say by a revolver fired from the shop’s defenders.”
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A poster advertising the strikers’ demonstration and meeting. From the Flickr album ‘War on the Wharves’.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Radical Wellington