Rhetorical smoke without revolutionary fire : a study of the consciousness of the New Zealand Waterside Workers Federation, 1915-1937 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Sociology at Massey University
This thesis has two purposes. The first is to establish a tool for a Marxist analysis of trade union consciousness; the second is to demonstrate it in action in a case study of the New Zealand Waterside Workers Federation (NZWWF) from 1915-1937. Basing itself on the work of the classic Marxist revolutionary theorists, (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Lukacs and Gramsci), a Marxist typology of essential revolutionary concepts is constructed. This is designed to assess the degree of revolutionary consciousness of any particular union, that is, the degree to which it struggles against bourgeois constraints or, on the contrary, the degree to which it succumbs. A multi-factorial, bi-polar typology is then built up from basic Marxist concepts with particular reference to trade unions and their role under capitalism and this typology is used to analyse the consciousness of the watersides. This analysis includes both a study of the historical constraints facing them and a detailed study of their responses. The historical constraints are the economic, political, and ideological forces confronting the trade union movement as a whole 1915-1937, together with an account of the development of the trade union movement within these constraints. The role of the transport workers and the watersiders within the wider union movement is described. The typology is then applied to the contents of the Federation newspaper, the Transport Worker, (TW), and the decisions of the Federation as recorded in the Minutes of its Annual (later Biennial) Conferences from 1915-1937. The actions and ideas of the Federation are discussed according to periods set by the economic and political conditions external to the union: Boom, 1915-1921; Stagnation 1922-1929; Depression, 1930-1934; Labour Government, 1935-1937. The Federation shows a development from a syndicalist, though not militant, position to one leaning heavily on political action through the parliamentary Labour Party.