Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 15, July 9, 1968
Students and Unions
Students and Unions
"The future of the trade union movement lies in the universities" Archie Grant has said. Conversely the universities' future is in the past of the trade union movement. This is what the Wednesday demonstration showed: that student unions are adopting trade union tactics to gain their political objectives, and they are more ready to use these than some of the unions.
The Wednesday demonstrations brought students and unionists to Parliament grounds together for the first time in New Zealand history.
The two groups demonstrated together, becase both had interests in common. Students needed worker support for their case for higher bursaries and staff salaries; the workers needed student support for their protest against the Arbitration Court veto on a general wage order.
Both could find common ground in pointing to the breakdown in the current procedures for relating wages, salaries and social security benefits to the cost of living—and in claiming that what was needed was planning. Both were isolated in New Zealand politics—'student' and 'unionist' are the two dirtiest words after 'communist' in the New Zealand vocabulary.
Both were convinced the Government would not do anything for them.
The day before the protest a further issue came up—the Omega base. This provided another reason for no confidence in a Government, a Government this time making New Zealand a target for nuclear attack. This issue also was tacked on to the list of outstanding issues where the Government had failed to act, or blundered.
Then came Wednesday—and press claims of student violence.
What actually happened?
* * *
The eral problem about the demonstration was that its organisation—not its aims, not its strategy, but its organisation—had not been properly thought out.
Not thought out, that is, by anybody. Not the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Not the Police. Not the students. Not the Federation of Labour.
It all started with the Speaker of the House, who gives permission for entry into Parliament Grounds. He bans most demonstrators from using loudhailers in the grounds.
On this occasion he gave permission to the Wellington Trades Council to use a loudhailer for its speakers from 12.30 to 1.20 p.m. The Trades Council meeting was supposed to end at 1.20 p.m. while the official opening of Parliament was at 2.30 p.m. Everybody who went along to the Trades Council meeting was supposed, would you believe, to trundle off home at 1.20 abandoning the demonstration to the Committee on Vietnam and the students, who, as it turned out did not arrive until after 1.20 anyway. Not surprisingly Tom Skinner was booed when he tried tosend everybody away at 1.20.
Before any stuidents arrived, one crucial step had been taken—the "barricades" cutting off the spectators from the steps of Parliament had been brushed aside. Their only replacement was—a row of policemen. Did somebody hope that, between 1.20 and the time the students arrived, there might be time to reconstruct these "defences"? If they did, they were wrong—the time never came. Nobody should ever have thought there would be no crowd outside Parliament at any time after 12.30. But had the "barricades'' stayed up, the police would not have come into direct contact with the demonstrators, and those who were bored and obstreperous for the hour before Parliament opened could have vented their frustration on pieces of wood instead of uniforms.
This left everyone the Trades Council had brought along without anything to do for an hour, and a row of smartly dressed policemen in front of them. It also left the students, when they arrived, with the same situation and a rather greater note of anti-climax, since they had heard no speakers and an unofficial attempt to use the Trades Council loudhailer had ended with police confiscation of the blunt instrument and a warning to the unauthorised user.
The police confiscated the Student Association loudhailer when it arrived from Students Association President Doug White, who, as the Solicitor-General's son, might well be expected to use it irresponsibly.
This meant that the only people who could do anything in the circumstances were people who wanted to push the cops around—there was nothing else to do.
This pushing around has been exaggerated—nobody did in fact get hurt—and it is typical of newspaper stories about "violence" but what they mean by this undefined.
At this point the absurdity of the police's action became most obvious, for the loudhail could not even be used to tell people to move back from the Parliamentary steps. Finally Tony Haas was grudingly allowed an ineffective two-minute appeal for order.
Had the loudhailer been used simply for speeches—any speeches—people would have had something to think about besides the cops in front of them.
What was irrational was to expect a lot of people to march to Parliament to protest against the Government, and then stand quietly doing nothing when they reached the grounds.
The Police made this mistake The Speaker of the House made this mistake. The Students Association made this mistake in not planning for events inside Parliament at all since they were "just organising the march".
It should be clear that a lot of people were to blame, and that the situation created by lack of planning led both students and workers to participate in the "rocking" of the Australian High Commissioner's car.
People were just not prepared for the police being as irrational as they were. What should have been done, at 1.45 instead of 2.30, if speeches had become impossible, was for everyone to have sat down. This would both have been a militant gesture—and it would have placed any responsibility for violence on the police if people had been told to go limp if arrested or manhandled.
It was a mistake not to do this. We will know better next time. But it should be seen for what it is—something we can learn from.
* * *
What remains is a fact—that students and unionists have acted together once, in one of the most widely-based and militant expressions of opposition to the Government so far.
The press failed to do justice to the event principally because reporters simply lack the training to follow such events, but, secondarily, because it is editorial policy to knock any widely based protest movement against present Government actions.
Neither Tom Skinner nor Toby Hill have the full confidence of their rank and file, as was shown by the reception their speeches got on Wednesday which should place their complaints about students in perspective.
There are many trade unionists not ready to rush into print on the basis of newspaper versions of events—people who saw what happened themselves.
These are the people who will see that communications between unions and students remain open and that the campaign for a planned incomes policy, for wage-earners, students, university teachers and social security beneficiaries keeps up its momentum.
Students want violence as little as anybody else—and will organise future demonstrations even more carefully to avoid it They would welcome trade union advice and help in doing this.