“RED” FEDERATION OF LABOUR
Following the Blackball coal miners' strike of February-March 1908, a conference of West Coast miners' unions met in Greymouth in August 1908 to form a New Zealand Federation of Miners. Robert Semple was elected president and Patrick Hickey secretary. The objects and preamble were copied largely from those of the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World, two radical American organisations. Affirming the class struggle, they were a direct challenge to the existing industrial arbitration legislation. In 1909 the Miners' Federation changed its name to New Zealand Federation of Labour. It became popularly known as the “Red” Federation and its members as Red Feds. Besides coal and gold miners, the federation gained the affiliation of most waterside unions, as well as general labourers', shearers', and other, mainly unskilled, unions. By 1912 it united a quarter of New Zealand's organised workers. Its weekly journal, the Maoriland Worker, reached a circulation of 10,000 early in 1913.
The “Red” Federation conducted a number of industrial disputes and, by aggressive action, was able to gain important concessions for its members. It suffered its first setback in the Auckland General Labourers' dispute of 1912, and was again defeated in the bitter Waihi gold miners' strike later that year.
In July 1913 the federation joined forces with several more moderate unions to become the United Federation of Labour. It suffered a crushing defeat in the nationwide waterfront strike of October 1913. Membership declined, but a skeleton organisation was kept in existence until 1920, to be succeeded by the New Zealand Alliance of Labour. The leaders of the “Red” Federation, Semple, Webb, Fraser, Savage, Parry, and Armstrong, later entered Parliament and became members of the first Labour Government in 1935.
by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.
- “Red” Fed Memoirs, Hickey, P. H. (1925)
- The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, Holland, H. E. (et. al.) (1913).