Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

by Daphna Whitmore, General Secretary WPNZ

Working class hero and fighter to the end

Jock Barnes Died 31 May 2000 aged 92

President of the National Union of Watersiders throughout the 1951 Dispute

Issued: The Spark June 7, 2000
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

’It’s a war. You’re on one side or the other, that’s all there is to it’

There was never any confusion over where Jock Barnes stood in the class struggle. He earned his place as one of New Zealand’s outstanding working-class figures. I first met Jock Barnes in 1991, the year that marked the 40th anniversary of the great 1951 Waterfront Dispute. It was a first meeting but already I had heard much about this man and the events of 1951 from the Workers’ Party chairman, Ray Nunes, a contemporary of Jock’s. Jock spoke in glowing terms of Ray when he died last year, ’a man he had admired for 50 years’.

My job was to interview Jock for a feature article in The Spark commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1951 battle. Jock was frail but feisty and more than willing to talk about the events, so much so that I was barely given a chance to put my questions to him. Questions were hardly needed as Jock spoke without prompting: of the watersiders’ union, its tremendous democratic organisation and its internationalism and wholehearted willingness to support workers’ and democratic struggles abroad. From the watersiders’ path-breaking 1937 refusal to load scrap iron for Japan which was being used to butcher the people of China to the repression against the union by the government, Jock painted a picture of a vibrant union organisation. There were many struggles in defence of workers’ wages and conditions and battles against the subservience of the S.G. Holland government to Washington. Through all this the union won the support and admiration of other workers in New Zealand and around the world.

’Fight the bastards!’

He had nothing but contempt for those trade union leaders of the Federation of Labour and its successor the Council of Trade Unions who had sold out. He was fond of telling them: ’You’re worse [than the parliamentarians]. You’re the collaborationists, you’re worse than they are’. At a memorial in 1992 for the FOL leader Jim Knox (one who was prepared to lead some struggles) Jock spoke out labelling the bosses’ men present ’a bunch of sycophantic self-confessed collaborators’. He called them ’a wagon load of maggots’. There were notable exceptions but it was a pretty accurate description of many of the top union leadership. As for the Employment Contracts Act Jock was clear: ’There’s only one answer to that – a general strike – fight the bastards!’

History was no dry subject when Jock Barnes told it. His views on the British aristocracy: ’a bunch of chinless anthropoids’. As for the divine rights of kings ’the only way they got that out of his head [Charles I] was by severing it from his body. Very effective treatment’. And the United Nations: ’a ventriloquist’s dummy, mouthing Washington’s words’.

Jock kept battling until his last days and his fighting spirit and unswerving loyalty to the working class forced even his enemies to respect him. Among class conscious workers he remains an inspiring and heroic figure.