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When Comrades become Cossacks - an Alliance with cops to rewrite history


Today 20 people, members of UNITE union and their supporters, picketed the Comrades and Cossacks exhibition at Auckland University of Technology. The picketers objected to the way union bosses were co-sponsoring with the police the 'commemoration' of the 1913 General Strike, an event which saw state violence against workers on a scale never equalled in the rest of New Zealand history.

Today members of UNITE union and their supporters picketed the 'Comrades and Cossacks' exhibition at Auckland University of Technology. The 20 or so picketers objected to the way union bosses and the police were co-sponsoring this 'commemoration' of the 1913 General Strike, an event which saw state violence against workers on a scale never equalled in the rest of New Zealand history.

'Comrades and Cossacks' had as its centrepiece the release of new police research on the 1913 strike. In an article on Auckland's 'Central Leader' (Pg19 Fri Nov 21st) the cops said that their research would help them to improve the policing of present-day protests. With the lockup of Ahmed Zaoui and the persecution of anti-war activists like Bruce Hubbard, Jarrod Phillips and Paul Hopkinson, police PR like this has a very sinister ring.

At least a dozen uniformed police attended the exhibition, and there was a fairly heavy police presence outside to stop the picketers gaining access.

'Comrades and Cossacks' was only announced last week, but quickly caused a furore amongst unionists and left activists around the country. In an attempt to defuse complaints, exhibition supporter and Alliance leader Mike Treen e mailed Global Peace and Justice members to tell them that 'Comrades and Cossacks' was not sponsored by the police. In fact, as an angry GPJA member pointed out in a reply to Treen, the police logo was plastered all over the promotional material for the exhibition.

UNITE leader and Aliance member Matt McCarten e mailed GPJA members to tell them that UNITE's rank and file members were 'ignorant', and were only planning to picket the exhibition because they wanted to 'suppress working class history'.

On the day a number of the unionists who had been scheduled to appear at the exhibition did not turn up; others walked out in solidarity with the picketers. Matt McCarten emerged from the exhibition dressed in a business suit and flanked by two well-built cops, and proceeded to abuse the picketers, shouting 'you're not real workers - go away!'. After being confronted by angry picketers McCarten retreated behind the boys in blue, with whom he joked and chatted before disappearing back into the exhibiton.

Reproduded below is the leaflet of the picketers. You can send messages of support to them c/o

The CWG is looking into the background to this farcical 'exhibition', and will post an article on indymedia soon.


We, rank and file members of the Auckland Community UNITE union, condemn the co-sponsorship and participation of UNITE in this Exhibition, "COSSACKS AND COMRADES", commemorating the 90th anniversary of the 1913 Waterfront Dispute, jointly sponsored by Auckland University of Technology and the NZ Police.

The UNITE workers' union, along with the National Distribution Union, Meatworkers Union, Maritime Union (Auckland Branch local 13), Dairy Workers' Union, and the Trade Union History Project, are listed as co-sponsors, alongside the NZ Police.

This is an act of open class collaboration on the part of these union officials betraying all those comrades who fought and died in every struggle in our history.

The police, and the mounted police `specials', known as `cossacks' were used to smash the general strike in Auckland in November 1913.

Police, or scab workers acting under police protection, shot and killed Frederick George Evans during the Waihi miners lockout less than a year earlier.

The Police Commissioner at the time said: "one mounted man is worth three on foot".

The union officials who lend their unions names to this Exhibition are collaborating in a police project to improve policing methods.

Could it be said that today the police no longer need to recruit `cossacks' to deal with industrial disputes, because they have already recruited some union leaders?

Today the Police Commissioner could state with some satisfaction that: "one collaborating union official is worth 100 cossacks".

When workers stand on the same platform as the police have the Comrades not become Cossacks?

Leaflet issued by 6 rank & file members of the Auckland Community
UNITE local. 23 November 2003.


Class collaboration - no, class idiots - yes

Congratulations on your continuing attacks on left wing unions such as the NDU, Meatworkers and Maritime Union, such a fantastic contribution to left wing unity is no doubt widely appreciated.

The method you use to discuss your concerns with other socialists and trade unionists can only be admired for a complete lack of intelligence and courtesy.

I had the interesting experience of organizing a successful meeting in Dunedin last night for Scottish Socialist Party MP Colin Fox, whose positivity and practical focus was a high point for a meeting of people with a range of ideas and standpoints.

No doubt this would be seen as a sellout as well - in fact anyone who doesn't agree with the religious fervour of "those who know the true path" will no doubt be attacked or smeared.

How about doing something useful? If this is too much to ask, how about going home, and let the grown ups make up their own minds?

inevitable outcome of "Partnership"

Why not invite police to the next seminar on New Zealanders participation in the antiwar movement ?
Dumb idea eh.
So was the Comrades & Cossacks fiasco.
The cops are on the other side and their job is to try and render us ineffective and punish us when we score the odd hit. They are a scrubbed up gang, with a gang mentality and gang ethics. Those who don't relate to this particular culture leave the force, the ones who do relate to it stay and do the bosses business.
Was there really one little blip in 1913, when the cops really wanted to help the unionists, but were sidelined by the nasty specials? Sorry, I blinked and missed it.
This bullshit of sitting down beside the cops as though we share the same kaupapa is the inevitable outcome of too many poisonous injections of "Partnership " into the union movement. The false idea that bosses and workers and governments coexist as one happy family.
C& C IS collaboration and its wrong because it distorts history and weakens the struggles of today.

Well done the picketers.

Re: inevitable outcome of "Partnership"

"Was there really one little blip in 1913, when the cops really wanted to help the unionists, but were sidelined by the nasty specials?"

Nope. _One_ senior cop was demoted by his superiors for being insufficiently vicious towards to strikers, but in general they were entirely on the side of the specials.

On the other hand, an exhibition on the 1913 strike is a good thing - it's just the pro-police bias that's the problem. That's best countered by getting out information to counter their propaganda. I agree with Victor that a more civilised debate on the issue would have been more productive.


It's hard to believe that such an interesting project aimed at making New Zealand's working class history more visible should be the object of such vitriol.

God knows there is very little attention paid to working class life in the mainstream media. And when you read the awful stalinist language above you could almost be forgiven for thinking that much of it is irrelevant and antiquated.

In many countries there are very positive efforts aimed at helping police to shed their culture of hostility, fear and paranoia toward workers, strikers and unions. After all, many police are members of the working class. Exercises like this can help them to stop dehumanising workers and gain more respect for union issues and tactics.

It could mean that police learn to have a greater tolerance for dissent. It also might help dissenters to understand the very complex role of police in a democratic society. And help them to stop dehumanising police.

After all, what kind of class analysis stops seeing people as human?

Re: Wow

> It could mean that police learn to have a greater tolerance for dissent

It's not an issue of individual officers being tolerant - it's the orders they get from on high. The degree of tolerance for dissenters is directly proportional to how much of a threat the ruling class considers the dissent to be to their interests. Education can help improve relations between police and dissenters to an extent, but only to an extent.

Making New Zealand's working class history more visible is indeed worthwhile, but the problem is that it's being misrepresented.,2106,2734320a649... is a good example of the problem, implying that the cossacks were heros and not mentioning the very good reasons for the strike.


Once again Victor Billot has shown his total lack of understanding of class politics. He has condemned the rank and file workers of UNITE and other unions for having the gall to protest against the totally undemocratic decision of Matt McCarten to give UNITE's support to an event which had as its centrepiece the presentation of new police research on the policing of industrial disputes and left-wing protest.

Victor and Felice claim that a more civilised debate would have been nice - the picketers agree! The workers of UNITE tried in the days leading up to the event to debate the issue with McCarten, but McCarten refused to talk to them, slamming the phone down when calls were made (shades of Alliance modus operandi). On the day they attempted again to engage him in debate, and he hid himself behind the cops! Now in the face of a rank and file revolt - in Wellington, as well as Auckland - McCarten is lamely and dishonestly claiming he never really supported the whole event (see Jim Gladwin's Open Letter, which I'm about to post)! There's integrity for you...

Here is an excerpt from the article on the exhibition which appeared in Auckland's Central Leader:

"This is a crucial piece of research because we need to know what works for different policing styles. Dr Casey and Dr Collinson are visiting various police forces and research institutes around the world to further their understanding of policing methods." see:,2106,2734320a649...

If union cooperation with this isn't class collaboration then what is, Victor? Do you think that the UK and US cops Casey will be visiting need help repressing workers, after the recent experiences of the use of the longshoremen's and firefighters' strikes? It's absurd for you to compare a meeting held by a visit social democratic politician with the Comrades and Cossacks exhibition. We can listen to and debate the Socalist Party MP at a public meeting - that's how politics in the labour movement should be, robust and open debate - but no principled leftist can sup with the cops at an event designed to increase police power and whitewash the greatest example of state violence against workers in NZ history.

Victor may be interested to know that when a member of UNITE contacted the Maritime Union about the Comrades and Cossacks exhibiton he was told that MUNZ as a whole was not in favour of the idea, and that Auckland seafarers leader Gary Parsloe was strongly against the exhibition, and trying to persuade the wharfies who had decided to participate to pull out. Presumably most of MUNZ's leaders remember the long history of police attacks on wharfies and seafarers, including the baton charges on picketers during the Mainland Stevedoring dispute in 2000-2001 and the police role in and response to the tragic death of Christine Clark on a picket line less than four years ago.

Thanks to Don Franks for his staunch support for the picketers - we'll pass your words on to the UNITE workers, few of whom have internet access.

To Rohan we say - read some history. Len Richardson's fine book Coal Community and Class and Dick Scott's classic 151 Days are a good start. The history of the last six weeks in Bolivia is even better. There has never been and will never be an unbiased police force. The cops exist to defend property rights, and they are always on the wrong side of the picket.

The role of the Police

The Police play many different roles in society today. On one hand they are the ones we call if we are attacked on the street or are lost in the bush. Most people including myself have no problem with this side of their role. On the other hand though, when it comes to politics, and anyone who has had any dealings with them in a political situation would know, their role is quite different. Whenever a movement exceeds merely being a bunch of passive marchers on the road, the police all of a sudden grow fangs and the class divide becomes quite visible. At this point the police are literally just doing the dirty work of the ruling class and thoroughly enjoying themselves in the process.

The role of the Police continued

There are two ways of interpreting the situation with the exhibition and its sponsership by the Police. One could argue that it is in fact a neutral exhibition and that both sides have reconciled and are shaking hands acknowledging that this era of class struggle in the form of mass strikes is a thing of the past. This is the argument used by the Police and Matt McCarton.

The other way to look at is to argue that by going and shaking hands with the Police, Matt McCarton and Co are in fact crossing the barricades into the bourgeoisie and therefore seperating themselves from the people they are trying to represent. It is true that class struggle has taken a dive with Rogernomics and all that other neoliberal crap; but with the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. People are working longer hours and rising house prices meaning greater numbers unable to buy a house, leaving the bourgeoisie large numbers of properties to buy up and "earn" money from workers living in them.

With all this happening, it is only a matter of time until all this comes to a head and people stop believing the crap Labour talks about. With renewed class struggle, the role of the police will become more clear again and illusions that the police are our friend will be discarded once again.

It gets worse...

Sam wrote:

"One could argue that it is in fact a neutral exhibition and that both sides have reconciled and are shaking hands acknowledging that this era of class struggle in the form of mass strikes is a thing of the past. This is the argument used by the Police and Matt McCarton...With renewed class struggle, the role of the police will become more clear again and illusions that the police are our friend will be discarded once again."

Believe or not McCarten's position is even worse than this. He argues that the cops didn't do anything too bad in the first place! Here's an excerpt from the e mail of McCarten's that Mike Treen forwarded to Global Peace and Justice activists in an effort to smear the picketers:

"The role of the cops is a very interesting one. The police have seconded Sherwood Young, a well known police historian to assist. He will also speak at the Exhibition on the police role(1pm and 7pm on Wednesday 26).
The police role in the dispute is misunderstood by many (including me). In fact at the time the Head of police in Auckland refused have anything to do with the 'specials'. He was viewed as sympathetic to the strikers
and had told union leaders that the police would not harass their pickets. Consequently Massey's government replaced him. The specials were in fact organised by the army, not the police."

Needless to say this is nonsense. The cops did indeed organise the specials in many places, and played a brutal role in crushing the 1913 strike. Here is an excerpt from one personal account of the strike in Huntly, one of the most important coal mining areas of New Zealand in those days:

'...our quiet strike here went the same way as the Waihi strike had [in 1912 police and specials attacked the Waihi miners' union hall and killed striker Frederick George Evans]. Police by the score - mostly mounted - were imported, and the scabs and owners began to organise potential strike-breakers, and these were escorted to work by a guard of both mounted and foot police. It was one such body of police and scabs, ostensibly going to work on the afternoon shift, that suddenly darted across the road when abreast the union office and attacked it. Bill Wood and one or two others were in the office were in the office and offered some resistance, but the odds against them were hopeless [the office was trashed]...

From the general strike until the mine explosion [43 miners were killed in an explosion caused by employer negligence in Ralph's mine under Huntly in September 1914], a reign of terror existed in Huntly. After the invasion of the police the scabs got the idea they could do as they liked. The scab secretary's brother bruned down the Union office but nothing could be done about it. Men were afraid to be seen speaking to one another. There were spies everywhere...'

That's from an article by J Melling called Reminiscences of Huntly 1912-13 and published in New Zealand Labour Review 3 (12) 29-32 (1947) You can get similar stories in more accessible texts like Len Richardson's in-print book Coal Community and Class. But why should McCarten listen to working class historians over his mates in the police? When we consider his outrageous misrepresentations of both the 1913 Strike and the picket of the Comrades and Cossacks event we can see just who it is that is guilty of wanting the 'suppression of working class history'.

The Hot Air Revolution

My only experience with this strange group called the CWG has been in two of their recent activities, which I feel needs to be illuminated once again in light of their latest escapades.

Their previous successful episode of class war was to launch an attack on the Maritime Union and its campaign for cabotage (note: not a "robust debate", but a personalized, slanderous and factually incorrect attack.)

Moving on to more recent dramas, they are perfectly entitled to portray a historical exhibition with police involvement as the leading issue requiring mobilization on the left. Just as I am entitled to describe such a view as a bunch of ass (that's a dialectical term I think.)

I have no time for this outfit who lurk behind pseudonyms and spend their energies attacking . . . the same side.

It would be a pleasant surprise to see them devote their energies to something of use.

(No doubt I will be in serious trouble once the CWG leads a chanting horde of Red Guards through the streets of Geraldine and Johnsonville, but I can live with that . . . )

Talk to the workers Victor

Victor Billot seems to have missed the point - or, rather, seems to want to miss the point - that the CWG is not the instigator of and sole participant in the protests against the cop conference in Auckland. The instigators and the authors of the text we put on indymedia are the rank and file members of the UNITE union. These members were denied the right to vote on their union's co-sponsorship of the cop conference, they were not allowed to speak to their union leadership and and if they had wanted to attend they were denied the right to attend the opening of the conference. Thus they initiated what was a successful picket. Victor think they're idiots and that they're wasting their time. Nice to know you respect the rank and file comrade.

The CWG backs the UNITE rank and file and was on the picket - but we are hardly alone. We are joined not only by most of the socialist groups in the country but by numerous individuals and most of the trade unions and unionists who have made statements on the issue, including senior members of Victor's own Maritime Union like Gary Parsloe in Auckland. Yet Victor wants to belittle the many unionists outraged by this act of class collaboration by attributing their protest to one small group. Why don't you address a serious political argument to the UNITE rank and file and their union supporters Victor? Is it because you're afraid that the redbaiting and other right wing antics which are your stock response to the CWG might not cut the mustard?

Victor says that he doesn't consider the Comrades and Cossacks conference the most important issue around today, as if anyone has argued that. The CWG has not confined itself to this and the Cabotage issue - if you search this site with our name let alone read our paper you'll see us addressing dozens of other issues, from Iraq to the Jobs Jolt.

What the C and C event really does is symbolise an attitude of class collaboration which is a major barrier to getting the NZ left and union movement to respond effectively to the big issues in NZ and around the world. Don Franks has made this point well in his comments in this thread of discussion. How can we as workers deal with increasing repression from the state in an era of war, aggressive imperialism and revolutions when some of our union leaders regard the cops as their friends, and sit down to sup with them over the dead bodies of Frederick George Evans and Christine Clark? When the world's hyperpower is on the slippery slope to fascism and the US-crafted Anti Terrorism Bill threatens our own civil liberties and the rights of unions, and right now Bruce Hubbard, Paul Hopkinson and Jarrod Phillips all face possible prison time for democratic dissent, how can we organise a strong workers' defence of civil liberties and living standards when some of our unions believe that the capitalist state can be tamed and made to work for our benefit?

I challenge Victor to 'do something useful' raise the issue of support for Bruce, Paul and Jarrod inside the Maritime Union. If he does this then he will be honourbound also to reject the sort of class collaboration that saw McCarten sitting down with cops on Monday. The last issue of MUNZ's Auckland zine I saw had a smiling Helen Clark and - even worse - John Tamihere on the cover and a suckup-to-Labour editorial. MUNZ should have the worker activists Clark and her US backers are persecuting on the cover, and it should be giving its resources to their defence, not to Labour PR.


Good to at least see a red flag filmed flying outside the venue. I agree with many of the arguments made by the socialists here. It is clear that the union participation in the event was a merely junket for its leaders to attend.

I found it

quite odd to see the old soviet flag flying outside during the demo, The TV3 news article that ran was talking about "overseas agitators" being brought in and that the workers were the dupes of the radical left, then we pan outside to see a bunch of people flying the old soviet flag. Surely that look was just going to re-inforce that view in the eyes of the viewing audience

re soviets and the red flag

Interesting comments. The 'soviet flag' does not belong to a country. Soviet is Russian for workers' council, and the Russian revolution of 1905 was probably the first time that soviets were set up on large scale - organs of direct democracy based on worksites. Recently during the campaign to smash the US-backed Lozada government in Bolivia a soviet was set up in El Alto, a suburb of La Paz. Many people liken the occupied factories running democratically in Argentina to soviets.

The CWG has comrades in Bolivia and in Brukman, one of the Argentinean occupied factories, so when we fly the soviet flag we're showing our solidarity with these revolutionary workers, and also looking back to the Russian revolution of 1917, which had as its slogan 'All power to the soviets!'

There is a long history of the flying of the red flag downunder. In one of his autobiographical writings John Pilger describes the way the residents of the mining town his Dad lived in flew red flags from every house to celebrate the Russian revolution. The Federation of Labour which called the General Strike of 1913 (and was dominated by syndicalist rather than Marxist ideas) was known as the 'Red Feds', and used to fly red flags on its demonstrations.

It's unfortunate that the history of Stalinism has given the word soviet bad connotations for some workers. We had an interesting discussion with a Russian AUT staff member, who initially thought that we were died in the wool Stalinists. He was quite surprised when he discovered that there were communists who had a left-wing critique of Stalinism.

Having said that I should emphasise that not everyone at the picket was flying the red flag. There were a range of political views represented - Jim Gladwin, whose account of the picket is also on indymedia, would probably prefer a red and black flag, and others might nominate green as their colour.

Matt arrested???

Given the criticism Matt Mccarten has coped over this issue, I believe he deserves some credit for putting himself up for arrest at the UNITE picket today.Does anyone else have an account of the picket-line action????

McCarten and Gager on 1913

By now the facts of the picket and McCarten's arrest are probably well known. McCarten can certainly take credit for organising low paid workers, but we can't lose sight of why he is doing it. Does he see this as a necessary step to empower workers to overthrow the state, or does he see it as a power base for his next assault on parliament as new leader of the socialist Alliance? Here's a little piece that compares McCartens labourite view of history with one of the heroes of Trotskyism in NZ, Owen Gager, that appears in the latest Class Struggle #53 which can be viewed at
It may help people to see that this spat about the Cossacks and Comrades has a long history.

What do Liberal Matt McCarten and Bolshevik Owen Gager have in common? Both look back to 1913 and say they would have been on the workers