Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chip, Rona, and a Good Companion

I have a story to tell about Communists, New Zealand, and a clandestine typewriter. While I might be stepping on toes here, I think that the ever-gracious Mr. Messenger will allow me to dabble in some southern-hemisphere typewriter antics.

Sidney Holland
The distance of Australia and New Zealand from traditional markets made shipping a vital part of their economic growth. It’s no surprise, then that the New Zealand waterfront became the locus of working-condition conflict. During WWII, labor shortages required that dock workers take on longer shifts; upwards of 15 hours a day. Anger at the situation was brought before the Arbitration Court of New Zealand and workers who were involved in the arbitration system were awarded a 15% wage increase. This did not apply to dock workers because their employment was controlled by a different governmental organization. Instead dock workers were awarded a 9% wage increase and among the rank-and-file this was seen as a slight for the vital service they offered to Kiwis.

In retribution, the waterfront workers refused to work overtime. Employers locked them out.

The center-right First National Government, led by Sidney Holland, called in the Army and Navy in to work the docks. An election was called in 1951 in an effort to capitalize on the national disapproval of the dockworkers actions. Emergency Regulations were enacted that significantly curtailed civic liberties and criminalized material support to watersiders. These regulations also made it a crime to write anything in support of the movement.

Rona Bailey
This did not stop Chip Bailey and his wife Rona Bailey from breaking the law and secretly writing pamphlets and articles in support of the watersiders.

Bailey and his wife were well-known in the New Zealand labor movement. Rona has been described as the ‘high priestess’ of Kiwi communism by a later New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. Chip was an ardent supporter of labor and—for a while—was purged from the party’s roll because he followed his own beliefs.

These two were not about to follow Holland’s dictum. They were going to fight for what they thought was right.

The Bailey Imperial at The Museum of New Zealand
It was on an Imperial Good Companion that the Baileys would write their pamphlets and political pieces. The couple were responsible for most of the illegal pro-union writing circulated around Wellington, their hometown. Often they would have to deliver these papers in the dead of night so as to not be caught.

Craftily hiding the unlicensed typewriter somewhere in their flat (history is mum on the location), they avoided being caught until the Gestetner mimeograph they were using to make duplicates was discovered in a police raid. They were fined 15 pounds for the possession of an unregistered printing machine. This would have been about ½ a week’s salary in 1950s New Zealand.

Chip Bailey
The Bailey’s weapon in the battle for labor rights was an Imperial Good Companion.

Chip passed away early in the 1960s. Rona continued to fight for her beliefs until she passed in 2005. However, Rona's later activism was less typewriter-centric. She used her love of dance as a way to fight for human rights. She was particularly active in anti-Apartheid movements.

The Good Companion, made by Leicester firm Imperial, was an immensely popular machine and I could go on and on about them, but Robert has already covered this ground which I suggest you read.

Typewriters often play an important role in political struggles. Ideas can change history, but ideas and typewriters can really get things going. 


2 comments:

  1. I like this Messenger-esque direction you're going in with your posts! Very informative and interesting, keep it coming (:

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  2. Great stuff, Ryan. By the way "Piggy" Muldoon (nicknamed for his facial likeness to swine) saw many "Reds under Beds", including my very own. This period, NZ's "McCarthyism era", included the demise of a Labour daily, The Southern Cross, a newspaper about which I'd like to tell you some time. Also, members of the 1953-54 NZ rugby team, returning home from Europe through the US, had to sign documents swearing they were not card-carrying members of the Communist Party.

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