Story: Public protest
Page 4 – Pickets, blockades and boycotts
Pickets consist of a line of people standing in a public space, and are sometimes used to inhibit the passage of people and goods. Usually the picket is staged outside the target of protest, such as a workplace, or a council or government office. Protesters usually bear placards with terse and (sometimes) droll slogans about the protest’s aims or grievance. Some picketers sing and chant.
When, in 1913, Odlin and Company’s timber carters were ‘stuck up’ by a drivers’ picket in Newtown, Wellington, and asked to leave work, Mr Odlin telephoned the police. Within ‘a few moments a troop of 10 came up at a full gallop, and the pickets rapidly dispersed.’1
Pickets are strongly identified with industrial disputes and are often formed to discourage strikebreakers and others from entering a workplace. This may lead to scuffles and violence between the two sides, which can result in police intervention and arrests. In December 1999 in Lyttelton, picketer Christine Clarke was killed when she was knocked down by a truck crossing the picket line. The driver, Derek Powell, was tried and found not guilty of causing her death.
Most pickets are peaceful and disperse once they feel their point has been made. Some pickets are creative. In 1986 fears that Wellington’s historic Mission to Seamen building was about to be demolished led protesters to link hands and encircle the building, preventing demolition workers from moving in.
A blockade involves stopping the passage of goods or people over a certain line. Usually it takes the form of blocking a thoroughfare such as a road.
Perhaps the earliest blockade was by Porirua Māori. In 1841 a group obstructed road construction through disputed lands between Wellington and Whanganui by ‘tapuing [placing ritual restriction on] a river over which it was necessary to pass.’2 The tapu was lifted after Governor William Hobson intervened. Some 165 years later, in September 2006, Ōmuriwaka Māori blockaded a road through the Urewera Range on the grounds that it ran over their land. They charged $10 per head for people wanting to access Te Urewera National Park. The blockade lasted until April 2008.
The aukati line
Between 1870 and 1875, Māori in the King Country strictly enforced the aukati line, which delineated Māori- from Pākehā-controlled land. Pākehā who crossed the line faced imminent death. In 1870 the government surveyor Richard Todd was shot near Pirongia. Three years later the farm labourer Timothy Sullivan was chased down, shot and decapitated, and had his heart cut out, in a gruesome killing that alarmed Pākehā settlers.
The removal of survey pegs and the ploughing of Pākehā-occupied land was a type of blockade because it impeded European settlement. In 1879 the Taranaki leaders Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi ploughed confiscated land occupied by Pākehā, culminating in the government invasion of Parihaka in 1881.
Blockades do not only occur on land. In August 2009 Greenpeace activists briefly blockaded a trawler in Auckland Harbour to protest overfishing of endangered species. Some blockades are more trivial. Incensed by Wellington airport’s plan to put up a ‘Wellywood’ sign on a Miramar hillside, in May 2011 protesters organised a slow-moving vehicle blockade of the airport’s drop-off area, jamming traffic.
Boycotts protest the action of a business or country by suspending some or all relations with it.
In July 1912, to ‘protest against alleged misrepresentation of the “Capitalistic” press’ of actions taken by unionists, miners at Millerton decided to boycott Westport papers and all tradesmen that advertised in them.
In the late 1930s watersiders boycotted shipments of scrap metal to Japan on the grounds that it could be turned into weapons. During the 1970s many New Zealanders supported boycotts of goods from Chile and South Africa to protest against their repressive governments. In 1980 New Zealand joined an international sporting boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games to protest the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Two high-profile local boycotts both involved Greymouth and beer. In 1947 hotels in Greymouth all raised the price of beer. This led patrons to boycott the hotels. After a four-and-a-half month standoff, the pubs backed down and lowered the price. DB Breweries’ 2001 decision to close its Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth led to a national boycott of the brand. The brewery quickly reversed its decision.