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1968 – Year of Revolution?

In December 2008, the Labour History Project held a seminar to mark the 40th anniversary of 1968.

Seminar Papers

Donald Anderson’s review

There was something in the air in 1968. A wave of revolt spread around the world. In France, workers and students famously almost brought down the government. Occupations, strikes, riots and mass protests occurred in the USA, Czechoslovakia (the Prague Spring), Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan and elsewhere. In Vietnam, the Tet offensive was launched. This mood of rebellion spread to New Zealand. A major workplace revolt occurred against the nil wage order issued by the Arbitration Court. A worker-student protest, legend has it, almost ‘stormed’ Parliament.

Major – and successful – protests were held against a proposed US military installation called Omega. The ‘Peace, Power, and Politics’ counter- conference was held against the Vietnam War and SEATO. And there was much other activity too.

1968 symbolised the hope of a new generation that they could radically change the old establishment. In New Zealand, it led to a blossoming of struggle by workers, students, Maori, women, Pacific people, environmentalists and others.

On Saturday 6 December 2008, over 40 people gathered to listen and discuss whether or not 1968 was a year of revolution. We were entertained and informed by Lisa Sacksen’s paper on events in France in 1968 and by Toby Boraman’s presentation on the worker-student alliance in NZ and the ‘storming’ of Parliament (see Toby’s paper in this issue). Peter Franks spoke in his usual thorough and perceptive style on the movement against the nil wage order.

Memories of many of those present were rekindled by the reminiscences and analyses of prominent trade unionist Ken Douglas, former Resistance Bookshop operator Pat Bolster, and Auckland Progressive Youth Movement member Barry Lee.

Alex Burton’s cleverly-cut selection of New Zealand television and film selections brought alternating rounds of laughter and thoughtful murmurs from the audience. Our thanks to the NZ Film Archive for their assistance.

It was good to see new faces at the seminar, and to learn that some of the spirit of 1968 was still alive in New Zealand!

The afternoon ended with a comradely round of drinks, or two, at The Thistle Inn to celebrate the Christmas season.