The Whaledump tradition
Both supporters and detractors have presented Whaledump's campaign as a radical innovation in New Zealand politics. Rodney Hide expressed the popular view when he told Radio Live yesterday that "we've never seen anything like" Whaledump in New Zealand, and claimed that his or her campaign "had only been made possible" by "new technology".
Whaledump may be using twenty-first century technology to torment the National government, but the hacktivist's strategy of discovering and sharing the dirty secrets of the powerful has a venerable history in New Zealand politics. What Whaledump does with an internet connection and a filesharing site, earlier activists did with notebooks, printings presses, and pirate radio.
Whaledump's campaign can be compared, in its intensity and ingenuity, with the propaganda war waged in illegal pamphlets and on pirate radio by supporters of New Zealand's wharfies in 1951, during what some historians have taken to calling the Great Waterfront Lockout.
Holland's crusade had been urged by a paranoid United States, which feared that communist members of New Zealand's trade unions might be about to seize power and make their country a South Pacific satellite of the Soviet Union. Holland had another ally in Fintan Patrick Walsh, the leader of the Seaman's Union, who was known as the 'Black Prince' because of his fondness for violence and his dodgy business practices.
Instead of being intimidated by the suspension of their civil rights, the wharfies and their allies quickly published more than a score of pamphlets and bulletins that condemned the authoritarianism and corruption of the National regime and its helpers. These broadsides could not be sold openly, but were passed from hand to hand in union halls and pubs up and down New Zealand.
After defying the New Zealand state for five months, the Waterside Workers Union finally admitted defeat in the middle of 1951. When a gleeful Sid Holland responded by calling a snap election, National won a record 51% of the vote. The wharfies had won considerable support in the working class suburbs of New Zealand's big cities and in coal mining and hydro station towns, but they had bewildered and frightened the farming communities that traditionally back the National Party. Because of Holland's emergency regulations and the limitations of print media, documents like If It's Treachery Get Tuohy, with their revelations of the corruption of the National government and its allies, never reached the eyes of many New Zealanders.
There are, of course, big differences between the political situation in 1951 and the situation today. Whaledump is not the spearhead of any militant working class movement, and the spectre of communism does not haunt John Key. But similarities exist amidst the differences. Key's use of Cameron Slater to intimidate his opponents recalls Sid Holland's distaste for dissent, and one of the persistent targets of Slater's blog has been the Maritime Union of New Zealand, the direct descendant of the Waterside Workers Union that fought so hard against National in 1951.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]