New Zealand's 'silent majority' march against militant unionists

Monday, March 2, Tania Harris, a 22-year-old saleswoman, was just a New Zealander who cared about her country. uesday, March 3, Tania Harris leads 50,000 New Zealands down the main street of Auckland, the nation's largest city, in the biggest outpouring of public demonstration since World War II.

The "silent majority" was protesting strong-arm tactics by militant trade unionists in the wake of a confrontation with Prime Minister Robert D. Muldoon's government.

The clash brought New Zealand to the verge of the second early election in its history. Mr. Muldoon's administration won the union-versus-government battle -- but it took Tania Harris and her simple slogan: "Kiwis who care," to motivate ordinary New Zealanders to march in the streets.

Nervously holding a microphone thrust into her hand, the young woman declared: "I'm Tania Harris. I'm a Kiwi and I'm proud to be a Kiwi. I'm also proud that you have all joined together to show your pride and unity in this country. We just pull together and not apart; we must have freedom of choice."

The workers who poured out of the office buildings, shops, and factories surprises even Miss Harris. The "Bernadette Devlin of New Zealand," as she was called (after the fiery left-wing northern Irish politician), had her hopes realized beyond her wildes dreams.

Miss Harris was the catalyst, but it only needed one spark for New Zealanders to show their disgust with union militancy that brought much of the country to a standstill in the final week of February.

Forty-seven picketers from the militant Auckland engineers' union were arrested by police for trespassing onto a restricted area at Auckland's international airport. They were protesting the use of Air New Zealand's nonunion labor to keep its DC-10s flying.

Six of the arrested picketers decided to remain in jail, despite having the opportunity to post bail. Their decision to stay led to demands on the government by the Federation of Labor, the major workers' organization, for charges against them to be dropped -- or face continued industrial disruption.

The arrests grounded Air New Zealand's fleet, closed factories, disrupted land transport, and left domestic and foreign travelers stranded throughout the country.

But the government, sensing the public mood was behind it, stood firm. Attorney General James McLay agonized for two days over the toughest decision in his brief career. He decided the charges would bot be dropped.

In the face of such government determination and growing public unrest the Federation of Labor's fiery president Jim Knox publicly backed down. As a compromise he sought changes in the law on picketing.

But compromises did not disguise the fact that the government had won the battle hands down. Auckland march, by its sheer size, justified Mr. Muldoon's stand.

It made a national heroine of Tania Harris and gave Mr. Muldoon enormous political clout, with an election just nine months away, to go the polls on an antiunion and law-and-order platform.

Before the picketers were arrested the election looked like a three-way battle between National, the major opposition Labour Party, and the rising force in New Zealand politics, Social Credit.

But after Tania Harris's march the government shaped as o dds on favorite to win a third three-year term.

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