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(en) New Zealand, awsm - War is a racket: Profiteering in New Zealand during World War One
Thu, 21 Jan 2016 18:35:52 +0200
War is a racket: Profiteering in New Zealand during World War One ---- During World War 1,
New Zealand was not immune to the profiteers. While thousands of ordinary workers were
losing their lives, others did very well out of the war. Prices rose steeply and wages
failed to keep pace. ---- Despite maintaining production, the large land and business
owners continually raised prices during the war. ---- Trade union paper The Maoriland
Worker calculated that by 1916, profits had increased by over £3 million on seven food
items (meat, butter, cheese, wool, wheat, flour and oats) for the local market, and by
over a stunning £8 million on the same exported items. ---- Where did the profits come
from? At a well-attended meeting in Wellington in 1917, held to protest the cost of
living, it was pointed out that the government’s own figures showed the cost of living had
risen 34 percent, with food having risen 28 percent, since 1914.
In effect, the population of New Zealand had to reduce their living standard by a combined
amount of over £3 million to fatten the wallets of New Zealand’s capitalists.
The right-wing prime minister of the day, William Massey, refused to admit there was a
problem and asked anyone to give him the name of a profiteer.
Again, the Maoriland Worker was happy to supply the figures, and pointed out that the meat
profiteers were now getting 50 percent more for beef per pound as against the pre-war
price; as were the cheese profiteers and the butter profiteers.
The wool profiteers had increased prices by 55 percent, and the flax profiteers had seen
an increase of 100 percent.
It was not just the New Zealand workers who were being profited from. As mentioned, New
Zealand’s farm and business owners were also making a lot of money from sales abroad.
In a speech in Wellington, the future Labour party leader Harry Holland highlighted how
the price of sheepskins had leapt enormously after it was found they were needed to make
vests for soldiers who were literally freezing to death in the trenches.
The farmers and government of New Zealand increased the profits on this item between 1916
and 1917 by £1,250,000, despite a decrease in the number actually sold.
In another example, prior to the war scheelite produced from New Zealand mines was nearly
all sold to German companies at a price of £105 per ton. After the war started, Britain
began importing it for weapons manufacture and the price rose to over £160 per ton.
After the war was over the profiteers continued profiteering, with land now another way
the rich could continue to benefit from the war.
At a Labour Party rally in 1919, it was described how a conscripted farmer in Frankton had
sold his land for £25 per acre when he had left to go to war. On his return he looked into
buying his land back and found the price being asked was now £40 per acre.
During the war, whenever those at home demanded a pay increase and threatened strike
action, they were condemned as being unpatriotic.
But as a Methodist minister from Cambridge, Reverend G. Cooke pointed out, if it was
unpatriotic for the workers to look for increased wages then it should have been
considered just as unpatriotic for there to be the making of war profits.
Indeed it seems that during World War 1 that, while most of New Zealand was willing to
give up their sons and husbands to the war effort, a certain section of society were
unwilling to give up their greed for money.
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