The coming centenary of the 1917 NSW General Strike

Strikers at the Eveleigh Workshops in 1917
Contributed by Glen

August this year marks the centenary of the NSW General Strike, a strike occurring at the height of the Great Trade War.

The strike commenced on August 6 1917. It took place as a response to a new labour costing system implemented by the New South Wales Department of Railways and Tramways. This was a time in motion approach that could be used to penalise ‘slow workers’. It coincided with a period where workers’ wages were falling not just throughout New South Wales, but across all of Australia.

For six weeks, the strikers vigilantly fought the good fight. Across New South Wales and Victoria workers took action. Rail workers, waterside workers, miners and timber workers were among those involved. It is estimated around 70,000 workers struck. Big rallies were held to support the strikers, with one Sydney rally apparently bringing in 150,000 people!

However, the strikers were not able to negate the power of the state and its ability to organise groups of scabs, many recruited from rural areas, others were private school boys. The scabs kept work going, weakening the resolve of the strikers. By September 9 1917 the union leadership called the strike off. However, there were groups of workers who continued striking, with for example waterside workers remaining on strike until late November 1917.

The strike ended in a serious defeat for the workers. The new costing system was implemented, as well as other worse repercussions. Many strikers lost their jobs, replaced by scabs. Others were incarcerated. The general strike was a defeat for workers, taking a long time for workers to regain their confidence in taking such wide spread industrial action.

There will be more on this topic though this year.

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