AUSTRALIAN RADICAL HISTORY
Although the origins of the 1890 Maritime strike are disputed, the
events that accompanied and followed this strike were a turning point in
Australian history. The strike began in Adelaide and rapidly spilled
over into all the other colonies. The battle was particularly bitter in
Victoria and New South Wales. Both employers and unions were itching
for a fight. As the Union Movement grew stronger they were able to
launch campaigns that boycotted products that were made or moved by
1890 - MARITIME STRIKE
In 1890 employers from all the colonies met and drew up a plan to
provoke a national strike. The colonial governments were pre-warned and
prepared for a national dispute. While police had been used in strikes
before 1890, the military had not been used. During the 1890, Maritime
strike military units were extensively used against strikes in New South
Wales and Victoria. Armed troops were deployed in Sydney, Melbourne,
Newcastle and a number of other ports around Australia.
In Melbourne the announcement that a public meeting was going to be held
on the 31st of August 1890 to support the Maritime strikers sent the
Victorian government into panic mode.
On the eve of the meeting one thousand military volunteers were
addressed by the old fart Colonel Tom Price "you will each be supplied
with forty rounds of ammunition and leaden bullets and if the order is
given to fire, don't let me see one rifle pointed up in the air. Fire
low and lay them out". That same evening machine gun nests were mounted
behind parliament house. Despite the military intimidation 60,000
protesters attended the meeting on the 31st of August 1890.
A shortage of money and a plentiful supply of scabs eventually defeated
the strikers. Wage cuts were introduced for everyone in the maritime
industry, even the scabs had their wages cut. The defeat of the
Maritime Strike in 1890 and the shearers strike in 1891, laid the
framework for the Labour Movements entry into parliamentary politics.
The New South Wales Labour Defence Committee summed up the unions mood
in the statement "the time has come when trade unionists must use the
parliamentary machine that in the past has used them"
In 1998 one hundred and eight years later the wheel has turned full
circle. The Maritime Union of Australia has realised that direct action
not parliamentary politics is the only way to maintain the conditions
they have won over the past century.
by Anarchist Media Institute, Melbourne, Australia
Excerpt from Anarchist Age Weekly Review Number 288,
23rd February - 1st March, 1998