Broken Hill Dispute — 100 years

Quotes from participants, media and judges telling their side of the dispute

One of the miners who was there wrote this about the 1908 Broken Hill Dispute:

“The mounted men, like their predecessors, were armed with carbines and revolvers…everything was orderly and the line of route was the same we had traversed many times before. As the procession approached the thoroughfare on the far side of which was the company’s property, we found the way blocked by police. They made a dash for the union banner, tore it off the poles and used the latter on the heads of the men including the bandsmen. For 10 minutes there was as lively a time as I had ever experienced, and I was in the middle of it. At the end of the fray, I was marched off to the police station, together with 20 of my comrades. We were all bunged into one large cell.”

Tom Mann, ‘Memoirs’, London 1923

Like the MUA dispute of 1998

“In a way, the Broken Hill dispute was the MUA dispute of its day and the (labour) movement needs to be reminded of these struggles…”

Historian, Humphrey McQueen.

Police Break the Law.
Unionists marching in procession are deliberately assaulted by police in a cowardly and brutal fashion.

Police decline to state on what grounds arrests were made and refuse all offers of bail. A damnable, dastardly deed.

A new chapter in the history of Australian industrialism was opened on Saturday. Never before was the people’s liberty so brazenly outraged by the police pimps of plutocracy … “

‘Barrier Daily Truth’, 11 January 1909

Justice Higgins

On March 17, 1909 Justice Higgins delivered his judgement. He did not doubt evidence that BHP’s mine was declining in value, however he did not find this reason enough to reduce workers wages below the minimum wage required to adequately live in Broken Hill. He determined that this figure was 8 shillings, 7 and half pence per day, higher than the figure determined in the Harvester Judgement.

Justice Higgins cited in ‘Federal Court Does Justice to the Miners’, The Worker, 18 March 1909

Following Justice Higgins’ judgement BHP appealed to the High Court. As a result some of the judgment was set aside. However, the principal of the ‘living wage’ for the Broken Hill workers was upheld.

BHP suspended mining operations in Broken Hill for 2 years in order to avoid paying the wage.

2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation @ http://www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/printfriendly.pl?/federation/fedstory/ep3/ep3_places.htm

For Graeme Osborne’s history of the dispute see ‘Town and Company: the Broken Hill Industrial Dispute of 1908-09’ in John Iremonger, John Merritt and Graeme Osborne (eds), Strikes: Studies in Twentieth Century Australian Social History, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, pp. 31-49

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