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16 February - The strike begins

On the morning of 16 February, agricultural implements workers at the Sunshine Harvester Works and at other factories in Melbourne went on strike. EF Russell, secretary of the Agricultural Implement Makers’ Union (AIMU), and HV McKay, the Sunshine works owner, addressed a crowd of workers outside the factory entrance. Russell declared the union’s resolve to stop work until better pay and conditions were granted. McKay reiterated his position that he would not recognise union authority to control all labour at the factory.

Inside the works, many workshops stood almost deserted. In other areas, like the moulding department, where workers were not AIMU members, production continued as usual.

Excerpt from the Melbourne Argus, 17 February 1911

Excerpt from the Melbourne Argus newspaper on 17 February 1911 titled Meeting at Sunshine, Mr McKay addresses men
National Library of Australia
The AIMU executive, 1906
The AIMU executive, 1906
National Library of Australia

FEDERAL EXECUTIVE IMPLEMENT MAKERS' UNION, 1906
(l. to r.) J. Murray Smith (Victoria); J. P. Wilson, M.L.C. (Adelaide, S.A.); W. Butcher (Adelaide, S.A.); J. J. Holland (Victoria); E.P. Russell (Victoria)

Union power

The trade union movement had emerged in Australia by the 1850s. In 1856 stonemasons employed to build Melbourne University marched to the Victorian Parliament calling for shorter working hours. In the middle of a gold-rush building boom, the government agreed and Victorian labourers employed on public works became the first in the world to get an eight-hour day without a cut in pay.

Unions were formed in many different industries in the following decades. The Agricultural Implement Makers’ Union (AIMU) was established in 1885 as agricultural production and its support industries expanded. The AIMU took a leading role in lobbying government on workers’ rights in the early 20th century.

The 1895 Victorian eight-hour day parade
The 1895 Victorian eight-hour day parade
State Library of Victoria
Cartoon of the 1890 Maritime Strike titled Notes at the Strike
This cartoon of the 1890 Maritime Strike explores one of the union’s main issues, the use of non-union labour
State Library of Victoria

NOTES AT THE STRIKE
Captions l. to r.: Top—How are the mighty fallen, Ducking a non-unionist; Middle—Non-unionists leaving the wharf escorted, Preparing for the worst; Bottom—Arrival of country troopers, Upsetting a cab at the gas works, Chasing non-unionists down the river
SKETCHES DURING THE STRIKE (Sunday afternoon).

 

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