The Agricultural Implement Makers’ Union (AIMU) strike had a significant impact on workers’ families. An estimated 10,000 people from across Melbourne were without their usual means of support. Suburbs like Sunshine and Footscray, near the Sunshine Harvester Works, were hit particularly hard.
The AIMU supported the strike by awarding strike pay to its members. During the first few weeks of the action, married men received £1 a week, while single men received 10s. This was later increased to £1 10s for married men and £1 for single men.
Excerpt from the Melbourne Argus, 17 February 1911
The cost of living
During the strike, the AIMU based its rate of strike pay in part on the minimum wage established by Justice Higgins in his 1907 ruling. Higgins ruled that an unskilled labourer should receive a minimum weekly pay of £1 12s 5d (equivalent to about $190 today), judging that this would provide for rent, groceries, bread, meat, milk, fuel, vegetables and fruit for a family of five.
Until 1907, wages were generally determined by employers. Higgins based his ruling on evidence from workers and housewives on what it cost them to live. Higgins’ judgement was overturned by the High Court in 1908, but his ‘living wage’ method became a principle of Australian law.