Strike in the Shipping Trade in 1890

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The strike in the shipping trade has assumed alarming proportions, and there is now every prospect of the intercolonial sea traffic being entirely suspended within the next few days. It will affect all classes of society, and already there are signs that this social upheaval will prove one of the greatest disasters that has happened to this young country. Masters and servants appear to have taken a most determined stand. The former have done what has been seldom attempted by capital; they have united to asist [sic] in repelling the further encroachments of labour. The various unions of labour, on the other hand, are endeavouring to draw a cordon around the capitalists, which will permit of no escape, and make surrender imperative. The shipowners, in the present instance, have capital to assist them. The employes [sic] are aided by the sympathy, practical and otherwise, of their brethren in other fields of labour. Both sides may be said to be armed and ready for the struggle which has commenced. The public who, in the end, will be almost the sole sufferers, have to look on with the assumed indifference of an uninterested party. We say “assumes” because even the most thoughtless cannot look at present events, without a shudder for what the impenetrable future may disclose. There is not, at present, a break in the cloud which obscures the social firmament. There is certainly the knowledge that the total cessation of labour cannot last beyond a certain time. The bloodiest of ancient and modern wars, though they may have been prolonged, have had an end, and so with the present labour trouble – it must have a finish. But no one can picture the amount of misery that may have to be endured before the end does come. The present quarrel has had a very slight origin; but there is much force in the assertion of the employers that they would have had to face the labour difficulty sooner or later, and therefore it was to their interest to face the trouble at once. From the officers and seamen the trouble is fast spreading to all descriptions of maritime labour. But there are already the indications that the contagion may spread into other spheres of labour. The stoppage of the sea traffic has resulted in almost entirely cutting off the coal supplies to Victoria from New South Wales. As a consequence a severe blow has been struck at the manufacturing industry, not only in the metropolis, but in the inland towns as well. That great hive of industry at Ballarat, the Phoenix Foundry, which gives employment to about 350 hands, will stop working to-day owing to the scarcity of coal, and in smaller manufactories there will be the same result. The price of provisions of all kinds is advancing almost daily, and famine rates will rule if the strike lasts many weeks. This labour trouble, which is viewed with light hearts by the frothy and well-paid demagogues who button on the miseries of others, will materially effect every member of the community. There is no reasonable objection to the unity of either labour or capital to redress real grievances or resist tyranny; but when the organisations are made use of for the paltriest of purposes, and hardship inflicted on the community as a whole, it is time that the public [illegible – 10 words.][1]
The Great Strike.
The strike in the shipping trade is rapidly spreading. Shipowners have commenced to discharge their vessels with non-union labor under police protection. The crowd have been hooting and groaning all day, and when the men knocked off open disorder broke out. Several cowardly assaults were perpetrated on the free laborers. This decisive and independent action on be half of the shipowners has caused much comment among the men, and the stokers in the employ of the Metropolitan Gas Company threaten to go out on strike. The question is to be referred to the strike committee of the Trades Hall, who are to decide whether the men shall leave work or not this afternoon. Communication with Tasmania has been restored. The steamers Flinders, Devon, and Wastewater slipped out of port on Saturday with non-union crews. This circumstance has occasioned much heated discussion. Mr. Pattersonr Chief Commissioner of Customs, has been asked to receive a deputation on the subject. The relations between the owners and seamen are greatly embittered. The Chief Secretary and the Chief Commissioner of Police are preparing for any emergency which may arise in consequence of the gas stokers going out on strike. Mr. Deakin thinks that the City Council should take some steps towards temporarily lighting the streets. A large number of police will be drawn from the country districts, so that the metropolitan police can patrol the streets in full force at night. Provisions, coal and wood are rapidly advancing in price. Butter is retailing at 4s. per pound. Produce is being carried from Sydney to Victoria by rail. Kitchen and Sons Apollo soapworks are stopped through the strike. There is an opinion gaining ground amongst manufacturers that a general lock-out will take place. The flour mills of Kimpton and Sons, Melbourne, and Webb and Sons, Sandhurst, have decided to close. It is suggested that a settlement might be attained through the medium of the Presidents of the Chambers of Commerce and Manufacture. The Phoenix Foundry at Ballarat has stopped work, owing to the failure of coal supplies. The Great Morwell mine expects to place brown coal on the market in a day or two. The Geelong to Melbourne steamers are about to stop running. The coal miners of Wickham and Bullock Islands have refused to cut coal for non-union vessels. Great excitement prevails at Brisbane. The union obtained possession of the entrance to Howard, Smith and Co.'s wharf, and forcibly prevented non-unionists from entering. The Trades Council of South Australia has issued an appeal, asking the public for sympathy and support against the shipowners' combination.
This afternoon a densely-packed meeting of Employers was held in the Athenaeum. Resolutions were carried condemnatory of the practice of boycotting, approving of the attitude of the ship owners and affirming the desirableness of a comprehensive union of employers.
The hope was expressed that the strike would not be brought to a termination by any further sacrifice on the part of the employers. The meeting evinced a determined opposition to the Trades' Hall demands.
The suggestion was made that a large fund be raised for the purpose of assisting the employers who were not strong enough financially to hold out.
The members of the Seamen’s Union have expressed confidence in their secretary.[2]
The latest news from Melbourne by Saturday’s papers is of the usual unsatisfactory nature as regards a termination of the present ruinous labor dispute. The Employers’ reply to the letter from the Trades Hall had not been received, but it is understood it will show that the employers are still strongly against an “unhampered” conference. The employers are open to meet and discuss on what conditions work can be resumed, but point out that wages and hours of labor are not in dispute, and state that work will be open to those who went on strike as vacancies occur, but the claims of those at present employed must be recognised.
The definition of “freedom of contract” is defined as being, on the one hand, the freedom of the workman to work for whom he thinks fit, whether the employer is a member of any Employers’ Union or not; and on the other hand, freedom for the employer to employ whom he thinks fir, whether the workman is a member of any Trades Union or not.
An influential employer in Melbourne who is largely interested in the present dispute, was asked on Saturday morning what view he took of the situation, and replied that he considered the strike practically over. The places of most of the marine officers who went on strike have been filled by others. Non-Union seamen are manning the ships, the Union gas stokers have been replaced by non-Unionists, non-Union men are doing the work of the Union stevedores, labourers, and the shearers have resumed work. The outcome of the situation is that very few Union men who have thrown up their situations will be able to get into their old positions. The only question now to be considered is the opening of the collieries at Newcastle. The majority of the colliers would go back to work and the collieries could be opened within a fortnight provided it was considered advisable by the employers that the opening should be pushed on.
Matters at the Trades Hall do not appear to be pleasant as hertofore [sic], as general grumbling is spoken of, and the men are complaining that they are apparently losing.
It is expected the stevedores’ strike will be settled and the men return to work.
Some of the iron foundries are talking of shutting up owing to coal running short, and a meeting to decide what shall be done will be held to-morrow.
As a number of non-Union men were proceeding to work as stevedores at Port Melbourne on Saturday morning they were set upon by some Union men and a serious affray took place, the non-Union men getting the worst of the fight. One man had has head split open. Several arrests have been made.
The Tailoresses Union of Ballarat have decided to run their establishments in accordance with the principles of unionism.
The drapers assistants at Ballarat have formed a union.
Despairing of getting work in Ballarat, a large number of the hands recently locked out at the Phoenix Foundry, consequent upon the labor crisis, have gone in search of work in other quarters. The unfortunate men are willing to do any kind of work. A number have offered their services as miners, wood splitters and shearers. The closing of the foundry is a serious matter for Ballarat.[3]


The People


See also


  1. Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 - 1954), Tuesday 26 August 1890, page 2.
  2. The Mildura Cultivator (Vic. : 1888 - 1920), Wednesday 27 August 1890, page 3.
  3. Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 - 1953), Monday 13 October 1890, page 2.


Further reading

External links

--Beth Kicinski 11:07, 25 January 2013 (EST)

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