The Great Strike of 1917

Usually referred to as the "New South Wales General Strike", but referred to by contemporaries as "the Great Strike", it was in fact neither general nor confined to NSW. The strike was however a mass strike, involving around 100,000 workers, mostly in NSW and Victoria. It began in New South Wales on the 2nd of August 1917 when Randwick Tram Workers walked of the job in protest at the 'card system' imposed by management. Eveleigh rail workers joined them and soon after spread to other states over six weeks from 2 August to 8 September 1917.

It took two weeks for all the railway strikers to return, however, as rank and file meetings initially rejected the official capitulation. Outside the railways, significant groups such as the waterside workers in Sydney and Melbourne, and the Hunter Valley coal mines remained out until November (or December in the case of the Melbourne waterfront) as in their case the use of strikebreakers had turned the strike into a lockout.

During the Great Strike those workers that remained on strike in defiance of government and employer threats became known as the Lilywhites. The strike the government called on farmer organisations to enlist scab labour from the large numbers of unemployed particularly from drought stricken areas. In NSW 'Rural Volunteers' were organised by the farmers and graziers organisations and conservative country MP's.

To commemorate the 1917 Great Strike, Unions NSW has formed a committee to organise a series of events and resources to mark this centenary. These will include working with community organisations on a range of activities, public events, displays and educational resources.

The Centenary Medallion, produced to commemorate the significance of the strike can be purchase for $10 by contacting the Hunter Workers office.

The 1917 Centenary Committee and Unions NSW invites friends of the labour movement to join us in a celebration of the Centenary of the 1917 Great Strike.

Speakers include

  • Alex Claassens, RTBU NSW Branch Secretary
  • Sally McManus, Secretary ACTU
  • John Graham, MLC
  • Mark Morey, Secretary Unions NSW

The Dinner is being held to celebrate the contribution of the Union of men and women who took industrial action and whose courage inspired generations of labor leaders including Prime Minister Ben Chifley, Premier JJ Cahill and Eddie Ward MP.

The 1917 Centenary Dinner is being held in honour and to remember the men and women whose struggles contributed so much to the development of future generations of labour movement leaders.

The dinner will be held at the Carriageworks, Eveleigh, along with a number of other events including exhibitions, guided tours and a community day celebrating the achievement and courage of the many great Unionists.

Tickets can be purchased @ eventbrite or by contacting Robyn Griffith @ rgriffith@unionsnsw.org.au