Globalisation and Labour in the Pacific: Re-evaluating the 1890 Maritime Strike
Conference Room 1, Copthorne Hotel, 196-200 Quay Street, Auckland City
Thursday 4 November 2010
This seminar examined the 1890 Maritime Strike. One of the largest ever strikes in Australia it also involved New Zealand and Fijian workers, and its impact reverberated throughout the Pacific Rim because of the global structure of capital and labour in the maritime industry. British, European and American employers, politicians and academics took an interest in the dispute, part of a strike wave sweeping Europe, North America and Australasia in 1889-94.
On 16 August 1890 members of the Mercantile Marine Officers’ Association of Australasia went on strike over longstanding pay and conditions claims, complicated by employers’ objection to their affiliation with the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. Industrial action quickly spread to seamen, wharf labourers, then gas stockers, miners and shearers, involving over 60,000 workers throughout Australia. The Union Steam Ship Company’s dominance of trans-Tasman shipping saw the dispute spread to New Zeaiand and wharf labourers in Fiji.
The dispute became a struggle over freedom of association. Fear gripped middle class hearts and colonial governments deployed troops, artillery and special constables in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and other ports. In Melbourne military volunteers were exhorted by Colonel Tom Price to “Fire low and lay them out”.