Broken Hill was the hub of radical-industrial Australia—a town rich in history and as unique in character as it is geographically.
In 1883 the first discovery of minerals, other than gold, boomed Australia still higher on the Stock Exchange in London, to which city Australian business interests were closely allied. Silver, lead and zinc founded the dynasty of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company to be the main power in the Australian economy in the future. The yield of silver was 800 oz. to the ton whilst lead and zinc were part of the sinews of war.
The pioneers of Broken Hill were similar to those workers who gravitate to any mining town—adventurous men of initiative, many of chem, non-British migrants experienced in political and industrial struggles. There was sufficient common experience of the class struggle for workers in the mines to achieve a better standard of wages and conditions than other miners. The isolation of the town from other centres gave a bargaining advantage, just as the isolation of Australia itself, from the rest of the world, gave the workers advantages in gaining economic and political victories.
In 1907 Broken Hill was declared a city. The new baby cut its teeth in 1909 in a stormy year of conflict which sharply bared the class struggle.
The Great Lockout of 1909 was prologued in 1908 when the bosses decided through the voice of John Darling, Chairman of Directors of B.H.P. that wages must come down by 12.5 percent, i.e. from the minimum of 8/7½ to 7/6 per day.
In December 1906 an agreement lasting two years was signed with the Companies and it came to an end on December 31st, 1908. In September, delegates of unions came together and estimated there were only 60 percent of the workers in unions. They sent an invitation to Tom Mann to come from Melbourne and organise Broken Hill. The members of ten unions were involved in the threatening dispute and for the purposes of the campaign they formed a Combined Trade-Union Committee.
Tom inspected the mines, addressed special union meetings, meetings of women and street corner meetings to reach those that were not likely to attend union meetings, and three or four times a week mass meetings were held. Mann had arrived at the Hill on September 30th. In a few weeks he could say that it was hard to find any qualified person outside the union. In three weeks 1,600 were joined up. He went to Pt. Pirie where conditions were scandalous. Smelters on eight-hour shifts worked seven days a week and did not even have a break for Easter and Xmas. After two or three weeks Mann achieved 98 percent organisation there. Although he found the men were all enthusiasm for the pending struggle at Broken Hill they were not so keen on doing something about their own conditions.
Broken Hill ushered in the New Year with the usual festivities tempered with an undercurrent of disquiet.
Pickets going on duty at midnight added a serious note. The lockout was to last twenty weeks and bring great hardship and poverty to the people of the Hill. Three mines, B.H.P., The British and Lock 10 locked the men out. Other mines renewed the old agreement.
On November 3rd, 1908 it was announced that fifty police were leaving Sydney for the Hill. The City Council and Chamber of Commerce carried resolutions of protest. It was felt that the sending of police would jeopardise a peaceful settlement.
Another contingent of fifty left Sydney on January 7th and a very large contingent of 103 police and truckloads of horses arrived on the 9th January.
Mann pointed out through lack of union solidarity these men could come a distance of 1,300 miles without let or hindrance. They passed through small towns and the big cities of Melbourne and Adelaide.
The Combined Unions' Committee became a Disputes Committee. The lockout was conducted on similar lines to the 1892 struggle. Comments in the Argus of January 5th were, ". . . Shocked by system of picketing—worst there ever was in Australia . . . unparalleled system of picketing."
One of the union leaders, speaking, repeated Dick Sleath, leader in the 1892 struggle saying "picket so closely that not even a rabbit can go through". Seven hundred pickets were enrolled in 24 hours and Mann said he hoped there would be three times as many on Sunday. The scabs had to reside in the mine for safety. The changing of pickets three times a day was quite a ceremony. Those going on duty were played to their positions by the Amalgamated Miners' Association (A.M.A.) Band with most of the townspeople marching behind it. The march was headed by a banner, "Behold The Workers Think".
John Darling, who, of course, was not in Broken Hill, and could equally be called a Pall Mall miner as a Collins Street miner, was quick to announce "If the police could not maintain order and ensure respect for the law, then the military should be called in. Either that or the Government should give the mine-owners power to protect their own lives and property." Prime Minister Andrew Fisher said "the remarks of Mr. Darling are ill-advised. He is too early in the field . . . much too premature in his observations."
The strength shown by the combined unions in this lockout laid the basis for today's powerful Barrier Industrial Council.
In 1892 the Unions and Management dealt directly with each other as they do today, but in 1909 the Union decided to try arbitration. The results were completely disillusioning. The men had their case prepared in November 1908, thinking that it would be heard in time to prevent any disruption of work. Mr. Justice Higgins presided, and it was ten weeks before the award was given in favour of the men. The proprietors had said they would not hold a conference unless Higgins demanded the pickets withdraw. Higgins replied, "It is not for either litigant to dictate conditions."
Before the Broken Hill case was heard the employers had already announced they would not open up operations underground unless the award suited them. Once again employers showed that they were only prepared to accept decisions of the court when it acts as an agent for the employers.
The award for Pt. Pirie gave the men a six-day week. The Companies' lawyers appealed to the High Court and it upheld the appeal—the Pt. Pirie claim was quashed.
Tom Mann wrote, "This experience of the admittedly most perfect Arbitration Court in existence, with a Labor Government in power, damped any enthusiasm I might have felt for such an institution."
There was good support for the workers—the local Shop Assistants & Warehousemen employees undertook to support the men and struck a levy. The Sydney Miners' Federation sent £100. The Coal Lumpers Union, Sydney, Bendigo Trades Council, and Adelaide Council pledged support. By January 9th between £15,000 and £16,000 was collected. The Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher gave £12, Mr. Cann M.L.A. £1O, W. A. Holman M.L.A. and deputy leader of the N.S.W. State Labor Party donated £1.10.3. The English dockers sent a donation. A Co-operative Bakery was formed with reduced bread price.
The Locomotive and Engine-drivers refused to carry passengers and goods to the mine. Messrs. Crossing Bros., wholesale and retail butchers, issued the following notification
To whom it may concern
We, the undersigned firm, declare that we will not supply the Proprietary mine with any meat, in any shape or form either directly or indirectly while the present trouble continues.
Crossing Bros., Broken Hill.
Messrs. Kidman Bros. issued a similar notice.
A mine official boarding at a hotel came in for his one o'clock meal and another boarder, a municipal employee, refused to sit down with him. The combined unions threatened to declare the hotel black. The mine official had to move into the mine to save trouble.
The coachman of G. D. Delprat (President of the Mine Managers' Association) had driven officials for twenty years. He was stopped by pickets taking Delprat's wagonette up to the mine. He was allowed through but came back on foot and was cheered by the crowd. He joined the A.M.A.
Municipal employees decided that no sanitary carts would go up to the mine, Operative Bakers—no bread to be delivered. A consignment of coal was supposed to come to the mine from Cockburn. It was decided there was no use sending it as it would not be possible to get men to unload it. Two hundred attended a meeting of foreign employees and resolved to stand by the Combined Unions and warn all foreigners not to accept employment; and to write to the Melbourne Syrian Association and warn them. J. Lyons presided and the meeting was addressed by Sarich, Roderich and Mousally.
A woman who found her husband was in the mine threatened to send in the baby for him to look after. She sent a message to him that she would not have his blood money. A daughter-in-law of a scab said she would share in inflicting punishment on her father-in-law if the men decided on it. A railway line was blown up and also an old water main. Telephone wires between Block 10 and the Proprietary were cut to prevent communication. A number of scabs left the mine and some left town.
It was reported that there were 350 police there on January 9th. They were armed with carbines and revolvers.
At a meeting of 4,000 to 5,000 at the Trades Hall, Tom Mann said that several police were ashamed of their job. Some had told him themselves in the Post Office that afternoon.
He said, "Today we have witnessed some amusing sights along the line of lode. We have seen blue tunics and white helmets jumping about like kangaroos and wallabies, jumping and bumping along the lines of lodes and over the dumps."
On Saturday, January the 9th there was a huge number of people marching behind the band, union officials and pickets going on duty. On reaching Sulphide Street, it was found there was a line of police across the road and one of them shouted, "You cannot pass here. Go right or left." This was taken to mean that the police wanted them to go down Crystal Lane instead of crossing it. As they turned right the police blocked them and laid into them. Tom Mann was seized by a large number of policemen (some reports say six on each arm). The police grabbed the union banner, tore it off the poles and used the latter on the heads of the men, including the bandsmen. Mann and twenty-eight other men were arrested.
As in the Prahran free speech fight, the people found it difficult to believe Tom had been arrested. Those that did not see him being taken off by a squad of police thought he was in the Court House arranging bail. A large crowd assembled outside the lockup and sang socialist and union songs to encourage the prisoners, who were not allowed bail until Monday. George Dale claims that news of the assault spread like wildfire and 15,000 marched around the city streets and finally over the same route as earlier, for the 8 p.m. picket changeover. There was no interference.
Even the Argus of January 11th reported that there was close on 10,000 at the march and meeting.
There were sixty in massed bands and at the rear of the march was a regiment of women with three red flags, followed by hundreds of young girls and children. Dale writes, "Next came the women, and their numbers—how many, Christ only knows, for although marching about twelve deep these mothers of Australia's future manhood covered at least four hundred yards of ground. The women appeared more incensed at the cowardly official assaults committed earlier in the day than did many of the menfolk."
". . . The womenfolk that evening at least got some of their own back, for wherever a 'cop' was observed during the march he either received a 'back-hander' from a woman on passing or was spat upon. This happened not once but hundreds of times during that memorable tramp through the city's streets."
Girls who waited on the imported police were asked to neglect them. There was a message from Tom Mann. The socialist group sang "The Marseillaise" and many versions of "John Brown's Body". Cinematograph pictures were taken of the demonstration. Three cheers were given for Tom Mann and his comrades in gaol.
Some stirring speeches had been made, when a fire broke out behind the police station, and everyone rushed there, thinking the arrested men might be in danger. It turned out to be a place three hundred yards away and it was thought later that the police deliberately lit it, to break up the meeting.
On Monday, the Mayor, Alderman Ivey, went bondsman for Tom Mann. Holman had sent a wire, "Picketing as such no offence known to British Law."
A wire came from Bob Ross, "Will do everything possible. Socialist Party with you. Fight on."
Tom Mann wrote to the V.S.P. after being bailed: "I am in splendid health and spirits, and full of activity, in short I am living and a few know it. You tell me not to get into gaol—I reckon that is where I will be by the time this reaches you." The Socialist headed an article "A Big and Deep Movement—Glorious Fight."
Again Tom wrote: "I am a dangerous agitator and a dangerous man. I am an enemy to capitalism. Knowing what I know I hope to be increasingly dangerous as the years roll by."
Police Court proceedings commenced on the 18th and were adjourned until the 25th. Tom Mann, Walter Stokes, John May, E. H. Gray and Sid Robinson were committed for trial to the Quarter Sessions, by S.M. Arthur N. Barnett of Sydney, later connected with the I.W.W. case. Twenty-three were charged in the local court. The main charges were "unlawful assemblage" and "taking part in a riot" as well as the usual charges made on demonstrators. Some got 6 to 9 months and some were bound over.
The general feeling was the fracas was a direct result of police provocation. The largest contingent of police from Sydney, 103, had arrived with trucks of horses on the morning of the fatal day. The bash-up occurred at the 4 p.m. picket changeover.
The Reverend J. Patterson, Rev. John Murray and W. R. Nairn, a big business-man, all testified that it was a deliberate case of provocation on the part of the police. The Rev. John Murray said that Tom Mann was going quietly and was brutally maltreated. The business-man said ". . . you know on whose side my sympathies are, but I think you know me sufficiently well to be aware that I am not biased or a bigot. The entire demonstration of force, on Saturday was undoubtedly pre-arranged and pre-conceived provocation, or at least irritation on the part of the authorities . . ."
These three opinions were publicly made and published.
A Mrs. Gibson, wife of the City Librarian, was subsequently charged with insulting the police. Her alleged remark is a classic: "Wade's never sweat bludgers from the slums of Sydney go back and live on your prostitutes!"
She was bound over in a sum of £20 to be of good behaviour for a year, in default one month's imprisonment.
She chose gaol.
There were frequent meetings with singing outside the gaol to keep the prisoners cheerful.
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The Broken Hill defendants, tried at Albury. Back row: May, Robinson, Stokes. Front row: Holland, Mann, Grey, Rosser. (Photo, The Leader, 1st May, 1909.)
At the quarter sessions Stokes and May got two and three years respectively and Robinson and Gray were bound over with £50 recognisances because of disagreement on the jury.
Sid Robinson, well known in Melbourne, had attempted to assist Tom Mann and was struck over the head by one constable, two plain-clothes men upended him, a dozen police set upon him and he was frog-marched to the lockup where two burly thugs held him with his hands behind his back, while a third bashed him several times on the face (according to George Dale in "The Industrial History of Broken Hill".)
Immense assistance was given the workers by the fact that on November 2nd, 1908, the "Barrier Daily Truth", paper of the Barrier Labor Federation, became a daily. It was the first Labor Daily in the world. Another paper which did sterling service was "The Flame", a Socialist journal edited by Bob Ross. It closed down shortly after the lock-out.
Harry Holland, Secretary of the Socialist Federation of Australasia and editor of the International Socialist Review, arrived in Broken Hill from Sydney on the 14th February. On the 20th he was awakened from his bed at six o'clock in the morning and arrested for a speech he had made outside the gaol on the day he arrived. He was charged with sedition and inciting to violence.
He was alleged to have said: "We read of thousands of you men, who call yourselves unionists, being there and allowing Tom Mann to be arrested and taken to gaol and not one of you attempted to rescue him, and only 300 policemen in Broken Hill. You have the position in your own hands, geographically. Why, how long would it take you to stop supplies to the gaol? Refuse to allow your daughters to wait on the police; stop supplies to the Broken Hill mines, and send Wade's criminals back. If you are going to fight, put a little ginger into it, or to be plain-spoken—dynamite. That's the way to win. Do you mean to say that three hundred police are going to frighten you? Why if they hit you with a baton, hit them with a baton; if they hit you with a pick-handle, hit them with a pick; if they shoot at you with a revolver, then shoot at them with a revolver, and if they use a rifle on you—well, if you have a gatling gun, turn it on them." ("Sedition in N.S.W. What is it?" Harry Holland's Trial at Albury. S.F. of A. Pamphlet No. 5, Sydney 1909.)
The charge and case hinged on the word dynamite. The use of such word did not appear in local newspaper reports. Holland himself believed that he was really charged because of an article he had written in the Flame.
"Get ready to take the mines and to hold them!" was the heading to this article.
It prompted an editorial in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which he felt was the direct cause of his arrest. The editorial in part: ". . . Where is the Law? Coincidentally with the visit of Mr. Holland to Broken Hill, as the apostle of what he calls 'revolutionary socialism', there has been a recurrence of dynamite outrages. Whether the two things are directly related, there is nothing to show. This much however is certain: unless Mr. Holland's mission has stirred up the elements of violence and disorder it has failed in its openly-avowed purpose If there is such a thing known to the law of this country as incitement to crime, Mr. Holland has been flagrantly guilty of it."
Another factor was that the moderate unionists in Broken Hill were embarrassed by his visit and would not permit him on official platforms. He spoke at outdoor meetings only. This attitude would have encouraged the authorities to take action.
The legal defence hinged on whether the word "dynamite" referred to actual dynamite or figure of speech dynamite. The evidence of the reporting constable was shot full of holes by Holland, who conducted his own defence. The police informant admitted that he took no notes but wrote out a report from memory one hour later. An interjector could have called out the word "dynamite" was the contention of some.
Whether it was used or not Laidler and Swindley showed they took it to be literal as they both repeated it in speeches without being arrested.
The venue of the trial was Albury, where the foreman of the jury held 70,000 acres of land and had contributed £500 to the Dreadnought Fund (frowned on by socialists).
Judge Pring officiated as he did in the Peter Bowling, Newcastle mining case, the Tom Mann trial and the IWW frameup. He was a professional "political cases" Judge. The Crown Prosecutor was Ernest Lamb K.C., also a professional political prosecutor. He was used in the IWW case. Holland was found guilty, and sentenced to two years.
The visiting socialists in Broken Hill were active in forming a Release Committee for Holland, and others sentenced at Albury. By early June 560 bundles of petitions for clemency had been sent all over Australia, and socialists in all parts of the Commonwealth formed Release Committees. At an open-air meeting at the corner of Sulphide and Argent Streets, Laidler announced they were selling photos of Harry Holland and copies of the speech he made in court at Albury, in pamphlet form, for the benefit of Holland's wife and eight children, whom the Socialist Party had decided to maintain whilst he was in gaol. At a meeting outside the Trades Hall in June, Angus McDonell said the workers were fools if they did not use dynamite or anything else if they could in that way, better their conditions.
A Mr. Speirs of the Electrical Trades at the Sydney Labor Council said that if the 80,000 workers of this State were properly organised they would not bother about petitions for the release of the men sentenced at Albury but would march down and pull the gaol to pieces.
Holland was released in October, 1909 after serving only five to six months. He announced "Either I was rightly imprisoned, and am now wrongly at liberty, or I was wrongly imprisoned and am now rightly free." Many believed he had been released by Wade because Wade hoped that he would split the labor vote in a contest with Hughes in forthcoming elections. Holland had stood as a socialist on two previous occasions.
He ultimately went to New Zealand and became leader of the opposition.
Police Court proceedings started on January 18th and on the 25th Tom Mann was committed for trial to the Quarter Sessions. The assizes were not due until April and the only way Tom could get bail was by undertaking not to hold any meetings or take part in the dispute at Broken Hill. The Committee endorsed that he make the undertaking and a lecture tour was arranged for South Australia and other States. On tour he had with him film pictures of scenes of the Broken Hill troubles. Tom could not go to Broken Hill so Broken Hill came to Tom.
The town of Cockburn was less than forty miles away, a town on the S.A. and N.S.W. border.
This device not only gave the populace of Broken Hill a means of expression but stirred every country town along the line, as well as Cockburn and neighbouring S.A. towns.
On January 31st and again on April 11th the Tom Mann train steamed down the track to South Australia. Forty-odd overflowing trucks and six carriages, a brake van, two engines, one fore and one aft, the front one bearing the banner "BROKEN HILL LOCKOUT 1908" comprised the train, on January 31st. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 were on board. More came than the Combined Unions anticipated and there was a delay in obtaining more trucks. Thousands who could not go, came to the station to cheer the train out.
Everywhere along the line people waved and cheered from cottage, church, Sunday school and wayside station.
Reaching Cockburn at 2.45 p.m. there was a rush to spread out the picnic lunches in a gigantic picnic.
Tom Mann addressed the crowd from a buggy and pair at 7 p.m. and the train took the inspired people home very late indeed, through the moonlight night. The whole scene was unique.
Again in April the Tom Mann train ran. This time the trip was enlivened with music from an excellent band and the residents of Cockburn prepared lunch and boiling water for the Hillites. An amusement committee had been set up by the combined unions and it provided refreshments. At 2.30 p.m. Tom commenced speaking and spoke for an hour and a quarter.
The president of the Combined Unions, Mr. Nulty, chaired and the Federal Postmaster General, Josiah Thomas (Labor Government) spoke. Tom received an ovation and asked the audience to sing one of his favourite songs, "When the Worker is at the top of the tree, and the Loafer is somewhere down below."
In his speech he told them he knew what cheeseparing was necessary to get the fare to Cockburn after being locked out fourteen weeks and said some sturdy characteristics had brought Barrier people there. He said men in Broken Hill were worse off than Egyptian slaves, and that their work "entitled them to a monetary advance on 8/7½—namely 10/-." "Some men crawled through life without a fight—'only let me get into that hole'."
He joked about his writ "The King against Tom Mann"—"a fat lot the King knew about Tom Mann. The dirty rascals were trying to hide behind the name of the King." He ended calling for three cheers for the international workers of the world.
The Hon. Josiah Thomas said he was glad to appear on that platform and urged them to fight on. He said the sympathy of the Federal Government was with them.
At 5 p.m. the train steamed out with its passengers enthusiastically cheering Tom Mann, now a conspicuous figure on a water tank, as the train travelled past him.
In April, Tom Mann was informed that the N.S.W. Attorney General had decided to change the venue of the trial from Broken Hill to Albury, more than a thousand miles away and which could not help but produce a jury dominated by farmers. This same manoeuvre had been used by "justice" before and has since been used. In the 1892 Broken Hill strike men were tried at Deniliquin—also a rich country centre. The shearers of Barcaldine were tried in Rockhampton in 1891 and during the depression in June 1932 the Tighes Hill (suburb of Newcastle) eviction fighters were tried in the farming community of Singleton.
The cases of Rosser and Lyons preceded Tom Mann's charges and they were acquitted. Against Mann there were five charges including sedition and unlawful assembly. Mann came into Court wearing a bright crimson flower in his buttonhole. Mrs. Mann was in Court with a bright red tie and red trimmings on her hat.
The Prosecutor, Lamb (also in IWW case and later a member of the fascist New Guard) referred in his opening remarks to the colour "red" being affected by Tom Mann's followers in Broken Hill as a sign they belonged to the same section.
There was a bunch of crimson dahlias in a vase on the barristers' table, Judge Pring was clad in robes of scarlet and ermine. Tom's counsel, J. C. Gannon, parried "we use the colour 'red' in other places besides Broken Hill". Reassembling after lunch it was noted that the red dahlias were missing. Gannon spoke for two hours and Tom for one and a half hours.
The farming jury voted for acquittal. Tom was carried shoulder-high through a tumultuous cheering by excited crowds whom he addressed from the balcony of the George Hotel, with Mrs. Mann beside him. There were cheers for barrister Gannon and solicitor, Justin McCarthy, and for the emancipation of the workers of the world.
Tom Mann left Broken Bill at the end of June and it was decided by the Socialist Group to secure the services of Percy Laidler for organising work. His work was to conduct propaganda (open air meetings on Wednesdays and Saturdays), organise the party and chiefly to carry out unemployed agitation. Unemployment and poverty were great owing to the lengthy lockout.
It had become his policy since the experience of leading the unemployed in Melbourne to seek means of agitation that would result in cables being sent to London. As Punch, October 29th, 1908, said: ". . . English emigrant hears stories of unemployed battling in Melbourne he cannot reasonably be expected to be enamoured of Victoria as his future home." Laidler reasoned in 1909 that the potential emigrant reading of unemployed activities in Broken Hill would not be enamoured of Broken Hill as his future home, either.
Laidler threatened to take possession of the British mine, with unemployed running it themselves; loot shops; shake hell out of Broken Hill, startle the whole of Australia; and lead a march of unemployed on Sydney, skinning and eating the squatters' sheep on the way, in the form of a pillaging expedition; put the fear of God into the hearts of the capitalists; set fire to stations of some of the Albury jurors; drain the streets with the blood of the capitalists; blow up the city within a fortnight and take over the Adelaide express.
These wild threats set off a great stream of wires back and forth between the Mayor of Broken Hill and Premier Wade of New South Wales, and achieved the object of getting into the London cables. There were hurried discussions in Cabinet with requests from Sydney to "please check wild language". If none of the violent things were carried out at least the result was great publicity, a degree of amelioration of economic privations and the further enshrinement of Broken Hill citizens in the hearts of frustrated workers elsewhere in the Commonwealth. The campaign stimulated unemployed activities in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and it became a saying in Sydney that they should "Broken Hill" things.
• • •
Laidler's aim for the cables is clear from a speech made July 5th: "What a pretty thing for them to cable home if we took the British [mine]. Why King Ned would wake up, rub his eyes and ask for a cave in which to hide for fear we should go over there. Rosebery or some of the others would shout 'Where are our Dreadnoughts? Send them over to Australia at once to quash rebellion.' But they would not dare to do that because William of Germany would say 'Go ahead Ned' and when the ships had left he would order his fleet over to take possession of the British Islands. If you men are willing we can do a lot. What should be done would be the unemployed of Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Broken Hill to rise as one man and go into open rebellion and demand the right to live."
What may sound wild and reckless now, was attuned to the bitterness felt by the people of Broken Hill. The police had returned to Sydney and with the "uniformed scab protectors" out of the way, they could make their voices heard.
Laidler, Swindley and Wood were the leaders of this unemployed agitation.
At the initial mass meeting Swindley suggested they would have to burn down the hovels of Broken Hill in order to get work rebuilding houses. Wood said after they took possession of the British mine they would be able to exchange their products for the products of the cockies.
Laidler said "Only by striking fear into the hearts of the capitalists had any reform ever been gained. They should not submit to starvation. There were hundreds of men in Broken Hill capable of turning the town upside down if work was not given to them. If they delivered an ultimatum that within a fortnight they would blow up the city, they would find that work would be found for them immediately."
A deputation to Council was welcomed with a statement from the Mayor, Jack Long, that "he saw they were going to shake hell out of Broken Hill and shake the British and shake the abattoirs. If he was going to shake anything he would do it without telling anybody, take not talk." He advised them to go outback for work as he had done, which of course was precisely the advice of the capitalists. In actual fact there was no work outback.
With fine disregard for costs, Wade commenced a series of wires with:
Oxford Hotel Sydney.
Mayor of Broken Hill:
Your wire received. Representations will be placed before cabinet and answer will be given possibly on Monday. In the meantime I would urge on you as head of municipality of Broken Hill to use effort to check wild language that is being indulged in.
Your wire received. Will do all I can restrain men. Do what you can. Language of unemployed not surprising when their condition realised. Council helpless re employment, owing to lockout rates not obtainable.
Swindley, evidently close to the Laidler policy commented on Wade's wire at a meeting of the unemployed:—
Fancy a bloodthirsty reptile like Wade saying that we should not use wild language. The man who sent the police to baton down women and children. This man would not hesitate to send police and have blood shed in the streets. I think it is time for the working class to rise and have no more of the go-slow-keep-cool methods.
Rev. E. Schafer gave a long address on the unemployed in his church using as his text II Thessalonians 3, verse 10. "If any would not work, neither should he eat." No doubt in response to this Swindley remarked at a meeting that he regarded parsons as parasites like the police.
Apparently the Reverend was annoyed at a rumour that the unemployed were going to march on his church.
The suggestion of taking over the mine was emphasised by Swindley seeking applications for a manager and underground foreman.
The Barrier Daily Truth of July 3rd, 1909, reports—
BUSINESS MEANT—BARRIER UNEMPLOYED MAKE SOME DRASTIC PROPOSALS TO GET WORK—including a proposition to work the British Mine. Slow suicide objected to.
It reported 600 to 700 present at a meeting presided over by the Mayor and addressed by H. Swindley, P. Laidler and H. Wood.
Laidler stressed the international existence of unemployment—in Glasgow bayonets were used to keep the crowd back—"If the capitalists ignored their claims let them beware lest the issue be bread or blood . . . did the workers get one reform by begging it? It was only by making the capitalist class afraid of the consequences that the workers could obtain any redress. If the ultimatum were given that if within a fortnight work were not provided, the whole town would be blown up, Mr. Wade would soon find work such as proceeding with the Umberumberka Water Scheme. The capitalist class was worse than the common street bludger in the mean methods adopted towards the workers." He advised them to put ginger into their agitation, and referred to a report that an immigrant threatened to assassinate Wade. He had been sent to New Zealand for work and came back to find his wife had died. Laidler suggested all immigrants take similar action. There would be no starvation of children while there were shops from which food could be stolen, he declared. He referred to the action of the unemployed in England in the first half of the last century when the people whipped the Duke of Wellington in the streets.
At meetings the full ire of the unemployed was directed towards John Darling. Said Laidler referring to Darling—"Where is he now? At one of the most fashionable hotels in London." He ended his speech by saying, "If the Government did not do something effective by Wednesday they would do something that would startle the people of Australia from east to west, from the Gulf of Carpenteria to Hobson's Bay."
Swindley followed up that it would be something to wire around the world and give the shareholders a shock. "The shareholders would then demand of Wade, 'Where then were these police? What is the use of them taking notes, why don't they take out their guns?' " He then went on to say that the unemployed could use guns as well, and there were plenty of guns in the city. They had to oppose force with force.
The manager of the British, one Sampson, when interviewed by the press said he believed the unemployed would not interfere.
Barrier Truth: "It would be something out of the ordinary for you to cable your directors if they did make their threat good, would it not?"
Sampson: "By Jove. Yes. I wonder whether it would have the effect of putting the shares up or down."
While the wild words flew at the mass meetings, into the Australian press and across the overseas cables, the more sober educational work went on.
On Sunday night, Laidler lectured in serious vein on "Unemployment—its cause and effect" at the Trades Hall. Here he described the effect of the introduction of machines in England, described labour power as a commodity and related these things to Broken Hill.
He said, "We are revolutionists not because we are in love with revolution, but because revolution is forced upon us by the economic and social conditions of our day."
"Before there can be any real chance of grappling effectively with the capitalist system in Parliaments, the organisation of the workers economically on a basis better and firmer, and with a more virile spirit than has hitherto been the case, is vitally necessary. We hold the socialists of America and Europe are correct but declare that industrial organisation is at the present of greater importance than political action, as the workers have no hope of getting ownership and control of industry until they have the sense to demand it and organise in the industrial field, to use it. When they are thus ready, they may utilise Parliament to give legal effect to the workers' cause in the shops, factories and mines; and then, parliaments as we know them (i.e. capitalist institutions to enable them to govern the workers) will have completed their work and parliaments of industry will be formed by the workers, by which the industry necessary for a real co-operative Commonwealth will be carried on."
On July 4 a further wire was sent to Wade from a large mass meeting of 1,000. It read: "A big meeting has just been held of a thousand unemployed, who are desperately anxious for a favourable reply."
On July 5 Wade replied: "Government instructs police Broken Hill give immediate assistance to destitute workers. Tramway extension will be completed almost immediately. Some months before Umberumberka. Contract Clear Hills just let—Government will arrange transport." A further wire on the 6th July from the Minister read: "Job will last 12 months, wages 8/-, Government will advance fares of men to obtain engagement. Will interview directors tomorrow as to their willingness to engage and on what conditions."
The outlook seemed rosier but the reality was bleak.
The police had not been instructed to act in giving relief. It was rumoured some men were to be transported to work on the railways between Lockhard and Clear Hills with their fares to be taken from wages. The unemployed rejected the proposal for work unless fares were paid. They needn't have discussed the question because Arthur Griffith, member for Sturt, tracked down this promise of Wade and found that no railway men were required—his wire to Broken Hill on July 12 read: "Have ascertained from contractor Clear Hills Railway no men required. Have informed Premier. Griffith."
The Wade wire which proved a spurious gesture was greatly welcomed by the newspaper editors. The Sydney Morning Herald, July 6th, congratulated Wade on giving work and commented that on all grounds Mr. Wade is justified in giving a much larger measure of help than at present disclosed. Melbourne's Argus in its editorial said that the "rank and file of the men are far more reasonable and temperate than the leaders. They know exactly what value to place upon the utterances of all leaders like Swindley, Laidler and Wood.
"It is surprising they allow such to pose as their leaders. It is impossible not to sympathise with the women and children brought to destitution and even with the men whose infatuation and folly have reduced them to their extremities. Under the present conditions the wisest thing they can do is seek employment elsewhere or do what they can to restore that confidence which means work in the town they have brought so low."
Another senseless manoeuvre was rejected by the unemployed when the Barrier Council was said to be discharging some employees to make room for the unemployed. When taxed the mayor said they were misinformed, four single men were being "asked" to stand down for a month to give some deserving cases the month's work.
Meanwhile, the Sydney unemployed held a big demonstration to Parliament House on their own behalf, and in solidarity with Broken Hill. The Barrier Daily Truth with fine sense of alliteration headed its report "Workless Workers Worry Wade".
The Combined Unions of Pt. Pirie sent congratulations. In Melbourne 200 to 300 unemployed were reported to have demonstrated on tram lines and stopped traffic.
Meanwhile with all these empty promises the unemployed then discussed a march on Sydney and recruiting opened on July 14th. Immediately fifty-three names were forthcoming.
Laidler said the march to Sydney should be in the form of a pillaging expedition. If a station owner refused to give anything, there was the little invention of the match which could be used. They should make a track to Sydney similar to that made when Napoleon came back to France from Russia. In Sydney they would amalgamate with the unemployed. They should get their swags together and it would not be a bad idea to take some of the other substance they kept in their homes, which seemed fairly persuasive. People would then keep away from them as it was too dangerous to go too close. They should go by Albury and the jurors would hesitate before bringing a verdict of guilty, in such cases. In Sydney on the 15th July the unemployed were refused assistance by Wade and the suggestion was made that they get banners and meet the unemployed from Broken Hill. By the 16th eighty-five had enrolled in Broken Hill.
If the threat to take over the mine had been big news, the threat to march on Sydney aroused the ire of the reactionary press still more.
The proposed march on Sydney by the Broken Hill unemployed amused the Melbourne Punch (22 July 1909).
Punch of July 22nd in Melbourne gave over considerable space to an article and a page of nine cartoons which characterised Laidler as Napoleon and referred to him as "One Laidler, Barrier Agitator, is organising an unemployed army to march from Broken Hill to Sydney. 'The Army of the dispossessed' is to help itself to other people's goods on the way."
Punch suggested that "No doubt the fiery Mr. Laidler of Broken Hill has been reading London's [Jack] flamboyant description of the pilgrimage of tramps, scamps, wolves and careless adventurers, and it has fired his imagination."
Jack London was referred to as "the Socialists' pride and joy, who had made a fortune by rampant individualism", who had somewhere described "a grand march of an army of American unemployed, who went through the country about 500 strong in the command of one man . . . possessed itself of whatever it wanted ... went down the Mississippi, terrorising miles of river".
Punch suggested that it was more than probable that "the General of the Grand Army of Cheerful Brigands would meet with organised opposition by the way. The people in much of the country between Sydney and Broken Hill area fairly tough lot, with fixed ideas about the rights of property, and crude, old-fashioned opinions of sheep-stealers and cattle-lifters and it is certain that here and there these hardy dwellers in Dim Distance would organise and arm to give the impecunious tourists a hot time. General Laidler who blandly assumes the right of his comic contingent to grab whatever goods they want, must admit other people's right to hold whatever goods they have."
However, the march never came about, nor does it appear that it was intended to be other than a means of agitation. Swindley and Wood had already left Broken Hill for Menindie (Menindee) in search of work and with four hundred copies of "The Will to Win", a pamphlet by Tom Mann, to sell on the way. On the 15th Laidler intimated he would be probably going to Adelaide the following week for a possible job. On the 18th he departed for what the "Socialist" described in its report as "The City of Shuffle and Snuffle".
The total result of the agitation was that blankets and relief could be obtained on application to the police and Wade provided £2,000 for municipal relief work, for which work 100 men were to be balloted, and of course, the socialist organisation was strengthened numerically and in experience.
Broken Hill was a magnet to class conscious workers. Amongst Victorians who worked there, or came on organising tours, were: Charles Wesley Green, Norman Rancie, "Brummy" Flanagan, Charles Webber, Bert Davies, Liz. Ahern—who married A. K. Wallace at the Barrier, with Tom Mann as one of the witnesses in what was described as a "Socialist Wedding".
Adela Pankhurst was a popular visitor in the 1916 anti-conscription campaign.
Michael Patrick Considine came from Sydney to Broken Hill, but finally settled in Melbourne.
Australian film makers looking for rich material could not do better than look to the history of Broken Hill for a story ranking with the best in the world.
The book Solidarity Forever! is Copyright © the estate of Bertha Walker 1972.
This website is Copyright © Alan Walker 2012.
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