This Day in the History of the International Labour Movement

December 16, 1929

On this day in the history of the
international labour movement, the Rothbury Riot occurred
Australia.  The Rothbury Riot has the dubious distinction
of being the most violent industrial conflict in Australia’s history. Faced
with decreasing demand for coal and a worsening economic crisis, mine owners
planned to reduce miners’ wages by 12.5%. The mine owners also planned to strip
the miners’ of the industrial rights they’d fought so hard to attain.

Many of the miners were
supporting families on their wages and a 12.5% cut was seen as too much. The
Miners Federation (i.e. the union representing the miners) refused to agree to
the regressive terms put forward by the mine owners. In response, the mine
owners locked the miners out. Approximately ten thousand miners and various
others suddenly found themselves without work.

Instead of trying to negotiate
with the miners to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, the government
introduced the Unlawful Assemblies Act,
which gave the police the power to break up organized protests by the miners.
The mine owners brought in non-union labour to do the work. Anger over this
bleak situation erupted into a violent day of rioting when the miners marched
to the mine and charged the gate. Police fired on the protesting miners,
killing one and wounding several others. The riots and ensuing violence became
known as the “Rothbury Riot” or “Battle of Rothbury.” After a 15-month
lock-out, the miners finally returned to work at the mine in 1930[1].

The Rothbury Riot is but another in a long list of
indignities and exploitation forced on miners. In our
post dated December 5th,
2012 we described how miners in South Africa and in Canada have been subject to
similar tactics by their employers. The Rothbury Riot reminds us once again
that no matter what part of the globe a worker is on, there is an inherent
vulnerability that opportunists will exploit if they are able. Each of these
events only serve to reinforce our belief that organized labour has proven to
be the best and most effective means for workers to protect their standard of
living, their safety and even their lives.

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