Blackball miners' strike cartoon

Blackball miners' strike cartoon

The strike that ended New Zealand’s reputation as the ‘country without strikes’ broke out in 1908 on the West Coast. In the Blackball coal mine, miners had only 15 minutes to eat their ‘crib’ or lunch – and their manager wanted to increase the working day to 10 hours. The union decided to challenge the existing compulsory arbitration system by striking for a longer crib time and an eight-hour day. In February 1908 one of the union leaders, Pat Hickey, refused to finish his pie at lunchtime when the manager told him his 15 minutes were up. Hickey and six of his supporters were fired. The rest of the Blackball Miners’ Union went out on strike in protest.

For three months the miners resisted every effort to force them back to work. Finally the mining company gave in, gave the sacked men their jobs back and agreed to their demands. This was a massive blow to the arbitration system, and had an impact on unions all around the country for years to come. The various local miners’ unions joined with other unions in a national Federation of Labour – nicknamed the ‘Red Feds’ by its critics – which insisted on negotiating directly with employers and reserving the right to strike.

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