31 Dec 2021
133 years ago, thousands of Novocastrians united together to fight for their rights as workers in the New Lambton Pit Strike. The strike went on to become an important part of Newcastle's history for over 2 generations.
133 years ago, September 1888, more than 6000 Novocastrians united together to fight for their rights as workers in the New Lambton Pit Strike. The conflict began when the miners took issue with their payment for lower-quality coal they mined. Miners were paid a set price per ton of coal they extracted, and so when coal was low quality and contained impurities, they were effectively paid far less for the same work.
Mining ceased as the workers went on strike August 25th, but the owners still wanted to make money by loading and exporting coal already dug up. On Tuesday, September 18th, 6 non-union labourers (otherwise known as scabs) were brought in to load coal along with 30 police officers. Over a thousand miners supporters surrounded the group in an attempt to halt the scabs. In response, military reinforcements were sent from Sydney, who brought Nordentfeldt machine guns.
At one point 5000-6000 miners and their families gathered to protest the 60 scabs who were protected by 200 police and soldiers. Fighting and stone throwing occurred, leading to a number of miners being arrested. A number of injuries were sustained but there were no deaths.
The strike lasted 3 months before an agreement was reached and workers returned on November 24th. This became an important part of Newcastle’s history and Unions were from then on a part of a broader movement in the Hunter Valley.
Photo by Ralph Snowball, Norm Barney Photographic Collection, courtesy of Special Collections, The University of Newcastle, Australia.
Of Human Right & Human Gain: Peak Labour Organisation in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales 1869-2000, by Rob Noble, 2008.
“New Lambton Pit Protest” by Lachlan Wetherall, https://lachlanwetherall.com.