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The object of this thesis has been to analyse the effects of the 1949 Coal Strike on the community and labour movement of the Illawarra, and to consider the varied ways in which they responded to it.

Because of the crucial role coal played in the economy of Australia at that period, the 1949 Coal Strike had a devastating effect on the national economy, creating disruption and great hardship for the Australian public. The crisis was exacerbated by the timing of the strike in mid-winter.

Although many of the hardships endured as a result of this strike were endured by Australia as a nation, this thesis has aimed to demonstrate how the Illawarra as a region was affected by it. In a number of aspects the strike impacted more severely on the Illawarra and its community, than the general Australian public.

One of the major causes of hardship to the public arose from power restrictions imposed upon them by the State Government. However, the Illawarra had been plagued by power shortages and restrictions for at least a month before the rest of the state began to suffer from this particular problem. The full impact of the power restrictions were not felt until the introduction of coal rationing and the most severe restrictions ever imposed by the State Government on the use of gas and electricity. These restrictions were put in place more than a week before the stri~e began. This was an action which local union leaders claimed was totally unnecessary and highly provocative. The result of the restrictions was a virtual shut down of industry in the Illawarra, and the stand downs which this caused. By 21 June 1949, 230,000 workers were laid off nationally which amounted to almost 9% of the total workforce. In the Illawarra the effects were even more devastating, with 4,000 workers being stood down, close to 15% of the region's workforce, and this almost a week before the strike began. Those massive stand downs, resulting from the power and coal restrictions, were undoubtedly the major cause of hardship for the community, the huge proportion of whom were blue-collar workers, who could ill afford to be out of work.

The unemployment levels during the period of the strike can be ascertained by using two different sets of figures. The first method uses the estimated unemployment figures, which were obtained from different primary and secondary sources. The second method employs the officially registered unemployment figures, compiled by Social Security. The estimated number of workers unemployed in the Illawarra peaked at

12,000, almost 43% of the region's workforce. Nationally it was estimated that approximately 500,000 workers were forced out of work as a result of the strike, 19 .2%

of the nation's workforce. What this shows, is that unemployment in the Illawarra was running at 2.2 times the national average. Using the official registered unemployment figures, we see that 6,200 or 22. l % of the Illawarra' s total workforce were stood down.

The national registered unemployment figure was 120,000 or 4.6% of the nation's workforce. Using this method the Illawarra unemployment figure is 4.8 times that of the national average. It should be noted that the effects of the stand downs were not spread equally across the entire workforce in the region. The clothing industry, which employed approximately 1,200 workers in the Wollongong area, a high proportion of which were women, suffered 62% unemployment in the area as a result of the strike.

Clearly the major disruption caused by the power restrictions was the virtual shut down of industry, and the subsequent unemployment. There were few areas of everyday life in the Illawarra, which were not at least indirectly effected by the restrictions.

The political effects of the strike on the Illawarra were not seen until the December 1949 Federal Election and the 1950 State Election. The Federal Election held about four months after the end of the strike was a disaster for the Labor Party when they were defeated and went into the political wilderness for 23 years. This was not, however, the case in the Illawarra, where the ALP retained Werriwa, and won the new Federal Electorate of Cunningham, an electorate that took in almost the entire Illawarr3:

region. In the State Election in 1950, the ALP retained all three seats in the region. Their share of the poll increased slightly in two of the three seats. Wollongong-Kembla which had been won at the 1947 State Election by W. Davies, uncontested, was retained for the ALP by Rex Connor but it was won on preferences. Throughout the strike militant union officials and local members of the Communist Party had claimed that the workers would remember Labor's betrayal of the labour movement, and that Labor MPs would pay the ultimate price at the ballot box. The results of the elections both Federal and State seem to indicate that either the people of the Illawarra had very short memories, or that the Communists had got it very badly wrong. The CPA was in fact the real loser. In both elections, their support at the polls was slashed. The swing in the polls which they had predicted did occur, but not as they had expected. The voters deserted the Communists and other Independents, in favour of the Liberal Party.

Ten days after the striking mineworkers had returned to work, the question asked at a meeting of the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council was. Who if anyone had won in what was considered 'one of the most tragic happenings in the industrial history of Australia?' 1

One clear winner to emerge from the 1949 Coal Strike was the Liberal Party under the leadership of R. G. Menzies. The Opposition Parties had come through the strike virtually unscathed, having watched from the sidelines as it were, whilst the Australian labour movement tore itself apart.

On 10 December 1949, the Chifley Labor Government was defeated in the Federal Election. The victors, the Liberal-Country Party coalition, commenced a period in government which was to last for twenty three years. Ross McMullin has argued that had Chifley listened to his advisors and matched Menzies' promises of ending petrol rationing and providing child endowment for the first child in the family, he would most likely have won the election.2 Shortly after the election Chifley had wryly joked that the Labor·Government had fallen because, 'people who could not afford bus tickets when Labor came to office, were now up in arms about petrol rationing. '3 Clearly the actions of the Chifley Labor Government in their handling of the 1949 Coal Strike was not the sole reason for their electoral defeat in December 1949, but it undoubtedly played a vital role in it.

The labour movement in the Illawarra at the time of the 1949 Coal Strike did not speak with one voice. Within the political wing there was a total split between the Labor Party and the Communist Party, for a number of reasons explained in the course of Chapter Three. What is also clear is that within the ALP there were serious problems regarding solidarity, particularly at branch level. Here the dilemma of many party members was where their loyalty should lie, with the party or their union. While the Communist Party gave the impression of total unity, at the shop floor level in the unions there were also rumbles of dissatisfaction.

Within the industrial wing of the labour movement, there were many sectional and regional interests involved which strained the solidarity of the labour movement.

The level of solidarity was also affected by actions taken by the Government, actions

1 Minutes, New South Wales Trades and Labour Council, 25 August 1949.

2 Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill, p. 255.

3 ibid

which might sustain or diminish the level of solidarity among the workers. Clearly solidarity is something of a transient phenomenon.

APPENDIX A.

1947, N.S.W. State Election Figures, Bulli Electorate. 1 Helensburgh Subdivision.

POLLING KELLYL.B MACKAYH MARTIN J. FORMAL INFORMAL TOTAL

STATION LABOR. IND. LAB. COMM. VOTES VOTES VOTES

Audlev IO s 2 17 .... 17

Bundeena so 27 14 91 9 100

Engadine 260 142 71 473 21 494

Gray's Point 46 10 s 61 7 68

Heathcote 98 19 2S 142 2 144

Helensbunm 4Sl 82 126 6S9 13 672

Helensburgh 228 31 76 33S 6 341

North

Loftus 92 23 33 148 11 1S9

Otford 39 23 3 6S 3 68

Prince 97 21 33 ISi 7 1S8

Edward Park

Waterfall 66 23 9 98 9 107

TOTALS 1,437 406 397 2,240 88 2,328

Thirroul Subdivision.

POLLING KELLYL. MACKAYH MARTIN J. FORMAL INFORMAL TOTAL

STATION LABOR IND. LAB. COMM. VOTES VOTES VOTES

Austinmer 3S4 27S 93 722 37 7S9

Clifton 72 i 20 20 112 6' 118

Coalcliff 46 14 IS 7S .... 7S

Coledale 421 66 13S 622 12 634

Darke's 12 8 l 21 .... 21

Forest

Scarborou!tll 143 16 62 221 6 227

Stanwell 49 8 6 ' 63 8 71

Park

Thirroul 1,120 S66 373 2,0S9 S9 2,118

Wombarra 199 44 101 344 9 3S3

TOTALS 2,416 1,017 806 4,239 137 4,376

Waterfall Sanatoriwn Subdivision.

POLLING KELLYL. MACKAYH MARTIN J. FORMAL INFORMAL TOTAL

STATION LABOR IND. LAB. COMM. VOTES VOTES VOTES

Waterfall 131 29 24 184 12 196

Sanatorium

Woonona Subdivision.

POLLING KELLYL. MACKAYH MARTIN J. FORMAL INFORMAL ' TOTAL

STATION LABOR IND. LAB. COMM. VOTES VOTES VOTES

Bellambi 329 62 177 S68 9 S77

Bulli 806 383 246 l,43S 3S 1,470

Bulli North 221 82 IOS 408 11 419

Corrimal 1,421 367 629 2,417 SS 2,472

Tarrawanna 126 31 41 198 . 3 ' 201

Woonona 764 3SS 280 1,399 34 1,433

TOTALS 3,667 1,280 1,478 6,42S 147 6,S72

1 Parliament of New South Wales Statistical Returns, 3 May 1947, p. 16.

ELECTORS ENROLLED ....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

2,800

ELECTORS ENROLLED ....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

S,188

ELECTORS ENROLLED 318

ELECTORS ENROLLED

....

....

....

....

.... ....

7,429

APPENDIX B.

1950, N.S.W. State Election Figures, Bulli Electorate. 2 Helensburgh Subdivision.

Polling Kelly L.B. MartinJ. Strachan L. Formal Votes Informal Total Votes

Station Labor. Comm. Liberal. Votes

Audlev 6 I 2 4 12 .... 12

Bundeena 131 6 68 205 l 206

Engadine 342 34 270 646 14 660

Gray's Point 67 13 25 105 l 106

Heathcote 157 20 49 226 6 232

Helensburl?h 522 55 147 724 3 727

Helens burgh 207 29 70 306 3 309

North

Loftus 124 22 40 186 3 189

Otford 44 3 27 74 .... 74

Prince 116 12 54 182 3 185

Edward Park

Waterfall 90 l 29 120 1 121

TOTALS 1,806 197 783 2,786 35 2,821

Thirroul Subdivision.

Polling KeUy L.B. MartinJ. Strachan L. Formal Votes Informal Total Votes

Station Labor. Comm. Liberal. Votes

Austinmer 341 45 455 841 12 853

Clifton 91 13 23 127 1 128

Coal cliff 57 9 39 105 .... 105

Coledale 457 64 100 621 15 636

Darke's 5 .... 14 19 l 20

Forest

Scarboroul?h 171 31 26 228 2 230

Stanwell 50 6 36 92 5 97

Park

Thirroul 1,430 151 579 I 2,160 38 2,198

Wombarra 235 44 54 333 2 335

TOTALS 2,837 363 1,326 4,526 76 4,602

Waterfall Sanatorium Subdivision.

Polling Kelly L.B. Martin J. Strachan L. Formal Votes Informal Total Votes

station Labor. Comm. Liberal. Votes

Waterfall 99 7 51 157 2 159

Sanatorium

Woonona Subdivision.

Polling Kelly L.B. Martin J. Strachan L. Formal Votes Informal Total Votes

Station Labor. Comm. Liberal. Votes

Bellambi 419 84 112 615 14 629

Bulli 884 102 644 1,630 12 1,642

Bulli North 274 56 107 437 5 442

Corrimal 1,529 73 605 2,407 44 2,451

Corrimal 266 45 99 410 5 415

East

Tarrawanna 148 29 31 208 .... 208

Woonona 938 116 516 1,570 18 1,588

TOTALS. 4,458 705 2,114 7,277 98 7,375

2 Parliament of New South Wales Statistical Returns, 17 June 1950, p. 15.

Electors Enrolled

.... ....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

....

3,448

Electors I Enrolled

....

....

....

.... .... ....

....

....

....

5,372

Electors Enrolled 237

Electors Enrolled .... ....

....

....

....

. ... .... 8,259