Broken Hill strikes against Greiner

Wednesday, October 2, 1991

Broken Hill strikes against Greiner

By Steve Painter

The entire city of Broken Hill struck for 24 hours on September 26 in a massive protest against the Liberal-National NSW government. Nearly all workplaces and most businesses closed for the day.

About 10,000 of the city's 24,000 people participated in a march down the main street. Anger is particularly strong about plans to slash 100 beds from the 200-bed local hospital, halving the workforce in the process. For many years the hospital has been strongly supported by the union movement and local donations, and basic health care has been free for townspeople.

Many pensioners participated in the protest, outraged by the government's proposal to slash the size of the local old people's home. People who own homes in the city are unlikely to be able to sell them and move elsewhere.

Unionists are also strongly opposed to the government's new anti-union industrial relations bill. The protest called for a moratorium on job cuts by both federal and state governments.

"There's concern here that the government is doing to Broken Hill what it did to Lithgow a few years ago", says mineworkers' union (UMFA) far western district president John Butcher. Broken Hill, like Lithgow, is a solidly Labor-voting area in a rural electorate, and townspeople suspect that the Liberal-National government wants to reduce the Labor vote.

"They've attacked the workforce at the railways and the local RTA depot, and now they've started on the hospital. Nobody knows what will be next."

The strike was organised by a 1500-strong public meeting and led by Mayor Peter Black and veteran miners' leader Shorty O'Neill, who led the miners in a bitter 18-month strike in the 1920s.

Only hotels, the local Catholic school and the Westpac bank did not close for the day. Most pubs closed for a symbolic hour or two, but were required to stay open because of licensing laws. Teachers at the school will donate their pay for the day to charity, and staff from the bank lined the footpath during the march although the manager wouldn't allow them to join the strike.

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