Unionists remember Brisbane’s 1912 general strike

February 2, 2012
Statue of unionist and feminist Emma Miller in Brisbane's King George Square. Photo: Jim McIlroy

About 200 unionists gathered at King George Square on February 2 for a meeting to commemorate the centenary of the 1912 Brisbane General Strike, one of the first of its kind in the world. The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) jointly sponsored the meeting.

Speakers, including RTBU state officials Owen Doogan and David Matters, ALP Senator Claire Moore, and QCU assistant secretary John Battams outlined the history of the 1912 strike and its significance for today. Murri elder Bobby Anderson gave a welcome to country.

The 1912 strike was essentially about the right to join a union. The dispute was triggered on January 18, 1912, when Tramway and Bus Union members wore their union badges to work, despite a ban by the employer.

The unionists were suspended, leading to a march and rally outside Trades Hall of more than 25,000 workers the next day.

Forty three unions joined the general strike on January 30. The darkest moment of the struggle was Black Friday, February 2, 1912, when police and strikebreakers attacked marching strikers.

A highlight of the strike was when the famous unionist and feminist Emma Miller stuck her hatpin into the police chief's horse, sending him flying.

The dispute was eventually won, although it was years before suspended workers were reinstated. The 1912 general strike was the spark for a period of industrial upsurge and gains by the union movement.

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