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NSW Railway cards cause great strike

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August 10, 2017

A British stretcher party moving through the mud during the Third Battle of Ypres.

This week in 1917 saw introduction of time and motion cards in the NSW Railways Department.

They were to record the time taken by each worker to complete tasks.

As these cards could be used to identify and dismiss slower workers, railway workers walked off the job in protest.

The strike quickly spread to other states and to coal mines, the waterfront and Broken Hill’s mines and transport system.

By late August, the strike had become a national one affecting almost every union worksite.

Union anger was already high because of rising costs and falling real wages.

These were being used to fund the War.

A large strike had occurred in the mining, maritime and railway industries in 1916.

Now in conjunction with this strike, there were daily protests with crowds of up to 150000.

The states and the Commonwealth fought back with strikebreakers organised from the universities and private schools.

Although most strikers capitulated by early September, the strike left bad blood.

Scabs still worked in the coalmines and on the Melbourne docks.

They would be driven out by a massive wave of strikes in 1919.

Support for strikebreakers and for the government’s conduct of the War among the middle classes encouraged Billy Hughes to try a second conscription referendum.

This week Haig again requested the Secretary of State for the Colonies to pressure the Australian Government to begin execution of Australian deserters.

Desertion rates among Australian troops were up to 10 times that of other Empire units.

Haig claimed that Australia’s fighting efficiency was deteriorating.

However, the implication of his cablegram was failure to execute Australians set a bad example to British and other Empire troops.

During the War, 133 Australian soldiers would be sentenced to death for desertion or mutiny.

The Australian Cabinet commuted all such death sentences.

Meanwhile, an 18-year-old youth appeared before Benalla Magistrates Court this week.

He was charged with stealing an exercise book valued at one cent from the Emu Bridge State School.

He claimed respectability.

However, police claimed he loitered around billiard halls.

The magistrate told the boy that loitering was not the way to respectability.

He was convicted of theft and fined $30 with 25c in costs.

Another youth appeared before the Children’s Court charged with stealing a purse and money at the recent Japanese Fair.

The matter was adjourned for three months to see if the boy behaved himself.

This week Benalla residents could see a crimson Aurora Australis or Southern Lights during the early part of the nights.

The trustees of the late Alexander Miller, who died in 1914, announced that they held between $160000 and $180000 to build houses for the poor in Geelong, Shepparton, Numurkah, Benalla and Rushworth.

— John Barry, Anzac Commemorative Working Party, Coo-ee — Honouring our WWI Heroes

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