The wealth and power of colliery managers was visible in the Hunter. The rich coal seams of the district were delivering profits that were not equitably shared with workers. Through the 1880s resentments, unionism and activism increased among miners. Proprietors collaborated to resist improvements in pay and conditions. They would not agree to a system of arbitration.
West Wallsend Colliery opened on 3 July 1888 in an environment of escalating industrial tensions.
In August 1888 union leaders demanded that employers enter into an agreement or there would be a general strike.
The mine proprietors postponed a decision. They claimed they were being coerced.
Miners saw no option but to strike.
As the collieries closed down, rail, wharf and tug workers were affected. The general strike dragged on for 3 months. There were attacks on non-union labour, demonstrations, arrests and prison sentences.
During the strike West Wallsend Colliery brought in non-union labour on a special train to work the mine. They were protected by 50 militia under Colonel Spalding, 80 police under Inspector Brennan and a multiple barrelled automatic Nordenfeldt gun.
By 1889 there were 15 new mines in development in the region. Collective action continued to improve pay and conditions for mine workers into the 1980s.
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