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Ben Chifley - The Aftermath of the Miners' Strike

Video clip synopsis – The coal strike of 1949 would come to exemplify the new cold war world, and drive the Chifley government from power.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 3min 0sec
Tags - Australian History, class, Cold War, democracy, politics, Prime Ministers, see all tags


Ben Chifley - The Aftermath of the Miners' Strike

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About the Video Clip


Ben Chifley – The Aftermath of the Miners’ Strike is an excerpt from the documentary _Infamous Victory – Ben Chifley’s Battle for Coal- produced in 2008.

Infamous Victory – Ben Chifley’s Battle for Coal
This is a story of coal, communism, and the Australian prime minister who went to war against his own during the national miners’ strike of 1949.

A Screen Australia Making History production. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Explain social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life.
Assess the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history.
Inquiry Questions
How did the Australian government respond to the threat of communism after WW11?
Students learn about
The response to the threat of communism within Australia.

Background Information


For most of the 1940s Australian Labor Party had managed to be the automatic choice for those wishing for an intelligently progressive future. The 1930s Great Depression had badly damaged the image of free market capitalism, and the general consensus was that more rather than less state control of society and the economy was inevitable to avoid great social breakdown. The A.L.P. – first under John Curtin (1885–1945) and then, after his death in 1945, Joseph Ben Chifley (1885–1951) – was the best qualified to achieve this.

The Liberals and conservatives were the ones tainted by past disasters: they’d failed to govern in time of war, and still further back they had been the most enthusiastic advocates of laissez-faire “sink or swim” policies in the 1930s, building for themselves an unenviable reputation for valuing contracts and big business patronage far more than the needs of ordinary people.

But in a post-war world where lines were being drawn between Soviet Russia and Democratic Capitalist America, views about the right way forward became increasingly polarised. The ALP and Ben Chifley found themselves caught in the middle, and the great coal strike of 1949 would come to not only exemplify this new cold war context, but would drive the Chifley government from power.

The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1947 was an attempt to formulate the Chifley philosophy about how best to settle industrial disputes, by arbitration and negotiation before an independent umpire, at a neutral tribunal, which would listen to both sides – employer and employee – before pronouncing judgement and best resolve the issue. But some of the militant, communist-controlled unions – waterside workers, seamen, coalminers, metal workers – had little interest in restraining their demands in the pursuit of righting their grievances.

The coal strike was viewed as the Communist Party’s big grab for power, hoping to precipitate a great national crisis which it could benefit from and perhaps even turn into a revolution. Chifley took them on, and won, but at significant cost. After the coal strike the Communist Party was shattered irretrievably as a potent political force. The ALP was defeated at the next election. Robert Menzies (1894–1978) and the Liberals seized the ascendancy, winning government in December 1949, and didn’t let it slip from their grasp for the next 22 years.

Classroom Activities


1. Note-making: While watching clip… individual, group or teacher directed…confer /discuss afterwards.
• Note the resolution and result of the 1949 coal miners’ strike.
• Note the impact on the Communist Party of Australia.
• Note the impact on Prime Minister Ben Chifley.
• Note the impact on the Australian Labor Party.
• Why did ALP attempt to postpone the 1949 election?

2. Research:
• What is a ‘statesman’?
• Why did Chifley risk alienating the ALP support base in the electorate in fighting this strike in 1949? Result?
• Which Prime Minister is generally seen as the anti-communist ‘crusader’? Why?

3. Reporting.
• Explain Chifley’s motives for opposing the strike of 1949.
• Assess the impact of the 1949 strike on the election of 1949.

Further Resources


Wikipedia – Australian coal strike
1949 Coal Strike – how labor lost its supporters

Wikipedia – 1949 Federal Election
1949 Federal Election

Liberal Party of Australia