A Movement that sings

Danny Blackman

The Great Strike of 1917 was a cataclysmic event for NSW and indeed for Australia, involving as it did some 77, 350 workers across the state taking strike action, mobilisation of workers and their supporters up and down the eastern seaboard and what were arguably the largest mobilisations ever seen in the streets of Sydney.

It was to have lasting effects for the conservative governments of the day and their supporters, for the Australian labour movement as a whole and, most particularly, on the lives of all the individual workers involved. The height of passions aroused was reflected in the contemporary poems and songs that appeared in workers’ journals.

Commemoration of the centenary of the Strike has provided opportunity for revival of these contemporary poems and writing of new songs celebrating the struggle in PP Cranney and Christina Mimmocchi’s show, 1917: Strike.

In this issue, we present three of the songs from the show:

The Ballad of Merv Flanagan, written for the show by Cranney and Mimmocchi, tells the story of Merv Flanagan, the striker shot and killed by an armed “rural volunteer” in Camperdown. (See elsewhere in this issue information about the online appeal established by the 1917 Strike Committee to commemorate Merv Flanagan and all those involved in the Strike in a more lasting fashion.)

The New Exhibits, a poem written in 1917 by R.J. Cassidy and set to music in 2017 by Mimmocchi, talks about the “volunteers” recruited by the Government to take the place of striking workers. One event always remembered about the 1917 strike was that the Government housed the non-union labour at Sydney’s Zoo.

Railway Refreshment Rooms, written for the show by Cranney and Mimmocchi, tells the story of the women workers in the Railway Refreshment Rooms who walked off the job when ordered to serve scabs and were sacked and replaced by volunteer labour.