The Thames miners’ union
Hart, P. (2016). The Thames miners’ union. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 48). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10360
More of a friendly society than a class conscious workers’ movement, the Thames Miners’ Union was formed in 1890 as a branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association of Australasia. The state of mining at this time in Australia and New Zealand discouraged militancy, and although the inaugural meeting agreed that miners must stand together to protect their rights, it was hoped to avoid strike action. Because of its focus on ‘practical sympathy’, meaning providing financial assistance to members in need, the new union had wide public support, as illustrated by non-miners joining as honorary members. From the start, the union wished to assist its members by regulating hours and wages, and was willing to look beyond its confines to assist other unions’ struggles. Accepting that capitalists were needed if mining was to develop, it would in time seek legislation to benefit the industry. Mini-biographies of the leading members of the new union and of some of its branches in outlying mining districts (including at Te Aroha) illustrate the moderate nature of these men. Some were mine managers, most were active within the wider community, and all were thoroughly respectable. Examples are included of harmonious relationships between miners and their managers. Accident and health benefit payments were devised, and public concerts were held for the union’s ‘benevolvent fund’. Miners’ Union Demonstrations, held annually to mark the union’s founding, included parades and sports meetings involving members’ families. Miners’ halls became the social centres of mining communities. Involvement in national politics commenced when a labour candidate, a clergyman, stood for the Thames electorate. In the Te Aroha district, the first association was an accident relief fund, which involved non-miners. A branch of the union had only a brief life because of the rapid decline of mining there. By the twentieth century there were demands for more militancy, especially at Waihi, where the policies of the Waihi Company provoked resistance amongst the workers. By then Hauraki miners were experiencing increased unemployment, with companies under-manning or not working some of their ground, all causes for complaint. In 1903 the Waihi branch would break away from the parent union, which steadily declined as mining declined. The Thames Miners’ Union, which exalted the ‘dignity of honest labour’, gently faded away without ever calling a strike.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart