Video Ben Chifley: the aftermath of the miners' strike, 2008

TLF ID M008154

This clip is an excerpt from the documentary 'Infamous victory: Ben Chifley's battle for coal', produced in 2008. This documentary about coal, communism and the Australian Labor prime minister who went to war against his own during the national miners' strike is a Screen Australia Making History production, made in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The clip highlights the political consequences for Chifley and his government following the national miners' strike in 1949.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The Great Depression had badly damaged the image of free market capitalism. The Liberals and conservatives were tainted by past disasters, failing to govern in times of war and having a reputation for valuing contracts and big business patronage far more than the needs of ordinary people. The general consensus was that more state control of society and the economy was inevitable to avoid great social breakdown. The Australian Labor Party was best qualified to achieve this and, for most of the 1940s, the ALP was the automatic choice for those wishing for an intelligently progressive future.
  • But in a postwar world where lines were being drawn between Soviet Russia and democratic capitalist USA, 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 not only exemplify this new Cold War context, but would drive the Chifley government from power.
  • The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 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 to best resolve the issue. But some of the militant unions under communist control - waterside workers, seamen, coalminers and metal workers - had little interest in restraining their demands in the pursuit of righting their grievances.
  • The coal strike was the Communist Party's big grab for power. Chifley took on the unions and won, but at fatal cost. After the coal strike the Communist Party was shattered, and the ALP was ejected from office. The Liberal Party under Robert Menzies won government in December 1949 and remained in power for the next 22 years.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Film and Sound Archive
  • Organization: National Film and Sound Archive
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: ACT, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Publisher
  • Name: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)
  • Organization: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: ACT, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Generic
Learning Resource Type
  • Video
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Film and Sound Archive, 2011 (except where otherwise indicated). You may view, display, print out and copy this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.