Rabaul Strike

On 2 January 1929 several thousand New Guinean workers in and around the township of Rabaul struck for higher wages. The leaders were Sumsuma (from New Ireland and captain of a schooner), Bohan (a cargo master from Buka Island), and two of the senior native members of the police force, sergeant-major N’Dramei (from Manus Island) and sergeant-major Kateo (from Wewak). These men enlisted the support of other seamen and police, domestic servants and plantation workers. Their plan was to go to the Methodist and Catholic mission stations to ask the missionaries to pass on their request for higher wages. The European community was taken completely by surprise and reacted savagely. The strike collapsed within 24 hours and a number of strikers were jailed for up to three years. This strike was the first and, until the 1950s, the only occasion on which workers organized a protest against their conditions of employment.

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