“Strike cripples Valley racing” ran a headline in the South China Morning Post on January 15, 1978. “Striking Jockey Club mafoos, who forced the abandonment of yesterday’s Happy Valley meeting, will today stage a sit-in at the Shan Kwong road stables […] The escalation of the sensational strike – which yesterday is estimated to have cost the Jockey Club about $5.6 million – also means an immediate threat to Wednesday’s night meeting.”
The strike was sparked by a dispute over stable boys’ pay at Sha Tin racecourse, and tensions were high over accusations that personnel manager Eileen Stringer had threatened mafoos with disciplinary action.
“Spokesmen for the mafoos revealed it was originally their intention to stage a strike on January 28, the day of the yearly Jockeys Invitation Cup which attracts riders of world-wide fame,” the story continued. “This year Lester Piggott, who won his eighth Epsom Derby last year, is the star attraction.”
But mafoos had acted early. “Our hand was forced by the action of the personnel manager in her meeting with our representatives [...] after her opening talks with our people and her attitude to them.”
On January 17, the Post reported: “Mafoos last night voted to continue their limited strike indefinitely, virtually forcing the cancellation of tomorrow [Wednesday] night’s Happy Valley race meeting.”
The following day, the newspaper highlighted the Jockey Club’s statement that “Mrs Stringer […] will not apologise to the mafoos or be asked to resign or be dismissed”.
“In an emotional meeting,” the Post continued, “mafoos [...] vowed to ‘fight together for our rights and the dignity of our association’.”
“We will not negotiate or go back to work until we get an apology,’” one mafoo said.
With the strike entering its eighth day, three race meetings cancelled and horses losing race fitness, stewards stepped up efforts to end the strike and “save this year’s glamorous Jockeys Invitation meeting”, the Post reported on January 21.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, the dispute was over. The Post reported on January 22: “Mafoo strike ends: Mrs Stringer resigns.”