Over 13 weeks we’re going to discuss the history of our class in Australia, looking at periods where we grew strong, fought, won, and then watched as our wins were turned into losses. We’ll look at the history of our class from the perspective of work and the household, race and gender. This isn’t a history with a particular political tendency: it is a chance for us to get together and talk about our lives and how we are still living the history we learnt at work, or on the sly in our lives by living. Its designed as a pick-and-choose smorgasbord where each week stands alone and every week is interesting. Most of our time we’ll spend in discussion, with only brief introductions and plenty of questions to ask and answer.
We will be meeting every monday night, from 7pm, in the Black Rose, at 22 Enmore rd Newtown. Entry is free. Refreshments available by donation.
09/11 – Film Week: Sunday too far away
23/11 – Where to next?
Each week in this course is an independent discussion, treat it like a smorgasbord and come as you can.
Suggestions are very, very welcome!
None of us are perfect and neither is this set of discussions. We’d love to hear suggestions to improve!
Why Study and Engage in Labour History
Labour History is the history of our class and our struggle, cooption, failures and potential to win. It is our laboratory of struggle and a school for victory. This course looks at the history of labour in Australia primarily through the concept of class composition: who we are, how we have worked, how we have lived, how we have won in a moment, and had that victory turn to ashes in our mouths, only to find new ways to win. This is a course that puts our self-activity at the centre of our history.
This isn’t a history of particular parties or tendencies (though some will be discussed), this is a history of our class in Australia. This isn’t a history with a particular political tendency or perspective driving its history. It is a history driven by our need to know. It is a history driven by our need to know our own class history, and ask questions about what is good for our class and what we can do as members of our class in different times and circumstances.
Most of this course will be discussions by participants (more of 60% of the time spent). We will rely on what we have learnt ourselves in work, out of work, and in our lives. History isn’t dead paper, but our living past, and our lives involve the past we’re going to talk about together. Everyone has some knowledge of all these things already, from their lives. If you don’t want to treat this like a uni or tafe course skip to the weekly outline: that’s where the meat is.
This course aims to start guided discussions with little dense material. Apart from the theme of our class’s self-activity, it seeks to look at labour history as a history of wage determination, struggle and everyday life, with the organisations and institutions thrown up by our process of living as secondary. It seeks to cover internal differentiation inside the class, on the basis of industrial organisation (rural labour, blue, white and pink collar labour). It also seeks to engage the household division of labour into gender and sexuality, and the racial division of labour into white, semi-white, non-white, and indigenous labour.
The period chosen is a survey, that will lightly cover the general features of Australian labour history.
The methodology in use throughout this course will historiographical. This means the attempt to critically read a wide variety of deceptive texts to produce a meaningful understanding.
- What is labour? Is it just the reduction of human potential to standardised work without skill? Do we like being labour?
- Labour is used in Marxist and anarchist theory to talk about work in capitalism as a specific class society. It differs from useful human activity and from different class society’s forms of useful activity in how people make a living from doing things and who gets rich off it.
- Are class structure, class formation and class consciousness useful ideas?
- class structure is used in Marxism to talk about how all the classes in a society relate to each other and what positions people find themselves in by making a living. It can be specific, so workers in England in 1840 and workers in Australia in 1940 have different relations in class structures to farmers or industrialist bourgeoisie.
- class formation is used in Marxism to talk about both how a class comes into being for the first time, and how it is kept in being by how people have to make a living. It’s historically specific too, the formation of the Australian working class now when half of young people have a Uni or TAFE education is different to the class formation in 1900 when almost no workers had formal tertiary education.
- class consciousness is used in Marxism and anarchism to talk about how large bodies of working people in capitalism think and most importantly act about their position in the world, to change it, for a society run by working people. It can be used in a hard way (only a successful revolutionary working class worldwide has class consciousness), or partly, to talk about partial class consciousnesses.
- Are class composition, class decomposition and class recomposition useful ideas?
- These ideas come out of autonomist Marxism. They all refer to the working class’s thoughtful organisation of ourselves. A composition is how we live our lives, survive and fight for what we want. It is also what we want! It could be our communities or institutions or even our ideas (fewer people reference the French Revolution today than in 1870).
- As we become strong, the bosses try to decompose our relationships. We demand free education to get better white collar and trade jobs. The bosses let so many people get this kind of education that the wages are easier to drop in these jobs. Then the jobs aren’t as good as they were, and the strength we had to demand free education is gone. We’ve got a problem.
- Recomposition is when we realise we’ve been done over, and old ideas or methods or organisations don’t work, and we reorganise ourselves in new ways to fight the boss. Capitalism has been going on so long, and we’ve fought them so well, that they’ve shed their skins like and given us new problems that are harder to grasp.
- Is the fight for counter-hegemony by labourers a useful idea?
- Counter-hegemony is an idea used in Marxism from the 1960s, based on Gramsci, to talk about workers organising culture and society in capitalism, and binding people away from the bosses to a new will. The bosses have a hegemony: they control society through soft techniques like education or media, not just with cops and armies. This is the bosses’ hegemony over society. The counter-hegemony is us organising power over culture and society, not just workers’ militia.
- How does race work in the Australian working class?
- What classes exist in Australia?
- How does the household, gender forms and sexual forms work in the Australian working class?
- Is our class always right?
- Will make historical readings of labour in Australia
- Analyse class composition, decomposition and recomposition in historical circumstances
- Read the isolation and solidarity of our class’s unity in diversity
- Develop historical arguments that are useful in their own lives and struggle
- Facilitate historical discussion by co-learning
- Engage in potential recompositional co-learning
(Co-learning means talking about our lives together rather than being lectured at.)
This course will primarily use guided small group discussions (70 minutes) to achieve its aims. These discussions will be supplemented by brief introductions (20 minutes) from the facilitator, and potentially from other interested participants.
Discussion will be supplemented by voluntary readings and voluntary further readings. These readings will encompass primary historical sources from the time, secondary historical sources and theoretical texts.
If you want to be assessed, the facilitator is happy to discuss ways to develop and progress your reading, thinking, speaking and writing.
Safer spaces culture
These discussions will be conducted in a space which has a safer spaces culture. Everyone in the space is expected to accept the needs of others, and to not place their own needs over others. In particular discussion will be facilitated so everyone can speak . If you are comfortable calling out bad behaviours, please do. If you aren’t comfortable, there is a complaints box in the bathroom or please contact one of the spaces’ collective members to discuss what happened.
As a warning: we will be discussing history of our fights with the bosses. In Australia this involves invasion, concentration camps, genocide, slavery, racial violence, systematic racism, sexual exploitation, organised and interpersonal violence, poverty, the bosses winning too often, and our class losing too often. While we might discuss horrible things, we will not be horrible with each other.
As participants including the facilitator may discuss ongoing struggles, and solidarity is expected from participants in keeping any confidences given.
The facilitator is google dependent and will try to get material available by google drive.
If you really want a textbook, I’d recommend getting a hold of either the first or second edition of:
RW Connell and TH Irving Class Structure in Australian History 1980 / 1992
Other texts are listed against weekly discussions.
Weekly guide – Each week in this course is an independent discussion, treat it like a smorgasbord and come as you can.
1 Labour in Oceania’s position in the world system before invasion
What was your face before your mother was born?
Can there be a working class in Australia before there was an Australia? Before there was a working class?
What was the composition of labour prior to the invasion of Oceania?
- Did labour exist in aboriginal cultures?
- Did labour exist in Torres Strait islander culture?
- How did labour exist in Maori cultures?
- Labour in European military and trading ships, its composition
- Labour and the working class in the isles of britain:
- Position of the Irish and Scottish (a Scottish foreman is most desirable)
- Enclosure of English agriculture and the working class’s composition
- Urban and Mining working classes in the Isles of Britain
2 Labour during invasion (1788 – 1840s)
Recomposing labour in Australia: frontier, enclosure, conviction, state sponsored capitalism and free labour
3 Australia as liberal capitalism (1840s – 1880s)
Recomposing Australia as dependent upon free labour and land theft
Capital in australia as state capital substituting for the lack of private capital and massive graft.
4 The failure of the Shearer’s strike and the development of labourist, anarchist, reformist and socialist politics in Australia (1880s – 1900)
Recomposing labour after the failure of free labour. Slavery and slavery in Australia.
5 Harvester Wage determination and its discontents (1900 – 1910; wage determination generally)
Recomposing labour as pliant, white, male and British. The Australian Settlement?
Weekly Theme: Wages for Housework, gender and making households, gender and getting a wage
- Harvester as a social wage
- Origins of Harvester in the poor law
- Wages for housework paid directly to males
- Arbitration or Wages boards: both strangling direct action
6 The IWW and Trades Hall Reds, The ALP and the OBU movement
Recomposing labour as red or rat. Mass labour.
- NSW Railway Strike
7 Weevils in the flour: The CPA and labour in the 1930s (CPA generally)
Dog collar acts, the failure of deflation under labour pressure, rebirth of the unions under CPA, ALP
8 The ALP and War, Labour and War, the CPA and War – Labour’s challenge after the war
One Great Labour Movement for the War. Two divided labour movements for socialism.
- NSW and Federal labour
- 1949 strike
9 Under the Hook: The 1950s and 1960s, wage stagnation, Menzies Forgotten people
Labour outside of the Labour Movement. The pliant Labour Movement. Wage limits and wage acceptance. The Labour Movement outside of work.
- Menzies forgotten people
- Bowling clubs and quarter acres and cars
- Wage restraint by government, unions and workers
- Equal wage fight
- Above award wages for blue collars
- Massive take off for the white collars
- Open mass migration
- Post war manufacturing boom: why make cars in Australia?
- Centralised wage determination
10 Weevils at work: Flow and ebb, the Accord, Medicare, the 1970s and 1980s, Equal wages
A new social wage demanded by a new radical labour. A new social wage inflicted by the CPA and ALP.
- Unrestricted wage and prices growth
- Black Ban, Green Ban, Pink Ban, Black Ban Yellow Cake
- Maoists against Frazer, greens against Labor
- Balmain Labour and Nick Origlass predating Whitlam
- Cheap commodities
- Hawkie the Accord
- Ready work
- End of the family wage, dual income households, changes to the gendered structure of social labour
- How many wage earners?
- Metals Accord
- Medicare and Free Uni and Medicare and HECS
- White collar work gone mad
- Closing migration
- Papuan independence
11 Film Week: Sunday too far away
Male, White, British, Blue Collar, Labour Movement, Wage Fixated and Rural
12 Weevils without work: mass unemployment, mass training, the 1990s and 2000s
The Social Wage and the Social Foreman.
- Collapse of the Accord and ALP government
- Union mergers and “Servicing / Organising”. Superunions
- Unemployment (Lowenstein, Weevils at Work again)
- Housing and the wage and wageless
- Collapse of social wage incomes
- An end to “The Australian Settlement”?
- Howard’s new racial australia
- Patrick’s strike
- Closing the transtasman border to New Zealand and Aoteroan workers
Why is life so hard when our society has such material plenty?
Does the individual wage and job determine what labour is performed socially for capitalism?
Why do people go to Uni? TAFE? Where has all the apprenticeships gone?
Why are cars and houses so expensive?
Are the Greens just the ALP for white collar workers in government social services?