Labour History in Australia

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.

Week 1: Labour prior to Invasion

 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

Week 2: Labour during Invasion (1788-1840s)

 Part two of the labour history in Australia course run at Black Rose.  Recomposing labour in Australia: frontier, enclosure, conviction, state sponsored capitalism and free labour.  Aboriginal survival through resistance.  The overthrow of convictry

Week 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.

Week 4: The Shearers’ Strike (1880s- 1900s)

 The failure of the Shearers’ strike and the development of labourist, anarchist, reformist, and socialist politics in Australia. Recompose get labour after the failure of free labour. Slavery and labour in Australia.

Week 5:  the Harvester case and wages for housework

 The 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

Week 6: Weevils in the Flour

The Communist Party of Australia and labour in the 1930s. The Depression, dog collar acts, the failure of deflation under labour pressure, rebirth of the unions under CPA, ALP ratting.

Week 7: Labour and the War

 One Great Labour Movement for the War. Two divided labour movements for socialism. The ALP and War, Labour and War, the CPA and War.

– 1942
– NSW and Federal labour
– 1949 strike
– Labour’s challenge after the war

Week 8: 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
– Anti-communism
– 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
– the Mt Isa strike,
– social movements
– For the first time a photo on an individual. By request, Don Dunstan’s pink shorts


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