Abstracts – Labour History No. 101

Representing Militancy: Photographs of the Broken Hill Industrial Disputes, 1908-20
Paul Robert Adams and Erik Eklund

The Big Strike of 1919-20 was Broken Hill’s greatest industrial battle but the photographic record of this militant era on the Barrier mines is dominated by pictures of the Great 1909 Lockout. Rather than cover the details of these well-known disputes, this article considers the value and power of photographs of the disputes – their presence, absence, production and presentation in major newspapers and in postcards – an area which has secured far less attention from Australian labour historians. Our concern is not only to read this visual material as evidence of industrial disputes but also to consider how the widespread circulation of such images affected contemporary perceptions of The Hill. We argue that images of a militant locality with a determined labour movement, popular after the 1909 dispute, may well have attracted militant organisers to the town who were important players in the major 1919-20 Big Strike. These images have dominated perceptions of Broken Hill as a bastion of unionism ever since.

The State and Gold Miners’ Health in Victoria, 1870-1910
Beris Penrose

This article analyses why Australia’s first epidemic of silicosis developed, notwithstanding the accumulating medical and lay knowledge that the disease was caused by dust from rock drills and poorly ventilated mines. Previously unexamined sources show that at key points, where the potential existed to minimise its progress and impact, public policy failed. Instead of containing or mediating the disease, legislative choices fostered its unconstrained spread. Legal, regulatory, political, financial and social aspects of silicosis were subordinated to, and shaped by, the economic interests of industry and the state. Paradoxically, this was couched in terms of protecting workers through saving jobs. At the same time, blame for the epidemic was shifted from factors outside workers control, such as mine design and the machinery purchased by mine owners, to workers’ reckless disregard of purported protective equipment. Response to the epidemic established a pattern that was repeated in other states over the following decades wherever workers were exposed to silica dust.

The State, Labour Management and Union Marginalisation at Electrolytic Zinc, Tasmania, 1920-48
Ruth Barton

While there has been considerable debate about arbitration’s role in framing union strategy and tactics, its impact on managerial strategy and subordinating labour has been less explored. Electrolytic Zinc had a strategy of using the industrial regulation system, particularly the Tasmanian wages boards, and participative structures to marginalise trade unions for 15 years. However, these measures failed to completely suppress unionism and encouraged the emergence of company based-unionism. Whilst an initial attempt to form a new companybased union failed, the second was successful and its emergence and form emerged from the interplay between the arbitral system and Electrolytic Zinc’s participative structures.

‘You really only made it because you needed the money’: Aboriginal Women and Shellwork Production, 1870s to 1970s
Maria Nugent

For 150 years, Aboriginal women around Sydney have engaged in an informal cash economy by making and selling small shell-decorated objects. The longevity of the practice, which spans the period from the 1870s to the present, provides a rare opportunity to present a detailed historical case study of aspects of Aboriginal women’s work in settled Australia. This discussion pays careful attention to the changing contexts within which these commodities were made and sold, along with Aboriginal women’s responses to new and changed conditions in ways that sought to sustain this valued economic activity. The approach used in this article combines interpretation of archival, pictorial and oral history sources about markets and makers with analysis of the objects themselves.

The ‘Workingman’s Paradise’, White Supremacy and Utopianism: The New Australia Movement and Working-Class Racism
Stephanie Mawson

When a group of 220 Australian colonists set sail for Paraguay in 1893 to found New Australia, they took with them many of the idiomatic beliefs associated with the late nineteenth century Australian working class, including an ideological belief in the racial superiority of ‘Teutonic Australian bushman’. The radically unfamiliar environment of Paraguay, however, caused many of the colonists to confront the racist ideological underpinnings of the New Australia movement. The importance of race in shaping the colonists’ experiences of Paraguay and the Paraguayan population has often been overlooked in what is otherwise a well-studied episode in the history of utopian socialism. By carefully examining the role that racial ideology played in defining the New Australia movement, it is possible to reassess in a new light the tensions that ultimately led to the failure of the utopian ideal.

‘Silent forms of coercion’: Welfare Capitalism, State Labour Regulation and Collective Action at the Yarraville Sugar Refinery, 1890-1925
Charles Fahey and John Lack

From 1890 through the early decades of the twentieth century, the Colonial Sugar Refinery under the leadership of Edward Knox introduced a wide range of welfare measures including pensions, sickness benefits, company housing and company loans for houses. Through these measures Knox hoped to insulate his workforce from unions and state regulation of the labour market. However, his workforce lived and worked in industrial suburbs where they could compare their wages and conditions with workers who were in unions and were covered by awards. Such comparison became more acute during a period of wartime inflation when their wages fell behind neighbouring workers. When industrial unrest erupted in the western suburbs in 1917, labourers at the Yarraville sugar refinery threw in their lot with the strikers and joined the dispute. At the end of the dispute, strikers were forced to retire on pensions, and strikers were forced to repay company home loans. Edward Knox had overplayed his hand and shown that welfare measure were just ‘silent forms of coercion’. Opposition to unions and state regulation of labour markets was no longer possible, and CSR was forced to deal with unions.

Arbitration or Collaboration? The Australasian Society of Engineers in South Australia, 1904-68
Malcolm Saunders and Neil Lloyd

Although Australia’s metal trades unions have been extensively studied by historians, sociologists, and students of industrial relations, one of the two leading engineering unions in this country – the Australasian Society of Engineers (ASE) – has almost been totally ignored. Yet the ASE, most notably in South Australia, pursued a remarkably independent course with regard to political orientation and industrial relations, one that set it apart from not only other metal trades unions but also other state branches of the union. Well before the onset of the Cold War in the late 1940s the ASE in South Australia had become a spearhead of anti-communism in that state and only a few years later a champion of a collaborationist approach toward leading employers. The union neither totally conforms to the ‘business unionism’ model formulated by American sociologist Selig Perlman nor fits neatly into either the mobilisational or arbitrationist moulds detailed by Australian industrial relations scholar Tom Bramble. Rather, it brings to mind claims made by Margaret Gardner and Gill Palmer that unions seldom start out with a well-thought-out strategy but rather develop one over a long period of time.

Right vs Left in the Tasmanian Liquor Trades Union
Michael Hess

Battles for control are a characteristic of Australian union history and have been analysed in terms of factors such as power, participation, and ideology. The struggle for control of the Tasmanian Branch of the Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union (FLAIEU) in the 1970s provides, at face value, a late example of these post-war battles between Left and Right. Closer inspection, however, shows that participants represented their actions, at the time and in hindsight, in both political and pragmatic terms. In political terms, a change in leadership of the FLAIEU in Tasmania had signifi cance in its potential to affect the state’s representation in the Australian Council of Trades Unions and locally the eventual outcome was a rare defeat for the dominant industrial Right. This leadership confl ict also saw the emergence of a younger and more vigorous leadership less focussed on the politics of factionalism and bringing a different industrial approach to the Branch more suited to the needs of members in a changing industry.

‘In military parlance I suppose we were mutineers’: Industrial Relations in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I
Nathan Wise

During World War I, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), for all its apparent effectiveness in combat situations, developed a reputation as being an ill-disciplined and generally poorly-led group of ‘colonial’ soldiers. British commanders blamed this on ‘failures of Australian leadership’ and ‘insufficient training’. During the early stages of the war the official Australian historian, Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, attributed blame to the small group of veterans of the Boer War and their strong influence over young recruits (partially, no doubt, in order to maintain a favourable public image of the ‘average’ Australian soldier). However, in the nine and a half decades since the end of World War I the disciplinary problems of the AIF have been either ignored in favour of more combat-oriented histories, or hidden away in favour of more popularly attractive studies of the Anzac Legend. The result is that we have a scant body of literature addressing the cause, nature and effect of the disciplinary problems within the AIF. This paper seeks to rectify this absence, in part by addressing one aspect of these ‘disciplinary problems’, that being the use of industrial relations techniques by the rank and file within the military. In doing so, this paper will seek to expand further our understanding of the experiences of Australian soldiers in the AIF by highlighting their agency in shaping the working culture and ‘digger identity’ that many valued throughout the Great War. Far from being those who merely ‘do and die’, the men of the AIF actively ‘reasoned why’ and, on occasion, successfully challenged their officers through practice-proven industrial activities.

The Passing of Youth: How Removal of Traditional Youth Recruitment Policies Contributed to the Ageing of Public Service Workforces
Linda Colley

All OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) workforces are ageing, and the impending swag of retirements puts pressure on labour markets. I argue that demographic explanations of workforce ageing ignore the historical context in the public sector environment. This research explores the factors underpinning ageing public workforces, through a study of the Queensland public service. It finds that ageing public workforces are not a new or recent phenomenon, but occurred whenever there was a change in the traditional youth recruitment policies. These youth recruitment policies were temporarily relaxed during world wars and permanently removed in the 1970s. On each occasion, this led to an ageing of the public service workforce. Public service personnel agencies failed to predict this trend in the 1940s or the 1970s. This understanding of the relationship between recruitment policies and ageing public workforces should be factored into any attempts to address the age of public workforces.