Journal Abstracts No. 75

An ‘Indelible Hibernian Mark’? Irish Rebels and Australian Labour Radicalism: an Historiographical Overview

Andrew Moore

The Bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland is a moment for antipodean reflection. The small colony of New South Wales was a gaol and later a place of refuge for a goodly number of Irish political prisoners of the 1790s – 400 or more United Irishmen and 200 – 300 ‘Defenders’. This survey of writing about the Irish rebels and Australian radicalism introduces two articles by Anne-Marie Whitaker and Kevin Whelan, commissioned by the editors of Labour History and Saothar (the journal of the Irish Labour History Society). In Australia, as with Ireland, there were many who dared to speak of ’98.

Swords to Ploughshares? The 1798 Irish Rebels in New South Wales

Anne-Maree Whitaker

The inheritance which the United Irishmen brought to Australia was the struggle for religious tolerance, for equality in the political and legal systems, for land tenure and for the right to regulate their own lives. Their legacy can be found in the recognition of nonconformist denominations and Catholicism, in incisive criticism of colonial rule and institutions, in the spread of settlement and the rule of law, and in specific colonial political movements such as the Emancipists of the 1820s and the Anti-Transportation Leagues of the 1840s and 1850s. If in the process they laid down their weapons and beat their swords into ploughshares, it may be that their militancy was not so much tamed as redirected. As Ned Kelly demonstrated, the ploughshare can readily be reconstituted into a symbol of resistance when the need arises. The appendix gives brief biographies of four men (William Redfern, James Meehan, Richard Dry and James Dempsey) which demonstrate the complex legacy of the United Irishmen in Australia and their diverse contributions in politics, religion, public health, exploration, and the expansion of settlement.

Introduction to The Poor Man’s Catechism (1798)

Kevin Whelan

The text edited here, The Poor Man’s Catechism, was produced by the United Irishmen in Dublin city in the summer of 1798, shortly after the brutal military suppression of the 1798 Rebellion. The surviving United Irish structure in the city, decapitated of its original leaders by imprisonment, exile and execution, regrouped to consider revolutionary strategy in the aftermath of the failed insurrection. The regrouping was based around the Liberties, the traditional artisanal area of the city and home to a highly politicised and organised working class. From a base in Thomas Street, the hard-core United Irishmen issued The Poor Man’s Catechism, an important document in the development of Irish social radicalism. In forcefully articulating the idea which underpinned radicalism in the 1790s, it offers a valuable window on the attitudes of many of those transported to Australia in the period from 1791 to 1806.

Labour History in Asia: an Introduction

Ray Markey

This edition of Labour History includes two articles on Asia: one by Stephen Chiu and David Levin on Hong Kong, and the other by Melanie Beresford and Chris Nyland on Vietnam. They are the first instalment of a series on the history of Asian labour movements. Others planned for the immediate future include Japan, Singapore and South Korea, with more to follow in subsequent issues. The Asian series represents an important expansion of Labour History’s focus, almost a quarter of a century after the dismantling of the White Australia policy which had been such a cornerstone of Australian Laborism. Since then, Australia’s economy has become increasingly integrated with the Asian economies, and Japanese and other Asian labour management practices have become influential in Australian workplaces.

Trade Union Growth Waves in Hong Kong

David A. Levin and Stephen W.K. Chiu

The development of a trade union movement in Hong Kong, as in other industrial societies, has been an uneven process. We focus in this paper on three major growth waves – 1920-26, 1946-51 and from the early 1970s to the 1990s – when union formation and membership have risen substantially. We describe the strategies of organisational development pursued by Hong Kong trade unions during these three growth waves, the economic, political and social circumstances in which these choices were made, and the consequences of these choices for the movement’s subsequent development. We argue that environmental variables including the nature of market economy, the voluntarist approach to labour relations of the colonial political regime, and the character of the working population have interacted with strategies of organisational development to affect the ease or difficulty of creating and sustaining union organisation. We conclude with a brief discussion of the impact on the union movement of China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong and of the recent economic turmoil in the region.

The Labour Movement of Vietnam

Melanie Beresford and Chris Nyland

Under colonialism, the Vietnamese labour movement was deeply imbued with ideas of socialism and national independence. In a divided country (1954-75), southern union leaders attempted, under American tutelage, to develop a purely defensive and anti-socialist posture in the face of both political repression and contestation of their leadership by the socialists. Ultimately their reliance on American support proved self-defeating. In the northern half of the country trade unions became part of the management apparatus of the ‘worker-peasant’ state. However, effective worker participation was constrained both by bureaucratic organisation and the centralised nature of economic planning. Workers therefore relied on state paternalism while claiming rights within the enterprise extending beyond the labour contract. Since the 1980s economic reforms, necessary restructuring of the unions has lagged behind the development of the market economy. Increasing pressures of international economic integration and growing independence of unions will challenge the paternalism of the party-state.

From ‘Moral Economy’ to ‘Political Economy’ in New South Wales, 1870-1900

Ben Maddison

Between 1870 and 1900 in New South Wales the principles and practices of a ‘moral economy’ were challenged and replaced by those of ‘political economy’. This displacement involved the dissemination by a diverse social group of concepts such as commodified labour, and labour power. Critically it also involved the adoption of a non-biological understanding of human ability. ‘Political economy’ provided an important discursive resource with which employers and workers related to each other in the early part of the twentieth century.

Images of Class in the Poetry and Prose of Hugh McCrae

Kosmas Tsokhas

From the 1890s to the 1920s Hugh McCrae represented a form of literary republicanism and radical social criticism that described and analysed power relations and class inequalities in terms of cultural differentiation, rather than economic structures based on the ownership of property and relations of production. He probed the corruption and hypocrisy of the established church and employed irony to illustrate the absurdity of the divine right of kings. He lampooned knighthoods and feelings of imperial superiority by playing on the notion of blue blood. Although McCrae was part of the society of radical nationalist clubs and journals that were arenas of materialist programs for reform, he drew attention to the role of sculpture, portraits, upper class codes of conduct and patterns of demeanour that promoted a sense of separateness and excluded the lower classes. When the cultural and psychological boundaries of class were transgressed reversals could occur in power relations, so that those with the advantages of wealth, education and breeding experienced embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety. Satire, humour and paradox were used to strip away the pretensions and false virtues of the rich and powerful. He poked fun at those who believed that they could buy the status attributed to persons of culture. For McCrae it was the avarice of merchants that defined the modern economy rather than the effects of the tendencies and contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. The lust for money as a kind of fetishism that reduced love, marriage and authentic human relations to a cash value. McCrae contrasted the refined world of the elite with a proletarian underworld, which contained hopes and possibilities that he presented through the exploration of the meanings that could be deciphered in a boxing match.

Medical Experts and Occupational Illness: Weil’s disease in North Queensland, 1933-1936

Beris Penrose

During an epidemic of Weil’s disease amongst north Queensland cane cutters in the 1930s medical debates over whether it was contracted in the fields; how the disease should be controlled; whether clinical diagnosis alone was sufficient; and whether there were long-term effects from it were not value free. Rather, they were influenced by wider social, political and economic concerns of the time. Dr Raphael Cilento, Director General of Health and Medical Services, embraced a more conservative approach to these questions, clashing with the local doctor Gordon Morrissey. As head of the health department, Cilento’s opinions on malingering workers, migrants and the economic importance of the sugar industry influenced public policy decisions relating to workers’ compensation as well as the government’s approach to controlling the disease. The Weil’s disease epidemic reveals that medical and scientific knowledge and research, while projecting an aura of objectivity, often mask social/subjective elements.

The Union of Australian Women: The Childcare Issue

Kevin O’Toole

This paper argues that one forgotten group that played a significant part in the development of child care in Victoria is the Union of Australian Women (UAW). As a working class organisation the UAW fought to represent the interests of working women during the 1950s and 1960s. This included a commitment to child care. Because of the dominance of the traditional maternalist groups in the 1950s and 1960s, the UAW was unable to have much influence. However, the conjunction of historical forces at the beginning of the 1970s gave the UAW an opportunity to form new coalitions that challenged the dominance of the traditional children’s services groups. The paper begins by outlining the position adopted by the traditional maternalist groups that dominated child care issues in Victoria in the 1950s and 1960s. The paper then explores the early work of the UAW in child care and finally discusses the role of the UAW in the development of community child care. The paper concludes that by using the experience gained over the previous decades, the members of the UAW were well placed to take a leading role in the community child care movement.

The Commonwealth Investigation Branch and the Political Construction of the Australian Citizenry, 1920-40

David Dutton

This article examines the Commonwealth’s conception of political undesirability between the wars as embodied in policies governing the boundary of citizenship and the movement of people. The article focuses on the role of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch (CIB) in the formulation of criteria of political undesirability and the development and operation of mechanisms for the application of such criteria to these policies. It is argued that following the Great War the Commonwealth’s conception of the desirable citizen expanded to include characteristics relating to political ideas and behaviour. An analysis of the Commonwealth’s policies of naturalisation, immigration, deportation, the compulsory registration of aliens, and passports provides insights into the official conception of the Australian citizenry. Further, the article argues that the CIB’s role in these policies occupied a substantial proportion of its time, and that its role was significant for the application of political criteria to these policies

Creating an Orderly Society: The Hobart Municipal Police 1880-1898

Stefan Petrow

The late 19thcentury witnessed a remarkable decline in urban crime and disorder in Australia, England, and America. Historians have suggested various reasons for this decline including the spread of education, the introduction of social reforms, and greater economic prosperity. Another key factor was the development of more numerous and efficient police forces. As the importance of these factors differed from city to city, local studies of particular cities are needed to help understanding of the wider processes at work. This article examines the role of the Hobart municipal police in helping to make Hobart into an orderly city. It considers the reform of the police after the Chiniquy riots of 1879, the role of Superintendent Frederick Pedder in enforcing a new code of conduct on the police and the improved working conditions enjoyed by the police. The article considers how successfully the municipal police dealt with disorder created by the Salvation Army, prostitutes, and pubs. The conclusion examines why centralisation of the police was introduced in 1898.

‘The Greatest Curse … Was Unrestrained Competition’: Regulating Competition in the Queensland Coal Industry, 1900 to the 1930s

Bradley Bowden and Michael Barry

The coal industry is one that has historically been characterised by marked fluctuations in demand and price. This has left both coal owners and their employees in an uncertain economic and industrial position. From an early stage, however, both employers and miners recognised the benefits of regulating production to the current demand in order to maintain industry profitability. This paper traces the various attempts to restrain market competition in Queensland between 1900 and the 1930s. Initially, from 1900 until 1910, coal owners and miners attempted to use collective bargaining to ‘take wages out of competition’, thus stabilising prices. While this strategy was partially successful, from 1910 until the early 1930s state regulation of industrial relations was used to reinforce this negotiated framework. With the onset of the Depression, however, industrial relations regulations proved insufficient. Instead, the employers sought, and achieved, state regulation of production and distribution. Rather than undermining the position of the owners, such regulation acted to maintain the position of private enterprise within the industry.