Journal Abstracts No. 76

Questioning ‘White Australia’: Unionism and ‘Coloured’ Labour, 1911-37.

Julia Martinez

The ‘White Australia’ policy is associated with the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901 and the exclusion of ‘coloured’ labour from Australia. After 1901, however, union lobbying turned against the remaining ‘coloured’ residents in Australia, demanding that they be excluded from employment. In 1911, in a new phase of the policy, ‘white’ unionists were granted preference of employment. Although ‘White Australia’ continued as the dominant ideology of Labor unionists, there was a growing reluctance to accept this extreme form of discrimination against ‘coloured’ residents. This paper examines union racism at a local level, focusing on the period from 1911 to 1937. The relationship between North Australian Workers’ Union and the ‘coloured’ waterside workers of Port Darwin is used to demonstrate how union attitudes were challenged, not only by left-wing ideology, but by their personal experiences within the local multi-ethnic community.

Racial Conflicts in the Australian Automotive Industry in the 1950s: Production Line Workers, the Vehicle Builders Employees’ Federation and Shop Floor Organisation

Robert Tierney

Racial and xenophobic hostilities were not uncommon in the Australian automotive industry in the 1950s and southern European and other non-English speaking background workers often fell victim to such hostilities. To a significant extent, racial and xenophobic prejudices emerged within the labour process itself. This paper examines how the ethnic division of labour on the car production lines generated acts – often violent acts – of intolerance and calumny by Australian born employees against those of non-English speaking background. It also examines the insensitivity of the Vehicle Builders Employees’ Federation to the extent of the racial problems that developed on the factory floor. A key argument of this paper is that the Federation’s hostility towards independent shop floor organisation was a key factor underpinning its ignorance of the extent of racism and xenophobia among the membership. In one automotive workplace characterised by autonomous and militant shop committee activity, substantial steps were achieved in overcoming the problems of racism and xenophobia.

Health, the Law and Racism: the Campaign to Amend the Discriminatory Clauses in the Tuberculosis Act

Sue Taffe

Dr Barry Christophers, president of the Council for Aboriginal Rights, Victoria, and secretary of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement’s Equal Wages committee took on the work of challenging racially discriminatory clauses in a determination of the Tuberculosis Act. The campaign was a short, intense one. It began late in 1963. Eighteen months later, the clauses which prevented Aboriginal TB patients in Queensland from receiving an allowance designed to assist in recovery and prevent sufferers from returning to work when they were still infectious had been amended or removed. This was the result, mainly, of an effective letter writing campaign waged by Christophers. He also argued that one of the reasons for the non-payment of the tuberculosis allowance to eligible Aboriginal sufferers was that the receipt of such a payment would highlight the enormous discrepancy between actual Aboriginal wages in the north of the country and the basic government social service payment.

The Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Act, 1932: An Episode in Feminist Politics

Marjorie Theobald and Donna Dwyer

During the 1930s Depression the New South Wales Government passed the Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Act, 1932, which removed married women from the State service. There was provision for their re-employment on a temporary basis on grounds of ‘hardship’ but with catastrophic loss of salary and status. The legislation was interpreted by women as a backlash against legal, civic and economic gains of the previous 50 years. Their battle for repeal (achieved in 1947) was led by a coalition between Jessie Street’s United Associations of Women and women within the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation. Their campaign demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of woman-centred politics in the interwar years, when women’s organisations could mobilise quickly, but their efforts were weakened by the prevarication of organised labour both in the Labor Party and the Teachers’ Federation, and by lack of unity among women themselves as they began to polarise around issues of socialism and imperialism.

‘Proud and Employed’ : The Gay and Lesbian Movement and the Victorian Teachers’ Unions in the 1970s

Graham Willett

Despite the great deal of attention given to social movements in recent years, a number of issues remain surprisingly under-explored. In particular, the relationship between various social movements and between social movements and social change are in need of much greater study. In this case study of the Australian lesbian and gay movement and the Victorian teachers’ unions in the 1970s, I have attempted to explore the ways in which the social movement, as a political form, is able to have an impact on society, its institutions and structures.

White Cards, Black Feathers: the Political Gets Personal – Broken Hill, 1915

E.R. Macnamara

An incident in Broken Hill early this century raises questions about the position of women in radical towns. The conflict between maintaining solidarity among workers and difference between genders is exposed. A surprising consensus is reached which reflects notions of justice and fair play that take precedence over well-accepted political ideology. One woman discovers her power lies in the right to demand paternalism.

The Mudginberri Abattoir Dispute of 1985

Bernie Brian

In recent years there have been a number of attempts to introduce non-union labour into traditionally organised sectors such as the stevedore and mining industries. These strategies had their origins in the mid-1980s with the rise of the militant managerialism of the New Right. One of the most celebrated victories of the New Right occurred in 1985 when the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union was sued for damages after it had established a picket line outside the small Mudginberri abattoir, near Darwin. From this time on Mudginberri became a symbol for all forces in the nation wanting to reduce the power of trade unions. It also had a considerable impact on the Northern Territory meat industry and the lives of its workers. Previous articles that have attributed this defeat to a union leadership out of touch with its membership are simplistic and ignore the support the union gained from Territory meatworkers.

‘Intelligently Directed Welfare Work’?: Labour Management Strategies in Local Context – Port Pirie, 1915–1929

Erik Eklund

This article is a detailed analysis of the character and implications of a wide-ranging management agenda introduced by the Broken Hill Associated Smelters (BHAS) at its Port Pirie smelters from 1915 to 1929. This core group within the emerging Collins House empire distilled aspects of an international movement towards management ‘welfarism’, and applied it at Port Pirie with spectacular success.

The agenda was targeted at both the workplace and the broader community. New committee-style structures gave workers a sense of involvement while also helping to enshrine an ideology management/worker co-operation. This workplace agenda was complimented by efforts to ‘reform’ the town itself, by introducing new forms of ‘respectable’ recreation, adding to the services and facilities available to workers and their families, and generally making the company more central to the lives of its employees. Throughout the 1920s, the company met with considerable success on the industrial front, however, there is evidence of a cultural resistance to some of its broadly-targeted strategies. Resistance was especially apparent from work force groups who were beyond the effective reach of BHAS management.