Journal Abstracts No. 78

Working Lives in Regional Australia : Local History and Labour History : an Introduction

Greg Patmore

Since the 1960s there has been a shift in Australian labour historiography away from labour institutions towards the study of workers and their everyday lives. Despite this, only recently has there been a focus on the spatial dimensions of working class experience. An interest in community or locality, however, does not mean that labour historians are no longer interested in labour institutions such as trade unions and political parties. Indeed community or locality studies may provide further insights into working class mobilisation. While community studies have been criticised for `dismembering’ their subject matter from the broader society, it is agreed that the external environment does have an impact and should be incorporated into any community study. The explanatory power of community or locality study can also be increased by bringing together a number of case studies.

Like a Bicycle, Forever Teetering Between Individualism and Collectivism : Considering Community in Relation to Labour History

Lucy Taksa

Australian labour historians have used the concept of community to tease out the social intimacies of the working class experience. In emphasising class identities, experiences and affiliations in specific places, their attention has focused on the integrative pressures that enabled certain groups of workers to mobilise politically and industrially in pursuit of collective interests or that produced ‘labour-community coalitions’. By contrast, this paper looks beyond ties of class and place and assumptions about shared interests in order to explore how community came to be associated with consensus and group authority rather than social diversity and division. Instead of focusing on integrative pressures that promote conformity to imposed notions of identity and norms of conduct, it emphasises differentiation by recognising that people have numerous sources of identity and interests and that places are spatially fluid and internally-fragmented. Hence, it points to the need for historians to re-examine the question of individual choice in order to enhance our understanding of precisely how the structural and subjective aspects of community and class relate to each other and the way that individual and group identities cohere and fragment across time and space.

Women’s Work in a Rural Community : Dungog and the Upper Williams Valley, 1880 – 1900

Glenda Strachan, Ellen Jordan and Hilary Carey

This article analyses the position of women in the economy of a rural community in the second half of the nineteenth century. The town of Dungog and its surrounding region in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales were being settled by Europeans in these decades. The article explores the relationship between family needs and aspirations, the economic constraints and opportunities available to women in this community. It concludes that while more economic opportunities such as teaching and nursing were opening for single women, most women’s work remained part of the family enterprise. In addition, women’s unpaid labour was vital in the creation of Dungog’s quality infrastructure such as schools, churches and hospitals.

Localism and Labour: Lithgow 1869-1932

Greg Patmore

This paper explores the concept of localism and its impact upon labour. Localism is an identity associated with a particular geographic space, which provides employment and social interaction for particular individuals. It does not deny the importance of other identities based on gender, class, race, sexual preference, which may also influence behaviour. Localism may not be shared by all groups, particularly those who face discrimination or have little influence in a particular location. Localism does not prevent workers seeking solutions beyond their particular geographical space.

A Time ‘the like of which was never before experienced’: Changing Community Loyalties in Ipswich, 1900-12

Bradley Bowden

During the nineteenth century, Ipswich was Queensland’s premier industrial centre outside the colony’s capital, its prosperity resting on the district’s coal mines and railway workshops. Yet, despite Ipswich being an overwhelming working class town, organised labour remained a marginal force. Instead, Ipswich’s workers and their families placed local loyalties ahead of industrial allegiances. The strength of these local ties reflected the importance of family-owned concerns, which allowed the town’s patriarchs to dominate Ipswich’s political and social life. After 1900, however, Ipswich’s political-economy underwent a profound transformation as the town’s old families lost their position of pre-eminence to outside firms. As new avenues for employment emerged, organised labour found the social space in which to develop its own sense of identity. This labour identity was, however, shaped by the experience of Ipswich’s various locations, producing not a united working class, but one fractured by differing goals and aspirations.

The ‘Place’ of Politics: Class and Localist Politics at Port Kembla, 1900 – 30.

Erik Eklund

This article is an analysis of the political forms that emerged in the New South Wales town of Port Kembla over the period 1900 to 1930. It argues that two principal types of politics dominated the political landscape of industrialising Port Kembla. The first type was class politics, based on the industrial labour market. In the 1910s local workers formed union organisations and a local labor league, culminating in major industrial action in 1919-20.

The second type of politics was localist politics, characterised by claims of local unity and development. Localist politics, best represented by the local Progress Association, clashed with class-based organisations, and established ascendancy by the 1920s. Local unity and cross-class alliances were encouraged by a number of factors including the common interest in protecting town infrastructure. Towards the end of the 1920s, as industrial disputes intensified and economic conditions worsened, class politics was resurgent, ultimately overwhelming the localist coalition by the eve of the depression.

Men dominated local politics, though behind the public face of these organisations women were active as fundraisers. Kooris were excluded both socially and physically, with their living spaces tellingly located on the fringes of the town itself.

Making A ‘Union Town’: Class, Gender and Consumption in Inter-War Broken Hill

Bradon Ellem and John Shields

Broken Hill is one of the few localities in Australia in which a local working class managed to establish ‘hegemony’ over the local social and political structure. While many of the ideas, institutions and practices which were to underwrite working-class control were evident in earlier years, it was only in the inter-war period that this control was effectively asserted and consolidated; it was only then that Broken Hill became truly a ‘union town’. This study focuses on three key aspects of the extension of union influence and control in this locality in the inter-war years: a concerted drive to unionise town employees; a related campaign to extend union and working-class control over local commodity supplies and prices; and an accompanying demobilisation of married women. The one section of the Broken Hill working class which was effectively demobilised at this time was married women. This particular conjunction of class solidarity and gender marginalisation generated its own contradictions. While women willingly participated in boycott action in support of improved wages and family income, they refused to surrender the one real site of economic autonomy left to them – household spending and consumption. The male unionist strategies may have achieved the desired economic ends but by entrenching gender power inequality, these strategies also constrained the potential for class mobilisation.

A City To Struggle In: Wagga Wagga and Labour, 1940-75

Warwick Eather

In 1977 the Wagga Wagga branch of the Australian Labor Party supported a team of ‘Progressive’ candidates, many of whom were party members, in the Wagga Wagga City Council elections of that year. They did so because they wanted to’ dominate the council’. This call for domination was a result of the lack of authority and influence enjoyed by the labour movement generally over the preceding 37 years. This paper charts the activities of the Wagga Wagga and District Trades and Labor Council, the branches of the trade unions and the local branch of the Australian Labor Party over the period 1940-75. It highlights the factors that prevented the labour movement from playing a positive role in the city.

Community, Class, and Comparison in Labour History and Local History

Elizabeth Faue

This postscript is a response to the studies in the thematic section on Labour History and Local History. It places the effort to understand the connections between the history of communities and of working classes in the context of the new labour history in the United States and Australia. At the same time that local history hasbeen the vehicle of much new scholarship, there have been major lacunae in the lack of a fully developed spatial analysis and the failure to analyse the various meanings and constructions of ‘community’. This postscript summarises the major findings of the essays in terms of the connections between community and localism and class identity and politics and finds some resonances in the ways that US and Australian labour historians treat these aspects of working class lives. In particular, the essays suggest the importance of gender in understanding the strengths and limitations of local working class political organisation. The postscript concludes by pointing out new directions in the study of working class and community history by exploring the uses of public space and of community as geography, metaphor and strategy.

Job Control and Commonwealth Industrial Relations Policy: The 1920-21 Strike and Lockout of the Federated Marine Stewards and Pantrymen’s Association

Richard Morris

This article describes the 1920-21 strike of the Federated Marine Stewards and Pantryman’s Association (FMSPA), the only major industrial conflict directly initiated by this now defunct organisation in its 70-year history.The author explains this episode in the evolution of Commonwealth industrial relations policy and its response to maritime union activism. The basic thesis of the article is that the 1920-21 FMSPA lockout and strike was an inconclusive battle between capital and labour which tested the interventionary mettle of W.M. Hughes’ Nationalist government as well as the special leverage of workers in the island continent’s maritime transport chain. The ramifications of this major dispute were to reverberate in later struggles and its study advances the explanatory understanding of ‘job control’ and state intervention in industrial relations.

The Senator Sam Cohen Affair : Soviet Anti-Semitism, the ALP and the 1961 Federal Election

Philip Mendes

This paper explores the Senator Sam Cohen Affair, the public brawl between sections of the Jewish community and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) during and following the 1961 federal election. Attention is drawn to the factors which precipitated the Affair including Left/Right conflicts within the Jewish community and the ALP, Cohen’s controversial pre-selection for the Senate ahead of Maurice Ashkanasy, the international Jewish campaign against Soviet anti-Semitism; and Cohen’s apparent defence of the Soviet Union’s record on this issue. The Affair arguably led to a revision of Jewish lobbying strategies including the community’s traditionally close relationship with the ALP.