Journal Abstracts No. 84

Occupational Lead Poisoning in Battery Workers: the Failure to Apply the Precautionary Principle
Beris Penrose

Labour historians are now beginning to explore the history of occupational health and safety and its impact on workers and the community. An examination of past approaches to protecting workers’ health can inform current debates over such things as the relevance of the Precautionary Principle advocated by those who seek to remove from the workplace substances suspected of being harmful. In the United States from the 1920s-60s the employer body, the Lead Industries Association, funded much of the research into occupational lead poisoning. The results, which rejected the Precautionary Principle, understated the adverse effects of lead and placed workers’ lives in jeopardy. The politicisation of medical knowledge in the United States had a global impact that has not yet been fully examined. This article explores the influence of American research on the Australian medical community’s approach to occupational lead poisoning in the early twentieth century, with particular reference to the battery industry.

Manufacturing Identities: Industrial Representations of Australia in Press Advertisements, 1900-69
Robert Crawford

Advertisements sell more than the product on offer – they sell a complete ideology. Between 1900 and the 1960s, Australia’s advertising industry was involved in a protracted campaign to establish a nation of consumers. This study seeks to illustrate this process through an examination of the rise and fall of the factory image contained in press advertisements during this period. The factory’s outward appearance in these advertisements remained largely unchanged. Its meaning, however, was periodically revised, demonstrating the image’s symbolic function. From being the face of a stable firm, the factory image grew to symbolise industrial productivity and national development. Through the image of the factory, local advertisers effectively integrated themselves, their wares, and consumerism with the notion of Australian identity. A new identity emerged as the line between national and consumer identities blurred – one that would also claim the factory as an image.

‘Not easy work to starve their employees’: the 1921-22 Tasmanian Timber Dispute
John Dargavel

Although there is a rich industrial history of the timber industry, little has been written on its labour history. This paper recounts the course of a dispute in Southern Tasmania in 1921-22. It occurred during a national campaign by employers against Justice Higgins’ 1920 decision to set a 44-hour week for timber workers and engineers. Local and state factors exacerbated the Southern Tasmanian dispute where a group of sawmilling companies commenced a lockout. The Australian Timber Workers’ Union resisted attempts to force them to work a 48-hour week, enter a contract system and countenance non-union labour. The dispute lasted for 15 months and was marked by violent events, court cases and attempts by the Premier, the police and leading citizens to mediate a settlement. Although nationally the union had their hours set back to 48 by the Arbitration Court in 1922, locally it succeeded in having the non-union labour removed. The social character of the region helps explain why the dispute was so long and bitter. The paper concludes that future labour histories of the forest sector are likely to find that concentration/isolation of workers is an important parameter. There were three substantial problems that any similar studies would face: those of evaluating the influence of the social context, the limitations of historical sources and the specificity of the case study approach.

A Bone of Contention: Managerial Initiative vs Employer Association Regulation of the New Zealand Meat Industry, 1960-75
Michael Barry

A number of studies have explained the industrial relations dynamics of New Zealand’s most important export sector by examining its turbulent pattern of disputation. Rather than focus on industrial disputes in isolation, this paper traces a series of organisational relationships that followed the production of meat – through processing, storage and shipping – from farmer to consumer. The main focus of the paper is the relationship between meat processing employers and their association officials. The paper explains why individual employers attempted to challenge association policies and why association officials attempted to regulate the behaviour of their recalcitrant affiliates. Set during a period of both product market and industrial relations transition, the paper demonstrates how association officials strove with mixed success to present a united front to the industry’s powerful unions, preserve relativities between different groups of workers, contain operating costs, and, overall, regulate competition within the industry.

Transforming Unionism by Organising?: an Examination of the ‘Gender Revolution’ in New Zealand Trade Unionism Since 1975
Melanie Nolan and Shaun Ryan

The proportion of women in trade union movements has increased in all industrialised countries since the 1970s, but these changes have been particularly dramatic in New Zealand. Research has understandably focused on the long period of women’s marginalisation. However this paper, based on an oral history project, Toa Wahine, focuses on the period from the 1970s when both women’s rank and file and their executive representation increased to proportions that were almost equal to their workforce participation. The role of separate women’s structures is seen as crucial to this gender transformation while the influence of the ‘organizing model of unionism’, which is said to have promoted union democracy and feminised union culture, is seen to have been exaggerated. Above all a New Zealand case study suggests that it is as increasingly inappropriate to assume women’s marginality as it is their political unanimity within the trade union movement. These conclusions may seem obvious, but most studies of gender in trade unions continue to examine men and women in oppositional terms and emphasise change in terms of the simple adoption of strategy. The oral histories of New Zealand women trade union leaders suggests otherwise.