Abstracts – Labour History No. 91

The Politics of Consumption and Co-operatives: An Overview
Nikola Balnave and Greg Patmore

There has been an emphasis in labour history on production rather than consumption. Consumers can directly influence the mode of consumption by forming co-operatives to control the provision of goods, services and financial services. This paper will review how Australian labour historians have dealt with the politics of consumption, particularly with regard to the forming of co-operatives to control the provision of goods, services and financial services. It will focus on the journal Labour History and general publications in the field. The paper will conclude by reviewing alternative Australian sources for understanding co-operatives.

Attaining the Australian Dream: The Starr-Bowkett Way
Maxine Darnell

The ability to easily access cheap finance is one, if not the, most pressing determinants of a person’s ability to achieve some degree of economic and even social independence. This is most significant with respect to housing finance. Loan limits, high interest rates and an unwillingness on the part of the formal financial sector to lend to lower income earners would have doomed this sector of the population to a life of tenancy without co-operative finance schemes such as Starr-Bowkett societies. Starr-Bowketts are co-operative, non-profit financial institutions that provide interest-free loans to their members and operate on the principle of mutual self-help as espoused by Dr T.E. Bowkett in 1843. This paper examines the growth of these societies in New South Wales over the period 1900-30, and considers the impact that the existence of and growth in these societies had on extending the economic capacity of those neglected by the formal financial sector.

The Shifting Meaning of Mutuality and Co-operativeness in the Credit Union Movement from 1959 to 1989
Leanne Cutcher and Melissa Kerr

By studying the way that a peak industry association used its newsletter to interpret change in the broader social, political and economic context for their member organisations, we find how these texts sought to unite an increasingly fragmented group of organisations as well as to reinforce the role and identity of the association. We observe the connections between discourse and the organisational identity of the New South Wales (NSW) Credit Union Association, formerly the NSW Credit Union League. As a peak industry body they represent the interests of a range of credit unions in NSW. This article examines the newsletters of the peak industry association across four key time periods, from the economic and political stability of the late 1950s through to the economic turbulence and changing regulatory environment of the 1980s. Through historically situated discursive analysis, we highlight the connections between the changing social and political context and the shifting meaning of the credit union’s core values of co-operation and mutuality.

Localism and Rochdale Co-operation: The Junee District Co-operative Society
Nikola Balnave and Greg Patmore

Despite the disappearance of many Rochdale co-operatives in Australia, the Junee District Co-operative Society founded in 1923 continues to thrive. The Co-op was a non-union workplace for most of its history and did not become involved in the broader co-operative movement until the late 1970s. This article examines the history of the Co-op to understand why it has survived and prospered, despite facing competition from local private-sector retailers and one major chain store. Of particular note is that the Co-op operated in a town whose population has generally declined since the 1930s. The threat of competition from large chain stores has therefore decreased over the years due to the constrained market. Recognition of the need to modernise retailing methods has also been a factor in the Co-op’s longevity. However, of central importance is the issue of localism and the reciprocal relationship that the Co-op has developed with the town of Junee. The financial survival of the Co-op became linked to economic sustainability of the town.

Co-operative Studies in Australia and Beyond
Ian MacPherson

Labour and working class journals, like virtually all parts of the academic world, have almost totally ignored co-operatives, co-operative thought, and the field of Co-operative Studies generally. This commentary, building on the essays in this issue, makes the case for encouraging such interests. It argues that, while ‘conventional’ history is useful for an understanding of co-operative organisations and the ‘co-operative experience’ generally, a satisfying approach must include insights and methodologies drawn from a wide range of disciplines as well as an engagement with people actively involved in co-operatives. It must also be international in perspective, employing comparative analysis in order to more fully appreciate the varieties and possibilities of co-operative activities in sustaining communities and expanding accountability. Australian researchers in the field can play an especially important role in this because of the special insights they have developed in some areas, notably central/local relationships and the process of demutualisation.

One of the Boys or the Common Good: Workplace Activism in the NSW Branch of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemens Associations
Mark Westcott

This article explores the interactions between union officials and delegates of the New South Wales (NSW) branch of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemens Association (FEDFA) at the Shell Clyde refinery and the Tooths Sydney breweries. It contributes to the debates concerning the tension between bureaucracy and democracy within trade unions by illustrating that these elements are not mutually exclusive. The NSW FEDFA has encouraged a strong delegate organisation, and the objectives of delegates and officials are both conflicting and accommodating with evidence of both participation and bureaucracy.

‘Australians for Australia’: The Right, the Labor Party and Contested Loyalties to Nation and Empire in Australia, 1917 to the Early 1930s
Neville Kirk

Between 1917 and the early 1930s the Right achieved political hegemony in Australia. Based largely upon neglected contemporary sources, this article maintains that the politics of loyalism to nation and empire contributed significantly to the Right’s electoral domination. The first section of the article traces the successful attempt of the Nationalists and their allies to tar the Australian Labor Party (ALP) with the brushes of disloyalty and extremism mainly during federal elections. The second section examines the nature of the ALP’s response around the tenets of ‘true Australianism’. The third section describes and explains the mixed picture in terms of state elections. The conclusion evaluates the overall national situation.

The Maoriland Worker and Blasphemy in New Zealand
Geoffrey Troughton

The 12 October 1921 issue of the New Zealand labour newspaper The Maoriland Worker included two poems by the noted British war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Three lines of ‘Stand-to: Good Friday Morning’ caught the authorities’ attention. Consequently, on the advice of the Attorney General, a charge of blasphemous libel was laid against the paper’s publisher John Glover. Glover was subsequently tried in the Supreme Court in 1922 in what remains New Zealand’s only trial for ‘blasphemy’. This article explores the context, course and implications of the trial. It contends that the proceedings should be viewed in the light of post-war efforts to protect social order and suppress dissent. In essence, the charge was a pragmatic alternative to that of sedition. The incident provides a window on the intersection between religion, politics, and the labour movement, and highlights aspects of religion’s role in New Zealand society during these years.

Corio 1940: Triumph for John Curtin but Stillbirth for an Australian Motor Car
Mal Harrop

While the 1940 by-election in Corio, Victoria was a triumph for John Curtin, it came at a cost, the still birth of a locally owned Australian motor car industry. Although national histories suggest that the major impact of Corio was a shift by Curtin in the attitude of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to sending troops overseas, this article uses local Geelong media to highlight other issues of significance both to the Corio voters and the nation. It concludes that a horse racing scandal, the Motor Vehicle Agreement Act 1940, and the presence of a large overseas-owned car assembly company in the electorate, all played a significant part in Curtin’s victory. However, by opposing the monopoly provision of the Motor Vehicle Agreement Act, Curtin lost the only possibility of Australia having its own car manufacturer to compete with the global giants.

Justice at Last?: the Temporary Teachers Club and the Teaching Service (Married Women) Act 1956
Donna Dwyer

In 1956, the Victorian parliament passed the Teaching Service (Married Women) Act, removing the marriage bar in the Victorian Education Department. Introduced under the 1889 Public Service Amendment Act by liberal reformers with a profoundly gendered vision for the state, the marriage bar excluded married women from teaching, deeming them temporary ‘outsiders’. During World War II, married women temporary teachers returned to teaching in considerable numbers. In 1955, their lobbying in the Victorian Teachers Union led to the formation of the Temporary Teachers Club (TTC) and the waging of a ‘cooperative campaign’ forcing the Department’s hand on the matter of reinstatement, but at a cost: the denial of their superannuation entitlements. The TTC’s campaign is not only an important and overlooked episode of feminist activism in an era renowned for conservatism; it is testament to the claim that women’s achievements were hard won – a struggle, not a gift.

John (Jack) Bernard Sweeney QC: Trade Union Lawyer
J.W. Shaw

Jack Sweeney’s life between 1911 and 1981 may have lacked colour; nonetheless he was an effective and widely respected trade union lawyer. Although he was involved in politics and civil liberties, including a pivotal technical role in assisting E.G. Whitlam’s reconstruction of the Australian Labor Party in the late 1960s, it was as an advocate for the trade unions that he made his substantial contribution to Australian industrial relations. He played valuable roles as a commissioner enquiring into some vexed issues: the state/federal union divide (the Moore v Doyle dilemma) and waterfront corruption. As a judge, Sweeney was a liberal democrat, balancing the rights of rank-and-file trade union memberships against the importance of a leadership capable of playing a significant role in reaching equitable collective bargains about wages and conditions.