Journal Abstracts No. 92

American Liberalism and Labor Politics: Labour Leaders and Liberty Language in Late Nineteenth Century Australia and the United States
Robin Archer

It has long been argued that the prevalence of liberal values is one of the main reasons why there is no labour party in the United States. This article seeks to reassess these arguments by comparing the United States with Australia, where the influence of liberal values was also strong. It focuses on the early 1890s, when Australian unionists established an electorally successful labour party, and when their American counterparts came closest to doing something similar. The article tests the claim that the prevalence of the idea of individual freedom was a constraint on the emergence of a labour party, by examining how labour leaders themselves responded to this idea and made use of it. It finds that, far from being a constraint, the prevalence of the idea of individual freedom was treated as an ideological opportunity by those who were seeking to establish a labour party.

Transcending Class? Australia’s Single Taxers in the Early 1890s
Melissa Bellanta

Australia’s single taxers had a chequered relationship with the labour movement during the 1890s. Many collaborated with Labor at the beginning of the decade, but later broke from it in favour of the conservative free trade lobby. Largely because of this, labour historians have interpreted the single taxers’ relationship to class in different ways. This endeavour has been misconceived, because the single taxers renounced class as the key to their politics. They presented themselves as ‘above class’ and adopted a populist worldview. I explore the single taxers’ self-representation here, detailing the ways in which they rejected class through their rhetoric, modes of dress, eclectic friendships, eccentric manners and millennial religiosity. However, the fact that single taxers rejected class does not mean that the material realm had no influence over their politics. Single tax men’s presentation of themselves as ‘above class’ was indeed informed by their uncertain material circumstances during the 1890s. Recognising this allows a critical engagement with the work of Patrick Joyce, Gareth Stedman Jones and Joan Scott to take place in this paper.

Fat Man v. ‘the People’: Labour Intellectuals and the Making of Oppositional Identities, 1890-1901
Nick Dyrenfurth and Marian Quartly

Scholarly interest in the role of labour movement intellectuals in the formation of social and political identities is currently high. Yet the dominant historiography has not considered the role of labour intellectuals in narrating and manipulating the symbolic forms of oppositional identities. This article considers the origins, purpose and effect of perhaps the most famous villain, the capitalist ‘Fat Man’. A key symbolic tool in the making of a more homogeneous and assertive working class, ‘Fat’ was repeatedly painted as the enemy of ‘the People’; itself a collective identity drawn upon and moulded to the practical and ideological purposes of antipodean class mobilisation. Fat embodied the conscious opposite of the identity which labour intellectuals were constructing for the ideal masculine Australian ‘worker’, and threatened not only ‘the People’s’ material well-being, but the gender and racial social orders in which they typically located their identities.

Careers Advice for Women and the Shaping of Identities
Kay Whitehead

This article focuses on representations of women’s work in two sets of articles, both entitled ‘Careers for Women’ that appeared in the Woman’s Record in 1921-22 and the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1933. Each provided advice about careers to potential women workers in traditional fields such as teaching and nursing as well as some relatively new occupations in the world of commerce. Although a range of discourses can be applied to women’s work, the article explains how three in particular – vocation, career and character – were interwoven to represent different occupations. The article argues that although both journals purported to offer little more than ‘practical guidance’ in the matter of occupational choice, they were deploying the discourse of character to construct specific individual and occupational identities for middle-class women workers.

Labour Management Practices in Non-Union Firms: Australian Abrasive Industry 1945-70
Melissa Kerr

Australian labour history has traditionally neglected non-union firms as an area of research. However, in recent years, in the context of declining union density, labour management practice in non-union firms has become a topical area of contemporary industrial relations debate. At the heart of much of these debates remains the longstanding assumption that management practice in non-union firms can be categorised within a simple dichotomy of either ‘substitution’ or ‘suppression’. This article seeks to rectify this neglect by examining the labour management practices of two non-union firms during the post World War II period in Australia. Far from being a simple case of ‘substitution’ or ‘suppression’, this article concludes that management action is far more diverse and complex than the simple dichotomy suggests. Furthermore, this article demonstrates that management strategy in non-union firms was contingent on, and shaped by, six factors: the firm’s economic fortunes, management’s approach to industrial relations, the agency of labour, the labour market, the firm ownership and threat of union organising.

Collateral Damage: B.A. Santamaria and the Marginalising of Social Catholicism
Race Mathews

B.A. Santamaria’s contribution to the removal of communists from trade union office in the 1940s and 1950s may have been less significant than his marginalising of the Distributist school of Social Catholicism of which he was a long-time advocate as deputy director of the Australian National Secretariat for Catholic Action (ANSCA) from 1937 and director from 1946. Distributism was approved by the Catholic Hierarchy as the aim of Catholic Action, spelt out by the bishops in their early Social Justice Statements and fostered through ANSCA agencies including the National Catholic Rural Movement (NCRM), the Catholic Social Studies Movement (CSSM) and the Young Christian Workers (YCW).
ANSCA’s initial ‘bottom up’ approach was later subordinated to an attempted assumption of control of the Labor Party through influence fortuitously accruing from the replacement of communist union officials by CSSM operatives and sympathisers, which others including the YCW opposed. When the opportunity for establishment of meaningful Distributist institutions finally arrived with the emergence of the largely YCW-inspired credit union movement in the middle 1950s, the Distributists were too distracted, exhausted and internally divided by the turmoil within and around the Church and the Labor Party to avail themselves of it. Rarely can so comprehensive a defeat have been snatched from the jaws of victory.

The Mine at Baryulgil: Work, Knowledge, and Asbestos Disease
Jock McCulloch (RMIT)

In the period from 1945 until the mid-1970s Australia was a major consumer of asbestos products. Today Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of asbestos disease. Local manufacture was dominated by James Hardie Industries which also operated a small chrysotile or white asbestos mine at Baryulgil in northern New South Wales. James Hardie has always claimed that the working and living conditions of its Aboriginal employees were good. However, internal company correspondence and the testimony of miners suggest otherwise. Hardie’s refusal to protect its workers from a known risk contributed to a high level of occupational morbidity and mortality, as did ineffective state regulations, the non-union nature of the Baryulgil workplace and the community’s isolation.