Abstracts – Labour History No. 99

Greening Labour History

Red and Green: Towards a Cross-fertilisation of Labour and Environmental History
Janis Bailey and Ross Gwyther

The three articles and research note in this thematic section explore intersections between labour history and environmental history, including productive alliances and tensions between the two. This introductory essay contextualises these studies by considering the nature of environmental history, its historiographical development, key contributions to the field in Australia and elsewhere, theoretical stances in the field, and what it is that environmental history can ‘offer’ labour history.

The People’s National Park: Working-Class Environmental Campaigns on Sydney’s Georges River, 1950-67
Heather Goodall and Allison Cadzow

The prevailing narrative of official and academic environmental histories has been that campaigns to protect native bushland and establish national parks were initiated by middle-class advocates of distant wildernesses. Yet in the 1950s in south western Sydney, working-class activists on the Georges River were demanding conservation for native bushland and accessible greenspace at the same time as they identified industrial pollution as a severe effect of postwar industrial development. In fact, these working-class campaigners identified conservation of native bushland through a national park as a key recognition for working people in the nation. This article argues this firstly by showing that the massive post war impact of industrialisation and population expansion on the working-class area of the Georges River not only increased pollution but at the same time rapidly decreased the area of native bushland there. Secondly, it uses oral history on the life stories of individual campaigners to trace how interaction with the local river and bushland environments shaped working-class identities, just as much as did employment and factory contexts. Thirdly, this article examines the core demands of the campaign, identifying how native bushland was used as a central emblem of working-class interests, in what became a definition of a ‘national park’ which was very different from the ‘Yellowstone’ model. Finally, the course of the campaign is followed through its wins and losses, which shows how tensions were generated among the working-class campaigners as they tried to implement their goals of an accessible ‘people’s national park’.

Mt Lesueur as a ‘Space of Engagement’: A Rural-Urban, Cross-Class Conservation Campaign
Janis Bailey

In 1989, the mining giant Conzinc Riotinto of Australia announced its intention to establish a coal mine and a privately owned power station near Mt Lesueur in Western Australia. Local farmers initiated a campaign against the proposal, with other residents, unions, environmental movement organisations, artists and scientists being crucial to strategy formation and implementation. Campaigners faced the reality that while the Mt Lesueur area had enormous conservation significance, it was not a pristine wilderness and was not well known, so its importance needed to be communicated to broader publics. Campaigners exploited chinks in the political opportunity structure by means of a collaborative campaign that relied on a carefully developed and well coordinated campaigning network, with participants respecting others’ very disparate identities, contributions and strengths. Unusual features of the campaign included the involvement of the union movement in the form of Perth-based artworker activists – rather than construction workers or coal miners. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia withdrew its plans in 1990, and the WA government subsequently gazetted the Lesueur National Park in 1992. The campaign illustrates the point that in order to understand alliances against the owners of big capital we must stretch the definition of ‘worker’ and, crucially, pay careful attention to socio-spatial and issues if we are to understand how cross-class, rural-urban alliances develop in working landscapes.

Te Upoko o Mata’oho (Mangere Mountain): The Performative Tensions of a Living Museum
Joce Jesson

The development of an education centre in the early 1980s as a living museum at Mangere, South Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand), began with the purpose of enabling the local tribal group, or iwi, to tell their own stories about work, being and colonisation. It was to reflect their on-going struggle to be able to live and work as recognised as iwi, to talk and show, in a living form, how their ancestors grew crops, lived and sustained family relationships, whanaungatanga. The story of the living museum shows how their important beliefs – their tikanga, and their rights under the Treaty of Waitangi create tensions for local government policy and the civic development of Auckland. The market-based approaches and procedures of local government in the 21st century do not readily accommodate collective ways and Maori process.  This paper examines the ways that this community volunteer-based organisation, grounded in principles of reciprocity and collectivity, has become shaped through performative requirements, towards a market-modelled organization.

Regulating the Greens: Federal Electoral Laws and the Emergence of Green Parties in the 1980s and 1990s
Tony Harris

I was one of a group of people who made the transition from Red to Green in 1984, leaving the Labor Party in inner Sydney to help set up Sydney Greens. This was one of a number of initiatives that would lay the foundation for the Australian Greens in the 1990s. I recently deposited papers with the State Library of New South Wales relating to this early, fractious period in the history of the Greens in Australia. They are currently being catalogued. Among these are documents relating to my 1985-91 role as Registered Officer (the official contact with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)), for the registered political party, ‘The Greens’. This research note summarises what these documents reveal about the challenges faced by a new and complex political movement as it tried to adjust to the parallel development of federal political party regulation.

Other Articles

Class, Skill and Control in a Southern City: The Case of the Dunedin Branch of the ASE c. 1880-1920
Shaun Ryan

Skilled workers and their unions have long held a central place in New Zealand labour history. While there has been much written about the economic position and industrial and political mobilisation of the skilled, less is known about their lives in terms of marital and residential differentiation and segregation, and their activities in voluntary associations. This article adopts a micro-historical approach and uses Hobsbawm’s ‘aristocracy of labour’ criteria to describe and interpret the economic and social position of members of the Dunedin branch of a New Zealand trade union for skilled engineering workers. In doing so it makes reference to a large body of work that examines the process of class formation in Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s oldest industrial suburbs.

Organisational Consolidation and Unionateness in the NSW Public Service Association, 1899-1939
Ray Markey

The PSA is one of the oldest and most substantial examples of public sector and white-collar unionism, and its female activists played a leading role in the equal pay movement from 1914. Despite this, it has attracted little attention from historians. Sheldon’s solitary article on the formation of the PSA characterises it as a ‘middle-class’ union, on the basis of public servants’ social position, industrial conservatism, limited links with the labour movement generally and the PSA’s non-political stance. However, the eschewing of strikes and overt political attachments were as much the product of the unusual legal and political position public servants found themselves in. Furthermore, on a material basis, whilst many white-collar public servants did enjoy a better position than ordinary workers, about half clearly earned working-class levels of pay. The circumstances of the 1920s and 1930s also brought the PSA closer to the mainstream of the labour movement, in terms of solidarity of outlook and a radicalisation of its world view. Its experience was a precursor of wider changes in white-collar unionism in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘Truth and Time Against the World’s Wrongs’: Montagu Scott, Jim Case and the Lost World of the Brisbane Worker cartoonists
Nick Dyrenfurth

In a 1920 book celebrating the famed labour movement cartoonist Claude Marquet, his long-time editor, Henry Boote, told of how, ‘every week tens of thousands of men and women derived from [his] vivid imagery keen satire instruction on all the vital questions’. This was a compliment Boote might have paid to a number Marquet’s cartooning comrades: the Brisbane Worker duo of Montagu Scott and Jim Case, or the well-known London-based Australian Will Dyson. Comparatively speaking, the Queenslanders have been neglected by labour historians. Yet, beginning with Scott, the Worker cartoonists set the stylistic and thematic template for the likes of Marquet and Dyson. Unashamedly populist, with a fiercely racialist take on working-class politics, their propaganda constituted an important part of the precocious success enjoyed by the Queensland and federal Labor parties before the catastrophic events of World War I.

Women on the March: Radical Hispanic Migrants in Northern Australia
Robert Mason

Positioned at the intersection of studies in gender, labour history and migration, this article is anchored in both Australian and Hispanic scholarship. It analyses the Hispanic communities of rural northern Australia during the first half of the twentieth century, and integrates local responses with those of the broader Hispanic world. In particular, it demonstrates that Hispanic women used their political experiences from Spain and Argentina to assume public positions of community leadership in an Australian region frequently characterised as highly masculinise. As migrants, they applied Hispanic culture and precedent to the Australian industrial context. In doing so, the women defied characterisations of passivity and, instead, exemplified female participation in political activism based on transnational experience.

‘A Crude Orgy of Drunken Violence’: A Russian Account of the Brisbane ‘Red Flag Riots’ of 1919
Kevin Windle

In 1919, an illegal Russian-language newspaper published in Brisbane devoted a considerable amount of space to the events surrounding the Red Flag procession of 23 March and the violence and destruction which followed. The newspaper, entitled Nabat (The Tocsin) was largely the work of the two men who led the march, Alexander Zuzenko and Herman Bykoff, both of whom were soon deported to Soviet Russia. The first issue of Nabat, dated 6 August 1919, carried an anonymous report of the demonstration, clearly the work of a participant, identified here as Bykoff. The report continues in the second and last issue, with details of the immediate aftermath of the demonstration. An annotated translation of Bykoff’s report is given here, preceded by an extended introduction which places the report in its historical context. No other detailed account of the event by a Russian participant exists. Nabat is itself a bibliographical rarity.