Abstracts – Labour History No. 107

“The Military Strike is Now On!” A History of the Passive Resisters Union, 1912–14
Ryan Bodman

The Passive Resisters Union (PRU) was a short lived, but highly effective anti-militarist group that opposed compulsory military training (CMT) in the years immediately preceding World War I. While the organisation has received scholarly attention for its involvement in New Zealand’s first anti-militarist movement, its integral role to the achievements of that movement has not been considered in any depth. This article seeks to address this oversight by placing the organisation into its historical context, outlining the tactics that set it apart from the rest of the movement and detailing the Union’s effectiveness at responding to the state’s increasingly punitive measures to enforce universal compliance with the training scheme. In turn, the article demonstrates that the success achieved by the anti-CMT movement rested on the shoulders of a group of young men who banded together under the banner of the PRU to oppose the coercive mechanisms of the state.

 

An Intimate History of Digging in the Australian Army during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942
Nathan Wise

The military conduct of the Kokoda Campaign of 1942, a campaign that saved Australia from isolation, has been well documented by historians. Less-well documented, however, is the history of the labour undertaken by Australian soldiers during the campaign. Building upon recent historical analyses of labour in the environment of the military, this paper will utilise the written records and oral testimony of Australian soldiers to explore the nature of the work of digging during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942. It will consider themes such as the role of digging and of manual labour in general within the daily life of service personnel, and the impact of local environmental factors on that daily work. By focusing on the specific features of digging in a single military campaign, this paper will highlight the historical value of exploring work within the military as a way to provide greater insight into the experiences of Australians at war.

 

Rebel Girls and Pram-Pushing Scab-Hunters: Waihi “Scarlet Runners,” 1912
Cybèle Locke

A militant band of women who were integral to the maintenance of the 1912 Waihi strike in New Zealand, were chastised by the media for their unwomanly behaviour, and branded the “Scarlet Runners.” This article explores the complexity of working-class and gendered norms for women in a mining community strongly influenced by socialist and syndicalist ideologies.

 

Defying Industrial Trends and Resisting a Wage Cut: Melbourne and Launceston Textile Workers’ Strike, 1932
Phoebe Kelloway

Textile workers in Melbourne and Launceston defied contemporary industrial trends by going on strike in late 1932, against a wage cut. Despite the fact that industrial struggle was at a record low, they embarked on the first major strike in the textile industry in Australia. This article explores their motivations for doing so. These mill workers, who were largely young women, had endured low wages, often worked less than full-time hours, and harboured grievances about their working conditions. The young women’s income was often essential to their households, since many male breadwinners were unemployed. Upon the implementation of the wage cut, Communists agitated for strike action, and some Australian Textile Workers Union officials urged the strikers to continue. Textile workers were influenced by union leaders but gave the Communists a mixed reception. They displayed their own determination to resist the wage reduction.

 

The Right to Read: The Book Censorship Abolition League, 1934–37
Joel Barnes

The Book Censorship Abolition League, a group made up of academics and other public intellectuals that was active between 1934 and 1937, constituted the first sustained and substantial protest against government censorship in Australia. By the early 1930s, Australia had developed the most interventionist political and moral censorship regime in the English-speaking world, with the exception only of Ireland. From 1933, under the federal Minister for Trade and Customs Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Walter White, the political arm of this system was extended to one of its greatest historical extremes. The League, formed around William Macmahon Ball, then senior lecturer in political philosophy at the University of Melbourne, was initiated in response and was successful in forcing some alleviation of government censorship. While the League has been treated in passing in a number of general histories, this article is the first to examine the group in its own right, and offers new perspectives not found in previous briefer accounts.

 

A Dread Decision: The Execution of Edwin Hickey, 1936
Pauline Curby

Edwin Hickey’s trial, conviction and subsequent execution in 1936 for the apparently unprovoked murder of conciliation commissioner Montague Henwood raised questions about the administration of justice and legal representation in New South Wales. This controversial execution laid bare the anxieties of a troubled society, exposing conflicting attitudes to youth, crime, sexuality and sexual assault. Hickey was portrayed as one of a lost generation, who unfairly carried the burden of societal disquiet following World War I. For many he was also a symptom of communal guilt concerning the cruel impact of the Great Depression on rural youth. Such representations did not save Hickey, whose unsubstantiated allegation of attempted sexual assault rendered him beyond redemption in the eyes of conservative politicians who made the final decision on whether his death sentence would be commuted.

 

The Limits of Socialism: The New South Wales Labor Party and the Proposal to Nationalise the Gas Industry
Malcolm Abbott

In 1910 the New South Wales Labor Party came to office committed to the nationalisation of the gas supply industry. Instead, it created a regulatory system which was to stay in place throughout the twentieth century, even during long periods of Labor governments in New South Wales. This paper looks at the reasons behind the failure to carry out a long-established Labor Party policy. In particular it identifies the Party’s satisfaction with the effects of regulation and its growing commitment to alternative areas of public expenditure such as transportation, health and education.

 

The “French Turn” in the Antipodes: Early Trotskyists and the Australian Labor Party, 1937–55
John Sebesta, Douglas Fullarton, Stephen Morrell and Lyn Smith

Mass social-democratic parties such as the Australian Labor Party have long been the major obstacle to small revolutionary organisations winning mass influence. This paper explores how the Australian Trotskyists of the 1940s attempted to overcome this through the tactic of entry. In the 1930s the “French Turn” by Leon Trotsky’s supporters in France and in the United States provided successful models of short-term entry. In Australia, however, entry was posed as a buffer against wartime illegality. The Communist League split in 1941, with the Labor Socialist Group (LSG) led by Nick Origlass embarking on a deep entry into the ALP, most actively in Victoria in the post-war period. When the Progressive Labour Party split from Labor after the smashing of the 1949 Coal Strike, LSG supporters joined it. Aside from this brief interlude, the strategy of long-term entry led not to strengthening the revolutionary forces but their liquidation into Laborism.

 

Labor’s 1943 Landslide: Political Market Research, Evatt, and the Public Opinion Polls
Murray Goot

This paper examines market research commissioned by or on behalf of candidates in the early 1940s, a period that long pre-dates the introduction of market research identified in earlier accounts; its particular focus is on a 1943 opinion survey conducted by Sylvia Ashby in H. V. Evatt’s electorate of Barton, the earliest piece of political market research for which there remains a full report. In the light of the Barton survey it offers a critical re-analysis of the national and state-based opinion polls conducted ahead of the 1943 federal election, the first for which Australian newspapers commissioned polls. And it argues that since Labor’s sweeping victory was anticipated long before the election not only by the Barton survey but also by a proper reading of the newspaper polls, it is unlikely the election campaign itself was decisive in securing Labor its record result – the unexpected nature of its historic victory notwithstanding.

 

The Australian Capital Territory Preselection of 1968–69: A Study of Class and Generational Change in the ALP
Chris Monnox

Changes in the composition of the Australian Labor Party’s membership during the late 1960s and 1970s have been much discussed; however this discussion has taken place primarily with reference to class, occupation and level of education. The ALP’s Canberra branches, which developed an atypically white collar character prior to the 1960s, provide an opportunity to focus on other aspects of this period of change in the ALP. These issues were publicly and viscerally canvassed during the course of a debate surrounding the preselection for the Federal seat of the Australian Capital Territory held in 1968. While anxieties about, and opposition to, the participation of tertiary educated members in the ALP were much in evidence during the course of this debate, the most discussed division was that between generations.

 

Labour Culture on Screen and Online: Union Films as Mobilisation Strategies
Lisa Milner

Strikes and industrial disputes have been a regular feature of Australian working life, as has the early uptake of new media technologies in and around these struggles. Despite substantial change in the power and membership of unions in recent decades, Australian filmmakers have contributed significantly to a broader labour culture via their depictions of strikes and other trade union activities, first on film, then television and now the Internet. Of particular interest to this article are unions that encourage filmmaker-members to document the range of activities now considered as standard union initiatives. In focussing on the output of two trade unions, the Maritime Union of Australia and the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, this article explores how the production and reception of union films adds new dimensions to members’ lives, and how these cultural projects have the potential to bind members together in solidarity.

 

A Republican History of Australia
Geoff Gallop

In post-1788 Australia, we can identify three versions of republicanism: firstly as a specific ideology for the Australian nation; secondly as a political movement to break ties with the British Crown; and thirdly as a set of initiatives collectively defined as deliberative democracy. As ideology, republicanism has roots in both civic republicanism and liberal democratic radicalism. It has sometimes been nationalist and racist (the Great Australian Settlement) and sometimes liberal and multicultural (the New Australia of the 1960s). Unity around establishing legal and cultural independence has been achievable but, when it comes to a break with the Crown, there are divided views on its necessity and on the form a republic should take. In the 1990s, when the movement for change was at its height, these differences proved too much to handle and the referendum to establish a republic in 1999 was lost. It is argued that only through an exercise in new democracy involving random selection and proper deliberation – “a republican means for a republican end” – will it be possible to create the trust and authority needed for change.

 

Recent Developments in Japanese Labour History
Shinji Sugayama

There have been remarkable changes in Japanese labour history since the 1990s, especially since the beginning of the twenty-first century. First, there has been a shift in subject matter and themes studied. The most striking progress in the last decade has been in historical studies of white-collar workers and female workers in the silk-reeling industry. Second, there has been a diversification in the academic disciplines dealing with labour history. Third, notwithstanding the disciplinary diversification, labour organisation and institution have continued to attract growing interest. To understand such changes, this paper first takes up Andrew Gordon’s epoch-making work which appeared in 1985, and described in detail the century-long development of the “Japanese employment system.” However, while much attention is paid to the issues of “power and conflict,” blind spots remain. Second, drawing on my own recent work on new frontiers in the history of the “Japanese employment system,” the paper offers insights on problems that cannot be explained by the “power and conflict” theory approach. Third, the paper surveys major works on Japanese labour history over the last decade and clarifies that a recent trend in this field is reflected not only in the themes taken up in my work, but also in the explanatory approach adopted.