Abstracts – Labour History No. 115

“A Most Important Cadre”: The Infiltration of the Communist Party of Australia during the Early Cold War
Phillip Deery

The Australian labour movement has a long history of its ranks being infiltrated by the security services. Rarely, however, are we permitted inside undercover operations. To protect undercover agents, files remain classified and agents’ identities and activities are shrouded in secrecy. This article uses, for the first time, a trove of declassified Australian Security Intelligence Organisation files of one of its agents, Anne Neill, whose target was the Communist Party of Australia. It examines her relationship with the CPA, which she successfully penetrated, and ASIO, to which she reported. A primary purpose of this penetration was to report on subversive activity and, over eight years, from 1950 to 1958, Neill submitted hundreds of highly detailed reports. The paper also examines the agent’s life after her employment with ASIO ceased, especially her embrace of far right-wing politics and the League of Rights.

Patrick O’Farrell and the Making of Harry Holland: Militant Socialist
Len Richardson

Patrick O’Farrell’s Harry Holland: Militant Socialist (1964) grew from a doctoral thesis completed in the mid-1950s, at the Australian National University, at the height of the Cold War. The circumstances of its creation are important to understanding the assumptions upon which the biography depends. Of Irish Catholic descent and from the Grey Valley, the birthplace of New Zealand’s first wave of revolutionary industrial unionism, O’Farrell had observed first-hand the unravelling of this radical and socialist impulse in the late 1940s and early 1950s as Cold War attitudes enveloped the political world. Interpreting the political career of Harry Holland from within the more intense Cold-War-Canberra environment brought a sharper edge to O’Farrell’s biography. The extent of this influence is made clear in Manning Clark’s detailed account of the oral examination of O’Farrell’s PhD preserved in his personal papers. A reassessment of Harry Holland’s role as leader from this perspective suggests a need to revisit the historical debate about the relationship between socialism and the New Zealand Labour Party.

Clyde Cameron: An Architect of “The Great Labor Schism”
Malcolm Saunders

South Australian Labor MHR Clyde Cameron had a huge impact on the fortunes of the Australian Labor Party in the post-war period. When he died in 2008, he was most remembered as having been a “numbers man” of the 1950s and 1960s who had done more than any other, excepting Whitlam himself, to secure a victory for that party at the watershed federal elections in December 1972. Yet Cameron figured just as decisively, albeit less conspicuously, in the Labor split of the mid-1950s that did much to consign the party to opposition at the federal level for more than a generation. Cameron’s commitment to the ALP’s socialisation objective and his antipathy toward those anti-communists who were either hostile or just indifferent to it compelled him to oppose the “Movement” and the industrial groups, from the mid-1940s in South Australia and thereafter in all states. His commitment to what he saw as Labor’s most cherished goal never wavered, even when the party to which he had devoted his life turned against it in the mid and late 1980s.

Surviving on the Brink: New Zealand Workers, Unions and Employment Relations, 1991–2008
George Lafferty and Shaunnagh Dorsett

New Zealand’s Fourth Labour Government (1984–90) implemented a remarkably rapid process of economic privatisation, decentralisation and deregulation. However, it was only under the National Party Government (1990–99) that this process was extended comprehensively to employment relations, with its Employment Contracts Act 1991 (ECA). The ECA had devastating impacts on union membership, collective bargaining and employment conditions. The election of a Labour-led government in 1999, followed by its Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA), promised a less hostile climate for workers and unions. This paper examines employment relations in New Zealand under these two legislative regimes, from 1991 to 2008. First, it evaluates how the ECA’s largely decentralised, deregulated environment transformed employment relations and how workers, unions and employers responded to it. Second, it assesses how the ERA contributed to a cultural change that encouraged workers, unions and employers to develop more strategic approaches to employment relations. It illustrates how this change, coupled with the introduction of important statutory entitlements for all workers, helped to prevent any resurgence of the right-wing politics that fuelled the ECA.

Blood Politics: Australian Nurses, HIV and the Battle for Rights on the Wards
Geraldine Fela

In the 1980s and early 1990s, homophobia and prejudice were ubiquitous in Australian HIV/AIDS hospital wards and clinics. The association of HIV/AIDS with ‘deviant’ subjects, namely gay men and intravenous drug users, meant that both patients and health care workers experienced and witnessed discrimination. These wards and clinics however, also became sites of solidarity and collaboration that extended across diverse lines of identity. While some HIV/AIDS nurses were gay men, many were heterosexual working-class women. In a context of increasing industrial radicalism amongst nurses, nurses and their unions played a crucial role in fighting for the rights of people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS. They fought and won a political battle with doctors and surgeons for a socially progressive approach to testing and infection control. Drawing on both archival research and oral testimony, this article considers this important – though under-examined – chapter in Australian labour history.

Establishing Trade Unionism in the Emerging Iron Ore Mining Industry in Western Australia’s Pilbara Region, 1965–72
Alexis Vassiley

By the 1970s, the Pilbara iron ore mining industry was a byword for union militancy. Yet when this industry was established in the 1960s, workers endured harsh conditions, unfettered managerial prerogative, low pay and there was little trade union organisation. To date, studies have concentrated on the period of union militancy, and little effort has been made to document and analyse the rise of trade unionism in this mining region of Western Australia. This article argues that industrial action by unionised and unionising mining workers in the period 1965–72 won serious improvements in pay and conditions, and eroded some of the power of management. Their demands were resisted fiercely by the iron ore companies. Much of the infrastructure of grassroots unionism – central to the exercise of “union power” in the 1970s and 1980s – was established during this period. This included networks of shop stewards, combined union committees and universal unionism. These struggles underpin and therefore contextualise the later union militancy, which has received more academic attention. This article draws on John Kelly’s mobilisation theory to examine this period of working-class activity and union growth.

Understanding Regional Trades and Labour Councils: Sources for Australian Labour History
Kathryn M. Steel

An exploration of sources available to document the history of a specific type of Australian labour organisation, the regional trades and labour council, has been informed by a quest for the early history of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council. This paper builds on previous surveys to investigate the variety, extent and relevance of sources available to document the formation of such organisations and the context within which they determine and carry out their strategies and campaigns. The paper also considers advances in technology and the challenges and opportunities they offer for accessing, appraising and making available labour history sources, both physical and born digital.

What Did We Want? Debates within the Australian Nuclear Disarmament Movement in the 1980s
Jonathan Strauss

In the 1980s, a large, diverse and vibrant nuclear disarmament movement rose again in Australia. This article uses findings from archival research and interviews conducted by the author over a number of years to show that strategy in the movement was contested and the movement’s debates and internal development had a substantial impact on its rise and decline. The views of movement activists about how to campaign for its demands, in particular, for the closure of nuclear war-fighting bases in the country, differed greatly. The appearance of the Nuclear Disarmament Party highlighted divergent views that had arisen in the movement about how to relate to the Australian Labor Party. A potential for alternative political and social leadership underlay the insurgent movement’s debates and differences.