Edited by Diane Kirkby
British Steamship Workers c. 1875–1945: Precarious before Precarity
Much current work on labour conditions is founded on the notion of precarity. This article contends that there is a lack of historical depth in the use of this concept. By looking at the case of British steamship workers, it argues that the Standard Employment Relationship (SER) which precarity theory has attributed to ‘advanced’ economies in the twentieth century was not always the norm. The employment of British steamship workers was never characterised by a SER. They lacked labour freedom and were regularly imprisoned for work-related offences. They were never fully participant in the democratising processes that played out in liberal democratic societies. Seafarers were to an extraordinary extent subject to long-term debt relationships which generated structural poverty. They had life trajectories of a ‘catastrophic’ character, involving difficulty in forming stable families, serious injury and early death. While British steamship workers were relatively privileged in relation to colonised workers, their case nevertheless places a question mark over the standard precarity theory narrative of the rise and fall of the SER.
“Violent and Not Quite Modern?” Lascars and Everyday Resistance Across the Sail-Steam Divide
By exploring forms of maritime resistance spanning the age of sail and steam, this article interrogates certain preponderant assumptions within the historiography of subaltern agency. Within this historiography, “modernity” has come to be preponderantly signalled by trade union organisation and a concomitant regard for legality, while violent resistance is implicitly or explicitly taken to signify the Other of modernity: traditional, primitive, incomplete. Arguing that this tradition/modernity divide has mapped onto the sail/steam divide in the historiography of maritime resistance, this article complicates the association of violent mutiny with the age of sail and litigiousness with the age of steam. It does this by bringing both epochs into single focus, thereby finding important continuities in forms of everyday resistance on board ship across the sail/steam divide. I use existing scholarship to look at resistance in the age of sail, before focusing on the age of steam through close readings of archival material like ships” logbooks, newspapers and “Lascari”-English dictionaries to understand everyday resistance in the age of the steamship until the formation of seamen’s trade unions at the end of WWI. From these, I argue that rather than the unions fundamentally re-shaping the forms of everyday resistance into legal channels, it was in fact these longer traditions of everyday resistance that fed into the formation of unions at the end of WWI, and which continued through the 1920s and ‘30s.
“Communists They May Have Been”: Australian Maritime Unionists and the National Shipping Line, c. 1950–90
Australian maritime unions of the Cold War period are renowned for their militancy and rhetorical commitment to communist ideas. In contrast, concentrating on the policies and actions of the Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA) and the Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) towards the Australian National Line (ANL), this article reveals their political and industrial pragmatism in advancing a national shipping agenda. It demonstrates that union support of the Line took two main forms. First, maritime unionists sought to protect the state-owned shipping company from unfair international competition by launching protest actions against substandard foreign carriers. Second, they willingly cooperated with Australian shipping industry stakeholders to boost seagoing labour productivity and thus the global competitiveness of the ANL. The paper argues that it was the increasing integration of the Australian maritime enterprise into the highly competitive global shipping market that prompted the SUA and the WWF to take an active role in defending national shipping interests.
Queensland Workers in 1928 Waterside Strike
The 1928 strike of waterside workers against the Beeby Award was a national one, yet most of the histories of it concentrate on Melbourne. Queensland wharfies, like their Melbourne counterparts, had won improved working conditions that shipowners wanted to reverse. Watersiders in Brisbane and other Queensland ports, as well as Melbourne, stayed on strike for longer than anywhere else. This article examines Queensland wharfies’ role in the strike, including their efforts to extend it, and how their activities showed the divisions in that state’s labour movement. It situates the different positions that Waterside Workers’ Federation branches took in 1928 in the context of the industrial politics of notable ports. This article takes account of conflict between the McCormack state Labor government and militant unions, including a development in Bowen which was as much an epilogue to the 1927 railway lockout as it was part of the waterside strike.
Forging an Australian Working-Class Identity through Myth, Story-Telling and Maritime Mateship: Becoming Harry Bridges
Dolores E. Janiewski
Applying a mix of autobiographical theory and research about the importance of the individual, families, and community to class formation, this article locates Harry Bridges, the future American labour leader, in Melbourne from 1901 to 1919. It examines the process by which he forged an Australian working-class identity through experience as a seaman, autobiographical story-telling, and selective narration about the achievements of the Australian labour movement and Labor governments. Creating a sense of assurance about workers’ right to power enabled Bridges to assume a leadership position in the United States, avoid deportation, and evolve into a labour statesman.
Australian Transnational Union Solidarity through Union-Building in Timor-Leste
Australian union support for the development of an organised labour movement in independent Timor-Leste has received scant attention. Looking to address this gap in the literature, this article focusses on the contributions of two individual activists between 2002 and 2003: Didge McDonald, from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union; and the Maritime Union of Australia’s Michael Killick. Their role in the development of Timorese unions was a crucial counterweight to the exploitation of domestic workers by foreign businesses – a phenomenon expedited by the macroeconomic implications of the broader United Nations state-building mission. Considered through the prism of nation-building at the civil society level, Australian union assistance to Timor-Leste is presented as a valuable example of how cross-border partnerships following the model of New Labour Internationalism can help workers challenge the growing reach of transnational capital.
“An Unpopular Cause”: The Union of Australian Women’s Support for Aboriginal Rights
The Union of Australian Women (UAW) was a national organisation for left-wing women between World War II and the emergence of the women’s liberation movement. Along with other left-wing activists, UAW members supported Aboriginal rights, through their policies, publications and actions. They also attracted a number of Aboriginal members including Pearl Gibbs, Gladys O’Shane, Dulcie Flower, and Faith Bandler. Focusing on NSW activity in the assimilation period, this article argues that the strong support of UAW members for Aboriginal rights drew upon the group’s establishment far left politics, its relations with other women’s groups, and the activism of its Aboriginal members. Non-Aboriginal members of the UAW gave practical and resourceful assistance to their Aboriginal comrades in a number of campaigns through the assimilation era, forming productive and collaborative relationships. Many of their campaigns aligned with approaches of the Communist Party of Australia and left-wing trade unions. In assessing the relationship between the UAW and Aboriginal rights, this article addresses a gap in the scholarship of assimilation era activism.
“People Power”: Social Planners and Conflicting Memories of the Australian Assistance Plan
Carolyn Collins and Melanie Oppenheimer
The Australian Assistance Plan (AAP), Gough Whitlam’s controversial program of social welfare reform in the 1970s, was promoted as a national experiment in “people power”. But the outpouring of often highly critical evaluations during and immediately after its brief existence failed to take into account the experiences of the program’s grassroots workers. This paper focuses on the oral history component of a wider history of the AAP, and on those employed to realise Whitlam’s vision – the social planners – comparing their backgrounds, roles, expectations, and frequently conflicting experiences as they shaped, and were shaped by, this “bold but crazy” experiment.
“Never Again”: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in Melbourne in the 1990s
There was an upsurge of fascist and anti-fascist activity in Australia in the early part of the twentieth century and such movements have received sustained historical attention. Yet one could be forgiven for concluding that such phenomena disappeared in the post war period. Scholarly historical coverage of the fascisms and anti-fascisms of the latter part of the twentieth century have been minimal. This paper seeks to demonstrate the ongoing existence of both movements of the far right and the concomitant anti-fascist campaigns by focussing on 1990s Melbourne. It will draw from interviews with anti-fascist activists of the time and from campaign paraphernalia and press reports. It introduces the group National Action (NA), identifies its political tactics and shows how it rebranded fascist traditions from Europe and the USA by drawing on iconic figures and symbols of the Australian labour movement, anti- immigrant racist tropes and on white Australian nationalism. It also introduces the anti-fascist groups called Brunswick Against the Nazis group (BAN) and, their more recent incarnation, Campaign Against the Nazis (CAN). These were loose collections of left activists and organisations which mobilised against NA and subsequently against Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Memories of the racist horrors of the World War II and attempts to counter right-wing appeals to working class people were two animating factors for these groups. And, as this paper shows, over time loosely affiliated ant-fascist groups were influenced by various overseas currents of thought about political practice. These included notions of a United or Popular Front, direct and indirect action, ‘no platforming’ and ‘squaddism’ respectively. Overall this paper demonstrates that both fascist and anti-fascist groups were certainly active in Melbourne in the 1990s and that they drew their unifying thinking, language, tactics and symbols from earlier such movements in Australia and overseas. It also shows how their political battles of the 1990s were part of the rise of, and opposition to, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. In developing its analysis this paper draws on contemporary trends in international anti-fascism studies.