Radical Currents, Labour Histories

Julie Kimber & Diane Kirkby

On the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History we launch a new national magazine, Radical Currents, Labour Histories. The aim of the magazine is to bring labour and social history out of the narrow confines of academia and to share some of the rich and diverse histories being recorded across Australia and New Zealand in the journal, Labour History, and in the many branches of the Society. 

While the ways that we write about labour and social history have changed over the past 60 years, the centrality of the lives of ordinary people remains at the heart of this research. Labour history stands as both witness to, and participant in, the struggles people have faced, in and out of work. It is a field of study that unapologetically engages with class relations, intersectionality, and the changing dynamics and power imbalances in our societies. It does so with both a theoretical and practical orientation, a deliberately active historical engagement with deep links into labour movements and activist organisations.

In this issue we highlight some of the research published in the May 2021 edition of Labour History, including articles on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights in Australia, anti-racism work in New Zealand trade unions, the work of the Victorian Coalition against Poverty and Unemployment, among others. 

Each provides us with a unique glimpse into the ways that people organised for change, some around principles of solidarity, others, as in the case of the establishment of engineering as a profession, around self interest. Each in its own ways is instructive of the diverse ways people have adapted, fought, or folded and each has much to tell us about our own engagements with late capitalism. 

Also included here are some of the many and varied stories being produced by the branches of the Society, and they highlight the dynamism and particularities of the states. Most importantly they tell us of the work and dedication of countless people who, like Dorothea Brooke, in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, ensure ‘the growing good of the world’.

We are grateful to have received a small grant from the Victorian government’s Melbourne Convention Bureau, which supports in part the hosting of our 17th biennial national conference, Fighting For Life: Class, Community and Care in Labour History and covers the cost of printing the first issue of this magazine. We are also grateful to the Victorian Division of the NTEU for its sponsorship of the conference drinks.

Finally, we dedicate this first issue to Stuart Macintyre, who died in November 2021. Stuart was President of the Society, and one of Australia’s foremost historians. His contributions to the Society and to the wider history community were immense. It is fitting therefore that we lead with Frank Bongiorno’s tribute to Stuart at the March 2022 launch of his final book, The Party: the Communist Party of Australia from heyday to reckoning

Radical Currents, Labour Histories, No. 1 Autumn 2022, 5.