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The labour aristocracy and opportunism in the history of Australian working-class politics

By Jonathan Strauss

The theory of the labour aristocracy argues that opportunism in the working class has a material basis. Such class-collaborationist politics express the interests of a relatively privileged stratum of workers who receive benefits supported by monopoly superprofits. Karl Marx and, especially, Frederick Engels, first developed this theory. It is most closely associated with V.I. Lenin, however, for whom it became “the pivot of the tactics in the labour movement that are dictated by the objective conditions of the imperialist era”.[1]

This article, the last of five,[2] discusses the development in Australia of concessions from monopoly superprofits to the labour aristocracy and of opportunism in politics in the Australian working class.

Concessions from monopoly superprofits and the development of opportunism

From the middle of the nineteenth century, contemporary observers of Australia noted its high wage levels, eight-hour working days, exceptional rates of unionisation (union density) and formal democratic rights. The country was often described as a “working man’s paradise”. While the fin de siecle economic depression and industrial strife made that description less tenable, the restoration of lost conditions during the first decades of the new century led to a view that the country was a social laboratory. The experiments were new or renewed state interventions in economic activity, the setting of industrial and labour market standards, welfare provision—through public works, factory legislation, pensions, workers’ compensation and the regulation of wages and hours of work, to which systems of union recognition were tied—and the formation of governments by an ostensibly working-class party, the ALP.

Labour historians’ initial efforts to examine this period were primarily devoted to establishing the existence of labour movement struggles and their influence on workers’ conditions of life. Such historians only more recently concerned themselves with: the restriction of these benefits; their distribution along, for example, gender and racial lines and, more generally, their structuring as a “wage-earners’ welfare state”;[3] the limits of the labour movement’s responsibility for the measures taken by the state; and the limited effect of the state’s actions on, for example, the growth of unionisation. However, these concerns have been raised together with references to relatively low wage differences between skilled and unskilled workers, the inclusiveness of the eight-hour-day movement, the effects of changes in the labour process on the exclusiveness of skilled work and industrial militancy and political progressiveness among sections of skilled workers.[4] Labour historiography still understood the principal trend in the politics of the working class to be one towards a unity effective for the common interests of the class. Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, for example, wrote: “‘White Australia’ was a shackle on the labour movement’s progress to maturity”.[5]

Labour historiography assessed the formation and development of the ALP in this context. Its more critical judgments said the party blocked, or even temporarily reversed, the trend of working-class advance. Humphrey McQueen suggested that the party was an effort “by wage-labourers and small proprietors to resist their proletarianisation”. This effort created a “petit-bourgeois” response to monopolisation within the labour movement, which consisted of chauvinism and socialism defined as an expansion of state activities. He said only the actions of militants produced a contrasting proletarian consciousness.

Tom Bramble claimed union officials created the ALP at the turn of the century in a search “for more effective representation”. He discussed how the party “was a product both of the strength of the working class movement, in that workers voted en masse for their own class-aligned party, but also of its weakness in that strike defeats in the early 1890s had sapped their ability to mobilise on the ground and allowed reformist union officials and politicians to dominate the political agenda”. He said, however, that “the problem of bureaucracy must be set against the continuing pattern of rank and file activity”. The latter, when freed to act by a growing gap between the officials and ranks of the labour movement, had started to create an alternative industrial and political leadership.[6]

A more detailed account by Raymond Markey argues “the nature of the ALP was largely determined in New South Wales in the 1890s”. There the “party first brought the working class to the full range of policies”—state arbitration, White Australia, the old-age pension and assistance to smallholders—“which were offered in exchange for support of [tariff] protection in the early Commonwealth”. This program “was the product of the ideology of labourism”, which dominated the party under its initially conflicting, but then jointly consolidated, leadership of urban professional politicians with utopian socialist backgrounds and the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU). This leadership was driven by electoral considerations and had risen to express, through racism and populist agrarianism, the petty-bourgeois influence of farmers and workers hoping to end their proletarian status.

Markey said the united utopian socialists and AWU took control of the party away from the labour council, which was weakening by 1892. Later they defeated a challenge from union militants and “left” socialists, whose base among urban workers and coalminers was “decimated” in the 1890s. They also “dismantled the party’s early social democratic policy and restrained the more specifically working-class radicalism which had briefly flowered in the late 1880s and early 1890s”. Before then, “the party envisaged by the urban unions when they established [it] in 1891 was to be a class-based organisation, pursuing class political strategies in parliament, in much the same way as the early German Social Democratic party”. The Australian party’s earlier “platform was typically social democratic, in the sense that it concentrated on two major areas: political reform and industrial legislation”.[7]

The significance Markey ascribed to developments in NSW and to the role of the AWU is peculiar. The colony’s economy and labour movement, relative to those of Victoria, in particular, were not predominant until at least the 1890s. In the latter colony, the ALP began to accommodate rural interests without the influence of the AWU. Most significantly, conditional support for protection had emerged in Victoria. This policy, as he said, expressed an “alliance of liberal protectionist manufacturers and workers”. It bound together the elements of the liberal labour movement program, wherever they had had their source.[8]

The substantial problem of Markey’s account, however, is his characterisation of the ALP as, at first, analogous to early social democracy. Indeed, he then proceeded to claim only that the “moderate parliamentary strategy which characterised the NSW Labor party at an early stage also eventually characterised European social democracy”.[9] Contemporaneously, the analogy breaks down. Social democracy in Germany, for example, was characterised by a spirit of opposition. Its unions were subject to assertions of the party’s authority and differentiated from other unions by aggressiveness. The illegal distribution of the party’s central newspaper between 1878 and 1890 inspired the party’s sense of heroism. It occasionally introduced or supported legislation for reforms, but its parliamentary posture was expressed by the slogan “for this system, not one man and not one penny” and confirmed in the 1880s by votes against Bismarck’s social insurance proposals and a protectionist steamship subsidy.[10]

In Australia, the part of the labour movement motivated by the same spirit was only tenuously associated with the ALP. Socialism, variously understood as humanitarianism, cooperativism or the advocacy of state ownership of some or all of the means of production (when extension of the state’s role as a means for achieving socialism was not yet tested), mobilised forces to found the ALP, was pervasive in its early years and expressed in some planks of the party’s platform. However:

· A positive attitude to and up-front activity in support of major strikes distinguished the socialists in the Australian Socialist League from other sections of the labour movement. The ASL understood these strikes to be indicators of workers’ increased militancy and class awareness, from which opportunities might emerge to propagate the need to reorganise property relations and a mass movement for socialism.

· From at least 1892, this approach to workers’ militancy originated more specifically in the socialist left in the ASL and, also, the Active Service Brigade and the Social Democratic Federation, whose memberships overlapped with the ASL’s left. The initial base of the socialist left was the upsurge of the traditionally independent agitation of the unemployed, who were predominantly poorly unionised unskilled workers: the ALP failed to address their concerns. Later in the decade, these socialists, based on support from workers in the northern coalfields and Sydney, were involved in a four-year-long effort to push the ALP to a more rigorous socialist position, but the premise of this was the creation of an independent socialist party.

· Reading was “integral to the oppositional culture of the 1890s”. Radicals—socialists, anarchists and single taxers—played a part disproportionate to their numbers in the labour movement’s journals and bookshops. On the other hand, the socialist James Moroney criticised the ALP for “doing no educational work”.[11]

The ALP was instead oriented to electoral and parliamentary activity (Moroney wrote, a quarter-century before Childe, that it had “degenerated into a vote-catching machine”). There it offered governmental support in exchange for concessions. The colonies’ different capitalist polities then conditioned variations in the development of the party. In Victoria, the liberals’ protectionism allowed the party to remain their relatively loosely organised permanent ally for more than a decade. In NSW, however, the liberal faction offered only more limited reforms and the conservative faction’s protectionism attracted a number of erstwhile ALP parliamentarians. The party enforced its pursuit of an alliance with the liberals by developing a combination of candidates’ pledges and parliamentary caucusing. When the liberals’ reform efforts stagnated at the end of the 1890s, the party switched its support to the protectionists, who supported measures such as the introduction of compulsory arbitration and direct employment on public works.

The labour councils directed the ALP’s orientation so long as they were able. The intervention of the NSW labour council in the 1892 Broken Hill miners’ strike, was, Markey said, its “last major political activity of the decade”.[12] It urged the party to “use every endeavour to oust the present government”. This approach meant support for the liberal parliamentarians’ censure motion even after they had rejected the party’s proposal to include in the motion condemnation of the government’s suppression of the strike. The substantial agitation among workers in support of the Broken Hill strike—the activity of the miners, public meetings throughout the colony organised by the ALP, a large demonstration by Sydney unions, during which, according to Markey, some called for a general strike, and the ASL campaign culminating in a 20,000-strong march in Sydney—also gainsays what Bramble and Markey suggested about a decline in working-class mobilisation preceding the dominance of reformism.[13]

A more searching examination of the character of the working-class mobilisation that peaked at the start of the 1890s is needed to establish the source of the problematic character of the “independence” of the ALP. In Australia, a cycle of labour movement mobilisation developed from the late 1870s because workers’ expectations of continuing increases in living standards were increasingly not matched by their experience of standards that were relatively stagnant. In past assessments of this mobilisation, the conditions of the lower strata of the working class have been presented as relatively close to those of better off workers. However, the irregularity of employment of most of the lower strata restricted not only their income, but their industrial and political organisation. Also, the extension of Australian unionism beyond craft workers, for example, has been discussed with regard to its parallels with the English new unionism.

The political development of Australian workers, however, did not align itself with a division between craft and non-craft workers, differences in the social background of employees or the incidence of piecework. Instead, substantial sections of workers who had acknowledged (therefore, male) skills acquired through apprenticeship or experience, or who held strategic positions in the production of exports, in domestic transport and, later, in certain services, were relatively privileged. In addition to the relatively broad formal democratic rights already held, they gained further concessions in the conditions under which they entered the class struggle. These were either sustained from a period of capitalist structural expansion through the transition to stagnation, or readily restored in subsequent expansion, constituting these workers as a labour aristocratic stratum.[14]

“The Chinese issue”, Markey noted elsewhere, was “extremely important to the labour movement organisationally”.[15] The first major strike by the mass unions was in 1878, at a climax of the seamen’s campaign against the introduction of Chinese crews in coastal shipping. In the next decade, sustained action against Chinese labour was taken by unionised white workers, including seamen and wharf labourers, shearers, metal miners and the trades and labour councils, which in this regard were led by furniture workers. The labour movement sought and won from capital restrictions on Chinese labour in the work force. Then, for most of the twentieth century, it largely supported the White Australia policy. It did not seek common life conditions for Asian and Melanesian workers, nor enjoy the solidarity the latter workers offered through their organisation and industrial action.

In labour historiography, this stark choice remains often glossed over. For example, Buckley and Wheelwright suggested the seamen, at least, were influenced only by the “unrealistic” nature of a claim for equal pay and conditions. Yet the seamen did not even say such equality was desirable. Nor was it unrealistic: in the 1880s, Chinese furniture workers organised and won a fifty-hour week and pay rates similar to those of white furniture workers.[16]

Verity Burgmann claimed that a social consensus for the exclusion of the Chinese, and for White Australia, sprang from the capitalist class’s ruling ideology of racism. Labour movement resistance to that was precluded by its lack of class consciousness, she said. Yet cross-class opposition to White Australia existed—indeed, some conceived an alternative nation-building project that rejected it—with which the labour movement overall did not ally. It was, instead, more active in the policy’s promotion than Burgmann suggested. Moreover, it pursued specific concerns such as the exclusion of resident “coloured” populations from unionised employment and directly participated in the regulation of contract labour migration to the point of its exclusion, rather than simply the prevention of its use for strike-breaking.[17]

White Australia’s racist restriction of the work force was not a simple collaboration of white workers with their bosses. The labour aristocracy and its concerns dominated the labour movement, which, as Stuart Macintyre put it, “reflected the sectional interests of the organised white adult men who comprised it”.[18] The labour aristocracy made up the main part of union membership, which was less than ten percent of the workers for all but a few years from the middle of the 1880s and peaked in 1891 at a little more than twenty percent of workers in both NSW and Victoria, and four percent in South Australia. Their principal organisational instrument was the eight-hour-day movement, which Connell and Irving argued was, from the 1870s, leading towards a class mobilisation. But only a small proportion of workers gained “the boon”, even though it was sometimes won quite easily.[19]

Workers who were longer organised included: the more exclusive building, metals and printing trades; the “relatively well-paid” Victorian gold miners; the coastal seamen, who “were comparatively better off in some respects” than the deepwater sailors; and Melbourne’s Hobson’s Bay stevedores, who were skilled in wool and wheat stowage for long voyages. When pastoral workers unionised, shearing, to which access was restricted to more experienced workers and for which pay rates were far superior to other rural work, was the main occupation involved. Other workers, less well-paid and working longer hours, such as the Melbourne tram workers and NSW railway navvies, may have struck, but they couldn’t organise. Urban unskilled and semi-skilled workers in Queensland never effectively organised. The labour councils and the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union were usually involved in what unionisation did occur among the lower strata of the working class: important examples of this intercession include the Trades Hall Council role in the organisation of women tailors in Melbourne in 1882-83 and the ASU’s part in the development of the shedhands’ unions. The unionised NSW coalminers—whose 1873 settlement, which included conferencing with the colliery owners and arbitration, was cited by Jurgen Kuczynski as marking the separating out of a labour aristocratic circle, but who subsequently suffered poorer agreements in 1881 and 1886, major strike defeats in 1886 and 1888, a loss of faith in arbitration, and more generally from poor pay, working conditions and employment security—were an exception that proved these rules. The Broken Hill miners also organised, despite high labour turnover.[20]

The course of the defeated 1890 maritime strike and its aftermath demonstrated the significance of the labour aristocracy in the labour movement. The union leadership strategy restricted the conflict in size, but extended it in length, which “worked in favour of employers” by failing to build on the stronger public support in the strike’s early stages to bring the employer cabal to the negotiating table. It may also have contributed to the minimal industrial mobilisation of the previously unorganised—so the strike did not have the character of a mass strike—and the capacity of the employers to find strikebreakers among the unemployed. Parliamentarians commented that the mass support of manual workers for the 1890 maritime strike came “especially from among those of the better class”, while strikebreaking workers were found among the “lowest strata”. Nevertheless, the secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers made an assessment that only the unskilled workers had been beaten. Certainly this was true for their organisation: for example, in Sydney, unionised labourers were largely driven from the docks, yet union membership in the NSW work force, and also labour council affiliations, continued to grow for another year.[21]

In the same year, the strike’s supporters formed Labor parties. This move was long prepared by labour movement discussion of the need for class representation within the parliamentary system, and the experiences of various labour councils in developing electoral platforms and sponsoring candidates. The formation of Labor parties mobilised union sympathisers in city and country, renewing the labour aristocracy’s influence in the lower strata through inspired socialists and single taxers. With the onset of economic depression in 1892, agitation about unemployment became the main form of working-class radicalisation. However, the ALP and labour councils both opposed all bar sedate campaigning. The social crisis was not used to raise the working class towards political leadership of the masses against capital. Instead, the ALP concentrated on political reform, industrial legislation and, increasingly, resolution of the “land question”, which allied that section of the proletariat best positioned to use these concessions – that is, the labour aristocracy—with the bourgeoisie, at the cost of the interests of the whole class. This overturns the significance labour historiography has given to the shift of working-class political support from liberal “friends of labour” to the ALP. The struggles in the ALP during its initial development expressed the context of its formation, but the ebb of the working-class radicalisation in the ALP’s first years laid the basis for it to be a new way for opportunism to dominate in politics in the working class.[22]

The ‘Australian Settlement’

In the first years of the Australian federation, the existing elements of the liberal labour program—White Australia, protection, arbitration, state economic interventions and welfare activity and regional militarism—became part of the national polity. This was a class settlement in which the labour aristocracy’s leadership of the working class was exerted. McQueen has questioned the existence of an “Australian Settlement” other than as ideological deployment in the contemporary class struggle of the view that a class settlement was reached: he argued that the quid pro quo of frugal comfort offered to workers in support of guaranteeing local sales for manufacturers did not eventuate. Markey instead denied the settlement’s endurance, pointing to the reappearance even before World War I of significant strike activity and the challenge of a new militant syndicalism to the ALP’s leadership in the labour movement. Nonetheless, by the 1920s the moral economy of the 1880s had been restored. Liberal politicians and others with influence in state bodies developed, in contrast to employers’ demands for “freedom of contract” in the 1890s, a system of concessions in the conditions of the class struggle by capital to the working class. The concessions were supported by sectors of capital favoured by the liberals’ policies and were in response to newly emergent and re-emergent working-class mobilisation, which eventually involved industrial militancy and even political radicalisation among workers.[23]

Andrew Wells has given an apt, if incomplete, description of the moral economy which formed in early twentieth century Australia: “the organised working class had a real stake in the preservation of the given economic and social relations … a small island of relative wage justice”, which, however, was built on racism that included the subjection of indigenous Australians to state “protection” and its corrupt control of work payments they might receive, and, in its social reproduction, on gender inequality.[24] The oppression of women, who are the majority of the working class, extended into paid work, even among those women who were organised. Social norms achieved much in creating gender segregation in the work force. Women were also excluded from many occupations either altogether or, if married, by discriminatory employment regulations and practices. One of these, which sometimes gained union support, was to grant equal pay when employers were expected to favour employing males. However, if women were doing the same work as men, they were usually paid only a percentage of the males’ rate, supposedly because they did not support dependants. Furthermore, comparable worth assessments of occupations whose ranks were largely filled by women were reduced through a gendered conception of “skill” as well.[25]

Also, among white male workers, a stratum was relatively privileged. The gradation of benefits within the working class continued, if in an altered form. Central to this gradation was the establishment and development of the arbitration system.

Arbitration progressively applied a “living wage” determination of pay and conditions. From 1907, federal court judgments under its liberal president, Henry Bourne Higgins, launched the award structure of a basic wage and margins for skill that prevailed for sixty years, affirmed social necessity as the basis of determining wage rates and asserted the priority of that norm against company profitability. Awards generally set a standard eight-hour working day. They also provided that for it male labourers should get the basic wage. This was purported to be a “fair and reasonable remuneration”, sufficient, through a working week, to support him, with a spouse and three children, “as a human being living in a civilised community” in “a condition of frugal comfort”.

The significance of the basic wage was reduced because: it was set low, at seven shillings, in order to seek employers’ acceptance; the intermittent employment of many labourers was addressed at all only through loadings; the categorisation of jobs as “sub-labouring” and the market orientation of the state arbitration courts and wages boards that determined most workers’ wages, which led to lower pay rates than the basic wage for many workers, were finally eliminated only after World War I; and cost of living adjustments to the basic wage were irregular before 1921. Nonetheless, the awards met the hours demand upon which unions had traditionally organised and raised most labourers’ wages by between ten and forty percent. Thus, awards reached the living standard which was usually understood to have applied before the 1890s depression and which unions had thereafter sought. If, as has been suggested, the living wage was a “socially useful myth”, then the myth was sustained because its replacement of capital’s “capacity to pay” in the determination of workers’ pay and conditions had some substance.

Awards also included a “rate for the job”, an amount payable for the supposed marginal comparable worth of various types of work. In comparable worth assessments, work considered, for example, heavy, more dangerous, dirty or varied as “skilled” was differentiated from that thought of as light, less dangerous, clean or repetitious. Managerial and supervisory roles, responsibility for machines or money and strength in physical effort were valued more than coordination and cooperation, caring and responsibility for people and accuracy and concentration in mental effort.

Tradesmen were among those paid margins. Typical earnings of newspaper compositors in 1926 were about three times as much as those of labourers (this difference was half what it had been in 1904). A fitter and turner’s margin was at first worth forty-three percent of the basic wage. However, the awards also conformed to the practice of differential pay rates within trades: more specialised work received lower margins.

The skills and capacities for work of certain other occupations were also recognised. For example, shearing work was awarded a considerable margin in 1911 because, Higgins said, “it is not everyone who can become a shearer … [the work] requires close attention, and involves considerable strain”. The established hierarchies of the railways, which included higher pay for salaried officers, which had been granted by management partly in order to differentiate them from wage workers, were preserved in the officers’ awards, although the income advantage was threatened during the 1930s Depression by legislated pay cuts.

The real value of margins changed with movements in the cost of living. For those who remained employed in positions that paid margins, deflation, such as occurred in the Depression, was advantageous. In inflationary periods, the labour market situation often allowed those getting margins to pursue over-award payments. Otherwise, such payments were rare in the first half of the twentieth century. Some casual labourers who were not getting award compensation for their intermittent employment struck and won this directly from their employers. Experienced labourers who retained their strength—typically those in their thirties and forties—might be able to get a little extra for their acquired skills. In those instances, however, when collective agreements covered employment conditions overall, such as in the Broken Hill mines from 1925, or at the monopoly tobacco producer, arbitration’s standards stood as a benchmark or threat to be beaten by higher pay and other benefits: for example, a 1943 Broken Hill agreement exchanged a no “go-slow” undertaking and withdrawal of union support for shop committees for changes to the “lead bonus” payment, and under this the miners’ average earnings doubled to reach four times the basic wage by 1949.

Different pay rates alone do not necessarily show that better paid workers were relatively privileged. The different incomes needed for the commodities that sustain the physiological and cultural conditions for the capacities of various workers—that is, the reproduction of distinct types of labour-power—must also be accounted for. Only thereafter can analysis determine that the labour aristocracy had also gained from capital the concession of a historical incorporation of further goods into the body of commodities required for the reproduction of their labour-power—that is, an increase in the value of their labour-power relative to the mass of workers, rather than wage increases related to the conditions of the labour market. Through this concession, labour aristocrats would not only be able to engage in additional consumption or otherwise provide for illness and injury, unemployment and industrial disputation, but also more readily acquire housing stock and highly durable household and personal items.

Differences related to the creation of different work capacities with regard to items which are consumed within a workers’ lifetime do not appear to be sufficient to account for the wage relativities established under arbitration. The physical demands that labouring work imposed were not less than those of trades work. In this regard, therefore, the latter did not of itself demand higher pay, although the low level of the basic wage rate may have meant that a more liberal satisfaction of physiological needs could have been incorporated into margins. Union submissions about the basic wage rate suggested that a rate about ten percent higher was needed to sustain the typical worker (as a male “breadwinner”). Techniques used in trades and other occupations may have required higher functional literacy, more knowledge of current affairs or technological developments, further professional or scientific studies and so on, when compared with labouring work. This might partly explain the higher pay of compositors or administrative staff, for example. However, the calculation of the basic wage also already allowed for the purchase of some cultural items. The cost of raising dependent children needs to be considered, too. For example, young labourers were better paid than apprentices, at least before World War I. The apprentice’s family, generally a tradesman’s, were expected to continue to support him even while he was working. Yet an apprentice’s pay by this time at least sometimes covered his day-to-day living expenses, leaving only the extra costs to be paid from adult earnings.

The admittedly scanty evidence of the greater wealth of the labour aristocracy also suggests an expanded margin for “skill” was the new form taken by these workers’ earlier claim to “respectability”. Evidence on housing presented to the 1913 NSW basic wage case showed home ownership among Sydney workers was largely confined to better paid workers. A study of the probate records of males in SA between 1905 and 1915 found the average net probated wealth at death of skilled workers to be almost double that of other manual workers. This probably understated the difference in wealth between the labour aristocratic stratum as a whole and the mass of workers. The analytical categories are mismatched. Also, those not probated tended to have little or no wealth and come from the lower strata of the working class, so that if all households’ wealth had been measured, this strata’s average wealth would have been the one most radically reduced among all sections of the population.[26]

Arbitration also offered a foothold for unionisation. In the 1890s, employers had rejected the craft unions’ declarations of “fair” wages and the eight-hour day and union attempts to force them into “voluntary” arbitration. Compulsory—that is, state administered—arbitration gave unions a new form of union recognition through their ability to make claims against employers, to investigate possible breaches of awards and, sometimes, to get forms of preference in employment for unionists. Companies that wanted to minimise the effects of this state regulation, including union recognition—in order to increase piecework, for example—were still threatened by arbitration and often paid higher than average wages and provided other benefits to workers to avoid it. State administration of arbitration helped some workers organise in, for example, building services (such as caretakers, cleaners and watchmen) and goods transport. In NSW, shop assistants registered a union in 1902 and organised five percent of their potential membership before winning an award in 1907. Thereafter, the union principally organised male workers: the proportion of the union’s members who were women fell from one-third, corresponding to the ratio of their employment, to just nineteen percent in 1918, although the proportion of shop assistants who were women was increasing. The arbitration system also provided some institutional support to the some smaller unions. These, however, were generally those oriented to craft exclusivity, or to organising salaried staff explicitly in opposition to all-grades unions in industries such as postage, local government and public transport. Many smaller primary industry unions amalgamated with the AWU because of difficulties in operating in the system.

The dramatic growth of unions during the first two decades of the twentieth century and the relatively high overall union density among Australian workers from the second decade of the twentieth century through to the 1980s can not be explained principally by the advantages offered to weakly organised and smaller unions as the arbitration system developed, however. The better organised and larger unions must primarily account for this phenomenon. Furthermore, subsequent changes in union density, except for its fluctuations in the 1920s, can’t be related to changes in the arbitration system either. This is true both for periods of union growth, which also occurred between 1935 and 1953 and in the 1970s, or of decline, such as during the Depression and in the 1950s and 1960s.

Arbitration’s state administration protected employers, too, because it left hiring and firing and workplace organisation subject to managerial prerogative, and restricted industrial action. Thus, both the conditions for workers’ collective action and the desire for such action in opposition to arbitration, when it might secure a favourable change in the balance of forces between workers and employers, continued to exist. Many unions were strategically oriented to observing arbitration law and using the powers it granted to them. Others, however, employed varying strategies of membership mobilisation. For them, arbitration often provided recognition of their membership coverage, but it played a secondary part, if any, in their overall organising to restored craft forms of regulation or collective bargaining. The latter were not limited to skilled or militant workers: for example, collective agreements governed the employment conditions of workers of the monopoly tobacco producer for several decades; and many salaried unionists sometimes negotiated directly with their employers.

Politics in the working class, including the relationship of the class’s strata to the capitalist class, conditioned the pattern of unionisation. A higher rate of unionisation among a group of workers expressed, in some combination, the results of workers’ militancy and the concession in practice of the right to organise, which was concentrated on the labour aristocracy. Those who were highly unionised included not only craftsmen and coalminers, but teachers, whose union enrolled, with their employers’ encouragement, sixty percent of their number, especially those who were older, male and career-oriented, in NSW in 1929, meatworkers, wharf labourers and others. Moreover, a union could encompass all the various influences on unionisation. The AWU, Australia’s largest union in this period, with an organisational monopoly over most primary production, itself organised shearers and shedhands between 1904 and 1908 through industrial activity and securing an award. It achieved much of its subsequent growth by amalgamations, which often brought in workers who had first organised on a more militant basis than the subsequent orientation of the AWU to arbitration and the election of ALP governments, but it also grew by seeking new awards for which it could be a respondent and therefore gain coverage.[27]

Finally, while the living wage’s reinforcement of the family structure as a patriarch and his dependants tended to reduce competition for “male” jobs generally, arbitration boosted the relative employment security of craftsmen. Its decisions increasingly supported the revival of apprenticeship, in partial contradiction to its general defence of managerial prerogative. Full craft training had been, at the end of the nineteenth century, largely on the verge of breakdown because of productive reorganisation and the relatively fast growth of urban light manufacturing industries. Thereafter, however, the labour supply situation compelled many employers towards agreements with the craft unions on compulsory apprenticeships. Awards then extended the apprenticeship requirements to more trades, added some controls on apprentice numbers and also improved apprentice pay rates. Legislation in 1945 further reinforced apprenticeship through the regulation of trades work. Unemployment among craftsmen was generally substantially less than among the mass of workers. When unemployment was widespread in both groups, in the 1930s, its height was still a little less severe and, more significantly, it was less persistent for workers such as engineers in the metals industries.

Among professional and commercial employees, employment security was gained partly by a similar phenomenon. Professional qualifications became necessary for some clerical positions, excluding from competition for these jobs both women and those men who couldn’t gain the credentials. Other working conditions helped protect the jobs of some white-collar workers, such as concepts of career employment, and the tenure of many employed in the public sector. In NSW during the Depression, among teachers, only women were targeted for dismissal, while forced early retirement was used among railway officers. Nor were there substantial retrenchments in the Queensland public service at that time. The trade-offs for such job retention were nominal pay cuts of twenty to thirty percent.

Certain other groups of workers achieved elements of employment security. Some labourers gained relatively permanent employment in the railways or with large private companies. The tobacco monopoly offered no job cuts due to “slackness of trade” and honoured this even during the Depression. The establishment in Broken Hill in 1931 of residential employment preference, through union membership rules, for work in its mines, as well as job rationing, and the exclusion of married women from “town” jobs, was a unique example of local labour market closure.

Seamen, on the other hand, are an example of workers who lost employment security. By 1901, they were again well organised and had secured a collective agreement which restored their 1889 pay levels. Even in 1908, Higgins refused to use their pay rate for comparisons in setting awards. However, under White Australia they no longer had any special advantage in employment: their union’s chief interest became a Navigation Act that would protect coastal shipping. In 1910, they were forced by a lack of progress in collective bargaining to enter the arbitration system. In 1919, they rode the postwar strike wave to its peak in a six-month strike in which they won major gains in pay and conditions, a special tribunal and cabotage. Yet they were soon back under arbitration and their strategic position was subsequently undermined by the introduction of oil-fuelled ships and more competitive and extensive land transport. Membership of the Seamen’s Union fell by more than half in the decade from 1923 before beginning to recover.[28]

The labour aristocracy and opportunism in Australia

Thus, by the 1920s, the bulk of adult white male workers experienced at least some concessions in—and the class’s upper stratum a relative advantage in—the conditions with which they entered the class struggle. The “settlement” apparatus of arbitration and certain other employment conditions, a reinforced White Australia, and the higher tariffs and other aspects of the policy of “protection all round” had by then been established. This experience was a fundamental determinant of the character of politics in the working class.

Yet many—and not just the labour bureaucracy, who are among the system’s practitioners, and its boosters, but also those who have focussed on that caste’s denouement as the key to working-class radicalisation—have been interested chiefly in the administrative form, rather than the material content, of the arbitration system.[29] Similarly, Peter Scherer made an erroneous claim that the arbitration tribunals and system of union regulation were “the executive committee of … [at least] that part of the labour movement in secure jobs which Marx dubbed the ‘labour aristocracy’” because, he argued, unions were powerful state agents which the tribunals encouraged “to protect workers from a greedy public”.[30] The unions, however, were not state agencies but workers’ organisations. Arbitration was the main form in which concessions in the class struggle created an upper stratum of the working class.

John Wanna was closer to the mark in his argument that arbitration was the state’s “main weapon and form of enticement to ensnare organised labour”. He followed Brian Fitzpatrick in understanding that the arbitration system represented a temporary compromise in class conflict, which increased the unions’ numbers and organisational strength, albeit hierarchically, but circumscribed their militancy.[31] However, this argument did not sufficiently emphasise that while the form constituted by arbitration of labour aristocratic concessions to the working class and class collaboration might be temporary, that same content could continue through a series of forms. Wells described the situation fundamentally: cheap land and transportation, “advanced conditions of production and high world commodity prices” brought rural exporters returns high enough to permit a “sophisticated ‘political settlement’ between capital and labour that redistributed profits and wealth earned by rural export industries to urban manufacturing industries, and from capital to labour and, within labour, directed these gains from the skilled to the unskilled and semi-skilled male worker”.[32]

Wells’ claim about the redistribution among workers must be qualified, however. Differences in pay between skilled workers and the rest of the working class did become less than they had been during the nineteenth century. Arbitration levelled up labourers’ wages, unlike the pay rates of craft workers. Yet workers’ need to have served apprenticeships to do skilled work restricted competition for such positions, which meant craft workers had more regular employment than most labourers. Craft training may also have applied some pressure upward on tradesmen’s lower pay rates because these workers could seek the better-paid craft positions. Moreover, the real value of the basic wage was not increased until after the second world war. Meanwhile, labourers could make real gains on the basic wage only by getting a “margin for skill” awarded. Also, the main challenges in the 1920s and 1930s to the standards previously established through arbitration—the reversion from a forty-four-hour week to a forty-eight-hour week in timber yards, pay cuts for waterside workers and coalminers and the 1931 cut in the basic wage, which was restored only between 1934 and 1937 with the proviso of a “prosperity loading”—exerted their direct influence primarily upon the less well-off workers.[33]

Thus, only a narrow stratum in the working class gained further concessions in the class struggle beyond those gained by most white male workers. The differentiation of this upper stratum of the working class was institutionally reinforced, too. Even a common wage form—piecework—across this stratification had distinct social consequences for the upper stratum and the mass of the working class. For example, coalminers aimed to secure a living wage but otherwise limit production. Skilled workers such as compositors and moulders, however, sought incomes akin to artisans, and shearers’ piecework distinguished them from other sections of the rural proletariat.[34]

The gradation of benefits in the first decades of the twentieth century reversed a tendency at the end of the nineteenth century towards a fragmentation of the upper stratum of the working class which Markey has identified. In that stratum, two layers now had certain common experiences in their relations with the capitalist class and the state. These were the “traditional” labour aristocracy of craft unionists, which used its skill, wage margins and job control to sustain strong union organisation and a consciousness as workers of superiority to mere labourers, and “a new aristocracy of labour of sorts … being created in the expanding professional and commercial areas of employment, amongst teachers, bank and insurance clerks, and other office workers”, which relied on status, employment security and career structures for its position and which was more weakly organised and possessed of a “middle class” consciousness.[35] Among those common experiences, continuity of employment— that is, the form of the capitalist relations of production in the sphere of relations between workers and employers—stands in first place. To the extent that the stratum’s white-collar members especially relied on this for their relatively privileged position, their membership of the stratum is confirmed. The unity of these sections of workers as a stratum with regard to its social basis in better concessions in the conditions of the class struggle, in contrast to the mass of the working class, renewed the labour aristocratic stratification of the working class. The chief features of that stratification persisted until the 1940s and even, substantially, into the 1980s. [36]

The characteristics of the labour aristocratic stratification ensured that the upper stratum, and thus its particular interests, was much more significant than its numbers alone would suggest in the politics in the working class. Moreover, the stratum could lead a broader section among the mass of workers based on concessions from which they commonly benefited. This was institutionalised in a number of ways. Within cross-strata unions and in the union movement overall, the organisations of the labour aristocracy generally had better representation and resources. Other social organisations of the working class, such as friendly societies, also tended to be dominated by those workers who comprised the labour aristocracy. Finally, the ALP was part of the same “tradition” in the labour movement: it appealed to workers to be a political constituency for its opportunist program of reconciliation of their interests, through a modified capitalist order, with those of the nation.[37]

Much of the workplace was probably like these examples of circumstances in the clothing trades, boot trades and vehicle building. The ten per cent of the clothing workers who were male were able, together with employers and the arbitration system, to preserve their skill margins, while women’s margins were minimal and workers’ united resistance was lost, in the years before World War II. The footwear industry was regulated by awards and negotiations between the employers’ organisation and the union. This regulation “delivered industrial peace shaped by craft beliefs in alliances with the ‘fair employer’ based on tariff protection”: for example, in a 1946 award, lost time loadings were conceded for weekly hiring and in 1947 only men gained increases in margins despite a shortage of women workers. After World War II, most of the leadership of the vehicle builders’ union relied on an implicit exchange of industrial peace for a closed shop, and on arbitration rather than direct action to gain any improvements with regard to the poor work environment, employment conditions and payment systems. Meanwhile immigrant southern European workers increasingly dominated employment in the worst jobs.[38]

Wage militancy, however, was also primarily about gaining and maintaining margins (or, alternatively, over-award payments). Other union activity was usually concerned with hours of work, the defence or improvement of various workplace conditions and organising rights, or establishing that certain workers would do a particular job. The unions’ activities were significant in the development of the workers’ class struggle. If the aims of union actions were conditions from which the rest of the working class was not excluded, these became a standard to be defended by the class against capital’s encroachment. Moreover, the actions required some degree of industrial organisation. If they most often were token stoppages, to establish that disputes existed and then to resort to arbitration, the trials of strength for wage increases and other claims that occurred, or the frequency of and number of workers participating in strikes, did give rise to strike waves.[39]

The possibility of substantial advances in workers’ political consciousness and organisation towards their class rule is related to the transformation of a strike wave into a mass strike, however. The mass strike, which Rosa Luxemburg said was “the method of motion of the proletarian mass, the phenomenal form of the proletarian struggle in the revolution”, is dependent upon the breadth of industrial action, in particular beyond the already organised workers, and its politicisation.[40] Such circumstances fundamentally test the nature of politics in the working class.

Thus, while the century-long history of the ALP allows much discussion about whether or not it has served the interests of the working class—with regard to the prevailing socio-political conditions and as an instrument to change those conditions—special attention must be given to the period at the end of and after World War II, when “a matchless opportunity for working class advance”[41] developed. In that period, a strike wave for the first time extended throughout most of the country and involved many workers who were relatively unorganised and those suffering from racial and gender oppression. (Previously, strike waves principally involved more prolonged disputes of smaller groups of workers. Only a minority of unionists, and few other workers, took part in the 1917 NSW general strike. The 1912 Brisbane general strike was, relatively, broader, since its aim was solidarity with the tramways workers who were trying to organise, and three-quarters of the state’s unionists came out.) It also connected industrial and political activity partly through the demands of some workers’ actions and other agitation, but especially on the question of party organisation within the working class. A political radicalisation among workers, who had experienced Depression and war, was expressed through forms such as militant union leaderships, intellectual radicalism, the Communist Party’s membership, votes and newspaper readership and also the influence of independent Labor and Trotskyist groups, all of which peaked in strength.

The ALP, which was the chief political proponent of the liberal labour program of labour market regulation, pursued this program with greater determination in the 1940s, however, despite the exposure of its limitations in the Depression. Its governments resisted the workers’ drive for improvements in wages, hours and other working conditions, delaying these as long as they could. Between 1945 and 1947 the party, in a historically unique attempt to establish avowed control of the unions, initiated Industrial Groups in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. Meanwhile in Western Australia, an attempt by fifteen unions to form a labour council independent of party structures was successfully resisted.

If the political radicalisation was in decline from 1947, partly because the experience of an extending period from the end of the war of relative economic stability and low unemployment increasingly contradicted concerns about the return of economic depression for most workers, it was not yet defeated: that was the role of opportunism. Groups of workers such as the Broken Hill miners, who once had been a leading militant and radical section of the class but now were long prepared by the concessions to them for a different role, did not contribute to the working class upsurge. The ALP’s industrial intervention became increasingly significant. In the 1949 coal strike, according to Tom Sheridan, decisions of ALP-led unions to move stockpiled coal and to threaten to work open-cut mines were the key to the majority of rank-and-file coalminers losing confidence that they could win. More broadly, the mobilisation of the ALP Industrial Groups routed relatively successful Communist interventions in the Australian Council of Trade Unions and some unions and regional labour movement organisations. Grouper successes led to sharp reductions in participation by workers in union bodies and, from 1949, the loss of official support for many shop committees.[42]

The balance of workers’ political and industrial strengths and weaknesses, in relation to the resistance of capital, in the conflicts of the 1940s resulted in a reinforcement of the “wage-earners’ welfare state” and a relative stabilisation of the labour aristocratic stratification. At the start of the long postwar capitalist boom, the real value of the basic wage and the percentage of the male wage rates paid to women were increased, but the old margins were restored. Governments adopted policies of state fiscal action to maintain full employment overall and more comprehensive welfare measures. In the early 1950s, penal powers in arbitration, which had been abandoned in 1930, were reintroduced. Cost of living adjustments of the basic wage also stopped. In 1967, at the initiative of the employers, the award structure was changed to a “total wage”.

Yet the standards established under the “living wage” were not consistently attacked. Generally, the 1950s and 1960s were years of low price inflation and some wage increases. In 1969 a union campaign defeated the penal powers. Thereafter, through the 1970s, workers generally won real wage rises. While the arbitrated wage indexation, which ran from 1975 to 1981, and the 1982 wage freeze cut real wages, unions increasingly relied on collective agreements to provide for over-award payments or to submit to arbitration for acceptance as consent awards. Moreover, arbitration decisions and legislation eventually responded to campaigns for equal pay rates for indigenous and women workers, but this left in place these workers’ marginalisation from or job segregation within the work force.[43]

The character of the occupational composition of the labour aristocracy changed between the beginning of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1980s. Skilled workers in the work force grew from twenty-four per cent in 1966 to thirty per cent in 1976, but had become less important in the upper stratum. Partly they were directly replaced, such as in Victorian electricity production, in which the employer favoured technicians and dredge operators against maintenance and other workers (and the former stood somewhat aloof from the latter’s major strike in 1977). The strategic position in the class struggle of printers was threatened and that of journalists strengthened by the employment of computerised technology in newspaper production. Also, for example, coalminers and waterside workers experienced substantial changes initiated by capital in the forms of their work, such as bulk handling and containerisation on the wharves, mine mechanisation and a shift to open cut mining for export in Queensland. The strength of their industrial organisation allowed them to retain some of the control over production and employment they had previously won, but also opened the way to the possibilities of exchanging job losses for sustained improvements in the conditions of their employment and a narrower political outlook for those who remained.[44]

The increasing number of employed administrators and professionals, especially in the public sector, also began to play an extraordinary part in politics in the working class. Their strategic position was strengthened by state policies related to economic regulation and the provision of education and welfare. Their unionisation grew substantially, their union activity also tended to be more militant, and many of their unions, which had inherited the forms of professional associations, reorganised more as industrial organisations. Although their unions were mostly not affiliated to the ALP, by 1981 about half of the party’s employed members came from their ranks, while manual workers, half of them tradespersons, constituted one-third. In Victoria, twenty percent of the membership came from among teachers alone, whose numbers, approximately 1600, probably constituted many if not most of the politically active part of that occupation. Teachers and other white-collar workers were often the key to a rural party branch being active.[45]

The labour aristocratic stratification at the same time also acquired a new ethnic character. The upper stratum of the working class was largely born in Australia or Britain. These workers’ positioning was largely guaranteed through the labour movement’s inclusion in the political accord with regard to the mass immigration for three decades after World War II, from which eventually flowed the formal breakdown of the old White Australia policy. Those migrant workers who lacked English language skills, on the other hand, tended to be in the lower stratum and dominate employment in labouring and process work. This position did not push these workers to the periphery of the economy, however: they were central to commodity production. They were also more highly unionised than other workers, at least by 1982, when sixty per cent of employed migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds were union members. Yet unions had only begun to accept their responsibilities to these members in the 1970s.[46]

The change in the unions’ approach to the participation of their migrant members was one aspect of the development of workers’ activity and organisation in the workplace in the 1970s. Two strike waves peaked in 1974 and 1981, then declined in periods of rising unemployment as a result of cyclical economic recession. A variety of workers were involved in strikes and other industrial action, including women seeking non-traditional jobs, public sector professionals and clerical officers and non-English-speaking migrants. Stoppages in support of wage demands increased, as did actions for political demands, which included the first national general strike, in defence of Medibank, environmental “green bans” and a strike in support a gay student. Many workers also campaigned for reduced working hours: at least initially, this was posed as a means of job creation. Workplace representation, often organised in shop steward committees or other job delegate bodies of a union or all the unions in a workplace as an adjunct to official union structures, existed in much of the metalwork and construction industries, among coalminers, printers, and waterside and electricity workers and in the Port Kembla steelworks, the Ford Broadmeadows plant (but at car plants in SA, management and union officials had successfully combined against the workplace organisation in the late 1970s) and parts of the public sector. The key limitations of these efforts by workers were the concentration on job regulation rather than policy-making and the relatively uncritical character of the response to calls for support for action from union leaderships. Meanwhile, among those leaderships, that of the metalworkers union, for example, had de-emphasised the nationalisation strategy suggested by socialist perspectives to take a stance on policy which asserted the union’s independence from political parties. As well, Tom O’Lincoln’s account of the years of the Fraser government is especially concerned that the ranks of the metals unions had not resisted the no-extra-claims provision of the industry’s 1981 agreement, that rank and file job organisation was not associated with political radicalism and that shop committees were in decline by 1982.[47]

An understanding of the situation of politics in the working class heading into the 1980s needs to search deeper than an estimation of the strengths and weaknesses of labour movement militancy at the time, however. The class’s various stratifications and groupings condition the character and consequences of workers’ militancy. The relationships of the class to capital’s blocs are the context in which politics in the class develop. Society’s relations of production are the social basis upon which the class struggle takes shape.

Working class political consciousness is historically formed. Its radicalisation cannot be defeated by means which, having been used, are exposed and exhausted. Its opportunism is not short-term in nature either, being rooted in the monopoly relations of production of a social formation and the benefits that are won from superprofits, especially by the upper stratum of the working class. In Australia, a site of monopolising capitals, a labour aristocracy had existed for more than a century before the 1980s, and the opportunism that expressed the particular interests of the stratum had successfully headed off challenges to its domination. In the 1980s and beyond, the strength and capacity for development of this element of capitalist class rule and the potential for working class radicalisation would again be tested.



[1]. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the split in socialism”, in V.I. Lenin, , Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Sydney: Resistance Books, 1999, p. 131.

[2]. The first article in the series, “Engels and the theory of the labour aristocracy”, appeared in Links No. 25. It considered the scope and significance of the theory and its application by Engels to understanding the politics of the English working class in the latter half of the 19th century. The second article, “Monopoly capitalism and the bribery of the labour aristocracy”, appeared in Links No. 26, and third, “The labour aristocracy and working class politics”, in Links No. 28. They discussed Lenin’s development of the theory, the controversies which surround the theory and the political strategy and tactics Lenin proposed to counter opportunist influence in the working class movement. The penultimate article, which surveyed the previous discussion of the labour aristocracy in Australian labour historiography and outlined the development of monopoly superprofits in Australia, appeared in Links No. 30

[3]. Francis G. Castles, The Working Class and Welfare: Reflections on the Political Development of the Welfare State in Australia and New Zealand, 1890-1980, Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1985, p. 103.

[4]. Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers: Capitalism and the Common People in Australia, 1788-1914, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, pp. 162-63, 175-176; Terence H. Irving,., “The roots of parliamentary socialism in Australia, 1850-1920”, Labour History, No. 67, November 1994, p. 101; Raymond Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales 1880-1900, Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1988, p. 46, and chapters 6, 8; Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia, 4th ed., St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2004, pp. 264-266.

[5]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, p. 153.

[6]. Tom Bramble, “Managers of discontent: problems with labour leadership”, in Rick Kuhn and Tom O’Lincoln (eds.), Class and Class Conflict in Australia, Melbourne: Longman Australia, 1996; McQueen, A New Britannia, pp. 267-276.

[7]. Markey, Making of the Labor Party, pp. 1-7, 198-199, 284-315.

[8]. Frank Bongiorno, The People’s Party: Victorian Labor and the Radical Tradition, 1875-1914, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1996, pp. 84-93; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, p. 2.

[9]. Markey, Making of the Labor Party, p. 199, emphasis added.

[10]. Gary P. Steenson, Not One Man! Not One Penny! German Social Democracy, 1863-1914, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981, pp. 32-39, 54-68 and 83-91.

[11]. Verity Burgmann, ‘In Our Time’: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985, chs. 3-5; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, ch. 8; Dick Nichols, “The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales”, Socialist Worker, Vol. 4, No. 2, March 1989, pp. 37-38; Bruce Scates, A New Australia: Citizenship, Radicalism and the First Republic, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997, ch. 2. Moroney is cited by Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: the Labor Movement in New South Wales 1870-1900, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1973, p. 168.

[12]. Markey, Making of the Labor Party, p. 182.

[13]. Bongiorno, The People’s Party, pp. 38-50; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, chs. 4-6, 9; Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism. For Moroney, see note 11.

[14]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, pp. 131-33; J. Hagan and C. Fisher, “Piece-work and some of its consequences in the printing and coal-mining industries in Australia, 1850-1930”, LabourHistory, No. 25, November 1973; Charles Fahey, “‘Abusing the horses and exploiting the labourer’: the Victorian agricultural and pastoral labourer, 1871-1911”, Labour History, No. 65; Charles Fahey, “The aristocracy of labour in Victoria, 1881-1911”, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 26, No. 102, April 1994; Jürgen Kuczynski, A Short History of Labour Conditions under Industrial Capitalism, 2nd ed., Vol. 1, Part 2, London: Frederick Muller, 1945, pp. 88-89; Jenny Lee and Charles Fahey, “A boom for whom? Some developments in the Australian labour market, 1870-1891”, Labour History, No. 50; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, pp. 4-5, chs. 1-5; Greg Patmore, Australian Labour History, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1991, pp. 67-68; Dennis Rowe, “The robust navvy: the railway construction worker in northern New South Wales, 1854-1894”, Labour History, No. 39, November 1980.

[15]. Ray Markey, “Populist politics”, in Ann Curthoys and Andrew Markus (eds.), Who Are Our Enemies? Racism and the Australian Working Class, Neutral Bay: Hale & Ironmonger, 1978, p. 68.

[16]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, pp. 150-152; Ann Curthoys, “Conflict and consensus”, in Curthoys and Markus, Who are our Enemies?; Markey, “Populist politics”, pp. 68-69; Andrew Markus, “Divided we fall: the Chinese and the Melbourne Furniture Trades Union, 1870-1900”, Labour History, No. 26, May 1974.

[17]. Verity Burgmann, “Capital and labour”, in Curthoys and Markus, Who are our Enemies?, pp. 23, 33; Verity Burgmann, “Who our enemies are: Andrew Markus and the baloney view of Australian racism”, Labour History, No. 49, November 1985, p. 100; Lenore Layman, “‘To keep up the Australian standard’: regulating contract labour migration 1901-50”, Labour History, No. 70, May 1996; Julia Martinez, “Questioning ‘White Australia’: unionism and ‘coloured’ labour, 1911-37”, Labour History, No. 76, May 1999 Henry Reynolds, North of Capricorn: The Untold Story of the People of Australia’s North, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2005, chs. 9-10. Martin Thomas cites comments by the first federal Labor prime minister, John Watson, that business supported White Australia only once it had experienced Chinese competition in business (“Australian labour history and Marxism”, in Carole Ferrier and Rebecca Pelan (eds.), The Point of Change: Marxism/Australia/History/Theory, Brisbane: Australian Studies Centre, 1998, p. 29). Burgmann later repeated this argument, but without Watson’s implication that the initiative for White Australia therefore lay with labour movement activists.

[18]. Stuart Macintyre, The Labour Experiment, Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1989, p. 6.

[19]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, p. 174; R.W. Connell, and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History, 2nd ed., Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1992, p. 113; Rod Felmingham, “‘To unite more closely’: the first year of the South Australian United Trades and Labour Council”, Labour History, No. 45, November 1983, p. 17; Robin Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics: A Study of Eastern Australia, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1974 (1960), pp. 73-75; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, pp. 318-19; John Niland, “In search of shorter hours: the 1861 and 1874 iron trades disputes”, Labour History, No. 12, May 1967.

[20]. Geoffrey Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill, South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 95-96; Bradley Bowden, “The limits to consciousness: urban workers in the maritime strike of 1890”, in Ferrier and Pelan (eds.), The Point of Change, p. 80; Raymond Brooks, “The Melbourne tailoresses’ strike 1882-83: an assessment”, Labour History, No. 44, May 1983; Allison R. Churchward, “Attempts to form a union: the employees of the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company”, Labour History, No. 42, May 1982; Alice Coolican, “Solidarity and sectionalism in the Sydney building trades: the role of the Building Trades Council 1886-1895”, Labour History, No. 54, May 1988, pp. 19-20; Fahey, “Abusing the horses”, pp. 101-04; Robin Gollan, The Coalminers of New South Wales: A History of the Union, 1860-1960, Parkville: Melbourne University Press, 1963, chs. 2-4; G. R. Henning, “Fourpenny Dark and Sixpenny Red”, Labour History, No. 46, May 1984; Kuczynski, Short History, p. 93; Rupert Lockwood, The Miraculous Union: A Hundred Years of Waterfront Unionism, Melbourne: Waterside Workers’ Federation, 1985; John Merritt, The Making of the AWU, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 56; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, p. 149; Rowe, “Robust navvy”.

[21]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, p. 184; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, pp. 139-146, 319; John Rickard, Class and Politics: New South Wales, Victoria and the Early Commonwealth, 1890-1910, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1976, pp. 31-32; Stuart Svensen, , The Sinews of War: Hard Cash and the 1890 Maritime Strike, Sydney: UNSW Press, 1995, p. 238.

[22]. Bongiorno, The People’s Party, chs. 1-2; Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, pp. 198-200; Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics, pp. 139-140; Markey, Making of the Labor Party., chs. 7-8 and 10; Nairn, Civilising Capitalism, pp. 30, 84-87, 117-121, 142-144, 168-69; Rickard, Class and Politics, p. 43-44; Scates, A New Australia, pp. 85-90; Tanner, Lindsay, “A protracted evolution: Labor in Victorian politics, 1889-1903”, Labour History, No. 42.

[23]. Macintyre, Labour Experiment, pp. 36-38; Markey, Making of the Labor Party, pp. 1-2, 316; McQueen, A New Britannia, p. 275; Andrew Wells, “State regulation for a moral economy: Peter Macarthy and the meaning of the Harvester Judgment”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 40, No.3, September 1998, p. 379; John Wanna, Defence not Defiance: The Development of Organised Labour in South Australia, Adelaide: Adelaide College of the Arts and Education, 1981, pp. 14, 21.

[24]. Wells, “State regulation for a moral economy”, p. 380.

[25]. Mike Donaldson, Time of Our Lives: Labour and Love in the Working Class, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991, pp. 31, 106; Raelene Frances, “Gender, skill and the regulation of labour markets: Victoria 1890-1930”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 40, No. 3, September 1998, pp. 405-408; Mark Hearn, “Securing the Man: Narratives of Gender and Nation in the Verdicts of Henry Bournes Higgins”, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 37, No. 127, April 2006, pp. 15-20; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, pp. 30-31.

[26]. Malcolm Abbott, “The industrial tribunals and wage determination in the Australian iron and steel industry, 1921-38”, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 40, No. 3, November 2000, p. 251; Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, p. 238; Donaldson, Time of Our Lives, p. 106; Fahey, “Abusing the horses”, pp. 101, 108-112; Charles Fahey, “Unskilled male labour and the beginnings of labour market regulation, Victoria 1901-1914”, Australian Historical Studies, No. 119, 2002, pp. 150-158; Charles Fahey and John Lack, “‘A kind of Elysium where nobody has anything difficult to do’: H.B. Higgins, H.V. McKay and the Agricultural Implement Makers, 1901-26”, Labour History, No. 80, May 2001, pp. 107-108, 115; Colin Forster, “An Economic Consequence of Mr Justice Higgins”, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 25, No. 2, September 1985, pp. 95-100; Peter Gahan, “Did arbitration make for dependent unionism? Evidence from historical case studies”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 38, No. 4, December 1996, pp. 678-679; Hagan and Fisher, “Piece-work”, p. 26; Mark Hearn, “‘A good man for the department’: the ethos of the Railway and Tramway Officers Association of New South Wales, 1913-1939”, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 30, No. 112, April 1999, pp. 62, 64, 73-74; Hearn, “Securing the Man”, pp. 7-12; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, pp. 32, 51; P.G. McCarthy, “The living wage in Australia—the role of government”, Labour History, No. 18, May 1970, pp.6-9, 13-18; P.G. McCarthy, “Wages for unskilled work, and margins for skill, Australia, 1901-21”, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, March 1972; Humphrey McQueen, “Higgins and Arbitration”, in E.L. Wheelwright and Ken Buckley (eds.), Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism, Vol. 5, Sydney: Australia & New Zealand Book Company, 1983, pp. 146-148; Richard Morris, “The NSW Ship Painters and Dockers 1900-1914: a small union and the institutionalisation of industrial relations”, Labour History, No. 43, November 1982, p. 21; Martin Shanahan, “No paradise for workers: the personal wealth of labourers prior to World War I”, in David Palmer, Ross Shanahan and Martin Shanahan (eds.), Australian Labour History Reconsidered, Adelaide: Australian Humanities Press, 1999; John Shields, “‘Lead Bonus Happy’: Profit-sharing, Productivity and Industrial Relations in the Broken Hill Mining Industry, 1925-83”, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 37, No. 3, November 1997, pp. 229-241; Robin Walker, “Aspects of working-class life in industrial Sydney”, Labour History, No. 58, May 1990, p. 39.

[27]. Sandra Cockfield, “Arbitration and the workplace: a case study of Metters’ Stovemakers, 1902-22”, Labour History, No. 90, May 2006, pp. 49-55; Charles Fahey, “Unskilled male labour”, p. 159; Fahey and Lack, “A kind of Elysium”, pp. 113-114; Gahan, “Did arbitration make for dependent unionism?”; Hearn, “A good man for the department”, pp. 64-66, 72-73 ; Mark Hearn and Harry Knowles, One Big Union: A History of the Australian Workers Union, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 100-147, 167; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, p. 51; Ray Markey, “Explaining union mobilisation in the 1880s and the early 1900s”, Labour History, No. 83, November 2002, pp. 27-36; Merritt, The Making of the AWU, p. 350; Bruce Mitchell, “The NSW Teachers’ Federation”, Labour History, No. 17, November 1969, p. 67; David Peetz, Unions in a Contrary World: The Future of the Australian Trade Union Movement, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 25-29; Gail Reckie, “The Shop Assistants case of 1907 and labour relations in Sydney’s retail industry”, in Stuart Macintyre and Richard Mitchell (eds.), Foundations of Arbitration: the Origins and Effects of State Compulsory Arbitration, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 275-284; Peter Scherer, “The nature of the Australian industrial relations system: a form of state syndicalism”, in G.W. Ford, J.M. Hearn and R.D. Lansbury (eds.), Australian Labour Relations: Readings, 4th ed., Melbourne: Macmillan, 1987, p. 85; Christopher Sheil, “The origins of unions: some miscellaneous Sydney workers in 1910”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 33, No. 3, September 1991; Peter Sheldon, “Compulsory arbitration and union recovery”; Peter Sheldon, “In division is strength; unionism among Sydney labourers, 1890-1910”, Labour History, No. 56, May 1989; Peter Sheldon, “Job control for workers’ health: the 1908 Sydney rockchoppers’ strike”, Labour History, No. 55, November 1988; Peter Sheldon, “The missing nexus? Union recovery, growth and behaviour during the first decades of arbitration: towards a re-evaluation”, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 26, No. 104, April 1995; Peter Sheldon, “System and strategy: the changing shape of unionism among NSW construction labourers, 1910-1919”, Labour History, No. 65, November 1993; John Shields, “A matter of skill: the revival of apprenticeship in early twentieth-century NSW”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 37, No. 2, June 1995, pp. 255-256; Ian Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics: The Labour Movement in Eastern Australia 1900-1921, Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1979, pp. 35-40; Wanna, Defence not Defiance, pp. 56-58; Barbara Webster, “A ‘cosy relationship’ if you had it: Queensland Labor’s arbitration system and union organizing strategies in Rockhampton, 1916-57”, Labour History, No. 83, November 2002.

[28]. Linda Colley, “How secure was that public service job? Redundancy in the Queensland public service”, Labour History, No. 89, November 2005, p. 150; Bradon Ellem and John Shields, “H.A. Turner and ‘Australian labor’s closed preserve’: explaining the rise of ‘closed unionism’ in the Broken Hill mining industry”, Labour & Industry, Vol. 11, No. 1, August 2000, pp. 85-89; Bradon Ellem and John Shields, “Making a ‘union town’: class, gender and consumption in inter-war Broken Hill,” Labour History, No. 78, May 2000, pp. 121-135; Fahey, “Unskilled male labour”, pp. 145-150; Fahey and Lack, “A kind of Elysium”, pp. 107, 115; Forster, “An Economic Consequence”, p. 103; Gahan, “Did arbitration make for dependent unionism?”, p. 679; Hearn, “A good man for the department”, pp. 63, 73; Hearn, “Securing the Man” pp. 12-15; L.J. Louis, “Recovery from the Depression and the seamen’s strike, 1935-6”, Labour History, No. 41, November 1981, p. 77; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, p. 32; Ray Markey, “The aristocracy of labour and productive re-organization in NSW, c. 1880-1900”, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 1988, pp. 49-59; McQueen, “Higgins and Arbitration”, p. 151; Mitchell, “The NSW Teachers’ Federation”, pp. 67-68; Richard Morris, “Mr Justice Higgins scuppered: the 1919 Seamen’s Strike”, Labour History, No. 37, November 1979, pp. 52-55, 60-62; Melanie Nolan, “Making clerks and re-shaping the white-collar workforce in the twentieth century”, Labour History, No. 63, November 1992, p. 82; Shields, “A matter of skill”; T. Sheridan, Mindful Militants: The Amalgamated Engineering Union in Australia 1920-1972, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 106; Diane van den Broek, “Partners in protest: the case of the 1929 timber workers’ strike”, Labour & Industry, Vol. 7, No. 2, December 1996, p. 150.

[29]. See, for example: Bramble, “Managers of discontent”, p. 41.

[30]. Scherer, “The Nature of the Australian Industrial Relations System”, p. 94.

[31]. Wanna, Defence not Defiance, pp. 47, 65-75. See: Brian Fitzpatrick, The British Empire in Australia: An Economic History 1834-1939, 2nd ed., Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1949, ch.7 iv (a).

[32]. Wells, “State regulation for a moral economy”, pp. 379-380. Cf. Buckley and Wheelwright, who suggested the conditions existed “for a coalition between organised workers and large manufacturers”—that is, a narrower settlement—and that as a result “a large proportion of the labour movement” was incorporated into the state apparatus. (No Paradise for Workers, p. 223)

[33]. Buckley and Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers, p. 237; V. Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs: A Study of Workers’ Representation in Australia, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1964, p. 133; Fahey, “Unskilled male labour”, p. 159; McCarthy, “Wages for unskilled work”, pp. 155-157.

[34]. Cockfield, “Arbitration and the workplace, p. 51; Hagan and Fisher, “Piece-work”; Andrew Moore, “The Pastoral Workers Industrial Union”, Labour History, No. 49, November 1985, p. 72.

[35]. Markey, “The Aristocracy of Labour”, p. 59.

[36]. See, for example: Sheil, “The origins of unions”, p. 305.

[37]. Erik Eklund, “The ‘place’ of politics: class and localist politics at Port Kembla, 1900-30”, Labour History, No. 78, May 2000, pp. 107-108; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, p. 36; Tom O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream: The Decline of Australian Communism, Sydney: Stained Wattle Press, 1985, p. 55; D.H. Plowman, “Unions in conflict: The Victorian Trades Hall Split 1967-1973”, Labour History, No. 36, May 1979; Sean Scalmer, “Being practical in early and contemporary labor politics: a labourist critique”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 43, No. 3, 1997.

[38]. Thomas Bramble, “Conflict, coercion and co-option: the role of full-time officials in the South Australian branch of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation, 1967-1980”, Labour History, No. 63, November 1992, pp. 135-137; Thomas Bramble, “Trade union organization and workplace industrial relations in the vehicle industry 1963 to 1991”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 35, No. 1, March 1993, pp. 42-44; Bradon Ellem, “‘Hell for leather’: industrial relations and politics in the boot trades, 1945-1955, Labour & Industry, Vol. 7, No. 1, June 1996, pp. 127, 131-133; Raelene Frances, “‘No more Amazons’: gender and work process in the Victorian clothing trades, 1890-1939”, Labour History, No. 50, May 1986, pp. 106-112; Robert Tierney, “Racial conflicts in the Australian automotive industry in the 1950s: production line workers, the Vehicle Builders Employees’ Federation and shop floor organisation”, Labour History, No. 76, May 1999.

[39]. Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, False Paradise: Australian Capitalism Revisited 1915-1955, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 73-74; Peter Fairbrother, “Union democracy in Australia: accommodation and resistance”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 1986, pp. 182-184; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, p. 50; Wanna, p. 68.

[40]. John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, London: Verso, 1988, pp. 36-40, 93-127; Luxemburg, “The mass strike”, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980 (fifth printing; first published 1970), pp. 181-190, 195-200.

[41]. Buckley and Wheelwright, False Paradise, p. 179

[42]. Robert Bollard, “‘The active chorus’: the Great Strike of 1917 in Victoria”, Labour History, No. 90, May 2006; Frank Farrell, International Socialism & Australian Labour: the Left in Australia, 1919-1939, Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1981, pp. 153, 203-204; Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1955, Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1975, chs. 4-6; Macintyre, Labour Experiment, pp. 54-60; Morris, “Mr Justice Higgins scuppered”, p. 52; Tom Sheridan, Division of Labour: Industrial Relations in the Chifley Years, 1945-49, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989; Jonathan Strauss, “How was labour divided? Working class politics in the 1940s”, paper, 10th National Labour History Conference, Melbourne, July 4, 2007; Lucy Taksa, “‘Defence, not defiance’: social protest and the NSW General Strike of 1917” Labour History, No. 60, May 1991; Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics.

[43]. Connell and Irving, Class Structure in Australian History, pp. 199-211; Charlie Fox, Working Australia, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991, pp. 154-164; Tom O’Lincoln, Years of Rage: Social Conflicts in the Fraser Era, Melbourne: Bookmarks Australia, 1993, pp. 27, 224-226.

[44]. Bradley Bowden, “Heroic Failure? Unionism and Queensland’s Coal Communities, 1954-67”, Labour & Industry, Vol. 11, No. 3, April 2001; Gollan, The Coalminers of New South Wales, pp. 235-238; Darryl Hull, “Queensland sugar ports: labour and technological change”, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No. 6, November 1979; Wendy Lowenstein, Weevils at Work: What’s Happening to Work in Australia—an Oral Record, Sydney: Catalyst Press, 1997, p. 220; Tom O’Lincoln, Years of Rage, pp. 6, 77; Julianne Schultz, “How the journalists became trade unionists”, Australian Society, October 22, 1982, p. 25; Tom Sheridan, “Australian wharfies 1943-1967: casual attitudes, militant leadership and workplace change”, pp. 275-282.

[45]. Warwick Eather, “A city to struggle in: Wagga Wagga and labour, 1940-75”, Labour History, No. 54, May 2000, p. 144; P.R. Hay, “Labor vacates the bush: the eclipse of working class values in Victoria’s Western District”, Labour History, No. 54, May 1988, pp. 73-76; Lowenstein, Weevils at Work, pp. 164-165; John M. O’Brien, “The collective organization of Australian academic staff 1949-1983”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 35, No. 2, June 1993; John O’Brien, A Divided Unity! Politics of NSW Teacher Militancy since 1945, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987, pp. 8-10; Andrew Scott, Fading Loyalties: the Australian Labour Party and the Working Class, Sydney: Pluto Press, 1991, ch. 4; Ian Ward, “The middle-classing of the ALP: the Victorian branch 1961-1981”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 34, No.2, 1988, pp. 206-212.

[46]. Jock Collins, Migrant Hands in a Distant Land: Australia’s Post-War Immigration, Sydney: Pluto Press, 1988, chs. 1, 4-6; Constance Lever-Tracy and Michael Quinlan, A Divided Working Class: Ethnic Segmentation and Industrial Conflict in Australia, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988. pp. 1-22, 52-53, 234.

[47]. Bramble, “Conflict, coercion and co-option”, pp. 138-148; Bramble, “Trade union organization”, pp. 45-53; Fairbrother, “Union democracy in Australia: accommodation and resistance”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 1986, pp. 180-186; Hull, “Queensland sugar ports”, p. 69; Lever-Tracy and Quinlan, A Divided Working Class, pp. 215-233, 288-289, 296; Ross M. Martin, “Political strikes and public attitudes in Australia”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 31, No. 2, 1985; O’Lincoln, Into the Mainstream, pp. 140-148; O’Lincoln, Years of Rage, chs. 5-11; Sean Scalmer and Terry Irving, “The rise of the modern labour technocrat: intellectual labour and the transformation of the Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union, 1973-85”, Labour History, No. 77, November 1998, pp. 64-73.

[Jonathan Strauss is a long-time member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency within the Socialist Alliance of Australia. He is currently a postgraduate student investigating developments in the working class and its consciousness during the Hawke-Keating Labor governments.

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