My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Australia and the Worker Movement

Australia doesn’t get much of a mention in my book, I’m afraid, other than a fairly indirect reference to the racism of the workers’ movement there in the early twentieth-century (sorry Aussies!) Here are a few notes to make amends.

Most worker movement militants in late nineteenth-century Australia were Irish catholic, and as such fairly ill-disposed to ideological socialism, due to the Catholic church’s anathema on that doctrine. ‘Progressive’ was often preferred to ‘labour’ as the label adopted (partly to attract the ‘the black-coats’, or white-collar workers as we might say now). ‘Socialist’ was used only rarely.

Due to the clash between small farmers and big pastoralists over successive Land Acts, politics in Australia was up to about 1890 dominated by Liberal and Radical parties. Urban workers turned to industrial action rather than politics as such. They won probably the highest living standards in the world, and trade union regulations were aggressively enforced.

An economic crash in 1890, however, resulted in an employers’ offensive that broke the trade unions. Workers turned to political action, launching a period of spectacular rise up to 1914. As in America, and in comparison to much of Europe, political labour was not confronted by a semi-feudal military state. There was little room for that elision of democratic and socialist ‘revolution’ that powered the rhetoric of European style Second Internationalism. The bourgeois political parties, moreover, met Australian worker parties half-way. Political labour was treated as an integral part of the national culture, not as internal enemies.

Very quickly, Labour parties were holding the balance of power in the various States. Australia was exceptional in the role of federal states in enforcing formal wage arbitration schemes. Following the crash and trade union defeat of 1890, there was much less stress in Labour circles on ‘free collective bargaining’ compared to Great Britain.

In the celebrated Harvester Award of 1907, Mr. Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Arbitration Board proclaimed the principle of a living wage across Australia: a famous victory. Australia was often looked upion by Europeans as close to a ‘workingman’s paradise’. Visiting Broken Hill in 1908, Keir Hardie waxed lyrical about spacious, well-lit streets and ‘handsome shops’ (but he didn’t mention the desperately high rates of accident, death and disease from the mining industry, the parlous state of the water supply and the crowded, unsanitary and, at times, unbearably hot, boarding houses in which many miners lived and died).

The worker movement was generally hostile to Non-white immigration. There was a pervasive racist attitude of white Australian workers toward immigrant Chinese ‘coolies’. After 1900, the Federal Labour Party opposed imports produced by underpaid labour, and supported the ‘White Australia’ policy. The Party supported the racist 1901 Immigration Act. The joint conference of the state Labour Parties in 1905 adopted as objectives:

(a)    The cultivation of an Australian sentiment, based on the maintenance of racial purity and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community.

(b)    The securing of the full results of their industry to all producers, by the collective ownership of the means of monopolies and the extension of the industrial and economic functions of the State and municipality.

There was a revolutionary alternative, however. The IWW, which vigorously denounced Labour, was particularly strong on the docks and amongst miners. During the war, Peter Larkin, brother of James, was a prominent (and imprisoned) IWW leader.The Great War of course, became both a nation-building myth for Australia and, as pointed out in this classic study of oral history, an inspiration to leftist hostility to capitalist militarism. But that's another story.

No comments:

Post a comment