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Australian labor movement

Sean Scalmer

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Oceania » Australasia

Period 2000 - present
1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics communism, labor movements, revolution, strikes

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00154.x


The long history of the Australian labor movement discloses a pattern of precocious advance, swift integration, periodic challenge, and recent exhaustion. Revolution has loomed as a common fear, a marginal cause, but never a likely prospect. European Australia began as a penal colony in 1788. By the third decade of the new century, the skilled male workers of the new cities had begun to form their own associations. These consolidated an already strong group identity and secured a range of protections: subscription to benefit funds; resistance to the employment of convicts and apprentices; guarantees of workmanship; maintenance of a fair price. The circumstances for rapid unionization were propitious. With the discovery of gold in the summer of 1851, a long economic boom began. Unionists took advantage of the new conditions. In 1856 stonemasons in Melbourne and Sydney pressed for and won an eight-hour day. Workers in other trades struggled for their own improvements in a series of strikes, and in 1883 one observer claimed that the “eight-hour system” was generally accepted across the land. Now the spirit of unionism spread to less skilled workers, among them wharf laborers, miners, shearers, tailoresses, and salesmen. These workers lacked the prestige of their more respectable comrades. Without the protections of trade, their methods were necessarily more aggressive, their fellowship ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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