Archive for the ‘Australian history’ Category

s-l1000The following review of the book REBEL WOMEN in Australian working class history, eds Sandra Bloodworth and Tom O’Lincoln, appeared in issue #14 (Xmas 2000-March 2001) of the Christchurch-based magazine revolution, one of the predecessors of this blog.

by Linda Kearns

Women’s oppression, its relation to capitalism, and how to fight it have been matters of controversy both on the far left and between the far left and feminists.

Feminists have long criticised the far left for trying to subsume women’s oppression into class.  But a cursory glance at feminist studies and recent feminist theory tends to indicate that the vast majority of women – working class women – receive short shrift from the ‘sisterhood’.

In fact, there has also been a certain amount of nicking going on, as feminist historians have joined the fad for disaggregating the working class.  So where working class women are dealt with, it is gender rather than class which have been of interest.  Moreover, gender has been seen as counterposed to, even oppressed by, men of the working class.

Even socialist women, women who consciously chose to identify as, and fight as, socialist women – and not as feminists – have been appropriated – or expropriated by feminists: Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai are two Marxists who spring to mind as victims of this fad.

Sandra Bloodworth notes, for instance, the way the (more…)


Impetus for struggles for equal pay came from within the working class

There’s a quite widespread prejudice among the liberal left that male workers, especially blue-collar male workers, are socially reactionary.  That they are sexist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and generally backward.  The liberal left, however, never examines its own class viewpoint – the liberal wing of the middle class – and its own prejudices against workers, especially blue-collar workers.  In the past few decades, as class has been rather shunted aside as the key force for social transformation, there has also been a certain type of feminist rewriting of history.  

A good example of this r811881_72605121 (1)was the film Made in Dagenham, where the producers decided it would be more acceptable – and more profitable – to view the 1968 struggle of women workers at Dagenham for equal pay through a feminist lens than through class.  They even created a fake character to introduce cross-class female solidarity that never existed in that struggle.  

There has also been a tendency to see struggles for equal pay through a feminist lens, even though second-wave feminism had very little to do with battling for the rights of working class women in the workplace – in New Zealand, for instance, the dominant feminist magazine (Broadsheet) was far more well-disposed towards fur-coated middle class women agitating against militant unions and strikes than they were to working class women’s struggles and movements like the Housewives Boycott Movement.  But here, as in most countries, the impetus for campaigns for equal pay come from within the working class movement, not the feminist movement.  These campaigns were certainly affected by the new political breeze of the 1960s and early 1970s, of which the women’s liberation movement was an important part, however the campaigning drive still came predominantly from within the working class not from within the women’s movement.  The article below deals with the case of the Australian metal industry nearly half-a-century ago.  Its author is a longtime Australian Marxist activist.

by Diane Fieldes (1999)


This article is a case study of the actions undertaken by the major union in the Australian metal industry (the Amalgamated Engineering Union — AEU) to campaign for equal pay for women. It deals with the years 1969 to 1972, a period bounded by two important decisions by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granting forms of equal pay to women workers.

A substantial literature now exists dealing with the content and the effects of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’s 1969 and 1972 equal pay decisions. Before looking at the specifics of each decision it is worth spelling out their common features. Most importantly, both were hedged about with qualifications. Both decisions retained the concept of the “family wage”. Wage-setting continued to be underpinned by the notion of the male breadwinner and dependant female. In order to lessen the impact on employers, the increases that were granted were to come into effect in instalments over a number of years. Both claims were initiatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), both were opposed by the employers and the Liberal-Country Party government, and both failed to address the fact that there was no minimum wage set for women. The effect of this last factor meant the lowest-paid male in 1973 got $60.80, while employers could still pay women as little as $34.50.

The effect of the 1969 decision was to grant “equal pay for equal work”, i.e. that where women did “equal work” alongside men they should receive equal pay, but that otherwise equality did not



Walter Nash, Labour’s immigration minister, helped keep doors largely barred to Jewish refugees from Nazis

by Phil Duncan

While the Labour Party showed its knee-jerk racism in relation to the Chinese yet again last year – a modern-day equivalent to the early party’s keen support for the White New Zealand policy – few people are aware of the first Labour government’s shoddy record in relation to refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, from Nazism in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Below is essentially a summary of chapter 13 of Oliver Sutherland’s Paikea, a book about his father (I.L.G. Sutherland), which throws an interesting light on this.

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

I only became aware of this hidden part of Labour Party history when, by chance, I saw Paikea in a display in a public library.  I knew of Oliver as a prominent figure in the Auckland Committee on Racial Discrimination (ACORD) way back in the 1970s, so I picked up the book and had a look at it.  I was interested to see that Ivan Sutherland had been very involved in campaigning for European refugees in the late 1930s and into the 1940s and had been up against it as the first Labour government wasn’t keen on (more…)

51Gblu33XmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Donny Gluckstein (ed), Fighting on all Fronts: popular resistance in the Second World War, London, Bookmarks, 2015; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

This is a fascinating book.  Its ten contributors provide eleven chapters – two are by Gluckstein – on people’s resistance to dictatorship in Europe and Asia/Pacific during World War 2 and struggles within two capitalist democracies (Australia and Ireland, the latter not being formally involved in the second great imperialist conflagration).

The struggles range from Jewish resistance to the Nazis and the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, to the Slovak national uprising of 1944 to resistance to French rule in Algeria to Burmese resistance to both British and Japanese imperialism to the Huk rebellion in the Philippines.  While the countries covered exclude key imperialist players, and sometimes the choice of places to cover seemed a little strange, hopefully there will be a second volume to cover struggles in the United States, Britain and Germany – especially since Gluckstein is an expert of Nazi Germany and has already written a fine book about the rise of the Nazis and the course of their regime.


One advantage, however, of covering the places that are covered is that these are generally the least-known.  I certainly found that most of the chapters added considerably to my knowledge of resistance during what several generations of us used to call “the war”.  Perhaps the most fascinating for me was Janey Stone’s impressive account of struggles by East European Jews, and non-Jewish supporters, against repression and annihilation.  The ‘mainstream’ impression is that Jews went meekly to the slaughter but Janey, (more…)

Working class women protesting for equal pay, Australia, 1969

Working class women protesting for equal pay, Australia, 1969

These days talk of class in NZ is often greeted with groans.  While this is not hard to understand when it comes from the right, it is often found on the left as well as many leftists have shifted attention to other factors as causal in terms of oppression and discrimination.  It has also become more common to talk of things like the struggle for equal pay as feminist-inspired and any gains as being the result of feminism.  In the article below, Australian Marxist Katie Wood reminds us that the struggle for equal pay came much more from within the union movement than the feminist movement.  While she is dealing with a specifically Australian context, her analysis is backed up by what happened in First World countries from New Zealand to Britain, on the other side of the world. 

Working class men demonstrating for equal pay for women in Australia, 1969

Working class men demonstrating for equal pay for women in Australia, 1969

by Katie Wood

The year 2014 marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the first decision in the federal arbitration court supporting equal pay for women, yet today the gender pay gap stands at a staggering high of 18.8 percent, or nearly $300 for full-time weekly earnings.[1] Even more troubling is the fact that the gap has been growing rapidly since a “low” point of 14.9 percent in 2004. This percentage is huge in real terms. It means that full-time female workers are on average over $13,000 a year worse off than men and over the length of a working life; when combined with time out for raising children, it amounts to around $1.4 million.[2] Women also accumulate only 59 percent of the superannuation savings of men on retirement.[3]

In recent years there has been something of a backlash against concern about the gender pay gap. Numerous articles have been written arguing that there is in fact no such thing – that any statistical differences can be explained solely by individual women’s choices to work in lower-paid industries or to leave the workforce for a time to raise children.[4] This argument ignores the connection between such individual decisions and the sexist structures of society. It is total rubbish.

A 2009 study of the variables associated with the gender pay gap found that the predominant reason for the gap was the indirect factor of “simply being a woman”, by which the authors meant the experience of direct or indirect sexist discrimination. This factor far outweighed others such as industry segregation, labour force history and qualifications; a finding that the authors maintain is consistent with other Australian studies in the field.[5]

Sexism in the workforce plays out in many different ways, sometimes complex and sometimes seemingly contradictory. For instance, it is well documented that women who ask for pay rises or promotions are seen in a more negative light than men who do the same, and that the socialisation of women to be more self-effacing and passive means that they are less likely to ask for pay rises or promotions in the first place. Sexism shapes the assumptions that bosses make about their workers and it pervades the daily interactions in the workplace. It is a key factor in the endurance of the pay gap and cannot be ignored just because those daily interactions may be harder to quantify or seem to be individual and personal rather than systemic.

Industry segregation along gender lines is of course an important factor in the continuing pay gap. Women are poorly represented in the highest-paid industries, such as mining, but over-represented in the lowest-paid, such as retail.[6] Again, all the complex elements of women’s oppression come into play here. Women are less likely to enrol in engineering, geology and related courses, more likely to take up “caring” professions such as childcare, nursing and teaching. And these industries, because they are historically feminised, are lower paid; a fact that was acknowledged by Fair Work Australia in the 2012 Australian Services Union equal pay claim decision.

Women are also more likely to take time off work to undertake unpaid care of children, the elderly and the sick. Again, if this is presented simply as a “choice” it ignores the fact that it is stereotypically a woman’s role to take on caring responsibilities. Also material factors may affect the decision, as women are likely to earn less than their partner in a heterosexual relationship and such a “choice” makes clear financial sense.

So women’s oppression operates in myriad ways to reinforce the gender pay gap. It is really just one of the more obvious signs of the ongoing problem of women’s oppression. The pay gap, just like women’s place in society more generally, is not subject to some gradual, linear improvement as society develops, presumably for the better. Changes in government policy and the strength of working class organisation, in short various aspects of the class struggle, impact on the gender pay gap. The assault on union rights and collective bargaining under WorkChoices (and its offspring FairWork) undoubtedly contributed to the recent increase in the pay gap, as the gap is wider for women on individual contracts than for those on collective agreements (20.2 percent compared to 15.8 percent).[7]

Equal pay is a class and a union issue, and always (more…)

Iranian Kurd and asylum seeker, Fazel Chegeni, found dead on Christmas Island.

Iranian Kurd and asylum seeker, Fazel Chegeni, found dead on Christmas Island.

The following piece is taken from the New Matilda blog in Australia*.  It looks at the background to the over-night seizure of one of the compounds on Christmas Island by asylum seekers and NZ deportees being held on the island by the Australian government.  The detainees’ rebellion followed the death of a Kurdish asylum seeker outside the wire.  The authorities refused to explain how the man had died after his escape.   

Today the Radio NZ programme Morning Report interviewed one of the NZ deportees on the island – for international readers, people in Australia who are not Australian citizens can be deported if they commit three crimes over their lifetime.  This includes people who are, for all intents and purposes Australian – eg, people who have lived there since they were small children, for instance migrants from New Zealand.

images These deportees, upon being released from prison, are then detained indefinitely by the Canberra government before being deported.  The fact that scores of them are NZ-born Australian residents has created a lot of resentment in NZ.  Happily, on the island, this seems to have led to solidarity between the asylum seekers and the NZ deportees, rather than simply the attitude of “We’re NZers, we shouldn’t be treated like ‘the boat people’ who came here illegally.”

The NZer interviewed on Morning Report said they were preparing for the compound to be stormed by the private security company that controls the detention centre – Serco.  The more attention is on the island, the harder it will be for the Serco goons to lay into any of those held in this veritable concentration camp.

We’ve changed the title of the original article somewhat, but not edited it at all.

by Max Chalmers

The question you have to ask on mornings like this is ‘how many more’.

Over the weekend Australia added another name – or, in the language of the Department of Immigration, another “illegal maritime arrival” – to the list of deaths that have occurred as a result of the nation’s punitive refugee and immigration policy settings.

According to refugee advocates the (more…)







by Allen Myers

Presenting his new ministry on 20 September, Malcolm Turnbull said, “If we want to remain a prosperous, first world economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive, above all we must be more innovative”.

It’s become quite common for politicians to bang on about the “need to be competitive”, but Turnbull evidently intends this idea to be a hallmark of his prime ministership; it was the theme on which he concluded his announcement that he was challenging Abbott.

But consider what it means.

If Turnbull is right, and the only way to prosperity and social welfare for a country is to be more competitive than other countries, then it follows that there are always going to be (more…)