The Accord and working-class consciousness: the politics of workers under the Hawke and Keating governments, 1983-1996

Strauss, Jonathan (2011) The Accord and working-class consciousness: the politics of workers under the Hawke and Keating governments, 1983-1996. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to develop the understanding of workers' class political consciousness. In particular, the thesis addresses the ways and why workers unmade and remade the working class and, more specifically, their class political consciousness under the ALP federal governments from 1983 to 1996.

The literature about the period largely fails to view the politics of workers as subject to workers' agency. To approach the problem thus posed, the thesis' inquiries range across workers' activity in unions, social movements and the formation of new political parties.

The thesis considers that the working class is formed as workers respond to their experience using elements of their consciousness. Moreover, a relatively small core of activists, who organise collective actions and generate social learning among workers, initiates workers' class struggle.

The operation of the core for organising collective action among workers outside the political mainstream is the thesis' focus. The thesis' research primarily involves qualitative analysis of documents and reports of events. Quantitive research includes a newspaper survey of protest events and new analyses of raw survey data.

The thesis proposes a model of class analysis that recognises that, in the long Labor decade, a political trend that represented an alliance of some better-off workers with capital would inevitably exist, while the creation of an antagonistic and hegemonic working-class politics was uncertain. Because this model is controversial, the thesis first elaborates its theory about the better-off workers, or "labour aristocracy". The theory is then validated in a new analysis of the Australian working class' political history. This establishes that the ALP expresses opportunist politics among workers and that workers' militancy rose in the 1970s.

With regard to the period, the thesis first shows that union workplace organisation declined. It relates a series of agreements between the government and the ACTU that aimed to boost labour productivity, the Accord, to a reduced prevalence of the factors that motivated workers to be a delegate.

Second, the thesis discusses three elements of opposition within the unions to the Accord. Shop committees questioned the approach adopted only when themselves under threat. Wage militancy remained largely confined to tactics that confronted employers. Among the union left, the opposition to the Accord as a social contract lacked the political perspective and organisation to unite.

Third, the thesis suggests some social movements flourished. These might have provided opportunities for building the core for organising collective action among workers, but in each radicalisation was isolated or slow and partial.

Finally, the thesis considers the falling intensity of ALP identification. Some workers engaged with new party projects. When the Greens formation as a national party came however, divisions and failures had exhausted much of the impetus for a new party.

Thus, in the long Labor decade, there were new, principally electoral, mobilisations of workers. Meanwhile, in existing forms of workers' mobilisation, many who would have comprised the core for organising collective action were instead alienated from it. The core for organising collective action declined. Also, among the core, those who might have practiced antagonistic and hegemonic workers' politics were relatively inexperienced in that and usually did not agree with it. Many were workers who had been relatively privileged, but no longer were.

The thesis concludes that the new party projects of the long Labor decade were a movement of workers towards a party that expressed their concerns, while the ALP has been and is a "bourgeois labour party". Thus, social justice policy is important for the successes of the Greens, while the ALP exerts a pro-capitalist influence among workers. A more fundamental conclusion is that the core for organising collective action among workers is the material form of workers' class political consciousness, whose strength depends on whether or not workers' political parties and social movements constructively interact.

The thesis provides a better understanding of the ALP and the new parties in terms of class. The thesis also grounds the notion that "class happens". Although the core for organising collective action among workers is usually a small grouping of workers, it is a key to the formation of the working class. The thesis shows that much of politics of workers is about how will class happen. If that is ignored, changes in the structure of party politics will surprise the political analyst.

Item ID: 29816
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: class; class consciousness; unions; social movements; political parties
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2013 00:19
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1606 Political Science > 160601 Australian Government and Politics @ 33%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160805 Social Change @ 34%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 33%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9402 Government and Politics > 940203 Political Systems @ 50%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9402 Government and Politics > 940299 Government and Politics not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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