Explanations of working-class politics in Australia and Britain have traditionally been heavily rooted in domestic 'bread and butter', socio-economic factors, including the much-debated issue of social class. 'Traditional' and 'revisionist' accounts have greatly advanced our knowledge and understanding of labour movements in general and labour politics in particular. This book offers a pathbreaking comparative and trans-national study of the neglected influences of nation, empire and race. The study is about the development and electoral fortunes of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the British Labour Party (BLP) from their formative years of the 1900s to the elections of 2010. Based upon extensive primary and secondary source-based research in Britain and Australia over several years, the book makes a new and original contribution to the fields of labour, imperial and 'British world' history. It offers the challenging conclusion that the forces of nation, empire and race exerted much greater influence upon Labour politics in both countries than suggested by 'traditionalists' and 'revisionists' alike. Labour sought a more democratic, open and just society, but, unlike the ALP, it was not a serious contender for political and social power. In both countries, the importance attached to the politics of loyalism is partly related to questions of place and space. In both Australia and Britain the essential strength of the emergent Labour parties was rooted in the trade unions. The book also presents three core arguments concerning the influences of nation, empire, race and class upon Labour's electoral performance.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on the character and fortunes of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the British Labour Party (BLP) from their formation at the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. It offers new explanations and points of emphasis in relation to Labour and other forms of working-class politics. The explanations and emphases presented in the book are set within a cross-national comparative approach to the study of the Labour and other kinds of 'popular' politics in Australia and Britain. In terms of demographic connections, the development of the Australian labour movement from the mid nineteenth century onwards owed much to the organisational skills and ideologies of radical migrants from Britain, both 'unfree' and 'free'. These deep-seated connections have resulted in few comparative and trans-national historical studies in Australia and Britain.
This chapter deals with elections and the performances of the Australian Labour Party (ALP) and the British Labour Party (BLP) in the elections. It compares and contrasts continuities, changes, similarities and differences in Labour and anti-Labour attitudes and policies towards the factors of empire, nation, race and class at particular electoral points in time over the past century. Labour's record of electoral performance between 1900 and the present day may usefully be broken down into four chronological periods. From 1900 to the time of World War One; from 1917 in Australia and 1918 in Britain to 1939; from the era of World War Two to the late 1970s; and from the latter to the present. In Britain the Labour Party's electoral record was far less impressive. The chapter presents three core arguments concerning the influences of nation, empire, race and class upon Labour's electoral performance.
The ability of workers to influence parliamentary elections, of course, was limited by the nature of the political system. In both Australia and Britain the essential strength of the emergent Labour parties was rooted in the trade unions. Despite the often considerable setbacks of the depressed 1890s, both 'old' and 'new' unionism made considerable headway in Australia and Britain from the later nineteenth century to the immediate post-World War One years. Further evidence that Australia had overtaken Britain as the trade union capital of the world was provided in 1919, when Australia's union density stood at 50 per cent, in contrast to Britain's 43 per cent. Two important differences should be highlighted in terms of the union-party connection in Australia and Britain. First, the system of political parties was far more established in Britain than in Australia. Second, not withstanding the continuing strength of Lib-Labism in Victoria.
The newly born federal Australian Labour Party (ALP) loudly proclaimed itself to be the foremost representative of Australia as a 'new world' nation. The vital importance of 'the national' to Labour was clearly revealed during federal elections. In Australia the ALP's primary commitment to the unions was demonstrated by its programmatic support for 'White Australia' and compulsory arbitration. In Britain between 1906 and 1910 the Labour Party 'campaigned strongly for public programmes to remedy unemployment, and to establish the "right to work". Some historians, working within the discrete national frameworks of Britain and Australia, have argued that Labour's, albeit limited, success in appealing to working-class people was further enhanced by a renewed or new sense of class among workers. Australian labour historiography has, on balance, tended to adopt the view that class took precedence over nationalism in terms of the formation and subsequent twentieth-century development of the labour movement.
Key events and processes of World War One and the post-war years shaped the development and character of the Right's anti-socialism and the attempt successfully to portray Labour as disloyal and extreme. In Australia serious conflicts took place between the authorities and returned soldiers and sailors during the huge peace celebrations in 1919. The politics of loyalism in Australia at this time were both highly symbolic and fiercely contested in character. The Labour Party in Britain emerged from the war far more united, expectant and confident of the future than it's fundamentally split and beleaguered counterpart in Australia. Despite electoral successes in 1929, neither the British Labour Party (BLP) nor the Australian Labour Party (ALP) was able to withstand the whirlwind of the Depression. Conservative political hegemony was particularly marked in Britain. In Australia the Nationalists' ability to retain federal office from 1931 onwards was also impressive.
The Australian Labour Party (ALP) closely linked its radical nationalism to qualified anti-imperialism and mounted a fierce critique of the Right. The response of the British Labour Party (BLP) was much softer, moderate and defensive. The BLP and the ALP were united by a common, strong and consistent commitment to the liberties, traditions and values of British-inspired 'popular constitutionalism'. For most of the interwar period the ALP adopted a more critical attitude to Australia's relationship with Britain and British imperialism in general than between 1900 and the outbreak of World War One. In the pre-war period, the Australian Worker's viewpoint was an exaggerated and misleading reflection of the mainstream ALP's attitudes and practices towards the British Empire. In both countries, therefore, the importance attached to the politics of loyalism is partly related to questions of place and space.