Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Making a ‘Union Town’: Class, Gender and Consumption in Inter-War Broken Hill

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2000), 78, (1), 116–140.

Abstract

Broken Hill is one of the few localities in Australia in which a local working class managed to establish ‘hegemony’ over the local social and political structure. While many of the ideas, institutions and practices which were to underwrite working-class control were evident in earlier years, it was only in the inter-war period that this control was effectively asserted and consolidated; it was only then that Broken Hill became truly a ‘union town’. This study focuses on three key aspects of the extension of union influence and control in this locality in the inter-war years: a concerted drive to unionise town employees; a related campaign to extend union and working-class control over local commodity supplies and prices; and an accompanying demobilisation of married women. The one section of the Broken Hill working class which was effectively demobilised at this time was married women. This particular conjunction of class solidarity and gender marginalisation generated its own contradictions. While women willingly participated in boycott action in support of improved wages and family income, they refused to surrender the one real site of economic autonomy left to them - household spending and consumption. The male unionist strategies may have achieved the desired economic ends but by entrenching gender power inequality, these strategies also constrained the potential for class mobilisation.

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Details

Author details

Ellem, Bradon

Shields, John

Table of Contents

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