Labour History

A Social Tyranny: The Truck System in Colonial Western Australia, 1829-99

Labour History (2001), 80, (1), 83–98.

Abstract

The truck system was a way of paying workers’ wages by means other than money, usually either in chits redeemable at a company store or directly in goods. It prevailed throughout the colony, and in most cases was extremely exploitative. It also helped the capitalist class transform the cash-strapped Colony of Western Australia into a profitable enterprise, mostly at the expense of the working class. Initially, due to the lack of capitalist and industrial infrastructure, the truck system was to a certain extent unavoidable; but it did not simply evaporate with the advancement of industry. Long after the convict era,2 wealthy companies continued to operate the truck system in the form of company stores and towns. It was not until 1899 that Western Australia’s colonial government banned the truck system in most industries. However, in those industries exempted by the Act, such as agriculture, the practice continued well into the twentieth century. Its limited role in the twentieth century is not the subject of this article, but its historical development in the colonial era is. It is in the colonial era that the truck system can be clearly explained and understood in historical context. The whole question of the truck system is vitally important in showing some of the various ways and means capitalists accumulated capital; and how, in the process, they sought to control the working class. While it barely exists in Western Australia today, it still has relevance in the fact that truck-wages remain a prevalent form of remuneration for labour throughout much of the world.

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Author details

Stevens, Simon

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