This argument seeks to contribute to the ongoing theoretical discourse surrounding the role of class and language within the practice of labour and social history. A series of inclusive (often denoted as ‘bottom-up’) studies has added undoubted richness to the fabric of such histories. Yet such scholarly developments have (arguably unfairly) disconnected histories of institutions—for our purposes, the Australian Labor Party—from processes of class formation and identity construction. I am proposing one way forward that seeks to explicity confront and mediate post-structuralist claims within the field of cultural materialism. Specifically, the historical concept of a Labour(ist) tradition can be revealed more fully via a theoretical approach that synthesises discourse with experience; emphasising its role in representing but also shaping social and political identities. Beyond theoretics, this synthesis has a clear political purpose, for re-conceptualising Labor’s past provides practical clues as regards Labor’s present malaise and possible regeneration.