Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The Politics of Consumption and Labour History

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2011), 100, (1), 145–166.

Abstract

Australian labour historians have generally concentrated on exploring the politics of production rather than of consumption. The behaviour, actions and perspectives of consumers, however, are just as important to our understanding of society as are those of producers. This article undertakes a general review of historical debates in the Australian literature concerning the concept of consumption. It then provides an overview of the Australian experience based on primary and secondary research. Two issues are of particular interest. The first is the collective response of workers and other groups to the issues associated with consumption including the prices and the quality of goods and services. The article will primarily focus on co-operatives as the collective response. The second issue is the way in which employers attempt to control consumption through a range of strategies including company stores and canteens.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Endnotes

1.N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘The politics of consumption and co-operation: An overview’, Labour History, no.91, 2006, pp.1-12. Google Scholar

2.D. Miller, ‘Consumption as the vanguard of labour history. a polemic by way of an introduction’, inD. Miller(ed.), Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies,Routledge,, 1995, p.17. This book provides a very useful a multi-disciplinary overview of the issue of consumption. Google Scholar

3.For the background and principles of Rochdale consumer co-operatives, seeN. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘“Practical utopians”: Rochdale consumer co-operatives in Australia and New Zealand’, Labour History, vol.95, November2008, pp.97-99. For Starr-Bowkett societies, seeM. Darnell, ‘Freehold property for mechanics: A brief insight into Starr-Bowkett Societies’inGreg Patmore,John Shields andNikola Balnave(eds), The Past is Before Us: Proceedings of the Ninth National Labour History Conference The University of Sydney 30 June-2 July 2005,Australian Society for the Study of Labour History,, 2005, p.97. Google Scholar

4.Balnave andPatmore, ‘The politics of consumption’, p.1. Google Scholar

5.D. Nelson, Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States,The University of Wisconsin Press,, 1975, pp.93-4;H.L. Scamehorn, Mill and Mine: The CF&I in the Twentieth Century,University of Nebraska Press,, 1992, ch. 6;C. Wright, The Management of Labour: A History of Australian Employers,Oxford University Press,, 1995, pp.20-24. Google Scholar

6.P. Glennie, ‘Consumption within historical studies’, inMiller(ed.), Acknowledging Consumption, pp.164-66;P. Guerney, Co-operative Culture and the Politics of Consumption in England 1870-1930,Manchester University Press,, 1996, p.20. Google Scholar

7.V. de Gracia andL. Cohen, ‘Introduction’, International Labor and Working-Class History, no.55, 1999, p.1. Google Scholar

8.Guerney, Co-operative Culture, p.22. Google Scholar

9.E. Ross, A History of the Miners’ Federation of Australia,Australasian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation,, 1970, p.46. Google Scholar

10.L.B. Glickman, ‘The strike in the temple of consumption: Consumer activism and twentieth century American political culture’, The Journal of American History, vol.88, no.1, 2001, p.102. Google Scholar

11.J. Smart, ‘Feminists, food and the fair price: The cost of living demonstrations in Melbourne, August-September 1917’, Labour History, no.50, 1986, pp.1-5. Google Scholar

12.Guerney, Co-operative Culture, pp.21-22 Google Scholar

13.Ibid., pp.21-22. Unlike Australia, there are major projects in the United Kingdom involving historians that bring a multidisciplinary approach to consumption. These include the Cultures of Consumption project based around Frank Trentmann at the University of London and the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester. Google Scholar

14.V. Burgmann, ‘In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905,George Allen and Unwin,, 1985;B. Scates, A New Australia: Citizenship, Radicalism and the First Republic,Cambridge University Press,, 1997. Google Scholar

15.R.W. Connell andT.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History: Poverty and Progress, 2ndedn.,Longman Cheshire,, 1992, pp.128, 131. Google Scholar

16.E. Eklund, ‘The ‘anxious class? storekeepers and the working class in Australia, 1900-1940’, inR. Markey(ed.), Labour and Community: Historical Essays,University of Wollongong Press,, 2001, p.234. Google Scholar

17.E. Eklund, ‘Retail co-operatives as a transnational phenomenon: Exploring the composition of Australian colonial society and culture’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, vol.9, 2007, p.130. Google Scholar

18.N. Arrowsmith andR. Markey, ‘Co-operation in Australia and the Illawarra’, inR. Hood andR. Markey(eds), Labour and Community: Proceedings of the Sixth National Conference of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Illawarra Branch,Australian Society for the Study of Labour History,, 1999, pp.201-205;L. Blackley, ‘“You didn’t admit you were hard up”: Working-class notions of moral community’ inHood andMarkey(eds), Labour and Community, pp.21-22;H. Lee, ‘Workforce and community 1880-1904’inJ. Hagan andH. Lee(eds), A History of Work and Community in Wollongong,Halstead Press,, nd, pp.70-75;J. McQuilton, ‘Community 1940-1980’, inHagan andLee(eds), A History of Work and Community, pp.147-149. Google Scholar

19.G. Lewis, A Middle Way: Rochdale Co-operatives in New South Wales 1859-1986, published for the Australian Association of Co-operatives Ltd,Sydney by Brolga Press,, ACT, c1992, p.xvii;G. Lewis, People Before Profit: The Credit Union Movement in Australia,Wakefield Press,, 1996, pp.xxiv, 42-43, 46, 298. Google Scholar

20.G. Reekie, ‘Decently dressed? Sexualised consumerism and the working women’s wardrobe 1918-1923’, Labour History, no.61, 1991, pp.42-56;A. Stephen, ‘Selling soap: Domestic work and consumerism in the inter-war years’, Labour History, no.61, 1991, pp.57-69;R. Walker, ‘Aspects of working-class life in industrial Sydney’, Labour History, no.58, pp.36-47. Google Scholar

21.Smart, ‘Feminists, food and the fair price’, pp.113-131; See also Smart’s later work:‘A mission to the home: The Housewives Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Protestant Christianity, 1920-1949’, Australian Feminist Studies, vol.13, issue28, 1998, pp.215-234and‘The politics of the small purse: The mobilization of housewives in interwar Australia’, International Labor and Working Class History, no.77, 2010, pp.48-68. Google Scholar

22.R. Markey, ‘New South Wales trade unions and the co-operative principle in the 1890s’, Labour History, no.49, 1985, pp.51-60;R.B. Walker, ‘The ambiguous experiment: Agricultural co-operatives in New South Wales’, Labour History, no.18, 1970, pp.19-31. Google Scholar

23.Markey, ‘New South Wales trade unions’, p.51. Google Scholar

24.Walker, ‘The ambiguous experiment’, pp.26-27. Google Scholar

25.P. Cochrane, ‘The Wonthaggi Coal Strike, 1934’, Labour History, no.27, 1974, pp.12-30;B. Ellem andJ. Shields, ‘Making a “union town”: Class, gender and consumption in inter-war Broken Hill, Labour History, no.78, 2000, pp.116-140;A. Salt, ‘Women on the northern coalfields of NSW’, Labour History, no.48, 1985, pp.44-53. Google Scholar

26.D. Green, ‘The 1918 strike of the medical profession against Friendly Societies in Victoria’, Labour History, no.46, 1984, pp.72-87;R.V. Jackson, ‘Building Societies and the workers in Melbourne in the 1880s’, Labour History, no.47, 1984, pp.28-38;D. Weinbren andBob James, ‘Getting a grip: The roles of Friendly Societies in Australia and Britain reappraised’, Labour History, no.88, 2005, pp.96-8. Google Scholar

27.N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘Practical utopians: Rochdale Consumer Co-operatives in Australia and New Zealand’, Labour History, no.95, 2008, pp.97-110; See thematic section inLabour History, no.91, 2006. Google Scholar

28.N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘Marketing community and democracy: Rural Rochdale co-operatives in Australia’, Consumption, Markets and Culture, vol.13, no.1, 2010, pp.61-78;N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘Rochdale consumer co-operatives: A case of rural survival’, Journal of Co-operative Studies, vol.41, no.1, 2008, pp.11-21. Google Scholar

29.G. Boyce andS. Ville, The Development of Modern Business,Palgrave,, 2002, pp.268-271;K. Humphery, Shelf Life: Supermarkets and the Changing Cultures of Consumption,Cambridge University Press,, 1998, p.51;G. Reekie, Temptations: Sex, Selling and the Department Store,Allen & Unwin,, 1993, p.124. Google Scholar

30.B. Kingston, Basket, Bag and Trolley: A History of Shopping in Australia,Oxford University Press,, 1994, pp.32-33. Google Scholar

31. Co-operative News, 1October1925, p.5;1August1928, p.4. Google Scholar

32.E. Eklund, ‘“Intelligently directed welfare work”?: Labour management strategies in local context: Port Pirie, 1915-1929’, Labour History, no.76, 1999, p.131;Ellem andShields, ‘Making a union town’, pp.116-140;E. Eklund, ‘Managers, workers, and industrial welfarism’, Australian Economic History Review, vol.37, no.2, 1997, p.150. Google Scholar

33.M. Kerr, ‘Labour management practices in non-union firms: Australian Abrasive Industry 1945-1970’, Labour History, no.92, May2007, p.84;G. Reekie, ‘“Humanising Industry”: Paternalism, welfarism and labour control in Sydney’s big stores, 1890-1930’, Labour History, no.53, 1987, pp.14-15;S. Stevens, ‘A social tyranny: The truck system in colonial Western Australia, 1829-1899’, Labour History, no.80, 2001, pp.83-98;Wright, The Management of Labour, pp.21-4, 33-4, 61-4.N. Balnave ‘Commitment and efficiency through food: Food services in Australian industry, 1890-1965’, inB. Bowden andJ. Kellett(eds), Transforming Labour: Work, Workers, Struggle and Change, 8thNational Labour History Conference Proceedings,Griffith University,, 3-5October2003,Brisbane Labour History Association,, 2003, pp.22-28. Google Scholar

34. The Co-operative News, 1March1925, p.12;H. Heaton, Modern Economic History with Special Reference to Australia,Workers’ Educational Association,, 1925, p.305;Lewis, A Middle Way, p.9. Google Scholar

35.Co-operative News, 1March1925, p.12,Heaton, Modern Economic History, p.305;W.K. McConnell, ‘Consumers’ co-operation in New South Wales’, The Economic Record, vol.v, no.9, 1929, pp.263-264. Google Scholar

36.N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘Localism and Rochdale co-operation: The Junee District Co-operative Society’, Labour History, no.91, 2006, p.49. Google Scholar

37.Balnave andPatmore, ‘Rochdale consumer co-operatives in Australia, p.19;E. Jensen, Barossan Foundations,Nuriootpa War Memorial Community Centre Committee,, 1969, pp.157-170.McConnell, ‘Consumers’ co-operation in New South Wales’, pp.267-269;P. Smith, Fruits of Frugality: Eudunda Farmers, 100 years, 1896 1996,Eudunda Farmers Limited,, 1997, p.19. Google Scholar

38.E. O’Neil, History of the Co-operative Wholesale Society of NSW from 1912 to 1948, p. 19, unpublished typescript, University of Newcastle Archives, B8045. Google Scholar

39.Ibid., pp.19-23. Google Scholar

40.Community Co-operative Store (Nuriootpa) minutes, 21September1949(held at the Barossa Community Store, Nuriootpa); Interview with Mary Hatch, Harold Hoffman, Bert Schulz, Former Barossa Community Store Employees, Nuriootpa, 16March2010. Google Scholar

41. Co-operative News, 1April1950, p.18. Google Scholar

43.N. Balnave andG. Patmore, ‘Marketing community and democracy: Rural Rochdale co-operatives in Australia’, Consumption, Markets and Culture, vol.13, no.1, 2010, p.72; Interview by Greg Patmore with Trevor Mandry, former assistant manager, Collie Co-operative, 20 June 2007;Lewis, A Middle Way, pp.218-219;K. Webber andI. Hoskins, What’s in Store? A History of Retailing in Australia,Powerhouse Publishing,, 2003, p.29. Google Scholar

44. Australian Financial Review, 8March1993, p.20;Balnave andPatmore, ‘Localism and Rochdale co-operation’, pp.64-5; Interview with Mary Hatch, Harold Hoffman, Bert Schulz, Former Barossa Community Store Employees, Nuriootpa, 16 March 2010;Sydney Morning Herald, 11March1993, p.4. Google Scholar

45.Lewis, A Middle Way, p.xvii;O’Neil, History of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, pp.29-30, 49. Google Scholar

46.Lewis, A Middle Way, pp.105-6;H. Radi,P. Spearitt andE. Hinton, Biographical Register of the NSW Parliament 1901-1970,ANU Press,, 1979, p.21. Google Scholar

47. Co-operative News, 1January1931, p.1. Google Scholar

48.Lewis, A Middle Way, pp.94, 167, 182-5. Google Scholar

49.E. Morris, ‘Clint, William Alfred (1906-1980)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.13,Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp.444-445;N. Loos andR. Keast, ‘The radical promise: The Aboriginal christian co-operative movement’, Australian Historical Studies, vol.25, no.99, p.290. Google Scholar

50.W.A. Clint, ‘“Aboriginal Co-operatives”, in ABM Christian Community Co-operative Ltd,Tranby Co-operative School.February23-271959,, p.1 Google Scholar

51.NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, Aboriginal Women’s Heritage: Ballina and Cabbage Tree Island,, 2007, p.48. Google Scholar

53.Balnave andPatmore, ‘Localism and Rochdale co-operation’, pp.61-2; Barossa Community Store, Notice of Annual General Meeting: Concise Annual Report 2009, pp.3-4, 29. Google Scholar

54. The Albany Advertiser, 29November1968, pp.11, 14, 16. Google Scholar

55.C. Rhodes, McClae. The Centenary History of the Macleay Regional Co-operative Limited. 1905-2005,Macleay Regional Co-operative,, 2005. Google Scholar

56.D. Bisset andD. Crossley, ‘Organising a food co-op’, inM. Smith andD. Crossley(eds), The Way Out: Radical Alternatives in Australia,Lansdowne Press,, 1975, pp.217-220. Google Scholar

57.Manly Food Co-operative,http://www.manlyfoodcoop.org/Home.html(accessed 9 Feb 2010). Google Scholar

58.L. Cutcher andM. Kerr, ‘The shifting meaning of mutuality and co-operativeness in the credit union movement from 1959 to 1989’, Labour History, no.91, 2006, pp.31-46;Lewis, People Before Profit. Google Scholar

59.Lewis, People Before Profit, p.43. Google Scholar

60.Cutcher andKerr, ‘The shifting meaning of mutuality’, pp.37-9. Google Scholar

61.C.O. Turner, ‘One day’s stoppage in twenty years’, Personnel Practice Bulletin, vol.XV, no.2, 1959, p.21. Google Scholar

62.ACSI, Industrial Co-operation in Australia, pp.20-21. Google Scholar

63.If profit was made in any half-year after all contingencies had been provided for, at the direction of the Council it would be carried to reserve and used in the business, distributed among customers, or used for any ‘benevolent or philanthropic purpose’, Ibid, p. 11. Google Scholar

64.Ibid., p.11;Eklund, ‘“Intelligently directed welfare work”?’, 1999, p.140. Google Scholar

65.E. Eklund, ‘“Intelligently directed welfare work”? Broken Hill Associated Smelters and attempts to create company loyalty at Port Pirie, 1915-1925’,Paper presented to the Fifth National Conference of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 1997, pp.8-9;Eklund, ‘“Intelligently directed welfare work”?’, 1999, p.140. Google Scholar

66.G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell,St. David’s Park Publishing,, 1993, p.225. Google Scholar

67.G. Blainey, The Rush That Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining,Melbourne University Press,, 1978, p.306. Google Scholar

68.Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell, p.226. Google Scholar

69.Ellem andShields, ‘Making a ‘union town’. Google Scholar

70.G. Reekie, ‘“Humanising industry”: Paternalism, welfarism and labour control in Sydney’s big stores 1890-1930’, Labour History, no.53, November1987, p.14; Bank of NSW Archives, 82-26, 1105, Address by the General Manager, 17/4/51; Advisory Council of Science and Industry (ACSI), Welfare Work, Bulletin No.15, Melbourne, 1919, pp. 30, 60, 61; Noel Butlin Archive Centre, Australian National University, Tooth & Co, N20/2292, Welfare Scheme, 8/12/26. Google Scholar

71.F.R.E. Mauldon, ‘Cooperation and welfare in industry’, inD. Copland(ed.),‘An economic survey of Australia’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November1931, p.186. Google Scholar

72.ACSI, Welfare Work, pp.76-79. Google Scholar

79.P. Griffin, ‘Employee welfare in a textile company’, Personnel Practice Bulletin, vol.22, no.1, March1966, p.23. Google Scholar

80.J.S. Bridge, ‘Welfare in a medium-size Australian factory’, Personnel Practice Bulletin, vol.15, no.2, 1959, pp.12-13;N. Shaw, ‘Works canteen controlled by employees’, Manufacturing and Management, May15, 1947, p.424. Google Scholar

82.For example, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company began to realise that conditions in parts of their older factories were not as good as they could have been, and the initiative was subsequently taken to build new dining rooms, along with other amenities, Colonial Sugar Refinery, South Pacific Enterprise: The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited,Angus and Robertson,, 1956, p.268. Google Scholar

83.C.P. Mills andG.H. Sorrell, Federal Industrial Laws, 4thedn,Butterworths,, 1968, p.237. Google Scholar

84.Shaw, ‘Works canteen controlled by employees’, p.425. Google Scholar

85.Griffin, ‘Employee welfare in a textile company’, p.27. Google Scholar

86.‘Recreation Club David Jones’, Minute, 15September1949, AA, Series SP 146/1, item 582/2/14. Google Scholar

87.Wright, The Rise of Modern Labour Management, p.192. Google Scholar

88.H.V. Wallage, ‘Welfare without waste’, Personnel Practice Bulletin, vol.24, no.2, 1968, p.142. Google Scholar

89.Correspondence from Managing Director of Bradford Cotton Mills Ltd, Sydney, to Acting-Asst. Director, IWD, DLNS, Sydney, 16 September 1946, AA, SP Series 146/1, item 575/3/13;Griffin, ‘Employee welfare in a textile company’, p.27; Bradford Cotton Mills, Annual Personnel Report, Footscray Mill, July1955-June1958, Private collection of Chris Wright. Google Scholar

90.Shaw, ‘Works canteen controlled by employees’, p.429. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Balnave, Nikola

Patmore, Greg