Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The Palimpsest of Welfarism: Enduring Layers of Paternalism in a New Zealand Industry Town

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2021), 120, (1), 145–168.

Abstract

This paper explores the enduring impression made by industry and its representatives on the workforces, communities and locations in which it resides. This oral history study is based on a New Zealand single industry town developed in the post-World War II era and founded on the principles of industrial welfarism and paternalism. The study reveals that the employment relation practices of the town’s symbolic “founding father” have had an enduring effect on shared community identification long after the withdrawal of these practices, and the subsequent downsizing of the primary industry. Thus, the predominant memory was both shaped by principles of industrial paternalism and entwined with stories of recent events of downsizing and redundancy. Drawing on the metaphor of palimpsest, we consider how present accounts of downsizing and redundancy simultaneously overlay, dismantle and rewrite historical accounts of paternalistic interaction in the community. This paper highlights the enduring politics of industrial history, and the continued legacy of industrial strategies on the way in which we live, work and organise.

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