Patterns of industrial conflict under labour governments: A case study of Queensland Labor, 1915-1957

Blackwood, Simon John (1996). Patterns of industrial conflict under labour governments: A case study of Queensland Labor, 1915-1957 PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Blackwood, Simon John
Thesis Title Patterns of industrial conflict under labour governments: A case study of Queensland Labor, 1915-1957
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1996
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 272
Language eng
Subjects L
360101 Australian Government and Politics
360105 International Relations
Formatted abstract
This thesis analyses the reasons for the persistence of industrial conflict under Queensland Labor governments between 1915 and 1957. In completing this analysis the thesis contrasts the Queensland case with the case of Sweden's Social Democratic governments (1932-1976) where industrial peace was established. The contrasting of these two cases points to this thesis's adoption of a comparative historical sociological approach which is concerned to develop macro-analytical frameworks capable of producing limited historical generalisations. In this case, some limited generalisations about why industrial peace may or may not be established where there is a labour government are proffered.

The thesis is founded on a political economy approach which emphasises that where a system of political exchange dominates industrial relations under a labour government strikes will diminish. There are a number of conditions which are considered critical to such an outcome. Firstly, unions must be able and willing to commit themselves to a long-term strategy of political exchange. Political exchange occurs where unions exercise short-term restraint in return for long-term benefits which can be secured from labour governments. Secondly, labour governments must deliver sufficient rewards or benefits to workers and unions if their commitment to a long-term strategy of political exchange is to be secured. Finally, institutional arrangements must be established to encourage the resolution of distributional conflicts through a process of compromise. The thesis contends that three factors (the organisational and political character of the unions, the nature of the institutional arrangements established in response to societal crises n and the nature of the economic strategies pursued by labour governments) determined whether these conditions were met in the Queensland and Swedish cases and, consequently, whether industrial relations was dominated by a political exchange.

The Swedish case is introduced as a control case. Therefore it is not subjected to as exhaustive an analysis as that given to the Queensland case. First, the Swedish union movement possessed the requisite organisational and political characteristics which made their commitment to a long-term strategy of exchange possible. The key elements were the development of a strong union federation dominated by unionists who were committed to a reformist strategy. Second, a generous, decommodified and universal welfare system and a societal corporatism were established in response to a societal crisis during the 1930s and 1940s. These arrangements ensured that the Swedish Social Democrats were able to deliver sufficient rewards to the workers and unions. The societal corporatist arrangements also resulted in distributional conflicts being resolved through a process of cooperation and compromise. Finally, the Swedish Social Democrats' pursuit of a reformist economic growth strategy which benefited business as well as the workers was to stabilise the political exchange system. The Swedish Social Democrats did stray from this economic program for a brief period and, as a consequence, the system of political exchange was threatened. However, the capacity of the unions to develop and impose their own economic growth strategy on the Swedish Social Democrats was to stabilise the political exchange system.

The Queensland case is subjected to a more detailed analysis. In this case a complex and fractured union structure developed which hindered the union leadership's capacity to secure rank and file support for a political exchange strategy. The significant influence of a revolutionary unionism also hindered the development of union support for an exchange strategy with a labour government. Second, sectoral or industry based corporatist arrangements and a wage earners welfare state were established in response to a societal crisis which occurred in Australia at the beginning of the twentieth century. These institutional arrangements did not allow Queensland Labor to deliver to workers sufficient benefits to secure their commitment to a long-term exchange strategy. The sectoral corporatist arrangements also contributed to the development of an adversarial bargaining system rather than one based on co-operation and compromise. Finally, Queensland Labor initially pursued a redistributive economic strategy which benefited workers at the expense of business. This led business to impose an economic blockade on Queensland Labor. Labor responded by adopting a more conservative economic program which reassured business but failed to deliver sufficient rewards to the workers. Those unionists who were committed to a labour reformist strategy found it difficult to secure the ongoing support of workers and unions to a political exchange with Labor, as many believed it to be a bad bargain. Furthermore, the presence of an influential militant opposition in the unions made the task of those unionists committed to a reformist politics even more difficult. 

The thesis concludes by utilising this conceptual framework to explain why industrial harmony has been established under the present Federal Labor government (1983-) in Australia. It is maintained that the relevance of the conceptual framework to this case highlights its usefulness for future research into the likely establishment of industrial peace where labour governments are in power.
Keyword Labor disputes
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Thu, 15 Oct 2009, 16:12:54 EST by Ms Christine Heslehurst on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service