Nation Building, Labour, and Industrial Relations

Nation Building, Labour, and Industrial Relations

Citizens in the history of Australia have constituted the development of the idea of Nation and the material basis of the state through labour, they are simultaneously functional labour and in the remainder, participants in a democratic state and law. Work guarantees participation in the state through wages and private property. Managerial and Executive Ownership sought to influence narrative of work and the person of the worker, through speeches, reports, and various public and professional media. This was the dominant discourse, and effected the control and shaping of the employee by the employer.

Resistance in the form of Unions and workers collectives developed in opposition to the dominant system of definitions and explanations, and attempted to realize an alternate consciousness of the worker and a mode of work relative to their interests. Equally, the state and legal framework produced legislation and process which structured and mediated worker’s demands and communications to their employers and authorities, whose power and efficiency was closely tied to the state and law.

In 1903 Attorney-General Alfred Deakin introduced the Conciliation and Arbitration bill through the Commonwealth Parliament, this legislation established the courts wherein employer and employee would negotiate to secure efficient profits or fair wages, and other changes in the mode of production. However, a tendency emerged, if not already inherent in the framework, subordinating workers to the productive development of the nation. Workers, as Deakin proposed, would accept their lot as paid or unpaid means to national growth. Industrial relations under this legislation appeared to be less a fair and rational process of dispute resolution, and more an ideological technology designed to give legal power to the recipients and investors of capital. The consequence would be that the surplus product of labour, or net profit (that exceeding what basic subsistence requires), accrued in larger amount for ownership and management, and not evenly distributed in worker’s wages. Pay could be docked, withheld, or fluctuate, despite the needs of the workers and the structure of their consumption in relation to prices.

  Edmund Barton (left) and Alfred Deakin (right)

Edmund Barton (left) and Alfred Deakin (right)

The influence of 19th century Liberal-Nationalist ideology, which Deakin and the vanguard of industry held to in degrees, posited this privileging and protection of private enterprise and profit would contribute the main means of national development. Through capital investment and the production of goods, infrastructure, and market growth, the goals of the state could be met in the realm of nation building and international establishment. The governing, legislative, and judicial institutions were to act in accordance with the efficiency of industry and its interests in mind. On the international front, tariffs on imports to protect manufacturing and home industries, and the racial exclusion of non-Anglo-Celtic labour found legislative realisation, measures in aid of the welfare of settlers and their ethnic group, and the dominance of their private enterprises. This demographic and the institutions for its maintenance were held to be self-identical with the concept of the nation.

To varying extents, this vision of the structure of progress with its end and definition has concretised in the public and private sphere, through institutions and a communicative agenda. Australian history and the political, economic, and social forces comprising it present the stage and material of its progress. Conversely, the impression of a Capitalistic Cabal headed by elites actively engage in a nation-wide state-building experiment belies the heteronomous lines of flight and slippery datum involved in the actual workings of any group of citizens and institutions. Justice Higgins’ judgement in Ex Parte H.V. McKay (1907) 2 CAR 1 "The Harvester Case"in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration (C.C.C.A) defined a fair and reasonable wage as one which 'must be enough to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort'. This underscores the possibility of the legal system’s capacity to fissure and leave open conduits for fairness and equality. This in turn has had its effect on the history of Australian Labour law, and in no small part, the nature of wages and the inner workings of firms and corporations. Surprisingly this was just 3 years after the founding of the C.C.C.A in 1904, outlined in Deakin’s bill of 1903.

  Higgins J

Higgins J

By no means either, is such an event a ‘horned gate’ to the royal road of utopia in history, as both Parliament and the High Court possess limited reach under § 51(xx) of the constitution. Moreover, Justice Higgin’s expressed disquisitions as to the clarity of language in legislation pertinent to the establishment of a ‘fair and reasonable wage’ for employees. It was not the function of the Judiciary, wrote Higgins, to deal with social and economic problems, that was for the Legislature. In his role as High Court Justice he was obliged to apply, and when necessary, interpret the enactments of Legislature. To be sure, legislation, in Higgins’ judgement, was posited as evolved out of public conflict of opinion represented by the mandate of Parliament, and followed in his judgements beholden to this same public consensus. Despite his circumspect attitude, demanded by the division of powers and the exigency for a wide but clear judgement, Higgins’ came to the definition of such a wage as one appropriate for the needs of a human being in a civilized community (ref case notes). Insofar as inspection could determine withholding pay, the firm in question would be obliged to pay a form of Excise Duty. Yet this in turn revolved on the stipulations of workplace and employment conditions pursuant to additional statutes.

The institutional and bureaucratic machinery enveloping capital and labour would continue to accrue through the 20th century and beyond, with the introduction of WorkChoices and a variety of cases related to striking and union negotiation. Through historical evidence one can begin to analyse the complex instruments which form and constitute the relations between capital and labour, and begin to cast light on the causes and perpetuations of growth, inequality, and the ideologies which support the facticity of history and the form of the state overarching citizens and labour. 

Johannes Anders

 

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