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  Issue No 109 Official Organ of LaborNet 31 August 2001  

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History

Struggle and Inspiration


Rowan Cahill argues that it is only through understanding history that we can make sense of the present plight of workers.

 
 

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During April this year some 300 people gathered in Canberra for a three-day Conference at the Australian National University.

Drawn from a diversity of social backgrounds, occupations, and generations, the participants and attendees broadly comprised labour movement activists.

Rank and file workers, union officials, pensioners, students, academics, teachers, poets, journalists, lawyers, booksellers, photographers, archivists, politicians, and industrial relations specialists, mixed in a spirit of cooperation and learning that was frank, open, and friendly.

The Conference was the 7th biennial National Labour History Conference, organised by the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (ASSLH); a smorgasbord of papers, addresses, panel discussions, films, performances, book launches, navigated by attendees according to personal preferences.

The program filled a 40-page booklet; 56 events, and 136 speakers and presenters. Topics ranged from the Cold War through to the information technology industry, and many points in between, prior, and beyond. ACTU President Sharan Burrow opened the Conference.

The ASSLH was founded in 1961, to encourage study, teaching and research in labour history. It built on a sparse but rich legacy of historical research and writing dating back to the 1890s, including the work of activist historians like George Black, William Guthrie Spence, later Vere Gordon Childe, and later still Lloyd Ross and Brian Fitzpatrick.

Branches of the ASSLH operate in Canberra, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, the Hunter Valley, Sydney, and the Illawarra. Each publishes its own journal or newsletter, and organises talks and special events, usually in conjunction with the labour community.

Nationally, the ASSLH publishes twice-yearly the book-size journal Labour History, a prestigious and internationally recognised forum of labour and social history.

Since 1961, thousands of books, articles, and theses have been produced in Australia by academic and non-academic labour movement researchers.

Overall labour history focuses on the relationship between capital and labour, social justice issues, sympathises with the disadvantaged and oppressed, and adopts a critical perspective towards Australian society.

Labour historians tend not to see their work in isolation from politics and struggle. Historical research ideas and writing do have consequences. In many ways, history is an ideological construct. We live in a society where history is often invoked by the media and opinion-formers to assert the legitimacy of the way things are, from social injustices to the current distribution of wealth and power.

If prevailing political and social arrangements are to be contested and changed, then their origins and natures need to be understood. Similarly, past efforts to contest prevailing social and political conditions, and the visions and experiences of those involved, can help inform, sustain, and inspire current movements, campaigns, and struggles. When it all boils down, history is the only teacher workers have.

The ASSLH welcomes new members; there are categories for institutions and individuals; a concessional rate is also available. Twenty-four trade unions have current memberships, and the Society is keen to attract more. For membership details, and back copies of Labour History, contact the ASSLH at Institute Building H03, Faculty of Economics, University of Sydney, NSW, 2006. Telephone (02) 9351 3786.

Email: [email protected].


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 109 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Union Power
Electrical Trades Union state secretary Bernie Riordan surveys the union movement's troubled relationship with Labor.
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*  International: Spreading the Word
Veronica Apap profiles Kamal Fadel and the battle he is fighting for the independence of his homeland of West Sahara.
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*  E-Change: Training for a Wired Workforce
Education is the entry point into the new economy; but the system still reflects an industrial age view of the world.
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*  Unions: AWU Defends Millennium Train Workers
Mark Hearn looks at how a group of Newcastle workers are setting a new standard in the railways.
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*  Politics: Chatting with Enemies of the State
Brazils MST is the largest and most radical social movement in the Americas. The CFMEU´s Phil Davey drops in for a chat.
*
*  History: Struggle and Inspiration
Rowan Cahill argues that it is only through understanding history that we can make sense of the present plight of workers.
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*  Technology: A World Without Microsoft
Heather Sharp argues that all technologies involve political choices and moral values. Computer software is no exception, and it is Bill Gates' choices that dominate.
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*  Review: Let There Be Rock
Kid Rock and Beer Bong, Australia’s Oldest Rock Fans review the week’s music and political events from the safety of the bar stool.
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*  Satire: Tampa refugees ask to go home: "It's less inhumane than Australia"
The 460 asylum seekers on board the Tampa freight vessel have demanded to be taken back to their oppressive homelands, which they now realise aren’t nearly as hostile as Australia.
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»  Activist Notebook
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»  STOP PRESS: ITF says PM Tampa action illegal
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  Unite Against Racism
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»  WorkCover Impact
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»  Improving the Debate
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»  Botsman's Satire
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»  MUA - Take a Bow!
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»  Economic Predators
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»  Email and the Waterfront Dispuite
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