[Marxism] Re: Don't mention the war

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Tue Apr 26 18:24:40 MDT 2005

I’ve stayed out of the arguments between Bob and Nick, because I haven’t
read John Percy’s book, but I will hazard a few thoughts about the
Australian Shearers Union (later the Australian Workers’ Union).

It’s a matter of fact that the many shearers were also small farmers, who
were unable to make a living from their farms without going shearing as
well. This took them away from home for periods of time.

It’s reasonable to accept that this placed them closer to the frontier than
urban workers, which means closer to the dispossession of the Aborigines.
This may help explain the link between smallholding and racism, though
anti-Chinese sentiment is only vaguely linked to Aboriginal dispossession.
I’m not sure, though the link seems to be there. On the other hand, the
ASU/AWU didn’t exclude Aborigines.

Meanhwhile the ASU/AWU was less sexist than many urban unions. This is
probably because the shearers’ wives had to run the farm when they were
away shearing, so they had status in their own right. On the latter point,
I’ve pasted in below a passage from my book “United We Stand: Class
Struggle in Colonial Australia”.

So some shearers were bad on race, but not all, and some were better on
gender. Does either of these make them an “aristocracy”? Well, it’s true
they were far better off than non-whites, but given the latter were usually
marginal to society, I doubt that this has much to do with Lenin’s theory,
which was about stratification of the mainstream of the working class.

Here’s my passage on gender:

Even in the most conservative decades, there had always been some
successful female participants in commerce and the labour force, including
pockets where they worked on equal terms with men. These tended to be in
places where the family unit was also a productive unit, such as farming
country. On a small selection, there was less scope to divide the "public"
and "private" spheres. Women who had been equal partners running farms
might also find themselves running local post offices. In fact
postmistresses earning equal salaries were common in colonial New South
Wales, both in country towns and Sydney suburbs. Their husbands, who
therefore had an economic interest in equal pay, supported their careers,
while country MPs endorsed equal job opportunity, especially at times when
selectors faced financial trouble. No one allowed notions of women’s
"natural" role to get in the way

The relative egalitarianism among small holders also helps explain the
Shearers’ Union’s advanced policies on women’s rights. The "new unionism",
wrote W.G. Spence, "makes no distinction of sex." Many union members were
small selectors who also sheared part time, and "Spence in his appeal to
country women to support the A.S.U. also recognized each family as an
economic unit, and as such insisted the support of women was crucial to the
success of trade unionism." To be sure, he also took for granted many
conventional notions about the female role, but then so did contemporary

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