Publication Date

January 2001

Publication Details

Markey, R, Federation and Labour 1880-1914: National, State and Local Dimensions, Working Paper 01-15, Department of Economics, University of Wollongong, 2001.


We are accustomed to thinking of the labour movement in Australia as ‘Australian’ soon after the turn of the century, in the sense of having a national institutional base and political program. It has been argued traditionally that Australian nationalism was distinctive because of its working class base and radical democratic nature. As Stuart Macintyre argues elsewhere in this volume, the Australian Labor Party is the ‘only party to have participated continuously in national politics since its inception’. Partly as a result, the Labor Party exerted a significant political influence upon the national political program after federation. It took the major initiative in the development of a political consensus based upon the ‘three pillars’ of white Australia, New Protection and compulsory state arbitration; a consensus which lasted until the 1980s.This article begins with an examination of the nature of labour nationalism, and its limitations as a working class program or ideology. It then outlines the localised basis of the industrial and political organisation of the working class, and indicates the implications of a federated nation state apparatus for working life.