Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Arts
Ward, Patricia-Mary, The myth of the affluent urban workers' changing political affiliations 1950-1972, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, 1998. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/1742
This thesis criticizes the theory of the embourgoisement of the Australian urban workers in the period from 1950 to 1972 and its apparent effect upon their political affiliations. The period was marked by sustained economic growth, a burgeoning population and the consolidation of Australia as a small industrialised country. The promise of full employment and improved wages and salaries attracted urban workers into the new industries and away from their old communities. The traditional bonds of work, home and political affiliations were displaced by home ownership and the acquisition of previously unattainable consumer goods.
This thesis argues that in this environment new communities of affluent workers emerged united by their aims to maintain their prosperity and achieve a better quality life. Of the number of Australian cities which expanded in this period Wollongong and Canberra have been chosen to illustrate two different kinds of communities. Wollongong was and is a working class city; Canberra middle class. Wollongong, an industrial city in the State of New South Wales, grew largely as a consequence of the investment in the BHP steel works. Canberra, in contrast, is the seat of the Federal Government and the centre for the Commonwealth Administration with its growth heavily dependent on Federal Government funding.
In Wollongong the South Coast Labour Council was committed to the support of workers and their families and the improvement of the urban environment, providing experienced leadership in the art of popular protest. In Canberra the emerging middleclass community was represented in their pursuit of a new community life by the wholehearted endeavours of James Fraser, the Labor Member of the House of Representatives for the Australian Capital Territory who saw himself as both "State Member and Local Councillor".
In Wollongong, many workers' homes were located along unmade streets where the sullage flowed from primitive sewerage systems. The city lacked adequate schools, hospitals and recreation areas and any improvement was frustrated for many years by the limitations of Local Government and the ongoing conflict between the State and Federal Governments. Although Canberra escaped the worst of these urban disasters its development was slow, dogged by political infighting and administrative incompetence and the failure of the 1948 Development Programme. Following the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Development of Canberra, the National Capital Development Commission was established in 1957. By the 1960s Canberra was seen as the model for comprehensive urban planning. But as the Federal Capital emerged from a small county town into Australia's largest inland city the supply of land ran out and consequently there was a major price rise. Moreover the dissatisfaction of the people reached new heights when there was a significant increase in land rent on re-valued land. Consequently in the late 1960s these urban problems became politically important and the creation of new alliances between different social groups lent respectability public protest.
This thesis challenges the widely held view that affluence led urban workers to desert their affiliation to the Labor Party. In Wollongong and Canberra by 1960 affluent workers who saw themselves as homeowners increased their support for their local representatives of the Federal Labor Party. For the State and Federal Governments' commitment to building a new industrial complex in Wollongong and the development of the National Capital extinguished any interest they had in the quality of life of the people. And they were joined by other groups who came to reject a jaded Federal Coalition lacking initiative in dealing with the urban problems. E G Whitlam and the Federal Labor Party of 1970 offered a new concept of Australian Government and policies which appealed to a confident and empowered electorate.
The Introduction to this thesis will review the changing urban process in western industrialised nations after the Second World War. It will touch upon the movement of people from country to cities and from Europe to the New World. Governments were concerned to maintain economic growth and avoid at all costs a return to the economic instability of the pre-war years. Consequently full employment brought a new and sustained affluence to urban workers. The growth of bureaucracies, world organisations and the effect of changing industrial procedures and higher education provided new opportunities for the working class. In the United Kingdom and some European countries large scale plans were made to house the changing population in an expanding suburbia. Many theories which were developed during this period argued that a new elitism emerged with the growth of suburbia because the traditional working class mores were transformed by home ownership, access to consumer goods, cars and an adoption of middle class "consumerist" values. However, the well-known American sociologists Gans and Berger considered that affluence and a house in the suburbs did not alter the commitment of the blue collar workers to their old political affiliations. This view was supported in England by Willmott who maintained that the changes to political affiliations were minimal.
In this context of rapidly and radically changing western societies Australia is unique being a highly urbanised society with the larger part of its population living in the cities. As early as 1840 thirty percent of Australians lived in towns of more than 2500 inhabitants. The continuing expansion of the cities was due to immigration rather than the drift of population from the country. But, as in other westernized countries, by the 1960s the structure of the workforce had changed with a significant rise in the employment of women and an increase in the number of professional and technical workers. Wollongong and Canberra grew rapidly into new cities with residential areas dominated by family dwellings with their own gardens. This changing structure of the workforce and the growth of suburbia influenced scholarly opinion. It was argued by many that affluence reduced the influence of the Australian Labor Party and the emphasis on homeownership promoted that of the Liberal Party.
This thesis reflects the changing face of urban Australia and the political consequences of the Federal Coalition's neglect of the needs of an articulate, affluent and confident urban working class. Part One describes the history of the growth of the new cities Wollongong and Canberra. Part Two discusses the problems associated with an inflexible Constitution and the financial relationship between the Federal, State and Local Governments. Part Three concentrates on the period from 1965 to 1972 when political parties were in transition and the consequences of population and economic growth became electorally important.
The introduction to Part One - Australia's New Cities - provides a background to Australia's post World War II transition into a small industrialized country. It focuses the changes in trade, foreign and immigration policies. It highlights the problems of urban development in Wollongong and Canberra. Chapter One - Wollongong - Red Belt - concentrates on the history of the working class, the old mining communities and the growth of the union movement and organisation within Wollongong. It shows that despite the vicissitudes of the coal industry and the economic and social disaster of the Depression, the union movement survived and eventually flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. More importantly, a concern for the social as well as the industrial needs of its members remained part of the philosophy of the movement.
Chapter Two - Wollongong Boom Town - describes the growth of Wollongong as an important industrial town dominated by the steel works and to a lesser extent by the mining industry. To illustrate the strength of the labour movement in this town the history of the South Coast Labour Council is described with emphasis on the 1950s when it defeated the Industrial Groupers for control of the Council. The 1960s witnessed the emergence of a well-organised Council concerned with the poor urban environment of the city and the new community of affluent workers who were homeowners and the consolidation of the allegiance of the workers to socialism and the Labor.
Chapter Three - Canberra - Conflict City - outlines the development of Canberra, from an unattractive outpost of Commonwealth Administration to its blossoming, in the early 1960s, as the successful and flourishing National Capital. It describes the growth of the white collar public service union and the contribution made by J R (Jim) Fraser to the development of the new community of well-educated and affluent people. But central to the theme is the continuing conflict which dogged the city from its inception, first between politicians and then between the citizens and the political administration.
The Introduction to Part Two focuses on the problems which faced the new communities of Wollongong and Canberra as they strove to achieve a better quality of life. These problems were associated with the inflexibility of the Constitution and the financial imbalance between the three tiers of Government. It outlines the responsibilities of local government and semi-government bodies and the emergence of new forms of protest against the endemic indifference of State and Federal Governments to the needs of the affluent urban worke.
Chapter One - The Limitations of the Constitution - deals with the ongoing dissatisfaction of people with centralised State Government Administrations and the overall inability of these Governments to cope with their greater responsibilities. The unsuccessful attempts to change the Commonwealth Constitution and establishment of new states, decentralisation or regional organisations as solutions to the problems are discussed. For many years there were advocates within the Federal Labor Party for the introduction of a regional administrative structure which would reduce the power of the States. E G Whitlam began his campaign from the mid-1960s to promote the status and influence of Local Government and use tied grants to overcome the intractability of the States.
Chapter Two - Financial Relations - describes the evolution of the relationship between the States and the Federal Government from Federation to the late 1960s. It shows how the Commonwealth gradually extended its fiscal control over the States by per capita Grants, the Financial Agreement 1927-42, the Uniform Taxation Reimbursement Acts 1942-59 and the Uniform Taxation Financial Assistance Acts of 1959. From the 1960s the Local Government Association, Ratepayers and Progress Associations and the South Coast Labour Council maintained a significant protest against the dominant fiscal power of the Federal Coalition. The long standing and acrimonious relationship between the State and Federal Governments was seen by some to have reached crisis proportions. At a Conference in Canberra in 1971, the Leader of the Federal Opposition, E G Whitlam, described Labor's answer to the difficulties by the establishment of a new Federation founded on consultation and co-operation.
Chapter Three - Local Government - traces the history of the rise of municipal and local councils in Sydney and Wollongong It identifies the various attempts that were made to improve the efficiency of these councils and planning of the city and suburbs. It discusses the fiscal problems that were to emerge as the suburbs grew rapidly and outstripped the capacity of local government to meet the needs of its enlarged population. B y the late 1960s it became obvious that the Federal Government alone had "the resources to meet the challenge of the cities".
The Introduction to Part Three - 1965 -1972 The Turbulent Years - describes the demise of the Federal Coalition and the emergence of the Federal Labor Party with its new leader, E G Whitlam and its new policies. The growth of the Illawarra is noted with its increasing urban and environmental problems and with the continuing dominance and leadership of the South Coast Labour Council. The crisis in Canberra and the rising militancy of the people is described as Canberra emerged as Australia's largest inland city. At the same time the Coalition Government and its administration failed to meet the needs of the well-educated and articulate community.
Chapter One - Political Parties in Transition - is concerned with the changes that took place in the Coalition Government with the retirement of its long-time and powerful leader R G Menzies. The extraordinary success of the 1966 election for the Liberals soon lost its shine as the Government was shaken by internal conflict and external disappointments. The death of Holt threw the Liberal Party into greater turmoil and his successors were even less able to cope with the demands of a troubled electorate and the onslaught of a rejuvenated Federal Labor Party. Equally tempestuous was E G Whitlam's rise to the leadership of the Party but his organisational and parliamentary skills soon demonstrated that the Party had at last got the leader and the policies to them government.
Chapter Two - Illawarra Militant - By the late 1960s the Illawarra with a population of about 180,000 had expanded so that the hills and valleys from Stanwell Park to Shellharbour were dotted with the homes of the affluent workers. But the problems of the urban environment had also increased as increased vehicular traffic and a rapidly expanding population made demands on a neglected and decaying urban system. The South Coast Labor Council increased its power and influence. Its relationship with the Trades and Labor Council of NSW, the local ALP representatives and the FLA improved so that they could concentrate on the solution of the many problems that beset their community. During this period the working class community of home owners continued their support for the Labor Party and happily greeted the demise of the Federal Coalition.
Chapter Three - Canberra in Crisis - In Canberra the opposition to the Federal Coalition continued to gain strength and was further enhanced by the dedication of the local Labor Party representatives J Fraser. The conflict between the people and the Government reached new heights with the shortage of land, lack of houses and the decision to increase the land rents. After Fraser's death the continuing success of the Labor Party at the polls proved that this middle-class, well-educated community was opposed to the Federal Coalition.
This thesis argues that affluence did not change the voting patterns of the urban workers. The ownership of property and better education made voting Labor respectable and increased the desire of workers for empowerment. The continuing pre-occupation with economic growth and the lack of interest of State and Federal Governments in the welfare of the people ensured that affluent urban workers increased their support of the Federal Labor Party.