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Blue Singlets and Broccoli: Culture in the Service of Union Struggle


Janis Bailey


Raymond Williams once wrote that “the task of a successful socialist movement will be one of feeling and imagination quite as much as one of fact and organisation”.1 What did Williams mean by this? My interpretation, which I think is consistent with Williams’ whole body of work, is that he was arguing that left politics – and by implication studies of social and labour movements – should take a “cultural turn”. Williams was warning us not to overlook an important element of struggle – the cultural element. My perspective is that of a student of contemporary industrial relations in Australia. What Williams is saying to me is that our studies of labour struggle, past and present, in this country (and elsewhere) emphasise instead the political, legal and strategic elements of campaigns. They largely ignore what might broadly be termed the “cultural aspect” of struggle, although there are notable exceptions, which will be discussed below. And most studies of union struggle, if they deal with culture at all, do so in a celebratory rather than an analytical way.2 Further, while there are now many studies, particularly in Britain and France, of working class struggles that pay attention to culture, little specific attention is given to union culture.