Full Employment and the Discipline of Labour: A Chapter in the History of Australian Social Democracy

Tim Rowse, University of Sydney


This paper takes up two arguments which have been made about the political conditions of sustained full employment: (1) that full employment requires an incomes policy to compensate for the loss of unemployment as a discipline over labour, and (2) that institutions and policies sustaining full employment imply the ‘increased power of the working class.’ How did the Labor government of 1944-5 consider these issues when drafting the White Paper Full employment in Australia? Drawing on archives of the Department of Postwar Reconstruction, this paper depicts a debate among politicians and officials about whether the White Paper should consider alternative systems of wage fixation in Australia. The immediate political value of the White Paper to the Curtin government — assuaging trade unions’ objections to Labor’s demobilisation policies — did not favour such frankness.

Tim Rowse is ARC Fellow in Government and International Relations, School of Economics and Political Science, University of Sydney, and author of Obliged to be Difficult: Nugget Coombs’ Legacy in Indigenous Affairs (Cambridge, 2000).

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