Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Humphrey McQueen: We Built This Country: Builders' Labourers and Their Unions 1787 to the Future

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Humphrey McQueen: We Built This Country: Builders' Labourers and Their Unions 1787 to the Future

Article excerpt

Humphrey McQueen

We Built this Country: Builders' Labourers and their Unions 1787 to the Future

Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, 2011, pp. 362, $30.

During the last half century, Humphrey McQueen has turned his perceptive eye and distinctive analysis onto a wide range of topics in Australian history and politics. Here he focuses on the history of builders labourers and their unions since the convict era. The book is a sequel to his earlier Frameworks of Flesh: Builders' Labourers Battle for Health and Safety. In important respects this is a bigger picture, looking at the building workers' experiences and ambitions and how they relate to their evolving union organisations. The title of the book immediately signals a simple but significant point--that it is workers in general, and building workers in particular, who actually create the physical forms of economic development. How this process has occurred has been shaped by the evolving forms of technology--particularly important in the building and construction sector--and by class struggles, both evolving and adapting over time and shaped by the workers' own organisations.

The book takes a chronological approach, looking at the significant developments during three main periods--1787-1900, 1901-1960 and 1961 to the end of the 20th century--and a total of 13 sub-periods therein. Material from union records is interlaced with anecdotal material and analysis of broader political economic context. Issues related to wages, working time and conditions of work are central, but with substantial attention also paid the union movement's internal tensions and to the broader conflicts in the industry between labour, capital and the state. …

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