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The Australian automotive industry, 1939-1965: a sociological study of some aspects of state intervention, managerial control and trade union organization / Robert Tierney.

posted on 2022-03-28, 19:42 authored by Robert (Robert Lindsay) Tierney
Between 1939 and 1965 the primary aims of state intervention in the Australianautomotive industry were to maintain, in the interest of automotive capital, thedominance of management over labour and to sustain the highest possible level ofprofitability in the industry. During World War II the Commonwealth Government sustained the economic development of the automotive sector principally through the granting of cost plus profit percentage contracts, which were available to industry in general, and through the establishment of the Women's Employment Board, which facilitated the provision of female labour at wage rates substantially lower than those paid to male workers undertaking 'substantially similar' work. General Motors-Holden's received a range of other assistance packages, including equipment leases. In the post war period to 1965 direct Commonwealth assistance to the automotive industry took the form of high tariffs, import licences and local content plans, which significantly reduced the level of imports, encouraged the vehicle assemblers to shift to full scale manufacturing and guaranteed the rapid development of the components manufacturing industry. The Commonwealth's mass immigration programmes also had a significant impact on economic development in the automotive sector. In the early to mid fifties there were powerful automotive and iron and steel industrialists appointed to senior Government positions to advise the Commonwealth on mass immigration policies. They and senior full time figures in the Department of Immigration and the Department of Labour and National Service, believed that the Southern European immigrants were hard working and politically docile. The mass recruitment of Southern Europeans helped the Australian vehicle building industry to overcome serious labour shortages and enabled the maintenance of a relatively cheap system of differential wages on the production and assembly lines. Around the late forties managerial strategies of control at General Motors-Holden's and perhaps elsewhere in the industry underwent significant changes. Economic incentives, such as merit bonuses, service loading payments, inexpensive life insurance policies and so forth, were utilized to encourage labour discipline. Such incentives were deemed to be necessary in order to contain class conflict at the point of production and to reduce the rate of labour turnover so that the workers could develop the skills required to operate new and more complex machinery and equipment. Class struggle and technological change in the labour process led to new initiatives in managerial control. It seems that during World War II the automotive industry in Australia recruited women on a large scale to undertake 'traditionally male' work. In the aftermath of the war the automotive workforce became male dominated. The decision by the management to re-establish the traditional sexual division of labour in the industry was influenced enormously by the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation which insisted that the women be confined to the 'traditionally female' trim fabrication and springs assembly regions of production. However at one automotive plant, job segregation by sex apparently was not supported by the majority of the male workers. which indicates that trade union decisions about the 'rightful' place of men and women at work do not always reflect the attitudes of men on the shop floor. Like many unions in Australia, the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation tended to disregard the needs of immigrant workers in the automotive workforce. It largely ignored the racial and linguistic problems experienced by its non-English speaking members and did little to encourage these people to become shop stewards and full time officials. It is possible that many members of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation may have transcended sexist attitudes and racial prejudice if they had been free to organize on the shop floor independently of the officials. The union's leaders, however, were opposed to independent shop committees because they threatened to undermine their decision making powers and privileges. They became hostile to the large and militant Melbourne Strike Committee, which was established by the workers during the October 1964 strike at General Motors-Holden's. They felt that this independent combined committee was likely to destabilise the balance of political forces within the trade union movement in the Victorian vehicle building industry. This was an important factor behind the Australian Council of Trade Union's decision to recommend a resumption of work.



Includes bibliographical references Empirical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD $c Macquarie University, Faculty of Sociology, School of Behavioural Sciences

Department, Centre or School

School of Behavioural Sciences

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Gerry Phelan

Additional Supervisor 1

Bob Connell


Copyright Tierney Robert 1991. Copyright disclaimer: Complete version suppressed due to copyright restrictions. However, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Macquarie University's Document Supply, please contact


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