The unemployed who kicked: a study of the political struggles and organisations of the New South Wales unemployed in the Great Depression
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 21:25 by Nadia Wheatley
The unemployed workers of the Australian Depression have usually been portrayed as a dispirited, disorganised mass, making few political attempts to resist the poverty and degradation brought about by unemployment and heightened by the inadequacies of government relief and the form taken by its administration. The question, 'Why did the unemployed not fight back?', is often asked; oddly, perhaps, few historians have simply asked: 'Did they fight back?' This thesis tries to answer the second question, and denies the assumption behind the first. In fact, over the years 1930 to 1935 (and, to a lesser extent, in the periods 1927 or so until 1930, and from 1936 up to the war) thousands of unemployed workers in New South Wales alone actively resisted their fate in an organised and often militant manner. Small political organisations of unemployed workers proliferated in local areas. While a number were independent of any political party or wider organisational network, many were affiliated to, and some were initiated by, the various central unemployed organisations founded by the Communist Party. Others were inaugurated by the Labor Party. In regard to both the organisation and the activism of these political groups, success alternated with setbacks. While the latter were at times almost crushing, this does not detract from the very real successes of the movement: firstly, unemployed workers won a number of concrete improvements in their economic and social position; secondly -- and probably more importantly -- by the very act of organising and demonstrating, by demanding to be treated as workers rather than as rightless objects of charity, they resisted at least some of the degradation caused by their inability to provide for their own and their families' needs.