Australian Welfare: Historical Sociology by Richard Kennedy

By Richard Kennedy

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That Comparisons 43 quarter-century had seen not only unprecedented economic growth, but also an unprecedented challenge to the system, through, for example, the ability of organised labour to extract a higher share of total output by means of higher real wages, and better 'social wages' in the diverse forms that welfare was taking. This increase in the forms of labour's share, was one direct cause of falling rates of profit. When coupled with attacks on managerial prerogatives, it was seen as a threat to the system which had to be removed.

At best the unemployed lived a hand-to-mouth existence with spells of relief work or sustenance payment supplemented by food bundles and queuing at soup kitchens. At worst they lost everything, including the roof over their heads. Clearly, welfare takes curious forms, and is a relative term. The welfare of foreign investors and the rich in Australia was placed well ahead of that of the working classes. The former were not required to make any sacrifices; indeed, an emissary from the Bank of England, Sir Otto Niemeyer, had been sent to Australia, to argue against the proposals for a moratorium on foreign debt made by Jack Lang, the Premier of New South Wales.

1 28 Comparisons 29 The years 1850 to 1890 have been termed the Long Boom. They saw a sustained expansion of colonial pastoralism producing for the British market, itself expanding in the heyday of Victorian industrial capitalism. A small class of very large landowners emerged, and a new rural petit bourgeoisie. It was also in this period that the Australian working class was formed. The conditions under which a working class is formed are a crucial factor in the development of capitalism, as the real wages achieved at that time tend to set a 'floor' below which wages do not normally fall.

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