Labour History

Red and Green: Towards a Cross-Fertilisation of Labour and Environmental History

Labour History (2010), 99, (1), 1–16.


The three articles and research note in this thematic section explore intersections between labour history and environmental history, including productive alliances and tensions between the two. This introductory essay contextualises these studies by considering the nature of environmental history, its historiographical development, key contributions to the field in Australia and elsewhere, theoretical stances in the field, and what it is that environmental history can ‘offer’ labour history.

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1.J. Bailey,R. Gwyther,D. Jacobsen andG. Mallory, ‘Red, green and in-between: labour and the environment in historical context’(Conference Report), Labour History, no.98, May2010, pp.213-16. Google Scholar

2.N. Klein, ‘For Obama, no opportunity too big to blow’, The Nation, 21December2009. Google Scholar

3.L. Cupper andJ. Hearn, ‘Unions and the environment: recent Australian experience’, Industrial Relations, vol.20, no.2, 1981, pp.221-31.M. Burgmann andV. Burgmann, Green Bans, Red Union: Environmental Activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation,UNSW Press,, 1998;P. Norton, ‘Accord, discord, discourse and dialogue in the search for sustainable development: Labour-environmentalist cooperation and conflict in Australian debates on ecologically sustainable development and economic restructuring in the period of the Federal Labor Government, 1983-1996’, PhD dissertation,Griffith University, 2004;G. Mallory, Uncharted Waters: Social Responsibility in Australian Trade Unions,published by Greg Mallory,, 2005. Google Scholar

4.Burgmann andBurgmann, Green Bans, Red Union; Mallory, Uncharted Waters. Google Scholar

5.See the CFMEU (Mining and Energy Division)’s Climate Change policy at Google Scholar

6.See The ACTU has joined with the Climate Institute, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Social Service to form the Climate Coalition. See the Climate Connectors program. Google Scholar

7.G. Peck, ‘The nature of labor: fault lines and common ground in environmental and labor history’, Environmental History, vol.11, no.2, 2006, pp.212-38.V. Silverman, ‘Sustainable alliances: the origins of international labor environmentalism’, International Labor and Working-Class History, vol.66, Fall, 2004, pp.118-35. Google Scholar

8.Peck, ‘The nature of labor’, p.212. Google Scholar

9.See, for example,J. Ajani, The Forest Wars,Melbourne University Press,, 2007. Google Scholar

10.A. Howkins, ‘From Diggers to Dongas: the land in English radicalism, 1649-2000’, History Workshop Journal, vol.54, pp.1-23.K. Milton, ‘A changing sense of place: direct action and environmental protest in the UK’, inJ. Carrier(ed.), Confronting Environments: Local Understanding in a Globalizing World,Rowman and Littlefield,, 2004, pp.165-81. Google Scholar

11.A. Groom, One Mountain After Another,Angus & Robertson,, 1949. Google Scholar

12.B. Harker, ‘The Manchester rambler: Ewan MacColl and the 1932 mass trespass’, History Workshop Journal, vol.59, 2005, pp.219-27. Google Scholar

13.For example, the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, with the encouragement ofJudith Wright, was established in 1962, followed closely by the formation of the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1964. See,W. Lines, Patriots: Defending Australia’s Natural Heritage,University of Queensland Press,, 2006, p.38. Google Scholar

14.For example, the Total Environment Centre (covering the urban and natural environment) was established in 1972, following closely on the heels of Ecology Action, set up in 1971 to oppose threats to the global environment such as supersonic planes’ effects on the ozone layer. See,Lines, Patriots, pp.43, 119;Ecology Action Newsletter,, 1972. Google Scholar

15.C. Rootes, ‘Environmental movements’, inD. Snow,S. Soule andH. Kriesi(eds), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements,Blackwell,, 2004, pp.608-40. For a comprehensive history of the modern Australian environment movement and its forebears, seeD. Hutton andL. Connors, A History of the Australian Environment Movement,Cambridge University Press,, 1999. Google Scholar

16.Castells, 1997, cited in Rootes,‘Environmental Movements’, p.608. Google Scholar

17.Touraineet al., 1997, cited in Rootes,‘Environmental Movements’, p.608. Google Scholar

18.W. Cronon, ‘The Trouble with Wilderness’, Environmental History, vol.1, no.1, 1996, pp.20-25. Google Scholar

19.See, for example,D. Faber(ed.), The Struggle for Ecological Democracy: Environmental Justice Movements in the United States,Guilford Press,, 1998;R. Wilkinson andW. Freudenberg(eds), Equity and the Environment,Elsevier,, 2008. Google Scholar

20.J. Agyeman, ‘Constructing environmental (in)justice: transatlantic tales’, Environmental Politics, vol.11, no.3, 2002, pp.31-53.D.A. McDonald, (ed.), Environmental Justice in South Africa,Ohio University Press,, 2002;J. Martinez-Alier, The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation,Edward Elgar,, 2002;Rootes, ‘Environmental movements’, at pp.615-16. Google Scholar

21.See, for instance, the Transition Network, See, also,A. Kenis andE. Mathijs, ‘The role of citizenship in transitions to sustainability: the emergence of transition towns in Flanders, Belgium’, paper presented at the First European Conference on Sustainability Transitions: Dynamics and Governance of Transitions to Sustainability,, 4-6June2009, accessed 8 April 2010 at Google Scholar

22.See, for example,A. Vromen andN. Turnbull, ‘The Australian Greens: Challenges to the Cartel’, inI. Marsh(ed.), Parties in Transition,Federation Press,, 2006, pp.165-80. For a European perspective, seeJ. Burchell, The Evolution of Green Politics: Development and Change within European Green Parties,Earthscan,, 2002. Also see the research note by Harris in this issue. Google Scholar

23.Rootes, ‘Environmental movements’, p.609. Google Scholar

24.See, for example, the website of‘Business Shaper’, an Australian consultancy that offers ‘Sustainable business practices: making the complex simple’, including advice on ‘brand shaping’: Strategy and the Environment, vol.18, no.2, 2009, is a special issue on ‘Recapturing the corporate environmental management research agenda’. Google Scholar

25.M. Bess, ‘Anniversary forum: what next for environmental history?’, Environmental History, vol.10, no.1, 2005, pp.30-109. Google Scholar

26.A. Hurley, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980,University of North Carolina Press,, 1995, p.182;D. Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West,Pantheon Books,, 1985, p.50;A. Taylor, ‘Unnatural inequalities: social and environmental histories’, Environmental History, vol.1, no.4, 1996, pp.6-19. Google Scholar

27.S. Dovers, ‘Can environmental history engage with policy?’, inS. Brown,S. Dovers,J. Frawley,A. Gaynor,H. Goodall,G. Karskens andS. Mullins, ‘Can environmental history save the world?’, History Australia, vol.5, no.1, pp.03.02-03.06. Google Scholar

28.J. McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, History and Theory, vol.42, December, 2003, pp.5-43. Google Scholar

29.Australia and New Zealand Environmental History Network website, accessed 7 April 2010 at Google Scholar

30.R. White, ‘American environmental history: the development of a new historical field’, Pacific Historical Review, vol.54, 1985, pp.305-07. Google Scholar

31.Ibid., p.6. Rarely would all three strands be combined in an empirical study: see,S. Sorlin andP. Warde, ‘The problem of the problem of environmental history: a re-reading of the field’, Environmental History, vol.12, no.1, 2007, p.112. Google Scholar

32.J. O’Connor, Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism,Guildford Press,, 1998, p.54. Ch. 2,‘What is environmental history? Why environmental history?’is a particularly useful introduction to the field. Google Scholar

33.R. Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society,Fontana,, 1987, pp.219-21. Google Scholar

34.I. Simmons, Environmental History: A Concise Introduction,Blackwell,, 1993. Google Scholar

35.C. Merchant, The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History,Columbia University Press,, 2002, has useful material on methods. Google Scholar

36.M. Langton, ‘What do we mean by wilderness? Wilderness and terra nullius in Australian art’, Sydney Papers, Summer, 1996, pp.11-31. Google Scholar

37.The first use of the term in print, according toSorlin andWarde, was inR. Nash, ‘American environmental history: a new teaching frontier’, Pacific Historical Review, vol.41, 1972, pp.362-77. see,Sorlin andWarde, ‘The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History’, p.107. Google Scholar

38.A. Gaynor, ‘Tangled roots, spreading branches’inS. Brown,S. Dovers,J. Frawley,A. Gaynor,H. Goodall,G. Karskens andS. Mullins, ‘Can environmental history save the world?’, History Australia, vol.5, no.1, pp.03.01-03.02, citingNash, ‘American environmental history’. Google Scholar

39.There were, nevertheless, earlier and important phases of‘nature politics’which are part of the longer-term development of environmentalism: see,P. Sutton, Nature, Environment and Society,Palgrave Macmillan,, 2004, p.43. These include the Romantic Movement that evolved alongside industrialisation and is probably best known in its cultural manifestations, particularly the poetry of Wordsworth, but also from philosophical works such asWaldenby pioneering US environmentalistHenry David Thoreau. Of particular interest to labour historians is the impact of socialist and designerWilliam Morris, whose communitarian philosophy emphasising a pride in craft and human dignity consistent with environmentalism: see,P. Hay, A Companion to Environmental Thought,Edinburgh University Press,, 2002, pp.4-18.277. Google Scholar

40.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, pp.13-15.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.12, points out, however, that the journal never adopted the term ‘environmental history’ and for the past three decades has published very little on the topic. Google Scholar

41.Gaynor, ‘Tangled roots, spreading branches’, pp.03.01-03.02. Google Scholar

42.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, pp.9-10. Google Scholar

43.Ibid., p.11. Google Scholar

44.Environmental History Network’s website at, accessed 7 April 2010;G. Karskens, ‘Saving the cities, saving the world’, inS. Brown,S. Dovers,J. Frawley,A. Gaynor,H. Goodall,G. Karskens andS. Mullins, ‘Can environmental history save the world?’, History Australia, vol.5, no.1, p.03.09;S. Brown, ‘Surveying our past and building our future: an environmental history of an Australian suburb’, Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies, vol.13, 2007, pp.23-32. Google Scholar

45.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, pp.41-42. Google Scholar

46.General works in this genre that have been published in the past 10 years include:D.J. Hughes, What is Environmental History,Polity Press,, 2006;S. Krech,J. McNeill andC. Merchant(eds), Encylopaedia of World Environmental History, vols.1-3,Routledge,, 2003;J. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World,Norton,, 2003;S. Warde andS. Sorlin, Nature’s End: History and the Environment,Macmillan,, 2009. Google Scholar

47.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.35;Hughes, ‘What is environmental history’, pp.99-101. Google Scholar

48.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.35. Google Scholar

49.Sorlin andWarde(‘The problem of the problem of environmental history’, pp.107-30., for instance, call for great recognition of human agency. Google Scholar

50.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.36. Google Scholar

51.J. O’Neill, Ecology, Policy and Politics: Human Well-being and the Natural World,Routledge,, 1993. Google Scholar

52.A. Naess, ‘A defence of the deep ecology movement’, Environmental Ethics, vol.6, 1984, pp.265-70. Google Scholar

53.R. Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political Theory: Towards an Ecocentric Approach,UCL Press,, 1992;D. Pepper, Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction,Routledge,, 1996. Google Scholar

54.H. Goodall, ‘Will environmental history save the world?’, inS. Brown,S. Dovers,J. Frawley,A. Gaynor,H. Goodall, G. KarskensandS. Mullins, ‘Can environmental history save the world?’, History Australia, vol.5, no.1, 2008, pp.03.13-03.16. Google Scholar

55.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.23. Google Scholar

56.Sorlin andWarde, ‘The problem of the problem of environmental history’, pp.108-12. Google Scholar

57.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, pp.22-23. Google Scholar

58.G. Bolton, ‘Spoils and Spoilers’: Australians Make their Environment, 1788-1980,Allen & Unwin,, 1981. Google Scholar

59.Gaynor, ‘Tangled roots, spreading branches’, p.03.01. Google Scholar

60.S. Wyndham, ‘Author Rolls dies aged 84’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2November2007, accessed 7April 2010 at Google Scholar

61.For example:S. Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism,Green Books,, 1997(revised2002);Q. Beresford,H. Bekle,H. Phillips andJ. Mulcock, The Salinity Crisis: Landscapes, Communities and Politics,University of Western Australia Press,, 2001;T. Bonyhady, Places Worth Keeping: Conservationists, Politics and the Law,Allen & Unwin,, 1993;T. Bonyhady, The Colonial Earth,Melbourne University Press, 2000;S. Dovers(ed.)Australian Environmental History: Essays and Cases,OUP,, 1994;S. Dovers(ed.)Environmental History and Policy: Still Settling Australia,OUP,, 2000;T. Griffiths andL. Robin(eds), Ecology andEmpire: Environmental History of Settler Societies,Keele University Press,, 1997;L. Robin, Defending the Little Desert: The Rise of Ecological Consciousness in Australia,Melbourne University Press,, 1998;L. Robin, How a Continent Created a Nation,UNSW Press,, 2007;A. Young, Environmental Change in Australia since 1788, (2nd edn),OUP,, 2000. Google Scholar

62.D. Hutton andL. Connors, A History of the Australian Environment Movement,Cambridge University Press,, 1999;T. Doyle, Green Power: The Environment Movement in Australia,UNSW Press,, 2000; Lines, Patriots. Google Scholar

63.T. Flannery, The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People,Reed Books,, 1994(made into a three-part ABC Television series in 1998);The Weather Makers:The History and Future Impact of Climate Change,Text,, 2005;Now or Never: A Sustainable Future for Australia?, Black Ink, Melbourne, 2009. Google Scholar

64.L. Robin,C. Dickman andM. Martin(eds), Desert Channels: The Impulse to Conserve,CSIRO Publishing,, forthcoming. Google Scholar

65.See, for example,J. Huggins,R. Huggins andJ. Jacobs, ‘Kooramindanjie: place and the postcolonial’, History Workshop Journal, vol.39, 1995, pp.165-81. Google Scholar

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67.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.11. Google Scholar

68.See, Google Scholar

69.Both journals published useful ‘state of the field’ issues in 2004. See,Peck, ‘The nature of labor’, n.4, p.233, for a list of articles inEnvironmental Historythat examine the intersections between the labour movement and environmentalism. Google Scholar

70.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’. Google Scholar

71.Sorlin andWarde, ‘The problem of the problem of environmental history’, p.114, citing Beck’s and Giddens’s work as having ‘potential’ for environmental theorists. Google Scholar

72.McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.37. Google Scholar

73.See, for example,D. della Porta, andD. Rucht, ‘The dynamics of environmental campaigns’, Mobilization, vol, 7, no.1, 2002, pp.1-14. Google Scholar

74.See, for example, the edited collectionA. Dobson andR. Eckersley(eds), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge,Cambridge University Press,, 2006. Google Scholar

75.V. Norwood, ‘Disturbed landscape/disturbing processes: environmental history for the twenty-first century’, Pacific Historical Review, vol.70, no.1, 2001, p.84. Google Scholar

76.V. Plumwood, ‘Feminism and ecofeminism: beyond the dualistic assumptions of women, men and nature’, The Ecologist, vol.22, no.1, 1992, pp.8-13. Google Scholar

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79.B. Commoner, The Closing Circle,Knopf,, 1971. Google Scholar

80.See, for example,T. Benton, ‘Greening the Left? From Marx to world-system theory’, inJ. Petty,A. Ball andT. Benton(eds), The Sage Handbook of Environment and Society,Sage,, 2007, pp.91-106.T. Benton, Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice,Verso,, 1993. Google Scholar

81.R. Constanza,O. Segura andJ. Martinez Alier(eds), Getting Down to Earth: Practical Applications of Ecological Economics,Island Press,, 1996. Google Scholar

82.See, for example,J. O’Connor, Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism,Guilford,, 1998. Google Scholar

83.The most recent of which isJ. B. Foster, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet,Monthly Review Press,, 2009. Google Scholar

84.Peck, ‘The nature of labor’, p.230. Google Scholar

85.Hay, A Companion to Environmental Thought. See, also,D. Jamieson(ed.), A Companion to Environmental Philosophy,Blackwell,, 2001. Google Scholar

86.Peck, ‘The nature of labor’, p.213. Google Scholar

87.Sutton, ‘Nature, environment and society’, p.13. Google Scholar

88.Ibid, p.19. Google Scholar

89.Taylor, ‘Unnatural inequalities’, p.8. Google Scholar

90.Ibid., p.7. Google Scholar

91.R. White, ‘“Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?”: work and nature’, inW. Cronon(ed.), Uncommon Ground; Rethinking the Human Place in Nature,Norton,, 1996, pp.171-85. Google Scholar

92.Ibid., p.185. Google Scholar

93.Ibid., p.184. Google Scholar

94.L. Lipin, Workers and the Wild: Conservation, Consumerism, and Labour in Oregon,1910-1930,University of Illinois Press,, 2007. Google Scholar

95.J. Merritt, The Making of the AWU,Oxford University Press,, 1986. Google Scholar

96.See, for example,P. Sheldon, ‘Job control for workers’ health: the 1908 Sydney rockchoppers’ strike’, Labour History, no.55, November, 1988, pp.39-54. Google Scholar

97.L. Bryson,K. McPhillips andK. Robinson, ‘Turning public issues into private troubles: lead contamination, domestic labour, and the exploitation of women’sunpaid labour in Australia’, inK. King andD. McCarthy(eds), Environmental Sociology: From Analysis to Action,Rowman and Littlefield,, pp.107-19.H. Goodall, ‘Indigenous peoples, colonialism, and memories of environmental injustice’, inS. Washington,P. Rosier andH. Goodall(eds), Echoes from the Poisoned Well: Global Memories of Environmental Injustice,Lexington Books,, 2006, pp.73-96. Google Scholar

98.See, for example,B. Ellem, ‘Contested communities: geo-histories of unionism’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, vol.21, no.4, 2008, pp.433-50. andB. Ellem, ‘Scaling labour: Australian unions and global mining’, Work, Employment and Society, vol.20, no.2, 2006, pp.369-87. Google Scholar

99.See, for example,N. Townsend, ‘A strange, wild set? Cedar-cutters on the Macleay, Nambucca and Bellinger Rivers, 1838 to 1848’, Labour History, no.55, November1988, pp.9-21. andK. Fry, ‘Soldier settlement and the Australian agrarian myth after the First World War’, Labour History, no.48, May1985, pp.29-43. Google Scholar

100.H. Goodall, ‘Telling country: memory, modernity and narratives in rural Australia’, History Workshop Journal, vol.47, 1999, pp.161-90. Google Scholar

101.J. Mundey, Green Bans and Beyond,Angus and Robertson,, 1981;M. Burgmann andV. Burgmann, ‘Green Bans, Red Union’;G. Mallory, ‘Uncharted Waters’. See, also,J. Ajani, The Forest Wars,Melbourne University Press,Carlton, 2007, which covers the involvement of the CFMEU-Forestry Division in the logging blockade of the Keating Government; and Cupper and Hearn,‘Unions and the environment’which examines the 1971 Newport power station dispute, and union opposition to uranium mining from the early 1970s. Google Scholar

102.Karskens, ‘Saving the cities, saving the world’, p.03.10. Google Scholar

103.H. Goodall, andA. Cadzow, Rivers and Resilience: Aboriginal People on Sydney’s Georges River,UNSW Press,, 2009. Google Scholar

104.S.A. Radcliffe,E.E. Watson,I. Simmons,F. Fernandez-Armesto andA. Sluyter, ‘Environmentalist thinking and/in geography’, Progress in Human Geography, vol.34, no.1, 2010, pp.98-116. Google Scholar

105.W. Cronon, ‘Modes of prophecy and production: placing nature in history,’ Journal of American History, vol.76, 1990, p.1131. Some see such political engagement declining, especially in the West, for example,McNeill, ‘Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history’, p.34. Google Scholar

106.Taylor, ‘Unnatural inequalities’, pp.11-15. Google Scholar

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Author details

Bailey, Janis

Gwyther, Ross