Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Cultivating Class Consciousness in a New Generation: The Labor Guild of Youth in Melbourne 1926-28

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2002), 82, (1), 49–63.


This article examines the inspiration and origins of the Labor Guild of Youth, formed as a section of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria in 1926. It also traces the progress of the organisation, analysing its membership, leadership, aims and objectives, educational and social activities and the reasons for its failure to develop a large following. The main purpose of the paper, however, is to investigate the significance of the establishment of a youth organisation that had the specific objective of encouraging class consciousness and identity rather than the conservative patriotic citizenship that predominated in most of the other youth movements that proliferated in early twentieth-century Melbourne. While acknowledging forerunners like the Socialist Sunday School, the paper will argue that the Labor Guild of Youth was indicative of the transition from middle-class paternalist organisations established for adolescents to ones that acknowledged and supported greater independence and a larger degree of self-governance. The difficulties and contradictions involved in this process, as well as the tensions arising from attempts to combine pleasure and leisure with political ambition, and the different objectives of ‘hand’ and ‘brain’ workers, are themes integral to the analysis and conclusions about the Guild’s historical significance and fate. So too are the male-gendered but unspoken assumptions built into the labour movement and its associated organisations, despite the mixed membership of the Guild. The principal sources used are Labor Call, the minutes of the Guild and Labor Youth but the study will be placed in the context of research on the organisation of youth by others in the 1920s, including conservative political parties and pioneers in the field like the YWCA and the YMCA.

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Author details

Smart, Judith

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