Labour History

The Politics of Consumption and Labour History

Labour History (2011), 100, (1), 145–166.


Australian labour historians have generally concentrated on exploring the politics of production rather than of consumption. The behaviour, actions and perspectives of consumers, however, are just as important to our understanding of society as are those of producers. This article undertakes a general review of historical debates in the Australian literature concerning the concept of consumption. It then provides an overview of the Australian experience based on primary and secondary research. Two issues are of particular interest. The first is the collective response of workers and other groups to the issues associated with consumption including the prices and the quality of goods and services. The article will primarily focus on co-operatives as the collective response. The second issue is the way in which employers attempt to control consumption through a range of strategies including company stores and canteens.

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Author details

Balnave, Nikola

Patmore, Greg