Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘Silent forms of coercion’: Welfare Capitalism, State Labour Regulation and Collective Action at the Yarraville Sugar Refinery, 1890-1925

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2011), 101, (1), 105–122.

Abstract

From 1890 through the early decades of the twentieth century, the Colonial Sugar Refinery under the leadership of Edward Knox introduced a wide range of welfare measures including pensions, sickness benefits, company housing and company loans for houses. Through these measures Knox hoped to insulate his workforce from unions and state regulation of the labour market. However, his workforce lived and worked in industrial suburbs where they could compare their wages and conditions with workers who were in unions and were covered by awards. Such comparison became more acute during a period of wartime inflation when their wages fell behind neighbouring workers. When industrial unrest erupted in the western suburbs in 1917, labourers at the Yarraville sugar refinery threw in their lot with the strikers and joined the dispute. At the end of the dispute, strikers were forced to retire on pensions, and strikers were forced to repay company home loans. Edward Knox had overplayed his hand and shown that welfare measures were just ‘silent forms of coercion’. Opposition to unions and state regulation of labour markets was no longer possible, and CSR was forced to deal with unions.

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Endnotes

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55.Ibid. Google Scholar

60.Address to shareholders, 30 October 1917, Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21November1917, p.961. Google Scholar

62. ArgusandAge, 30July1919. Google Scholar

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Author details

Fahey, Charles

Lack, John