Labour History

Doing Without the Boss: Workers’ Control Experiments in Australia in the 1970s

Labour History (2012), 103, (1), 103–122.


Experiments with workers’ control occurred in many countries during the late post-war boom period in circumstances of heightened industrial militancy and a crisis in employer and state authority. They are again popular under different conditions, especially in Argentina and Venezuela. Such episodes demonstrate that labour can exist without capital, whereas capital is always dependent on labour. This essential autonomy of labour from capital is a notion elaborated most cogently by ‘autonomist’ Marxists, especially Antonio Negri. His concepts of autonomy, self-valorisation and political crisis are used to describe and analyse Australian workers’ control experiments during the 1970s, focusing especially on the Sydney Opera House work-in of April-May 1972, the Whyalla Glove Factory occupation of November 1972 and formation of a workers’ co-operative that lasted until September 1973, and the Nymboida mine work-in and takeover under workers’ and union control from February 1975 to August 1979.

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25.Ibid., p.5. Google Scholar

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29.Ibid., p.5. Google Scholar

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35.Ibid., p.5. Google Scholar

36.Ibid., pp.8-9. Google Scholar

37.Ibid., p.20. Google Scholar

38.Ibid., p.18. Google Scholar

39.Ibid., pp.17-18. Google Scholar

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62.In February 1972, about 45 women, employed making leather uppers for shoes at a factory in Fakenham in East Anglia, had declared the factory under workers’ control in response to its impending closure due to the employer’s bankruptcy. With machinery and scraps of leather to hand, they began producing leather items such as bags for sale locally under the label of ‘Fakenham Occupation Workers‘. However, the unions concerned were unsupportive; one official even told the Fakenham women they were ‘silly girls’. SeeJudy Wacjman, Women in Control: Dilemmas of a Worker’s Co-operative,Open University Press,, 1983. pp.48-48. Google Scholar

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111.Quoted inIbid., pp.56-57. Google Scholar

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Author details

Burgmann, Verity

Jureidini, Ray

Burgmann, Meredith