Labour History

The Radical Arm of the Welfare Lobby: A History of the Victorian Coalition Against Poverty and Unemployment, 1980-91

Labour History (2021), 120, (1), 117–144.

Abstract

Australia has had high levels of unemployment since the mid-1970s, particularly from approximately 1976-94, yet to date there has been no significant study of political activism by the unemployed in the modern era. This article fills some of this knowledge gap by examining the activities of the Victorian Coalition against Poverty and Unemployment (CAPU), an activist group based on an alliance of trade unions, churches, community groups and the unemployed. Whilst CAPU was influenced by conventional Marxist critiques of the welfare state and highly critical of both the professional social welfare sector and the Australian Labor Party, it also worked co-operatively with key community welfare groups such as the Victorian Council of Social Service and the Brotherhood of St Laurence on specific campaigns. Consequently, it is argued that CAPU was not an anti-welfare organisation per se, but rather acted as the radical arm of the welfare lobby seeking to shame governments into operationalising in practice their declared social justice principles.

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Author details

Mendes, Philip