The politics of history and the New South Wales Builders’ Labourers’ Federation
Wickham, G. (1984) The politics of history and the New South Wales Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. Local Consumption Occasional Paper, 2 .
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This paper has two distinct parts. In the first part I will present a short history of the New South Wales branch of the Builders' Labourers' Federation (BLF) between 1967 and 1975. It is an orthodox piece of labour history which I trust would be accepted as good labour history• in most Australian university departments and most Australian history journals. In the second part of the paper I want to use this short history to illustrate and develop some of my arguments about the politics of history. In the process I will be indirectly problematizing categories like "good history", and even the category of history itself.
Briefly and simply, the arguments I want to illustrate and develop are that history is best understood as a series of constructions of the past in the present; that these constructions have definite political effects: that these political effects are best understood at the specific points where the constructions of the past are actually produced (where they are written, spoken or made) and at the specific points where they are reproduced (where it is read or used). In other words, to use the terms of some recent literary theory, history is a series of texts. The politics of these texts are not contained within them, waiting only for skilled analysts to abstract them. Rather the politics of these texts are the politics of specific conditions in particular their production under institutions and the politics of their reading (or reproduction or use) under specific conditions in particular institutions.
I will present my history of the BLF as a short history text and then examine the politics of its production as a text and the politics of some likely reproductions (or readings or uses) of it.
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