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A sociological study of the Third Wave Campaign

Bailey, Janis (2001) A sociological study of the Third Wave Campaign. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis analyses the so-called "Third Wave" campaign in Western Australia in 1997 which was organised by the labour movement to protest against new industrial relations legislation. It uses a mixed-methods approach, including participant-observer ethnography. The research examines union strategy using theoretical approaches drawn from geographical, sociological, and cultural theory.

The thesis firstly takes a "conventional" or mainstream IR approach to analysing the campaign, using union strategy literature and in particular exploring the role of the Trades and Labor Council - WA's state-based union peak council - as the prime mover in the unions' campaign.

However, the thesis finds that such an approach fails to explain fully many of the strategies and tactics used in the campaign. These included the setting up of a protest site opposite WA's Parliament House: the Workers' Embassy. This site was staffed around the clock by unions for six months - five of those following the passage of the legislation. A conventional analysis does not explain why the union movement deployed its (scarce) resources at the site when they had no prospect of "winning" the campaign - ie, could not prevent the passage of the legislation.

Raymond Williams has commented that "the task of a successful ... movement will be one of feeling and imagination quite as much as one of fact and organisation". The thesis therefore analyses the campaign from a cultural materialist perspective - an approach that foregrounds "feeling and imagination", rather than simply describing the campaign from an institutional and/or politico­legislative viewpoint that privileges "fact and organisation".

Such an analysis explains why the campaign continued when it seemed to have been "lost" - and what the long-term benefits of such campaigning are. Simplistically, culture can be seen as a "whole way of life" or, alternatively, as a “whole way of struggle”. The argument in this thesis is that paradoxically, union sociocultural strategies can be both - developing and cementing relationships between individuals and groups as they seek representation within the public sphere as a “union counterpublic”, and at the same time being vehicles of ideological contestation internally and externally.

To complement the cultural material analysis, the thesis uses geographical theory - particularly radical human geography - to explore the spatiality of the campaign. Spatial features include the setting up of the Workers’ Embassy and its eventual transformation to “Solidarity Park” which was gifted to the people of WA and remains today as a monument not only to the campaign but also to the ideal of union solidarity. The campaign’s broader geographical dimensions are also examined. Social movement theory - using particularly John Kelly’s adaptation of such theories to IR - permits exploration of some of the sociological aspects of the campaign.

The thesis argues that industrial relations research and theory can expand its boundaries by moving beyond a preoccupation (in simple Marxist terms) with the “economic base”, to examine the “cultural superstructure”, and perhaps more importantly, to examine the processes integrating base and superstructure within particular contexts. This can be done by adopting subjectivist and/or interpretivist theoretical perspectives that are not normally used in the industrial relations literature. The thesis thus uses and applies geographical, sociological and cultural theory, all approaches not usually employed to study unions. The resulting analysis gives a complex, multi-stranded picture of union culture in which elements of traditional strategies are combined with newer methods to contest hegemonically imposed notions of what it is to be “union”.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Baldock, Cora
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