Australian workers and anti-colonialism symposium: A call for papers

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Purai Global Indigenous History Centre’s affiliate, Paddy Gibson, is part of the organising team for an online symposium, in February 2022, about Australian workers and anti-colonialism and would like to hear from scholars interested in the topic.

Black and white photograph of a crane, high above a cityscape, with a banner saying,
Builders Labourer’s Federation members promote the Moratorium for Black Rights, 1972.

Two keynote speakers University of Sydney’s Professor Ann Curthoys, and University of Newcastle’s Emeritus Professor John Maynard, will present at the “Imperialism and its agents must be destroyed”: Australian Workers and Anti-Colonialism in the twentieth century symposium.

The Australian working-class movement has a mixed history of internationalism and solidarity.

In 1930, the Communist Party’s, Weekly Worker, declared it the responsibility of “workers and the colonial peoples” to “destroy…imperialism and its agents.”

Their call was part of a proud anti-colonial legacy linking campaigns in solidarity with Chinese factory workers in the 1920s and black bans of Dutch shipping, during the struggle for Indonesian independence.

In addition, they also supported campaigns advocating for Indigenous Australians and opposing the Vietnam War.

Yet Trade Unions and the Labor Party were prominent supporters of the White Australia Policy and the deportation of South Sea Island labourers in the 1900s.

This legacy of fear and exclusion that is deeply woven into the movement’s fabric.

Since the publication of Who are our enemies: Racism and the Australian Working Class in 1978 by Andrew Markus & Anne Curthoys, there has been an explosion of work which maps the contours of this troubling relationship.

This transnational turn has offered new ways of understanding how Australian workers helped form international networks of racial exclusion and control.

At the same time, they participated in global and regional alliances to undermine these networks.

Then there are studies that reveal how unions and working-class political parties sought, often furtively or half-heartedly, to support Indigenous peoples, either as workers or, more rarely, political subjects in their own right.

February’s 2022 symposium aims to contribute to this untidy mixture of legacies and takes this historical background as a stepping-off point, inviting papers on topics such as, but not limited to:

  • Solidarity campaigns with, and connections between, workers abroad, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.
  • Relationships between ‘white’ workers and recent migrants.
  • The Australian working class and international organisations.
  • The far left and the politics of anti-colonialism.
  • Movements against wars of imperialism (from the Boer to Iraq Wars).
  • The struggles of colonised peoples within Australia.

Abstracts of 250 words should be submitted via email to to Jon Piccini by 30 August 2021.

The symposium, “Imperialism and its agents must be destroyed”: Australian Workers and Anti-Colonialism in the twentieth century is scheduled for 3-4 February 2020, online (via Zoom)

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