This week, Political Economy Department members Elizabeth Humphrys and Damien Cahill are speaking at the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA) Annual Conference at the University of Sydney. They are presenting a joint paper on Labour and the Neoliberal Revolution.
Elizabeth and Damien argue that explanations of neoliberalism have been modelled on paradigmatic cases in Chile, the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK). Such accounts largely posit neoliberalism as a project of governments of the New Right, imposed coercively on civil society by states and those convinced of neoliberal ideology, and only subsequently adopted by social democratic parties. That is, they contend that neoliberalism arose in Chile, the US and UK, and was then exported elsewhere.
In accepting this dominant narrative explanations of the development of neoliberalism in other locations have been obscured. This is particularly clear when we look at Australia, where neoliberalism was introduced while the Australian Labour Party was in power and during a consensual social contract with the trade unions. The dominant narrative has narrowed our understanding of neoliberalism, and created an ideal type. Neoliberalism in other locations has then been measured against these ideal types, rather than understood as a diverse and global process from the start.
Of particular interest to Elizabeth and Damien is the role demarcated for the labour movement within such accounts. Labour is typically viewed as the object of neoliberalism, with the state (and New Right governments) assigned agency. Emphasis is placed on the suppression of trade union organising and the intensified exploitation of labour. Their paper asks, suggestively, about the active role of labour in the construction of neoliberalism. It asks how labour agency might be ‘written in’ to the present narrative in order to provide a more nuanced account of the transformations since the end of the long post-WWII boom. They ask about the relationship between neoliberalism and labour in Australia, but also about the organisational leadership of labour in the US and UK — most particularly prior to the elections of Thatcher and Reagan.
The session is taking place in the New Law School Room 340, Tuesday September 30, 2.00-3.30.
Also speaking in the session are political economists Ben Spies-Butcher (Macquarie) and Jean Parker (UTS). Ben is speaking on the Australian welfare state during the neoliberal era, and Jean on the Rudd Labor Government’s response to the GFC.
Can’t make it to the session but want to read more on neoliberalism?
- Elizabeth explores the form of neoliberalism’s dominant narrative in greater detail on her blog.
- An interview with Damien on his blog explores the embeddedness and persistence of neoliberalism, as well as how we might move beyond it.
- Ben writes frequently on political economy for The Conversation.
- Jean has recently written about the home insulation package component of the Rudd stimulus package, in particular the outsourcing of risk, in a number of places.