How Labour Built Neoliberalism

Australia’s Accord, the Labour Movement and the Neoliberal Project


Why do we always assume it was the New Right that was at the centre of constructing neoliberalism? How might corporatism have advanced neoliberalism? And, more controversially, were the trade unions only victims of neoliberal change, or did they play a more contradictory role? In How Labour Built Neoliberalism, Elizabeth Humphrys examines the role of the Labor Party and trade unions in constructing neoliberalism in Australia, and the implications of this for understanding neoliberalism’s global advance. These questions are central to understanding the present condition of the labour movement and its prospects for the future.

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Biographical Note

Elizabeth Humphrys is a political economist at the University of Technology Sydney. She has published on trade union and social movement responses to crisis, including in Globalizations and Critical Sociology. She completed her Ph.D. (2016) at the University of Sydney.

Review Quotes

"The book opens up a discussion about the contemporary ‘profound disorganisation of trade unions’ not with the end of lamenting that which has been lost but as the starting point for how workers can win back control over their lives. [...] How Labour Built Neoliberalism points to the dead-end that is resolving a crisis of capitalism on capitalist terms. This is the strategic value Humphrys’ work brings to the present predicament of the labour movement." -- Godfrey Moase, in Overland, 1 April 2019

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction
 1The ALP & ACTU Accord
 2The Social Contract’s Gala Dinner
 3Neoliberalism’s Corporatist Origins
 4A Hegemonic Political Project
 5Corporatist ‘ involucro
 6A Note on Method
 7Structure of the Book

2 Theorising the State–Civil Society Relationship
 1.1Some Preliminary Comments
 2Marx’s Critique of Hegel
 3From Critique of Politics to Critique of Political Economy
 4From Marx to Gramsci
 4.1 Lo stato integrale
 5Gramsci contra Marx? The Limits of Integration

3 Corporatism in Australia
 2Understanding Corporatism
 3Panitch’s Approach
 4Corporatism and the Accord
 5The Context of Arbitration

4 Destabilising the Dominant Narrative
 1.1Conceptual Diversity
 2The Dominant Narrative
 2.1Harvey: A Brief History of Neoliberalism
 2.2Klein: The Shock Doctrine
 2.3Peck, Theodore, Tickell and Brenner: ‘Neoliberalisation’
 2.4Destabilising the Dominant Narrative
 3A Class Approach to Neoliberalism
 3.1Harvey: ‘The restoration of class power’
 3.2Davidson: ‘An entirely new political regime’
 3.3A Hegemonic Political Project

5 Periodising Neoliberalism
 2Periodising Neoliberalism in Australia
 3Proto-neoliberal stage: 1973–1983
 3.1The Economic Crisis
 3.2The Whitlam Government
 3.3The Fraser Government
 4Vanguard Neoliberal Stage: 1983–1993
 4.1The Impasse of the 1970s
 4.2Developing the Accord
 5Piecemeal Neoliberalisation Stage: 1993–2008
 5.1Howard’s Piecemeal Neoliberalism
 6Crisis stage: 2008 Onwards

6 The Disorganisation of Labour
 2The Accord Agreement
 3Wages and the Accord
 3.1The First Accord (1983)
 3.2Accord Mark II (1985–1987)
 3.3Accord Mark III (1986–1987)
 3.4Accord Mark IV (1988–1989), V (1989–1990) & VI (1990–1993)
 3.5Accord Mark VII (1993) & VIII (Draft Only)
 4Wage Suppression
 4.1Labour Disorganisation

7 An Integral State
 2Accord Divergences
 2.1The National Economic Summit and Communiqué
 2.3‘Big bang’ and Other Neoliberal Reforms
 2.4Trade Liberalisation
 4Social Wage and Contested Understandings
 4.3Worth the Cost?
 5The Concord of Neoliberalism and the Accord
 5.1A Brace against Neoliberalism?
 5.2Theorising the Corporatism–Neoliberalism Connection
 5.3An ‘informal Accord’?
 5.4The Accord as involucro

8 How Labour Made Neoliberalism
 2From Worker Agency to State Agency
 2.1The Shift to Support the Accord
 2.2Planning as a Solution to Crisis?
 2.3Consultation on, and Support for, the Accord
 2.4Sticking with the Accord
 2.5Industry policy and Australia Reconstructed
 3Managing Dissent and Disorganising Labour
 3.1Civil Legal Action against Labour Disputes
 3.2Deregistration of the Builders Labourers’ Federation
 3.3Pilots’ Dispute
 4Enterprise Bargaining and the Antinomies of the Accord
 4.1Hegemony Unravelling

9 A Return to the International
 2A Brief Detour in the Antipodes
 3The British Social Contract (1974–1979)
 4The Carter Administration (1977–1981) and Prior
 5New York City Council Fiscal Crisis (1975–1981)
 6Contemporary Finland

10 Conclusion: Neoliberalism at Dusk
 1Internal Relations
 2Antinomies and Residues
 3Neoliberalism at Dusk

 Appendix B: Timeline of Predecessors to the AMWU


All interested in neoliberalism’s global advance, including the role of trade unions and labour parties. All interested in the Accord social contract in Australia, and corporatism in the neoliberal era.

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