Dienstag, 3. Dezember 2013

How labour built neoliberalism in Australia

Brownbag seminar by Elizabeth Humphrys, University of Sydney

While most literature on neoliberalism argues it can only be understood through its variety and geographic specificity, accounts still often emphasise two particular narratives. Firstly, that neoliberalism was implemented in its vanguard phase by governments of the Right (such as those of Thatcher and Reagan, with similar policies subsequently adopted by social democratic parties). Secondly, that neoliberalism is primarily a coercive project (e.g. direct attacks on unions and the working class, imposition of structural adjustment, the Pinochet dictatorship). This talk asks how the example of Australia, as an exception to both these common narratives, might usefully illuminate the nature of neoliberalism more generally. After the 1970s crisis, the key neoliberal political-economic transformations were undertaken by the Australian Labor Party government (1983-1996) through a consensual social contract with the trade unions (‘The Accord’). Rather than an emphasis on the strength of the neoliberal Right, an examination of the Australian example throws the focus back on the impasse of social democracy and the failure of the Left to construct a credible (mass) political alternative to the imperatives of neoliberal restructuring in the context of economic crisis.