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Place-based action in Wollongong: the role of union-community alliances in constructing labour geographies of steel

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Place-based action (PBA) features prominently in labour geographies, particularly in restructuring politics, and is consistently employed as an enduring union tactic, yet it remains relatively undervalued in steel restructuring accounts, with common approaches emphasising the class instability and limitations of such action. In contrast, and to redress the apparent imbalance, this paper argues the merit of recognising PBA as a distinct movement-based politic with specific forms of representation and empowerment. Such an approach should lead to greater recognition and appreciation of the impact that PBA has had historically. To illustrate this, a case study is presented of how local groups used place-based action in Wollongong to shape steel restructuring politics and industry policy during the 1980s. Although powerful, the influence of PBA diminished at the policy writing stage. Rather than devaluing all benefits from PBA due to such limitations, it is suggested that the constraints on PBA at this point suggests the need for other forms of intervention. It is concluded that the approach suggested here highlights when other tactics are required, strengthening real-world tactical analysis.

Keywords: Unions; Wollongong; industry policy; politics; steel restructuring

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Australian Defence Force Academy Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2004

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