2021 Conference: Fighting for Life

Class, Community and Care in Labour's History


The 17th biennial conference of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (ASSLH) will be held 5-8 December 2021 in Bendigo, Victoria. Organised with the support of LaTrobe University, the theme of the conference is Fighting For Life: Class, Community and Care in Labour History.

The onset of the recent pandemic has illuminated vital links between health, labour and community history. The collective experience of paid work, as labour historians have long shown, is highly differentiated according to the intersections of gender, race, sexuality, disability, religion, ethnicity and class.

As the threat of contagion from Covid-19 spread, the reality of these intersections within contemporary working conditions came starkly into view. Health workers became frontline heroes combatting the impact of disease and sustaining life, while statistics showed their susceptibility to infection and its transmission to communities. Revelations about the breadth and depth of precarity, mobility, even wage theft, in health work and across many sectors of the workforce, exposed threats to community physical and mental health from decades of neoliberal policies, practices of workplace management and declining union power.

Older union campaigns for occupational health and safety in hazardous industries took on new meaning as care homes, hospitals, cruise ships and abattoirs became the epicentres of workplace disease. Regional and community differences made the impacts and consequences of the crisis neither uniform nor predictable. How the economic and social costs were  disproportionately carried – by women, the young, and vulnerable Indigenous or migrant communities – showed up vast inequalities of resources, housing and welfare services. For some, technology enabled new work cultures to emerge. Working from home broke down old boundaries.

Convenors of the ASSLH conference  have chosen this moment of an international health crisis to examine changes in the meaning and historical context of labour health and community. What have been the experiences and relationships between health, community, and labour over time?  Can a crisis be an opportunity for strengthening community networks and increasing political organisation for meaningful change?  

The conference organisers, on behalf of the ASSLH, invite submissions for papers exploring this theme and also welcome papers on all aspects of labour experience. We are particularly keen to have papers exploring:

  • intersections of class, gender, ethnic and generational differences
  • methodologies for studying labour’s history
  • economic and health crises in earlier periods or national histories
  • illuminations of community in remembering and story-telling
  • a rural, or regional focus
  • health, safety and disability
  • Indigenous labour and political protest
  • moments and strategies of workers’ resistance to health risks

 Abstracts of 200 words, and a brief bio., with institutional or organisational affiliation where relevant, should be submitted via the form below by the deadline of 1 April 2021.  Acceptances will be notified in May 2021.

We don’t expect international travel to have resumed by December and it’s quite possible domestic travel including NZ may also be disrupted. The conference will be a hybrid format with provision for some digital presentations as well as some in-person participation, details of which will be announced later. Please indicate on your proposal if you are anticipating or prefer a digital participation.

Convenors: Emma Robertson, Diane Kirkby.  Conference Assistant: Dmytro Ostapenko.

Consultative Committee:  Charles Fahey, Ruth Ford, Jennifer Jones, Katie Wood.