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Skilled workers and their unions have long held a central place in New Zealand labour history. While there has been much written about the economic position and industrial and political mobilisation of the skilled, less is known about their lives in terms of marital and residential differentiation and segregation, and their activities in voluntary associations. This article adopts a micro-historical approach and uses Hobsbawm's 'aristocracy of labour' criteria to describe and interpret the economic and social position of members of the Dunedin branch of a New Zealand trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, for skilled engineering workers. In doing so, it makes reference to a large body of work that examines the process of class formation in one of New Zealand's oldest industrial suburbs. In his review of labour history in New Zealand, John Martin declared that it has long been dominated by a focus on the history of trade unions and the relationship of the labour movement with the Labour Party'. (1) Drawing on Nolan and Walsh's reassessment of the arbitration system, Martin then goes on to argue that despite the rise of the 'new' labour history since the 1970s 'there is still good cause for a continued focus on the centrality of trade unions in a society that has been structured by arbitration and compulsory unionism'. (2) To this we can also add that the much of the New Zealand contribution to labour historiography has focused on the activities of skilled artisans and craft unions. This is unsurprising. As Olssen has recently argued, the 'skilled comprised a majority of trade unionists, most unions remained organised on the basis of skill, and the skilled played a decisive role in founding and sustaining the Labour Party'. (3) While unions have remained a central element part of New Zealand labour history, recent research has encompassed the complex dynamics between work, class, community, unions, politics and the neglected areas of gender and race. Melanie Nolan, for example, challenges the primacy of politics in New Zealand labour historiography and calls for more nuanced studies that include, among other things, non-political organisations and institutions such as friendly societies, voluntary organisations and the church. (4)

Business & Personal Finance
November 1
Australian Society for the Study of Labour History
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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