Herbert Spencer in the suburbs? Class, politics, ideology and the Australian petty-bourgeoisie in the Howard years
conference contributionposted on 2006-01-01, 00:00 authored by Geoffrey RobinsonGeoffrey Robinson
A dominant trope of media commentary after the 2004 federal election was the rise of blue-collar self-employment and small business and its negative impact on Labor electoral support. In this paper I examine the evidence on the growth of self-employment and small business in Australia since the 1980s and the political consequences of this growth. I consider why the growth of self-employment and small business has been overstated by many observers, and the emergence of a right-wing anti-capitalism in the critique of the dependence of wage-labour. Although the growth of self-employment and small business has been overstated it is a real phenomenon. I extract the rational kernel from the largely ill-informed commentary on this issue and place contemporary debates about self-employment in a historical and global context. I consider why the self-employed and small business were once seen as natural allies of the working-class in a populist coalition but why they are now identified by commentators as hostile to class politics.