In the first two decades of the century, the Australian labour movement confronted a number of issues which were to shape its character thereafter. The birth of the arbitration system, the complex relationship with the Parliamentary Labor Party, the stresses of electoral success, the conflict over the socialist objective, and the domination of particular unions - each required policies and practices to be hammered out, often in bitterness and division. For these developments took place against the backdrop of the rapid growth of industrial unionism, the rise of radical minorities such as the IWW, the social upheaval of the Great War and the conscription debate, the defection of founding figures such as Prime Minister Hughes and NSW Premier Holman and, at the end of the period, the arrival of the Communist Party.
Industrial Labour and Politics provides a detailed account of the struggles of those years. It also addresses the perennial problems which challenge the Australian labour movement: its ambivalent relationship with the ALP, its role in defining and articulating the aspirations of the working class, its successes and failures in pursuing that class's interests within the Australian social structure.