In this controversial book, Dr Ray Markey challenges most of the traditional accounts of the origins of the Labor Party. He characterises the Party in the 1890s not as one might expect: dominated by urban trade unions, but rather as populist not only in ideology, but populist too in social composition because of the importance of small landowners to its success. This group was represented by the AWU which delivered a large number of country seats to the Labor Party.
Dr Markey's methodology also departs from that of the traditional labour histories, which concentrate on Labor's leadership and Parliamentary organisation. He digs beneath this, to examine the relationship between the Party and the unions, and the leaders and the rank and file of both, and to relate the political and industrial behaviour of workers to their actual working and living conditions. Ultimately, he argues, this is the only way in which we can understand how a group of pragmatic, proessional politicians and small landowners' representatives overcame the more class conscious socialists and union militants for the control of the party.
The outcome affected all Australians for decades because of the strong influence of the NSW Party in the federal sphere. White Australia, the Arbitration system, and protection for Australian industry were the means for the incorporation of the Australian working class in the new Commonwealth after 1900, and they were made possible largely by the way in which the NSW Labor Party developed in the 1890s.