In this controversial book, 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.
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, professional politicians and small landowners’representatives overcame the more class conscious socialists and union militants for the control of the ALP.