Brett Gale
Monday, 30 July 2018

Jeff Shaw Lecture: Introductory Comments

Thank you Mark.

And thank you Unions NSW for partnering with the Chifley Research Centre for tonight’s event.

As the official think tank of the Australian Labor Party the Chifley Research Centre’s mission is to promote a Labor culture of ideas.

So we are thrilled to be able have brought Thomas Frank to Australia for a series of events.

When I told Mark Morey that Chifley was bringing Thomas to Australia it seemed a natural fit to have Thomas give tonight’s Jeff Shaw lecture as well.

Because of course Jeff Shaw was a champion of workers and the rights of unions for decades.

As a writer and an historian Thomas Frank too has been fighting for a voice for workers over many years.

Thomas is the author of seven books that examine both American politics and American culture and the intersection of the two.

Many of you will know Thomas’ work from his landmark 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”. 

In that book Thomas called out how Republicans won votes by transforming the overwhelmingly economic grievances of working people into generalised opposition to an ever‑present but vaguely defined ‘political correctness’.

Now that right-wing tactic should sound familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune to stumble across Sky News after 6pm.

But at the start of 2016 he trained his forensic eye on the Democratic party and the resulting book, “Listen Liberal” was prescient in its analysis of how the Democratic Party had turned its back on working class in favour of the professional class.

His analysis was born out some nine months later with the disastrous election of Donald Trump.

And while there are many reasons for Trump’s victory one of the fundamental lessons from that election is what can happen when a party of the centre left loses touch with its working class base.

As Thomas said in an interview at the time “when you get rid of labor in your party you also get rid of issues that matter to working people”.

In this sense Thomas Frank’s writings are a clarion call to arms for all of us involved in social democratic politics and workers’ rights.

His latest book “Rendezvous with Oblivion”, which has only just been released in Australia this week, is a collection of interlocking essays examining how inequality has manifested itself in modern America.

And in his newspaper columns Thomas has continued to fight for the importance of unions and a to use an Australianism – a fairer go for workers.

As Thomas himself wrote in a recent op-ed,

“What unions do is more than protest. They change the dynamics of a community. They change the balance of social power. They change the way people think.”

I can think of few people better placed to give the Jeff Shaw lecture this year, so it gives me great pleasure to introduce Thomas Frank.

About Brett Gale:

Brett Gale is the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre.