Screening unions: representations of worker-citizenship in Australia films

Document Type


Publication details

Milner, L 2011, 'Screening unions: representations of worker-citizenship in Australian films', International Journal of the Arts in Society, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 139-150.

Peer Reviewed



In Australia in the 1950s, the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit was the only film production group in the world that was funded by a trade union. The unit produced short films on subjects that other production units would never tackle, like the political background of protests from the union members’ viewpoint, and issues concerning workers’ rights. The filmmakers took a particular stylistic approach to the portrayal of workers, in a period when attempting to make public any left-wing culture was problematic. Since that time, unions in Australia have continued to represent their members on film, television and the internet. In focussing on a selection of works over the past fifty years, this paper examines the ways that working Australia has been represented on screen during a period of major demographic, economic and social change, and discusses the ways in which union-produced films provide a unique window into exploring the relationships between popular media and visual citizenship. It considers how the particular screen culture of worker representation reflects national values, identities, and socio-economic trends.

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