Ruzzene - Dr. Simone Battiston
Migrant Workers to
Upwardly Mobile Middle Class
A Study of occupational mobility
among Australian of Italian background
1971 - 2001
La Trobe University,
THE BOOK: Are
today's Italian-Australians a component of the upwardly mobile middle
class? If so, can their occupational positioning and mobility from
labour-intensive to clerical, professional and managerial jobs be a sign
of their class transformation? Moreover, what similarities and
differences are there between first- and second-generation
Italian-Australians (see Glossary) in terms of demographic and job
patterns? What occupational changes have occurred among
Italian-Australians employed in industry sectors that have traditionally
had a high Italian- background representation, such as the manufacturing
and building and construction industries?
Given that most people in
Australian often project their class through their occupation, data
presented in this paper supports a view that Italian-Australians can
arguably be now considered an upwardly socially mobile class, largely
This study outlines
historic, demographic and employment trends within the so-called Italian
community in Australia (first and following generations of
Italian-Australians, comprising a population of approximately 800,000
and a workforce of approximately 357,000 in 2001). It maps and
provides an analysis of the demographic changes and job progressions of
Australians of Italian background (see Glossary), respectively over the
periods 1947-2001 and 1971-2001, and it takes us from rural to urban
industrialised environments and from low-paid, blue-collar jobs to more
high-status white-collar positions.
This project presents
findings of the first part of a National Research Project on Italian
Australians which aims at establishing a socio-economic profile of
Italian Australians at the beginning of the new millennium in Australia.
Research on establishing the status of Italians in Australia is one of a
number of recommendations from the 'In search of the Italian Australian
into the New Millennium' IAI Conference held in Melbourne in May 2000
(I.A.I. 2000: xxi). This research project is in response to the
Conference and necessary in order to objectively record a part of
history that has helped shape Australia into a modern democracy of
cultural and economic contribution to Australia society is substantial.
Paid work performed by Italians in Australia since Second World War is
renowned. A large number of Italians were employed in the Snowy
Mountain Hydro Electric Scheme, in the underground tunnel's in Sydney
and Melbourne, in the construction of the Rialto Twin Towers in
Melbourne, and on the production assembly lines at both Ford and General
Motors Holden. Italian Australian workers involved in these
projects often talk and recount their experiences with a great sense of
achievement and pride. Along with their well-known cuisine,
Italians are now part of the Australian ethos and way of life.
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economic and cultural contribution to Australian society is integral to
national heritage, a concept that is valued by society and is Government
policy. This research project is in response to government policy
The research project focus
is on paid work patterns of Italian Australians and attempts to prove
that paid work is the vehicle for social and economic mobility within
Australian contemporary class structure.
Decade of significant
economic and cultural change in Post Second World War Australia saw
Italian-Australians increasingly move upward in terms of the types of
work performed. In the period comprised between the 1940s and the
1960s, Italian-Australians were predominantly employed to do routine,
manual work in the manufacturing, building, agriculture, and niche food
services in the 1970s, Italian-Australians were increasingly employed in
white-collar and small business positions, a development that continued
in the 1980s and beyond, when Italian-Australians increased their
participation in white-collar and professional employment.
According to the 2001
Census, Italian-Australians (see Glossary) constituted 4.2% of the
overall Australian population, making them the largest
non-English-speaking background (NESB) group within Australian society.
Italian-Australian contribution to the Australian labour force and
economy has been widely acknowledged by academics and scholars, (e.g.
Lever-Tracy and Quinlan 1988: passim). However, up until now a
comprehensive statistical and historical study on pre- and post- war
demographic and employment trends with regard to Italian-Australians has
not been undertaken.
In some sense the history
of Italian immigration can be viewed primarily as a history of the
contribution of Italian labour to the host societies. In a
recently published pictorial history of Italians abroad (Rak 2001),
work, its representation, and the self-representation of Italians as
workers are some of the favourite subjects. Work is an important
identity hallmark for Italian migrants overseas, as Rak argues: work is
where the Italian identity is ultimately 'conserved, defended and
transmitted' (ibid.: 11).
The need to find better
employment opportunities was the factor inducing thousands of
Italians to emigrate from their homeland after Second World War.
When riots broke out at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre in July
1952, migrants from Italy and their families, whose arrival had been
financially assisted and who were indebted to the Commonwealth, shouted
to the authorities, 'work or repatriation!' - frustrated as they were by
the broken promise of immediate employment.
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Since the end of Second
World War, Italian-Australians have undoubtedly made a significant
cultural impact on and economic contribution to Australian society and
the Australian economy. This research report, largely based on a
set of customised ABS Census data spanning the time from 1971 to 2001,
aims to outline a comprehensive, nation-wise occupational profile of
employed Australians of Italian background aged 15 years and over.
With regard to Italians in
the Australian labour force, the last three decades of the twentieth
century have seen a significant upward trend, which has arguably become
the vehicle for social and economic mobility within contemporary
Australian class structure. As was the case for people from other
ethnic groups emerging during the booming post-war period, work has
enabled Italians to engage in Australian society and gain economic
security. Through work Italians have achieved social status, have
increased their participation in decision making processes, and have
entered institutions of law, politics, religion, the arts, and
other areas of human endeavour in Australia.
Yet Particular periods of
significant economic and cultural change in Australian society may have
dramatically influenced the work trends of Italians in Australia, such
as the decades such as the 1950s, the 1970s and the 1990s.
The labour market position
of Italian-Australians can be determined by a set of data, some of which
are currently available and some of which are not. However, it can
be argued that paid work and upward career mobility is the most
significant contributing factor to the current standing of
Italian-Australians in Australian society.
Dr. Dino Ruzzene is a foundation research fellow at the Italian
Australian Institute. Dino was born in Italy and migrated to
Australia with his parents, brothers and sisters in 1955. Over
this period he has worked in both private and public sector employment
for in excess of 40 years. In addition to extensive industrial
experience in manufacturing and education sectors, Dino has completed
studies of education at Masters and Doctoral levels. Previous
research includes Factors in Retraining of Displaced Immigrant Workers
and Higher education policy reforms in Australia 1970-2000 period.
Dr. Simone Battiston
graduated with distinction in history at Trieste University, Italy, in
1999. He migrated to Australia in 2000. He completed his
doctorate on the history and collective memory of the Italian migrant
workers organisation FILEF in 1970s Melbourne. His research
interests include the socio-economic and political contribution of
Italian migrants to post war Australia, Italian-Australian life
histories, ethnic community politics and associational life,
interculturalism and transnationalism.
The Publisher: The
Italian Australian Institute (I.A.I.) is a non-profit organisation,
supported by the co-operation between the Grollo-Ruzzene Foundation and
La Trobe University. Its charter states that its main aim is to
research and study every aspect of the Italian presence in Australia.
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