The working class will rise again!

Workers' Liberty
the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class

                                     Workers Liberty Australia

Newsletter October 1999

The unions today

Most unions have been considerably weakened by attacks from the government. Award stripping has meant the loss of many conditions. Legislation has introduced limited bargaining periods, outlawed payment to workers applying bans, and promoted individual contracts in place of union-negotiated agreements which provide common guarantees of wages and conditions for workers in whole industries or enterprises. Restrictive government bargaining guidelines in Commonwealth Public Service (CPS) have also made an impact.

Some unions, notably in the health sector, have continued to apply bans strategies without workers being stood down. When attacked, they escalate the action. They have used this as an adjunct to negotiations.
The percentage of the workforce in unions is decreasing rapidly. Unions are increasingly being caught up in the legal system. Large amounts of money and officials' time are spent on court cases over the jurisdiction of the Industrial Relations Commission and on a variety of technical matters.

Reith has 70 people employed to encourage employers to attack unions. This strategy of government assistance to employers wishing to take on the unions meets with a varying response. In the construction industry none of the big employers want to be the first to take on the unions. For them, the risks of immediate losses are too high. Despite all the setbacks, the Australian union movement has continuing reserves of great strength.

Reserves of strength

Some unions have maintained a reputation for toughness, followed up with action. The ETU and the CFMEU for example draw lines in the sand, have a stoush, and even if pushed back, maintain their strength. They are able to organise large rallies about issues such as health and safety or industrial relations laws. Even the MUA is flexing its muscles again after their big step backwards. The TCFUA has established its "toughness" in the ADC dispute over last Christmas and is getting more respect from the employers. That dispute saw mass picketing organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

Some other unions are getting pushed back on many fronts. If they make a stand somewhere, it is never enough to change the big picture. The Teachers' Union in Victoria held a week long strike at Blackburn High School against self governing status for the school, a precursor to effective privatisation. The strike was well supported by the Victoria Trades Hall Council and others, but it faced heavy odds from the start. Over 30 other schools were already on that track and being given privileges as a reward for compliance. In my own union, the CEPU (Communication), award stripping did not erode core conditions. But it did allow management to alter many of the conditions that had been inherited from the Commonwealth Public Service. A very timid approach to the new laws meant that union officials delayed industrial action on our Enterprise Bargaining Agreement for 12 months while all existing agreements lapsed.

Now that the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement battle has been fought, industrial action is legally off the agenda for two years. Some union officials, especially in the Victorian branch, say that we need to be prepared to break the anti-strike laws. But is this more than rhetoric?

Meantime, all negotiations are carried out without a viable threat of action, thus decisively altering the balance of forces in the employers' favour. And this is a historically strong, militant union in a decisive sector of the economy.

The CEPU has had great difficulty adapting from the traditional bans strategy. Rolling strikes were instituted for the first time ever in our most recent dispute, with some fairly token picketing. At the crunch stage of the dispute, bans were in place in the network maintenance area. Management responded by ordering off site all workers taking action and replacing them with scabs and managers.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) seems in difficulties both Federally and at the State level. "Agency bargaining" in the Federal sphere has effectively divided and conquered the workforce. AWAs are quite widespread, and according to newspaper reports, award based staff are missing out on pay rises.

New leaderships

There are increasing challenges by disgruntled unionists against the incumbent office holders. The success of these oppositional groups result from workers' discontent with unions going backwards. In Victoria, the ETU, AMWU, and Plumbers have all had changes of leadership in recent years. Dean Mighell, of the ETU, is seen as the driving force. They cooperate closely with the CFMEU. Across Australia, there is also a new MUA Rank and File opposition, varying politically from place to place but with a good platform in Victoria, at least.

This is a mixed development. The new challengers have displaced tired Stalinists and Labor Lefts on a platform of militant labourism. This is certainly positive, and a sharper political revival in the unions is very difficult without a big development in the political wing of the labour movement. But we should not have illusions. The new leaderships, whatever their virtues, conduct their fights within the framework of capitalism.

The unions are clearly being pushed back quite rapidly. A concerted fight against the next wave of industrial relations laws is essential.

With declining union membership and high unemployment organising the unorganised is becoming more and more urgent. Few unions are doing this at all well. Richard Lane

What's in Reith's second wave

What Reith's new legislation is meant to do: Make it easier for employers to use AWAs or Certified Agreements, to divide and rule the workforce. Make it harder for workers to unite across an industry, or even an enterprise, or a workplace, to achieve an award with union representation. Make it harder for unions to recruit and represent workers, by limiting the right of officials to enter premises, and by requiring employers to act against "closed shops" defined as 60% union membership. Reduce union access to the Industrial Relations Commission. In Reith's world, the bosses will have no need of curbing any challenge from the unions, they'll be too weak. So there will be no need for the bosses to agree to any curbing in return. Make legal strikes extremely difficult, by: - requiring the IRC to order industrial action to cease within 48 hours, if it has not been through the required process. - requiring a slow secret postal ballot process, before legal industrial action can be taken. - make it easier for bosses to sue unions for damages arising from industrial action. Limiting even further the rights of workers to challenge unfair dismissal. (See elsewhere in this issue for more detail.) Entrench discriminatory youth rates of (low) pay.

What the jargon means:

"Australian Workplace Agreement" (AWA): legal document signed by the employer and one or more workers as chosen by the employer, in a single workplace, defining pay and conditions.

"Award": a legally registered, public document, signed by employers and specified trade unions, and defining pay and conditions, for groups of workers, often thousands of workers, performing similar work, often for different employers.

"Award stripping": to take many long-standing conditions out of awards, and put them up for grabs, e.g. long service leave. They propose to refuse low income earners any safety net pay rises, until such conditions have been stripped.

"Certified agreement": a legal document, possibly secret, signed by the employer and one or more workers as chosen by the employer, in a single workplace, defining pay and conditions.

"Industrial Relations Commission" (IRC): the industrial "independent umpire", with legal power settle disputes between unions and bosses, first by conciliation, i.e. negotiation of a peace deal between the two sides, and then arbitration, i.e. the IRC gives the orders for the terms of peace, if the two sides can't work it out themselves. Unions have seen the Industrial Relations Commission as a form of protection from the worst excesses of the bosses, without recognising that they have often sacrificed their own strength and interests, in order to preserve its role.

The ACTU response

The ACTU is well aware how seriously Reith's legislation could weaken the whole movement. They are conducting a publicity campaign, and explaining how it would affect particular groups of workers, especially women. This is how the ACTU sees it longer term, according to their web site.
"But this is only the beginning. Peter Reith made it clear in his letter to the Prime Minister, leaked earlier this year, that he linked labour market de-regulation with major reductions in the social welfare safety net. This is because if workers are to be coerced into accepting reduced wages and conditions, it is necessary for them to have no alternative, just as in the United States workers are forced to accept wages which do not enable them to put a roof over their heads or have access to basic health care. Reith has proposed a special system of below award "discounted" wages which would apply to the unemployed, as well as a work for the dole scheme to apply to anyone who has been on benefits for six months."
We'll need the publicity campaign to build something much bigger than a rally in each state during August, if we're going to retain our right to band together as workers against the power of capital, with its profit motive and the right to hire and fire.
Get more detail at the ACTU's web site: secondwave/index.htm
Janet Burstall

Unfair dismissal - one person's story

Because this case is still 'live' names have been changed.

Since her work-related injuries forced her out of her job late last year, Mona's former employers have thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of her return to work, a barrage which culminated in her termination in June. Unwilling to give in to their corporate bullying, she is charging them with unfair dismissal. However, her victory, if any, may be little more than moral.

n November 1998, after four years working at a major Australian publishing firm, Mona was forced to go on medical leave because of back and neck spasms and severe headaches caused by her job as a "planner and scanner", a job that involved spending long hours leaning over a light table studying art work through a magnifying glass.

That her injuries are the direct result of her employment is unquestionable: despite the physically stressful and repetitive nature of her duties, she was sometimes expected to work from 9 in the morning till 1 am the next day or, as she puts it, "to work till the work was done". This pressure to labour beyond any reasonable expectation was the direct result of management policies to cut costs at the expense of workers' conditions. Despite a nearly 300% increase in workload since 1994, staff numbers had not been increased. Sick workers were not replaced. Technological improvements that might have made the job easier were not implemented because of budget restrictions.

It was a month before Mona's doctor gave her the green light to go back to work as long as she did not return to her old job.

But her employer refused to allow her back until she had undergone a return to work program which it was their responsibility to provide - it took them four months to organise the program and then it was designed to force her back into the job that had ruined her health. Eager to show willing, Mona gave in to their demands. Within two months of doing her old job just half a day a week her old injuries flared up and her doctor pulled her out of the program.

She then asked them to come up with an alternative plan, but was told that her employers had a policy of not transferring workers within the company under any circumstances. Instead of rehabilitation, six weeks later Mona received a notice of termination.

Mona's lawyers have told her she has a good case: she was deskilled in her job with the publishers and she was sacked because of an injury acquired at work. However, the decision will be largely arbitrary. Assuming she wins, Mona could receive as little as four weeks pay or as much as 26 weeks and it could cost her up to $4000 just to go to court. In this capitalist system, equity, it seems, is a very expensive commodity.

Claire McWilliams

The Republic, "Yes and...."

In the 6 November referendum the choice will be between voting 'Yes' or 'No' to a constitutional amendment, requiring the Australian Head of State to be an Australian citizen, whose appointment is approved by a two thirds majority in Parliament. The 'Yes' case is advocated by the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) and the 'No' case by Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy (ACM). According to ACM, retaining the British monarch as the nominal head of state of Australia is simply an affirmation of our national history. The ARM response is muted. They do not repudiate the former British Empire, of which it was said, the sun never sets on it - yet the blood never dries.


The ARM also value "our heritage". Furthermore, according to ARM, Elizabeth Windsor "has done a good job", but the good lady is unfortunately not Australian. The ARM and ACM agree that the powers of the Governor General, or the President, should not even be clearly defined, let alone be reduced.

They both claim that the Australian political system requires a constitutional "umpire", in the event of a standoff between the House of Representatives and the Senate. In theory this is supposed to be a safeguard against an abuse of power by an elected government. But the cure - allowing an individual to legally act as a ruling class backstop against a reforming government - is worse than the disease. The real safeguard against abuse of power by an elected government is the capacity of the populace to force the government to face a new election.

The ARM "minimal" republic was originally put up as a refutation of the contention by the monarchists, that references to the British monarch in the Australian Constitution could not be removed without undermining the subtle checks and balances built into this revered document. Not so, said some republicans, just have the Prime Minister appoint a President, instead of advising the monarch on who to appoint as Governor General. The President could be deemed to have whatever powers the Governor General now has. Keating and Malcolm Turnbull (ARM Chairman) accepted this as a serious proposal of a republican model.

For Keating, this was a woeful retreat from Labor's initial response to 1975, when Whitlam's government was dismissed by the Governor General - even though the government had majority support in the House of Representatives. Whitlam, at the proclamation of his dismissal, made the defiant claim, "nothing can save the Governor General". Subsequently, other Labor leaders just wanted the dismissal issue to go away. Hawke not only saved the Governor General, but appointed Hayden to this plum job - a reward for Hayden standing down from the Labor leadership and handing it to Hawke. All that has changed in the current ARM model is that patronage is no longer to be the prerogative of the Prime Minister alone. The two thirds of Parliament formula means that the Leader of the Opposition will (usually) have to agree to the appointment.

Constitutional convention

Even this minor change was only proposed by ARM in an attempt to regain some credibility among other republican delegates at the 1998 Constitutional Convention. The Constitutional Convention was the body set up to decide on the questions that should be put to the people in a referendum. Initially it was proposed that all the delegates would be elected, but Howard insisted on only 50% of the delegates being elected and the other 50% being appointed. The appointed delegates inflated the support for monarchist and conservative positions at the Convention. The ARM delegates, on a number of questions, voted with the monarchists to ensure that alternative republican models would not be put to the people.

Our sympathy is with neither ARM nor ACM, but with those Australians who feel cheated by the tacit alliance between ARM and ACM, to thwart public opinion on the republic. Opinion polls have consistently suggested clear majority support for a republic "in principle", but not for the ARM model with its appointed president.

Despite the advice from an army of pundits that electing the head of state would introduce the American system with its powerful executive president, the majority has stubbornly maintained the opinion that a ceremonial head of state should be elected by the

people. Their determination to "have a say" is our hope for the future. Yet we believe that this democratic instinct would be far better expressed by a labour movement campaign to hold to account their "representatives" in the still trade union based Labor Party.

How to vote in the referendum?

Some republicans are so determined to elect the president that they have joined the official 'No' campaign. They argue that a victory of the ARM model will finish, for the foreseeable future, the prospect of a more democratic republic. On the other hand, if the present constitution is retained, the republic question will soon have to be reopened and the ARM model will already have been rejected.

One objection is that many people will regard the referendum as an "in principle" decision on a republic, even though technically it is not. What do 'No' vote advocates say to migrants from Greece, Croatia or Vietnam, who still come across the presumption that they are not real Australians, unless they acknowledge allegiance to Elizabeth II and her heirs and successors? Perhaps the 'No' advocates would say that they are recommending a tactical vote and that they remain committed to a republic. But the justification of a tactical vote requires a convincing prediction of the consequences. The immediate consequence of a 'No' vote will be to not have any sort of republic. It is mere speculation to say that the question will soon have to be reopened. If the ARM republic were actually worse than the status quo, that could also justify a "No' vote. But the ARM republic is designed to be the same as the status quo, except for the absence of constitutional references to Her Majesty. Therefore we will vote 'Yes' in the referendum, because we are republicans - not because we support the ARM republic.

Yes and...

A similar approach is being taken by a recently (21 July) launched 'Yes and É' group. This group is a coalition formed from the Just Republic and Real Republic campaigns, that had delegates elected to the Constitutional Convention. The 'Yes and É' campaign, independent of the official ARM 'Yes' campaign, will encourage people to press for a democratic republic that includes direct election of the president and a bill of rights. WL advocates the explicit inclusion of labour rights and Aboriginal rights in this bill of rights and we support a 'Yes and É' approach to the referendum.

Roger Clarke

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NSW Public Service workers fight job losses

The recent NSW State Budget cut 1,400 positions following an earlier post election freeze on Public Service recruitment. The aim of these cuts appears to be twofold. To diminish the size of the Public Service workforce and to reduce the regulatory role of government. Both aims reflect the ALP's economic priority to keep international financial ratings agencies happy. Both aims are in line with a economic rationalist "small government at any cost" mentality.

The main State Public Service union, the Public Service Association, has estimated that the Budget allocation of $98 million will actually fund 2,500 redundancies. In response members have called on the union to convene an inter-departmental delegates committee to help organise the fight back. Central Council of the union adopted several resolutions from workplaces and the delegates' committee authorising various bans and limitations designed to frustrate the implementation of the cuts. Central Council also called on the Premier Bob Carr to lift the staff freeze. Opposition is at best sporadic with the union Executive limiting itself to sending off a series of protest letters sparking fears that the PSA appears to be unwilling to seriously take on the State Labor government on this issue.

TAFE was one of the hardest hit sectors. Years of government policies to boost the private sector in vocational education (as well as in other areas of the public sector) and many years of continual restructuring have taken their toll on staff morale. The Federal Government also stopped its usual funding of growth in TAFE. A projected 2% growth is to be funded from existing budgets. Here is the story of one TAFE Institute.

Sydney Institute of Technology held a special union/management Consultative Committee meeting where a cut of $8m from the Budget was announced to assembled officials and delegates from the NSW Public Service Association and the NSW Teachers Federation. We were told that SIT had to find $8 million in savings out of a total budget of about $110m. Student numbers in many sections of SIT are said to be down with most of the lost student places going to the private sector.

It was explained that TAFE NSW costs $14 per student/hour, Victorian TAFE costs $10 per student/hour while private providers are at $9 per student/hour. While were obliged, we were told, to bring costs down to the State average other Institutes were given Interstate cost targets to achieve.

No numbers of positions were given nor were particular sections nominated as targets. It was later learned via a leaked memo that a deliberate policy of 'damage limitation' was adopted by the government which included limiting the release of information and minimal consultation with unions. One delegate asked: "If SIT was being asked to meet NSW state average costs this year after a number of years of cuts what will be asked of SIT next year?"

The same goes for other Institutes. Will we be pushed down to Victorian $10 standards then the following year down to the private provider's $9 or for that matter some other even more arbitrary standard. " No assurances came from management in reply.

Certainly voluntary redundancies are hard to fight. Many hands will go up. There will be a mad scramble for them. The unions will fight hard to make it an equitable process. But the fact remains that those of us left at work after the dust settles will be asked to do more with less yet again. The PSA has a policy that if a position goes the work of that position goes with it. Unionists must refuse to carry out the extra work.

In the face of the union's lethargy to go beyond a letter writing campaign left activists are mounting a fight for a better redundancy package at open delegates meetings.

Leon Parissi

Indonesia's left makes a mark

The official results have finally been announced of Indonesia's 7 June elections, the first since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship last year. The PDI-Struggle of Megawati Sukarnoputri won 24 million votes and about 154 seats in the new national assembly. Golkar, the political party of the old military dictatorship, got 13 million votes and about 120 seats.

The most important force of the working-class left, the PRD (Democratic People's Party), won 55,000 votes. Linked to Australia's Democratic Socialist Party, the PRD demands a democratic coalition government and describes its broader aim as "people's social democracy". The National Labour Party, linked to the formerly illegal independent trade union movement SBSI, got 58,000 votes. It describes itself as "established in response to the failure of [government sponsored] unions to deal with basic problems of improving workers' welfare...", but makes no claim for socialism.

Other groups which described themselves as representing the special interests of workers as a social class - the Workers' Solidarity Party, the All-Indonesian Workers' Solidarity Party and the Indonesian Workers' Party - obtained 28,000, 36,000 and 37,000 votes respectively.

New union alliance In its development since the fall of the dictatorship, the labour movement has been greatly hindered by the economic crisis, which has shut down maybe a third of Indonesia's modern factories, and by the fact that 33 years of military repression erased radical political traditions.

Nevertheless, trade union activity now has some legal scope, and has increased. The Far East Economic Review of 17 June reported that: "The forces unleashed by Suharto's downfall in May 1998 were reflected in an immediate outbreak of strikes. The Manpower Ministry recorded 83 strikes the following June, compared to just four in the previous February. (That pace has slowed somewhat to 31 in April this year, although the ministry tends to under-report industrial disputes.)"

In May this year, seven local workers' organisations came together with the assistance of the PRD to form a new "national workers' secretariat", with a list of demands including a 100% increase in workers' wages, stop sackings, and a 32 hour work week. Dita Sari, leader of the PRD's former trade union wing, has since been released from jail, though PRD secretary Budiman Sudjatmiko remains imprisoned.

The working-class and socialist left is thus beginning to establish a small presence. The election results show that the mass of workers and peasants desiring change still look mostly to the PDI-Struggle and Megawati Sukarnoputri. Megawati is the daughter of Indonesia's former populist leader Sukarno, ousted after the 1965 military coup, but she herself has told Business Week magazine: "The first priority is how to get the people to believe in their government. That is the main problem and the main priority. And then, after that, give the IMF a chance to solve the problems of the people of Indonesia." She also supports continuing Indonesian rule in East Timor, which was grabbed by the dictatorship in 1975 and has been ruled with great violence since then.

Ruling class divisions

The election procedures were biased in favour of Golkar. The distribution of seats was weighted against the big city centres in favour of the outlying provinces, where Golkar often still is the only party with any real organisation and the assembly will be topped up with unelected representatives from the military. The long-drawn-out count raises many doubts: the official figures for one province showed 9% more people voting than were on the electoral register!

Most big capitalist interests favour Megawati as a leader more likely to produce stability than a continuation of the discredited Golkar regime, but sections of the army have their own agendas. On 1 July a demonstration organised by the PRD in Jakarta to protest against vote rigging was fired on by the army. Seventy demonstrators were hospitalised and 160 were still missing days after the demonstration.

Martin Thomas

Indonesian union leader speaking tour

Dita Sari's Australian public meeting details:

ASIET National Secretariat, P.O. Box 458, Broadway 2007, Australia Tel: 02-96901230 Fax: 02-96901381 Homepage: http\\\~asiet Email:

International campaign to support Iranian students

Gholamhossein Rahbarpour, the head of the "revolutionary courts" in the Iranian capital, Teheran, stated last week that 1,500 people had been arrested in the wake of the anti-regime protests and riots of mid-July. All types of oppositionists have been rounded up during and after the riots. Student leaders have been reported missing and others have been tortured in jail or beaten by gangs of religious thugs.

The more conservative elements of the clerical ruling elite have attempted to use the clashes to strengthen their position - both against their "liberal" opponents inside the regime and against the general opposition in the country. A new draft bill has been presented to the cabinet by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a leading "conservative", to outlaw "political crimes". The definition of such crimes is any action "against the sovereignty of the Islamic republic [or] the political system."

The country's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the conservatives, has also appointed two of his supporters to the Guardian Council, a body which oversees elections. Elections are due next year and the "liberal", "reforming" clerics were hoping to make gains. A major battle ground has been over the press. A special clerical court has now permanently closed the "reforming" paper, Salam, whose original banning caused the student protests of July. The court found the paper's publisher Hojatoleslam Muhammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha guilty on all counts including defamation. Mousavi-Khoeiniha is a significant figure - he was one of the leaders of the "Islamic Revolution", and was the spiritual advisor to the militant Islamic students who occupied the US embassy for 444 days beginning in November 1979. Later he was a ruthless and feared prosecutor-general. So it is significant that he now says the "Islamic Republic can remain only if it allows the maximum of religious freedom in the framework of the constitution", and is being attacked for doing so.

The Ministry of Culture - sympathetic to the liberal-clerical president, Muhammad Khatami - retaliated against the hard-liners by bringing cases against three conservative papers. The Ministry is demanding the banning of these papers for printing a letter from 24 commanders of the Revolutionary Guard criticising Khatami.

To help the socialist opposition in Iran: e-mail or send a fax to +44 141 330 4316.

Dan Katz

Our History: Trotskyism in Australia

Nick Origlass, the central figure of Australian Trotskyism from 1937 to the late 1960s, was a prominent revolutionary socialist almost until he died, at age 88, in 1996.

Hall Greenland's fascinating book, "Red Hot", tells us a lot about what manner of people made our movement in the hard days from the 1930s to the '60s. Hall was one of Nick's closest comrades in his last 30 years, but has done a fine job both in combining appreciation with critical review of that time and in doing justice to Nick's years as an "orthodox Trotskyist", from age 26 to his late 50s [1].

In May 1933 a group of communists, expelled or distanced from the official Communist Party, and active in the Unemployed Workers' Movement, formed the Workers' Party of Australia, after seeing, by chance, a copy of the US Trotskyist paper The Militant. Nick had met the future Trotskyists when he came to Sydney, looking for work, in 1931-2. He joined the WP in 1934, and was active in the builders' and ironworkers' unions in his home town, Brisbane. In 1937 he moved back to Sydney. The first moving spirits of the Workers' Party, Jack Sylvester and John Anderson, were dropping out.

"For the next 30 years," as Hall recounts, "Nick was the chief of a small group of would-be revolutionaries. There were never more, and usually less, than 25 members in Sydney, 12 in Melbourne, and six in Brisbane." There were short-lived splinters and rivals, but Nick's was always the main Trotskyist group.


They were isolated, operating in a labour movement with no Marxist culture, where the left was dominated by a Stalinist party, always small numerically but sometimes very strong in the unions. Not until 1961 did a delegate from Australia attend an international Trotskyist gathering; not until 1976-7 did Nick himself travel overseas; no comrades with large experience from other countries arrived to help them.

For instruction they relied on the US Trotskyist press, arriving by sea-mail or (in wartime) not at all. Nick read a lot. But, outside jobless spells around 1938 and 1959, he worked at hard manual jobs until 1971. Work and non-stop activism limited his reading to articles and pamphlets. He probably never read Marx's Capital. The "student" of the group was another young worker, Laurie Short [2].

Initially the Trotskyists' activity centred around speaking in the Domain on Sundays. They did not join the Australian Labor Party until 1941, and then the main impulse was to find a channel for political activity safer from government persecution: their group had been declared illegal in June 1940, and three members had been jailed.

In 1945, however, the Trotskyists, and Nick personally, showed their ability to mobilise workers and combine stubbornness on principle with tactical flexibility. The Stalinist leaders of the ironworkers' union tried to disbar Nick as union delegate at Mort's Dock. Not only Nick's work mates, but also thousands of other workers in the shipyards of the Balmain peninsula (just across Darling Harbour from Sydney's city centre) struck for six weeks against their union leaders for the right to elect their own representatives. They won.

Because the Australian CP, unlike most others, switched from their wartime anti-strike policy to support for working-class militancy immediately the war ended, the Australian Trotskyists did not have the same rapid growth in the mid-1940s as their comrades in other countries. There were still only 26 of them in 1946. They did, however, suffer the same isolation and political crisis as Trotskyists overseas when the Cold War developed from 1947-8.

Shachtman, Eastman and Pablo

In late 1948 Laurie Short and the group's other main writer on international issues, Jim McClelland, dropped out. In his farewell letter, Laurie Short meticulously demolished the idea that the USSR was still a workers' state [3]. He had read Max Shachtman and other dissident Trotskyists in the USA - no-one else in Australia had, except perhaps McClelland - but was influenced more by Eugene Lyons and Max Eastman than by Shachtman [4]. He became not a Third Camp revolutionary but one of Australia's foremost right-wing union leaders, ousting the Stalinists from the Ironworkers. McClelland became a famous lawyer, then a Labor government minister.

Nick defended the faith. Searching for answers, and perhaps troubled by signals of uncertainty in the press of the US Trotskyists - whose leader, James P Cannon, was reluctant to accept the growing "orthodox Trotskyist" consensus that the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe were "deformed workers' states" - he turned to the writings of Michel Pablo, which had now started to arrive from France.

Nick knew no French, so he got a French dictionary and translated the documents word by word. Pablo argued that the expansion of Stalinism was a contradictory expression of an underlying logic of world socialist revolution. The Trotskyists must embed themselves in "the process" by "deep entry" into Labour or Stalinist parties, where history would soon impel the creation of big revolutionary tending left wings.

In this millenarian vision Nick found a framework for his own fierce determination to stay active in the cause of working-class liberation. His group immersed itself deeper in the Labor Party. In the 1953 division of the world "orthodox Trotskyist" movement between Cannon and Pablo, and in the '63-5 realignment where Pablo was pushed out with a small minority, they sided with Pablo.

However, their hope that ripples from Third World revolution would reach Australia and push along a big Labor left proved false. Worse, Nick's group so developed that when many more people did start looking towards Trotskyist ideas, in the late 1960s and early '70s, it could not organise them.

The new generation

The Cannonite "Resistance", from '67; the Healyite SLL, from '71; and the IS, from '72, were all led by young new activists. Not a single one of the old Trotskyists "carried over" into the new generation. According to Bob Gould, who joined Nick's group in 1957, "it wasn't really a group." It was a collection of people, each with his or her own activity in the ALP or elsewhere, who gathered occasionally to hear Nick hold forth. In 1958 Nick became a local Labor councillor. He "was soon hooked" Local government catered for three of his key addictions: it made him 'somebody'; it provided a constant forum for political argument; and a base for democratic rebellion against 'higher' authority." He would remain on the council until 1995, with a break in 1980-4. He stood for Labor until 1968 (when the ALP expelled him for breaking the whip), a disaffiliated local "Balmain-Leichhardt Labor Party" from 1968-70, and as an independent thereafter. He joined the Greens in 1984.

On the council he fought for democracy (council and committee meetings open for all residents to speak) and against noxious industrial and high-rise development (using mass "works inspections").

After 1960 Nick's group included some sympathisers of non-Pablo Trotskyism. But no progressive dialogue resulted. When Nick declared for Pablo in the split of 1965, the group split, "the younger members complaining that Nick dominated meetings, making it impossible to introduce and hold new recruits, who quickly became bored by his interminable lectures" - and the anti-Pabloites scattered. Nick was still full of ideas, but less able to organise a Marxist group. After about 1968, following Pablo, he preached "self-management", and became critical of Bolshevism as "substitutionist", though he remained an admirer of the 1917 Revolution and Lenin.

In the 1970s he came to believe that the USSR was not a workers' state but bureaucratic collectivist; in this he was influenced not only by Pablo, but also Moshe Lewin and Rudolf Bahro. His political group became more and more a tail of his activity as a councillor. By about 1977 it had petered out, though into the '80s Nick continued to translate and circulate articles by Pablo.

When the young Trotskyists of the late 1960s and early '70s came to ask his advice and seek his support, he would lecture them about his council work and advise them to do similar or fall prey to "substitutionism."

Nick's steamroller personality had combined with the vision of secret revolutionary logics within unpromising Stalinism or municipal reform to create an unbridgeable communication gap. It is very hard for an individual to remain embattled against a world of greater culture without being dogmatic. Our job is to create a collective which can combine steadfastness with open thought.

Red Hot: the Life and Times of Nick Origlass, by Hall Greenland. Wellington Lane Press, Sydney, 1998. $25.00.

[1] My thanks to Hall, Laurie Short, and Bob Gould for filling out some details mentioned here.
[2] On one issue the group had no choice but to develop an analysis of its own: the position of Australia in the world. Oppressed nation or what? Their formula was "dependent imperialism", though who coined it I don't know: Laurie Short says it was not he.
[3] The text is in Susanna Short's "Laurie Short: a political life", Allen and Unwin 1992.
[4] Information from Laurie Short.

by Violet Martin

Workers' Liberty conference

Supporters of Workers Liberty Australia met in July. The following is a summary of our assessment of Australian politics.

The Australian economy is growing faster than expected by the government, despite, or perhaps because of the Asian crisis. Australia's exports are primary products, and much of that to Asia. There is a sharpened offensive against workers in major export industries, such as coal, industries covered by the stronger unions, e.g. CFMEU. The Asian crisis has not led to a world-wide slump, mainly because of the buoyancy of the US economy. We don't know when that will end, but we know that it will.

Unions The traditionally strongest unions in Australia are still strong, not smashed as in other OECD countries. They are still militant but within a defeatist framework. The best they try for politically is to hold Labor to promises it has made - not even to try to make Labor promise anything better. Union members are learning from experience "this is as good as it gets". This view runs very deep. Kim Moody, in his book Workers in a Lean World, details political mass strikes which have won in the 90s in many countries with weaker union movements than Australia. But the Australian union leaders consider such action wild and foolhardy. The labour movement is sleep walking into an abyss. The ACTU says the new wave of industrial relations legislation is a matter of life and death - so write a letter to Andrew Murray! Many people seem to believe that because the labour movement is in shape, we don't have to battle. The Australian labour movement's history of relying on arbitration and the idea of an "independent umpire" means that many unionists believe that conflict can be avoided. The victory of the university students, who have almost certainly defeated the VSU legislation, can provide an antidote to the general mood of defeatism. We will advocate the need for generalised, large scale response to the government. Individual workers in individual workplaces often have no option but damage limitation. The labour movement as a whole has other options. Workers Liberty will work around the following three points.

Other important points for current political work are:

We concluded - we're here to take a stand against fatalism and scepticism. We say the world can be different, that people can make it different. After all, if a colony of ants can organise full employment, why shouldn't human beings?

Janet Burstall