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


East Timor still needs solidarity

The whole of the twentieth century has few finer stories of international working-class solidarity. On 4 September the UN announced that East Timor’s 30 August referendum had produced a 78.5% vote for independence from Indonesia. The Indonesian army and its militias immediately launched a genocidal terror campaign. Almost equally fast, Australian trade unions shut down business links between Australia and Indonesia, demanding that the Indonesian troops withdraw.
The Maritime Union banned all trade with Indonesia. Oil refinery workers refused to work with Indonesian oil. Transport unions took action against Garuda flights and air freight to Indonesia. Postal and telecom workers stopped services to Indonesian government and Garuda offices.
All this action was illegal. Prime minister John Howard denounced it. Workplace Relations minister Peter Reith called on employers to take legal action against the unions, and the airline Qantas threatened to do just that. But so widespread was mass support for the East Timorese that ACTU president Jennie George, no daredevil, could confidently declare: “Any employer who seeks to penalise workers for participating in the campaign will be opposed by the whole union movement”. Trade unions were also central in organising the larger of the many street demonstrations in support of East Timor. They ranged in size up to 25,000 on 10 September and 35,000 on 17 September in Melbourne, where there is a left-wing local union leadership and an East Timorese exile community of some thousands.

Indonesian backdown
By 12 September the Indonesian government backed down, and said it would begin withdrawing its army and admitting a UN force to East Timor. This victory was won not just by the direct effect of the trade-union action on Indonesian business, but also by the ability of union bans and demonstrations to push governments into a firmer stand than the ordinary diplomatic protests they would otherwise have made.
John Howard is no consistent democrat ? economic interests make him a solid supporter of China’s claims over Tibet and Taiwan! ? but the mass mobilisations pushed him into speaking out against the Indonesian army terror to a degree which may seriously disrupt business between Australia and Indonesia. The Far East Economic Review reported that: “While the IMF and the World Bank have both condemned the violence in East Timor, neither organization wants to withhold aid to achieve a purely political objective”. (Imposing poverty and misery on the Indonesian workers and peasants in order to secure the profits of international banks counts with the IMF and the World Bank only as an “economic objective”, not political at all!) However, both IMF and World Bank were pushed into suspending aid. Their official grounds for doing so were a financial scandal which had blown some weeks previously, but on 24 September IMF managing director Michel Camdessus “repeated that the fund would not resume loans to Indonesia until the Bank Bali affair was properly investigated and the situation in East Timor improved” (AFR 25 September, emphasis added).
Our unions have kept their strength in strategic sectors better than those in many other countries. Still, they are usually by no means radical. For 13 years, from 1983 to 1996, they placidly supported a Labor government which undermined their previous gains and their strength ? and which continued an Australian state policy dating back to 1975 of full support for the Indonesian military and its rule in East Timor. Since the election of a fiercely anti-union Coalition government in March 1996, their stance has been defensive. How did they come to organise this tremendous solidarity action?

Organisation grows
The tenacity of the East Timorese, continuing their battle for self-determination despite Indonesian terror which killed maybe one-third of the whole population in the 1970s, was one essential precondition. Another was the rebellion of the Indonesian workers and students who toppled dictator Suharto in May 1998, discrediting all apologists for the Indonesian military. A third factor, however, must have been the efforts over many years of the left to publicise the cause of the East Timorese within their labour movement. Thousands of leaflets, street protests, meetings, resolutions and so on finally bore fruit.
Particular credit here probably belongs to the Democratic Socialist Party, the biggest group of the Australian far left, which has made East Timor one of its most high-profile causes (though, sadly, the DSP blotted its record by switching, in the crucial week, to a fervent call for Australia to go to war with Indonesia as the only “immediate and practical” way to save the East Timorese).
Much of the Australian ruling class is furious that Howard has damaged business ties with Indonesia. The Australian Financial Review’s Peter Hartcher writes: “For the sake of the national interest, John Howard should keep quiet. Australia cannot afford any more Howard policy successes”. This sentiment will create huge pressure on the Australian government to do deals with Indonesia over East Timor.
For that reason, continued vigilance and distrust of the Australian state by the labour movement is vital. Australia will also be concerned to secure its capitalist interests in East Timor and in the rich oilfields of the narrow sea which lies between East Timor and Australia. For now, conflicts on this score are only potential. The East Timorese leaders have chosen to endorse the Timor Gap Treaty signed between Australia and Indonesia for the exploitation of the oilfields, reassure Australian and international investors that an independent East Timorese government would cherish their profits, and promise full compliance to the IMF. Nevertheless, socialists should advocate the full right of the people of East Timor to determine their own future and control the wealth of their own coastal waters.

In East Timor now
In East Timor, the situation is changing from day to day. As we go to press on 7 October, the UN-Australian troops (Interfet) have secured Dili and a few other towns, receiving a warm welcome from the East Timorese. They have got some food aid to some regions, and disarmed a few militia people. Most Indonesian troops have withdrawn from East Timor. Only about 1500 remain. Indonesia’s “People’s Consultative Assembly” has ratified East Timorese independence. The Indonesian government has signed an agreement with the UN to permit the East Timorese in the West Timor refugee camps to return.
But the great majority of East Timorese are still outside the UN-Australian controlled area ? in hiding, in the refugee camps in West Timor where they were driven by the Indonesian military and militia, or in militia-controlled areas. It must be likely that many East Timorese are starving. Continued smaller-scale militia massacres are reported. Militia people disarmed by the UN-Australian forces are handed over to the Indonesian police, who then release them. The militias are very far from being destroyed, though whether they will risk serious armed conflict with the UN-Australian forces, retire to Indonesian territory, or remain a subdued (for now) but menacing presence in East Timor, we still do not know.
The East Timorese guerilla movement, Falintil, claims to have driven the militia out of eastern East Timor. The UN-Australian forces have said they will disarm Falintil, but for now an uneasy deal has been made. The UN-Australian forces agree that Falintil can keep its arms in areas outside UN-Australian control; Falintil says it will disarm once it is sure all Indonesian forces have withdrawn.
On current UN plans, the dominant military power in East Timor in the next few years will be a revised UN force. According to the latest statements by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, it will comprise 9000 troops, about 2000 of them Australian; it will take over from Interfet within three months, and it will remain for at least three years. A “transitional” UN administration is planned for East Timor. Full East Timorese self-determination is a long way down the track.
East Timor, a desperately poor nation even before the terror campaign, will require large-scale aid. It has been promised some. But now is the time to insist that the millions gained in profit by US, British, and Australian military suppliers to the Indonesian military, and by multinationals producing with army-police labour in Indonesia, should rightfully be claimed for this purpose ? and that the people of East Timor have the unabridgeable right to political and military control over their own country.

Impact in Indonesia
In Indonesia, the East Timor crisis has left president Habibie discredited both with the military and with the reform-minded. There have been anti-Australian demonstrations in Indonesia, but mostly, it seems, concocted by the military. Far larger and more militant ? and, for now, successful ? have been the student protests against the army’s attempt to gain increased powers.
Indonesia’s largest trade-union organisation, the SBSI, stated that it “supports the actions of the Australian trade unions to pressure the Indonesian government to stop the violence in East Timor and recognise its right to self-determination. Though we are opposed to sweeping economic sanctions, we believe these workers’ actions are sharp political protests that can help force the Indonesian government to comply with the May agreement [with the UN, on self-determination for East Timor]. We are concerned about government economic sanctions because they can hurt workers and peasants and because the Indonesian military may use them to gain the upper hand in the domestic political struggle. Nonetheless, we very much support the pickets and industrial action by the Australian trade unions”.
Another Indonesian trade union federation, the FNPBI, linked to Indonesia’s main left party, the PRD, declared “full support for all the solidarity actions and strikes conducted by trade unions worldwide”, and called for immediate withdrawal of the Indonesian army and police from East Timor and the disbanding of the militias”. Substantial sections of Indonesian big capital had evidently decided that holding East Timor cost more than it was worth, and some of them did speak out (less militantly) against the army terror. The leaders of two large Islamic parties, the PAN and PKB, came out in favour of admitting UN forces to East Timor, and so did sections of Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P, though Megawati herself remained prudently silent.
A serious danger now in Indonesia is that Megawati, with her great popular support based on the vaguest of promises, and General Wiranto, chief of the army, will come together to form a new government which enables the army to restore its position without much resistance and isolates the democratic and working-class left. This makes the PRD’s line of semi-support for Megawati (they demand a “democratic coalition government” including Megawati and the PRD) look very foolish. The future for both Indonesian and East Timorese workers and peasants depends on the strengthening of international workers’ solidarity ? such as that shown by the Australian unions’ action and the Indonesian unions’ support for it ? around clear aims of consistent democracy, workers’ control, and socialism.

FORUM: The Left, East Timor and Australian troops

Like the rest of the left, Workers' Liberty has been debating our attitude to the UN-Australian intervention in East Timor. The two discussion articles, by Martin Thomas and Roger Clarke, present different views from our discussion, and the resolution, drafted by Richard Lane, Lynn Smith, and Martin Thomas, indicates our considered editorial view. We welcome further contributions to debate, either by post, or at the Indonesia and East Timor forum on our web site.

The call for UN troops in  - "pollyanna illusions"
by Martin Thomas

It is vital that as much as possible of the solidarity movement for East Timor should now remain mobilised and vigilant. As I write, UN troops have only backed off temporarily from disarming the East Timorese, and the UN's plans are for 9000 UN troops (including 2000 Australian) to be the decisive armed power in East Timor for years to come. There is no agreement on disarming or withdrawing the Indonesian militias. Australian capitalism has large economic and strategic interests in the oilfields and the seaways lying in the narrow gap between East Timor and Australia. The Australian military presence will be used to secure those interests. Assistance to the East Timorese is, in the calculations of those now in control, strictly incidental.
A basic thought which should guide us was well expounded by Leon Trotsky: "We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition.... Our tasks... we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments... but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a 'defence' cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us".

Troops in
But the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) said “UN-Australian troops in now”, from 6 September onwards, and they support the UN-Australian military presence. DSP member Andy Giannotis wrote: “we're calling on the Australian state to stop the genocide in East Timor because nothing else will within the period of one week. That is how much time they have left (probably)”. Doug Lorimer, writing officially for the DSP, argued that “troops in” was “a clear and immediate practical answer to the question of what should be done to assist the East Timorese” (GLW, 15 September).
The “troops in” position was not “immediate” and “practical” at all, unless you thought that the UN would set about waging altruistic war “immediately” and “practically” on receiving a request from pro-troops socialists. It made no sense to imagine that the working class and the left were too weak to force Indonesia out, yet somehow strong enough to force the Australian capitalist state or the UN to wage an altruistic war.
The DSP’s call for troops declared: “these troops must supervise the rapid withdrawal of all Indonesian military and police personnel from East Timor so as to enable the East Timorese to take full control of their nation's affairs”. To demand that a state like Australia sends troops with no ulterior motive but to enable a small nation to take full control of its own affairs is just foolish. And ? “supervise the withdrawal of Indonesian military personnel”. “Supervise!” It evokes images of a friendly traffic policeman directing the army trucks. “Supervise the withdrawal!” What a prim way to describe war!
In hard fact, the DSP were demanding that Australian go to war against Indonesia to save the East Timorese. How incoherent they were is illustrated by one telling fact. Their official statement on 6 September demanded: “that the Australian government insist that the United Nations authorise the immediate dispatch of Australian troops to East Timor”. The situation was so urgent that all the usual rules of socialist politics about relying on working-class action and having no confidence in capitalist states ceased to apply ? but, by God, nothing should be done without obeying the rules of the United Nations!
If the Australian labour movement were strong enough to have its own militias and run its own ships and planes to East Timor, then military intervention to help the East Timorese might well be the right thing ? though the UN would hardly approve! But neither the UN, nor any capitalist state, has ever gone to war for altruistic reasons. To "demand" that John Howard’s Australia and Bill Clinton’s UN break the pattern could only divert us from what we really could do “immediately” and “practically”.

A nice war
 The DSP took refuge in the idea that they were somehow assured that this would be an easy, small, nice war ? not, for example, like the NATO war against Serbia. “Indonesia’s armed forces have little capacity to carry out a war against Australia… they are vastly outclassed in weaponry, organisation, and training… the Indonesian army, like most Third World armies, is little more than a glorified police force… This argument [that the war might be at all nasty] has some merit only if it is assumed that the Australian troops would act on their own… But if they went in to secure areas in which to help to organise the East Timorese people into armed self-defence units, they would quickly be able to create an allied force… superior to the Indonesian forces” (Green Left Weekly 15 September). The DSP’s rather arrogant armchair-general assumptions are dubious. The Indonesian army is very large. Over the years it has received much modern equipment and training ? including from Australia! It would also have the “advantage” over the Australian army of being able to take large ground-troops casualties with less fear of paralysing domestic political consequences. (Study the experience of the long war between those two formidable “Third World” armies, Iran and Iraq).
It is still a possibility ? remote, I hope ? that Australia and the UN will stumble into war with Indonesia (via, for example, a coup in Jakarta led by army officers intent on war to restore their control in East Timor). Our attitude in that war should be similar to our attitude in the Kosova war ? we would wish for  the defeat of Jakarta (as of Milosevic in Kosova), but we would give no political support to the UN and Australian troops. Our efforts would be concentrated on the cause of a free East Timor, independent both of Indonesia and Australia, as they were on the cause of freedom for the Kosovars. Comrades of the DSP, would you be waving the flag for the Australian troops? The war would be no more pleasant or humane than NATO’s war over Kosova. In Indonesia, too, the big-power forces would maximise the use of their air superiority. They would avoid ground battle as much as possible ? even at the cost of permitting the Indonesian army to massacre more East Timorese, just as the NATO tactics allowed the Serbians to massacre more Kosovars ? and focus on breaking the Indonesian army’s supply and communication lines. Whether they would bomb as far back along those lines as Jakarta, and how many Indonesian workers and peasants they would kill, would be simply a matter of military calculation. And your protests ? “We thought we were supporting a democratic and altruistic war, not this!” ? would be of no weight.

Labour movement crucial
The ACTU organised tremendous solidarity action despite demanding “UN peacekeepers”. But the ACTU’s version of “troops in” was far less harmful than the DSP’s. All its actual calls for action were aimed against Indonesian interests ? not against the Australian government, as it would have to have been if the main focus were to get the Australian government to send troops. The ACTU position was effectively to campaign for Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor on the assumption that UN troops would then enter. It was not to advocate Australia go to war. The sharp end of the policy was against Indonesia, not for troops. (The DSP, too, aimed their action against Indonesian interests rather than proposing industrial action to paralyse the Australian government unless it would immediately send troops. Why? Because they did not, and could not, think through their position).
In an argument I had with Jim McIlroy of the DSP about the troops, he volunteered an analogy with the Russian army in Afghanistan in 1979-80. It had been right to support the Russians, he said, for the same reason that it was right to support the UN now ? as the only force with the power, ready to hand, to deal with an urgent threat from reactionaries (Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, Indonesian army in East Timor). Despite all the obvious differences, Jim is right that there is a common political method. You favour working-class action, but if that seems too weak or too slow you look to the powers-that-be instead. The DSP could pursue that method on a large scale before 1989-91 -? the USSR was not only an established power, but also, despite faults that the DSP recognised, a "workers' state" ? and now can only do it piecemeal. They were wrong on Afghanistan, and they're wrong on UN troops now.
There is another article to be written about the follies of the ISO on East Timor. They are right, I think, to refuse political support to the UN-Australian troops yet not to call for the troops’ withdrawal. But their arguments are more likely to discredit and undermine the basic line of working-class political independence than to strengthen it ? and they do not explain at all why they do not call for withdrawal (or why their attitude on the UN and East Timor is so different from on NATO and Kosova).

ISO ? troops out?
Some of their headlines are dizzyingly off-beam. (Editorial, 24 September: “The real enemy is at home”. So the Indonesian army is in Australia now? Or is attempting genocide not bad enough to make the Indonesian army a “real” enemy?) The ISO’s core catchphrase is: “The UN troops are part of the problem, not part of the solution”. Which problem? The UN-Australian troops have in fact been part of the “solution” to the Indonesian army/militia terror campaign. We advocate a better solution, in which they would not be part. We should not trust or endorse the imperialist deal under which Indonesia has backed off. Our struggle is to accumulate the working-class forces for a free East Timor; and, immediately, the more those forces are mobilised now, the more we can hope to tilt the variables of the deal in favour of the East Timorese. But is Socialist Worker asking its readers to believe that the massacres are raging under UN-Australian hegemony as much as under unrestrained Indonesian army rule?
If the East Timorese continue to see playing off the UN and Australia against Indonesia as their best hope, and a stable, pliant, capitalist government for an independent East Timor establishes itself, then Australia will conclude that the costs and risks of keeping military control of East Timor far outweigh its possible benefits. UN-Australian troops will also turn out to have been a big part of one possible (conservative) “solution” to the broader “problem” of East Timorese self-determination. A hostile, distrustful, “ungrateful” attitude to what the Australian government does in East Timor is proper for socialists, but the ISO’s parrot-like nay-saying is a different matter.
In their different ways, both the DSP and the ISO have evaded the basic Marxist imperatives well expressed by Trotsky: “To face reality squarely… to speak the truth… no matter how bitter it may be”.
The DSP have evaded it in favour of pollyanna illusions about the Australian capitalist state (under the influence of socialist demands, and with the permission of the UN) waging altruistic (and clean, easy, almost bloodless) war for freedom; the ISO, in favour of casting around for the neatest agitational phrase to advertise themselves as an oh-so-revolutionary opposition to John Howard.

Workers Liberty calls for:

1. Solidarity with the East Timorese and Indonesian workers and peasants. Military out of Parliament in Jakarta.

2. The withdrawal of all Indonesian troops and militias from East Timor.

3. No military collaboration with or supplies to Indonesia.

4. Recognise East Timorese independence and a representative transitional government . A whole and independent East Timor: no partition.

5. Material aid to the East Timorese, to meet the immediate needs of displaced people and to rebuild the country.

6. Immediate voluntary repatriation from the camps in West Timor.

7. Military aid to the East Timorese to build self defence (while recognising that the only real defence for the East Timorese is the overthrowing of the military and state by the Indonesian masses) .

8. No trust in, reliance on, or political support for the UN and the Australian state. Against Indonesia, we support the right of the East Timorese to invite in UN troops, and therefore we do not campaign for "UN out" as long as the East Timorese want them. But we do not support UN-Australian military rule over East Timor. Australian soldiers: to say no to collaboration with the Indonesian military, the Indonesian police and the militias.

9. International solidarity campaigns strong enough so that the East Timorese can truly assert their right to a free East Timor.

10. Recognition of the right of the East Timorese to control the oil wealth of their coastal seas.

The East Timorese want UN troops
by Roger Clarke

 “You cannot run, you cannot hide, Justice is here.” ? Army spokesman Chip Henriss-Anderson, warning militia members, after Australian soldiers captured Aitarak platoon commander Caltano da Silva. Interfet refused to hand over da Silva to Indonesian troops.

This delivery of justice is largely a matter of technique. Professional soldiers search for the enemy. Today the enemy are the pro-Jakarta militia. At another time and in a different place the enemy could be freedom fighters. The technique of the search would be much the same, and the soldiers would continue to “do their job”. However the soldiers cannot be completely oblivious to their surroundings. In East Timor the local population are eager to act as intelligence for the army and point out the militia bases. The soldiers see the enthusiastic celebrations that occur when operation “militia cleansing” makes an area safe. The soldiers cannot help but be appalled at the evidence of militia atrocities that they are uncovering. For now, the soldiers are on the side of the East Timorese. They are acting within the UN mandate, which requires them to hand over disarmed militia members to Indonesian troops. However Caltano da Silva was a notorious killer, so an exception was made.

Welcome the UN troops
Only an “anti-imperialist” idiot would not welcome the presence of UN troops in East Timor. Unfortunately our left is far from immune to idiocy. Before the troops were sent, there were at least four distinct positions on calling for troops. The first position was that the sending of troops was to be opposed outright. The logical follow up, now that the UN troops are there, would be to agitate for their withdrawal. Even the International Socialist Organisation shrank from directly stating this conclusion. Instead they now make the senseless claim that UN troops are “part of the problem, not the solution”.
The second position was that socialists should not call for troops to be sent, whether or not the sending of troops would assist the East Timorese and regardless of the fact that East Timorese political leaders had, without exception, all called for military assistance. Revolutionaries may call for troops out but never ever for troops in. It was conceded that UN troops would be a lesser evil than the Indonesian army and militias. It was also conceded that the victims of genocidal slaughter are entitled to choose the lesser evil ? however revolutionary socialists should be made of sterner stuff.
 The third position was that of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP). They called for the immediate dispatch of Australian troops to East Timor. Indonesia, it was argued, had no right to regard such an action as an act of war, because the East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence. The problem was that Indonesia might, nevertheless, regard such an action as an act of war. An Australian force faced with Indonesian military resistance would need assistance from the United States. That would come, if at all, from 12,000 feet. The DSP position was a case of the heart ruling the head ? but the DSP do at least have a heart.
The fourth position was the one adopted by the broad labour movement. The Australian government should actively canvass for a UN peacekeeping force and should offer to play a leading role. In the meantime, Indonesian economic interests in Australia were hit hard. Defying industrial relations laws with impunity, the MUA black-banned goods going to and from Indonesia. Transport workers blacked Garuda flights from Melbourne. Thousands of trade unionists marched in the street demanding that the Australian government break all military ties with Indonesia and withdraw recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor.

Clinton does “something”
Faced with mounting pressure to “do something”, the Australian government cancelled some military ties and began to lobby for a UN mandate to send troops. US defence secretary William Cohen stated that US troops would not be sent, because US national interests were not involved. Possibly motivated by a desire to soften the impact of this bald statement of “converse” imperialism, Clinton threatened the Indonesian government with economic disaster if they continued to refuse permission for a UN force to enter East Timor. The Indonesian government finally agreed to allow the UN force in.
The Indonesian military were not overly cooperative with the UN forces, so a price was paid for avoiding war. Thousands of East Timorese have been forcibly deported to West Timor, where they are hostage to the Indonesian military. On the other hand the UN mandate is far more appropriate in East Timor than it was in Bosnia. The militia are being disarmed. Security is being restored. Food and medical supplies are at last getting through. When the East Timorese begin to demand more than these elementary prerequisites of life we will support them. If they ask the UN troops to leave, we will support them in that demand too. That is in the future. Right now the East Timorese want the UN troops to be there.

Second Wave: Wakey, wakey!

by Janet Burstall

 “The adage ‘All is fair in love and war’ is, we think, as much applicable to industrial warfare as to any other type” ? the Industrial Relations Commission’s judgment, Thursday 7 October.

“We are in enterprise bargaining... and under that bargaining regime market forces” prevail ? Sydney University Professor of labour law, Ron McCallum, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) of Saturday 9 October, in comments on the IRC’s ruling.

The law of the jungle could prevail, according to Greg Combet, next Secretary of the ACTU, if the Industrial Relations Commission will not arbitrate to settle industrial disputes.
Rio Tinto sacked 115 Hunter Valley miners for striking against the company’s attempts to change work practices. The miners have been picketing with the support of their union, the CFMEU. The Industrial Relations Commission has ruled, after a series of appeals, that Rio Tinto has acted legally. Further the IRC has said it will not to act as an umpire in industrial disputes.
According to Brad Norrington in the SMH of Friday 8 October “The decision is a fillip for Mr. Reith in his attempts to have the commission adopt a hands-off approach. He is determined to peg back union power in the coal industry ? his next target after the waterfront, construction and meat industries”. Reith and the ACTU leaders agree in their estimation that the Industrial Relations Commission acts as a brake on employer attacks on unions.

The implications:
1. The CFMEU will be forced to choose whether to give up on the Hunter Valley No 1 miners, or extend the fight against Rio Tinto, to include other Rio Tinto operations, and other unions.

2. The extension of the fight against Rio Tinto would bring the union movement into conflict with Reith’s anti-union laws, because it would be illegal. The union leaders say they are against Reith’s anti-union laws, but will they challenge them? “The minimalist arbitration conducted by the Commission does not seem to have been the result of any legal requirement. The statutory prohibitions against arbitration did not constitute an effective barrier” says NSW Labor Attorney General Jeff Shaw in Workers Online (no. 34, 8 October). Shaw’s doubt about the legal basis of the IRC decision is waving a useless shred of false hope to the union movement, by implying that Reith could be curbed in the courts. Reith will continue to amend industrial laws until they suit his union busting purposes, unless the unions bust Reith instead.

3. Will the CFMEU leadership decide to seriously take on Reith in his developing attack on unions in the coal industry? Or will there be a repeat of the MUA dispute, with the appearance of a fight and a victory, while the reduction of jobs, intensification of workloads has been carried out, with the MUA unable to do what a union should do and fight it?

4. The Australian arbitration system has been part of Commonwealth law for almost a century. The union movement has relied on it as an ‘impartial umpire’. Marxists and radical socialists have often advocated, during industrial disputes, that workers’ action should not be discontinued in favour of reliance on the state’s legal processes, such as conciliation and arbitration. Union officials have often found arbitration a convenient way to settle disputes, rather than win them. In any case, we would argue that arbitration generally only delivered what had in effect already been won industrially. The whole system of industrial law and the conducting of industrial conflicts via representation in industrial courts, has contributed to the taming of unions, the conservatism and careerism of union leaders. In this context, it’s hard to see how it can make sense for socialists to advocate the retention of the Arbitration system, and the ‘independent umpire’. In fact, this is the LEAST of the problems with Reith’s anti-union laws. The core of the effectiveness of what Reith is trying to do, is in making most strikes illegal, and placing severe restrictions on union organising and recruitment. The most important demand to organise around to support the Hunter Valley No.1 workers, is that they choose the work practices that they agree upon, as a union.

5. Wakey, wakey, where is the campaign against Reith’s second wave? We have heard very little from the ACTU since the August rallies. They have produced a summary of their submission to the Senate Committee on the legislation. They are still telling visitors to their web site that the thing to do is still to write to Democrat Senator Andrew Murray. There are state by state protests, as the Senate Committee moves around the country.
The most effective action being publicly planned is a possible stop-work in November, involving labour councils in Victoria, South Australia and the ACT. According to Green Left Weekly of September 29 “The November stop-work proposal came from the ACT all-delegates meeting.”
It could be that the IRC decision on the Hunter Valley No.1 miners will force the CFMEU, and other major unions to consider the need for a determined mobilisation to defeat Reith. Workers’ Liberty re-iterates our proposal for a national conference of union delegates to prepare an effective campaign.

Brisbane campaign targets 27 October

The Brisbane Defend Our Unions Committee is pressing the Queensland Council of Unions to organise a protest for Wednesday 27 October, when the Senate Inquiry into the "second wave" legislation holds a public hearing in Brisbane. QCU assistant secretary Grace Grace says that the QCU is considering such action, but if the QCU does not come good on this, then "Defend Our Unions" will organise action on our own account. We're also preparing a briefing leaflet on the legislation and how to fight it, for circulation to trade unionists and in workplaces, and planning to organise Queensland action in tune with further protests likely to be called by the ACT Trades and Labour Council and Victoria Trades Hall Council in November.

"Defend Our Unions" meets regularly at the Paddington Workers' Club, 2 Latrobe Terrace. To contact us: e-mail, phone: Melissa, 07 3371 0797, or write c/o Solidarity Infoshop, 264 Barry Parade, Fortitude Valley Q 4006. To subscribe to our e-mail list, e-mail to with the message: subscribe.

NSW Public Sector workers fight for jobs and conditions

by Leon Parissi

This NSW State Budget for 1999/2000 was described by the Public Service Association (PSA) as a “horror budget”. 2,500 jobs are to go in a major redundancy plan. The job cuts and the relocation of some services from Sydney to the country affect over 12 different Departments in a variety of ways. With a various bans, limitations and stop work actions put into place a fight back began from the PSA membership beginning in May. Over the months since then the PSA Executive has delayed organising a concerted fight back. When in September a decision was finally made to support a Labor Council stop work and rally there were few indications of any actual work being done in the PSA to publicise and build the action.

When a voluntary redundancy is not voluntary
Having gone to the elections earlier this year with a promise of no forced redundancy the Carr Government has found ways to circumvent its own policy.

  • Many of the Sydney staff whose jobs have been forcibly transferred to the country feel they have no option but to take a redundancy. As their positions have been transferred they become “unattached”.
  • The Government has illegally issued guidelines which force a “displaced officer” to take their leave entitlements ? thus reducing the payout if a redundancy is not taken when first offered.
  • There is a freeze on public service recruitment leaving large numbers of positions vacant. Many staff feel they are doing the jobs of two or more people and even the poor redundancy package on offer may look attractive.
In the true style of a top Public Service mandarin Ken Boston (head of the NSW Department of Education and Training) issued letters to hundreds of TAFE staff asking them to express interest in voluntary redundancy without any prior consultation with the unions involved. That was in July. After the NSW Teachers Federation and the NSW Public Service Association went to the Industrial Commission to complain about the lack of consultation some time was granted to develop better guidelines for the process. According to Government policy management is obliged to "consult, negotiate and come to agreement" with the unions about surplus capacity. And only then offer voluntary redundancies.
This delay also bought time for the membership to organise. One of the pleasing features of this campaign is the close cooperation between the PSA and the NSW Teachers Federation at all levels.

Industrial battles
The four weeks leading up to ALP Conference made NSW look a little like an industrial battle zone with industrial disputes over a variety of issues involving nurses, TAFE teachers, school teachers, public servants, rail staff and bus drivers all involved in stoppages. Michael Costa, Secretary of the Labor Council, denied being at war with the Premier. Members most Public Sector unions would probably like to disagree.

  • A highly successful 24 TAFE hour strike was called on Wednesday 22 September. This action was supported by all unions in TAFE under the Labour Council umbrella. Over 3,000 unionists, students and other supporters rallied in front of Parliament House.
  • There was a well reported rally of disabilities workers, their clients and families outside Parliament House.
  • Bus drivers held a stoppage over attacks on their working conditions.
  • Rail station staff covered by the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) held separate stoppages over job losses and competitive tendering.
  • Public Sector unions across the factional divide lobbied the ALP State Conference.
  • NSW Labor Council had threatened to organise a public sector wide stop work for the 19 October. Building on recent demonstrations, public sector unions were planning to stage a huge rally in front of Parliament House.
The degree of anger shown by public sector unionists against ALP Government policy in the lead up to ALP State Conference led to the creation of State Labour Advisory Council (SLAC). According to the NSW Labour Council’s Workers Online (No. 34 ,October 1999):
 “The announcement of the new body acted as a circuit-breaker for rising union anger at the ALP State Conference about the direction of government policy.” Labour Council’s Secretary, Michael Costa, immediately announced to the media that the threat of a public sector wide industrial action scheduled for the 19 October was probably suspended.

Uneasy truce
In an interview with the Workers Online Nick Lewicki of the RTBU did not rule out future industrial action on the basis that:
“It appears to me that Carl Scully (Transport Minister) is a captive of the Treasury people insofar as he's told that budgets had to be cut.”
" I'm disappointed he didn't stand up and say "This industry is an industry that's had ongoing reform. That over the last couple of decades we've slashed 20,000 jobs right across the rail industry. It is now efficient and any further attack on staffing levels means that those efficiencies would be lost".
As late as 12 October the State’s 3,500 Bus drivers were threatening ongoing industrial action in the face of the State Transit Authority’s (STA) continued attacks on their conditions. Bus drivers had earlier rejected going for a renewed Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) because they reckoned they had lost too much by way of reduced working conditions in previous EBAs. Now STA management has served a claim against the RTBU demanding even more outrageous ‘give backs’. STA wants reduced annual leave, sick leave and overtime. Longer unpaid meal breaks, making employees pay for their training for their uniforms are also features of this attack. These, among a total of 47 changes, are designed to save the STA $14m each year.
Part of the uneasy ‘truce’ with public sector workers called for the Transport Minister, Carl Scully, to withdraw the STA’s claim on their workers. According to the Sydney Morning Herald Scully described it as too “aggressive”. STA management apparently thinks otherwise.
It remains to be seen what will result from this industrial contest.

Left unions
It would seem that the right wing unions (such as the RTBU) are making the running against the Carr Government. Nominally left wing unions such as the Public Service Association and the Teachers Federation seem to be the captive of deals made in recent years. These deals look ok on the surface for example the PSA negotiated a 16% pay rise over three years. About 5% of that rise was not funded by Treasury. The response by public service mangers to such deals is to make pay rises come out of savings (through job cuts and other cost cutting measures) so that wage rises can be paid for within existing budgets. These actions by management make many unionists suspicious that part of the pay deals included keeping the membership quiet on the fight against job cuts.
The hopes of thousands of public sector workers that their union leaderships were going to “do something” about job cuts, competitive tendering and attacks on working conditions may be dashed on the rocks of political opportunism. It remains to be seen as WL goes to press whether the unlikely right/left alliance of unions to defend the interests of workers against the concerted attacks by a truly conservative ALP government will continue.

The Accord and the lessons of history

From “Hammer or Anvil: the story of the German working-class movement”, by Evelyn Anderson

Even though the illusion that the Weimar Republic was ‘their’ state could not be easily upheld, the unions felt nevertheless that there was no other way but to rely more and more upon cooperation with the Government and the organs of the State… For the unions this development was fatal. The less they relied on their own strength, the more dependent did they become on the State, whatever the character and policy of the government in office. A further consequence was that the workers gradually lost interest in the unions because they felt that it was the state, and not the unions, which fixed their wages and decided their working conditions. This loss of interest in the unions was further increased by the legal extension of collective agreements to all unorganised workers, as well as by the comprehensive system of social insurance and the creation of special Labour Courts for the settlement of legal disputes between employers and employed…
“The decline of trade union strength and influence did not really become visible before the great depression and mass unemployment began. But it is important to remember that the mass unemployment was not the only cause which eventually reduced the German unions to a shadow of their former self. The unions’ growing dependence on the state, their submissiveness and self-emasculation, were, to say the least, very important contributory causes…
“In spite of all this, the Social Democrats decided to ‘tolerate’ Bruning [who became Chancellor in 1930]… holding that, bad though Bruning was, he was the ‘lesser evil’ compared with what might come after him. Having started, they continued to tolerate every new blow as part of the ‘lesser evil’, until the last spark of fight had died in them and they had become the hopelessly frustrated spectators of their own defeat”.

Kosova Miners' Union appeals for solidarity

In Kosova we are now living in a 'post-war' period, even though some paramilitary, military and police groups which were responsible for massacring Albanians are still active in different parts of Kosova and in particular in the miners' town of Mitrovica.
    The biggest company in Kosova is the 'Trepca' company based upon the rich mineral mines in Kosova. Under the constitution of ex- Yugoslavia this company was 'social property' ? i.e. it belonged to its workers. However all Albanian employees were locked out of their jobs in 1990. Throughout these last years our trade union has tried to protect miners' property and assert the right of miners to return to work. For several years this protest was directed at the Milosevic regime, now we have a new problem:
    French KFOR (Kosova Force) troops have occupied our mines and metal processing plants and refuse to allow us access. Over these years the miners have lost everything that we have created by our work. Our families now have nothing. In the last year 33 members of our union have been killed, 11 are missing and many of our houses are destroyed. We were hopeful that after the war, with the end of the violence organised by Milosevic, we would be able to retake control of our mines and factories, which are our property, and resume work. We have drawn up plans to resume production, including drawing up a budget to obtain necessary machinery etc, but unfortunately the International Community does not seem to recognise our rights and is treating us as tenants in our own property.
    Even though we have prepared our plan to restart production, which would benefit the whole Kosova community, especially the miners, we are prevented by French KFOR troops from entering the mine, even to try to ensure that flooding does not occur. We have held meetings with KFOR and UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosova) but we cannot get any agreement from them.
    Therefore on July 27th this year we held a protest demonstration outside the mine with the slogan 'Allow us to work and live from our jobs. We are not lazy and do not want to depend upon outside aid. The mines are our property.' Despite our protests we remain locked out. So we want to step up our protests and for this we need international support and solidarity. We are planning more protests marches and if we are not successful we are prepared, eventually, to start a hunger strike outside the mine gates.
    Our campaign to demand the rights of miners and other workers is not just for Albanians but for all Trepca employees with the exception of those who have committed war crimes. Therefore, we ask you, to contact us by fax or email, to show your support. We can then inform you of our plans.
Because all communications in Kosova are damaged we ask you to contact our friends in UK. fax + 44161 226 0404 email If you can help us financially please send donations to Durham National Union of Mineworkers, PO Box 6, The Miners Hall, Durham. DH1 4BB, UK. For details of international bank transfer fax + 44191 2330578.
Mitrovica. President of miners' Trade Union September 1999 Xhafer Nuli


Students fight British Labour attacks

by Josh Bel, Sacha Ismail, Lee Sergent
(from the Oxford non-payment campaign)

WL has previously reported on the fight by students in Britain to push back fees for higher education. The following article from the British Action for Solidarity paper updates the struggle. The beginning of an Australian fight against the possibility of fees/loans here makes the article even more relevant.

Labour was elected on a pledge of "government for the many, not the few". Things, we were told, could only get better.
But things haven't got better, they've got worse: worse for students, worse for kids at under-funded schools, worse for the disabled, for those on hospital waiting lists, for single parents, for pensioners, and for workers shackled by the most illiberal, undemocratic, anti-trade union laws in western Europe.
The only people things have got better for are Blair's cronies and the rich. Labour came to power opposing the privatisation of the London Underground, air traffic control and the Post Office: now they are preparing to sell them off. Only weeks before the general election, Blunkett stated publicly he would not introduce tuition fees. We didn't vote for any of this. And we are not wrong to oppose it now.
It can seem as if Blairite Britain is being created without significant opposition. Politically, Blair has crushed the Labour left. Industrially, he has kept the unions quiet with help from the union leaders. Ideologically, he has used the language of progress to justify his attacks on working-class people; benefit cuts are now "welfare reform", and the ending of the right to education is sold under the slogan "education, education, education".
Blair knows that since the defeat of the miners in 1985, the labour and students' movements have had to rebuild themselves out of defeat.
Students are beginning to fight back. Over the last two years, the Campaign for Free Education (CFE) and activists across the UK have organised for numerous demonstrations and occupations. In the last twelve months tuition fees non-payment campaigns, initially launched by the CFE, have inspired thousands of students to take action in defense of their education. From Oxford to UCL, from Goldsmiths to Sussex, occupations have not only protected students from victimisation but proved that mass action can and does win!
NUS should be leading this movement, but its leadership is too interested in their careers in the Labour Party to even consider doing so. The last two years have shown them for what they are: a miserable bunch of careerists. They will be rewarded with a career in politics in return for keeping students quiet ? four ex-Presidents of NUS now sit in parliament as Labour MPs.
Twice in the last two years the United for Free Education slate has come close to taking the Presidency from Labour Students, and we remain the only real threat to the control of Blair's stooges.
We cannot wait for NUS, however. If the national union cannot provide leadership, activists from across the country must come together to provide that leadership themselves.

Who does pay?
British society is more than able to pay for free education. Britain is far wealthier now than it was when the modern welfare state was founded at the end of the Second World War.
The richest one per cent of the population have a marketable wealth of £306 billion, with an average of nearly £1 million each. Dividend payments to individuals run at £73 billion a year. Under the Tories, the richest ten percent received tax cuts amounting to more than £10 billion a year, and Blair has continued this policy. At the same time, students have lost their grants, disabled people have had their benefits cut and we are told that there is no money for public services.
To put it another way: between 1979 and the early 1990s the wealth redistribution that was achieved between 1938 and 1949 was almost exactly reversed.
If the Government chose to do so, it could easily find the money to pay for free education. But it prefers to keep taxes on the rich low and make savings by dismantling the welfare state.
We believe that the higher rates of tax should be increased so as to take back the hand outs given to the rich over the last twenty years, and the money raised spent on jobs, welfare and education. Relatively small tax rises could net £12 billion, enough to rebuild the entire welfare state. And there are many other ways the Government could raise the money needed if it chose to do so:

  • Raising corporation tax from 31% to 34% would raise £4 billion per year
  • Raising top-rate income tax to 50% (as in other European countries) for earnings over £50,000 would raise £32.7 billion per year
  • Reducing military spending to West European average (as a share gross of GDP) would raise £5.4 billion per year
High quality education and health care, free to all at the point of delivery, are the hallmarks of a civilised society. What is being created is the opposite of this: a society where money buys the right to education and the right to life; where access to, and quality of, education for the majority of people, is sacrificed so the rich can get richer. We say: make the rich pay!

Why mass action?
Everything ordinary people have won in the past ? universal suffrage, the NHS, the welfare state, the end of apartheid ? were the result of mass campaigns demanding peoples' rights from the government of the day. Governments do succumb to pressure, and this one is no different.
We cannot use the same tactics that big business and the rich do because we simply don't have their money or clout. This is their government, after all, not ours. It is open to the suggestions, hints, wishes and needs of the rich and powerful.
Students, workers and the unemployed have only our collective strength; strength which can be organised in a direct challenge to this Government. Mass, participatory direct action is far more democratic than putting a cross on a ballot paper once every five years for the politician you hate least. In occupations and non-payment campaigns students have an opportunity to have an influence on the world we live in, to come together in debate and take responsibility for our lives and futures.
For 18 years our National Union has been run by Labour Students. At best their leadership has been inadequate. Under Labour, they have operated to crush, head-off or misdirect, any opposition to the Government. NUS has belonged to Blair and not its membership. It was Labour Students who masterminded NUS Conference's acceptance of loans in 1996, a move which opened the door to the introduction of tuition fees.
The more rank-and-file students get involved, the more they will stand for SU positions, regaining control of their unions from the inactive, bureaucratic careerists who sometimes run them. Only grass-roots activity can make a union accountable. We must reclaim and renew our unions at every level.

Why non-payment?
Non-payment is happening anyway, as thousands of students around the country can't afford to pay their fees. We can either sit back and leave them isolated, or we can organise to support them, creating the kind of mass political campaign that can make the Government's legislation unworkable. This would be a huge victory for the ideas of free education, as well as a huge relief to hundreds of thousands of students.
Thousands of students still haven't paid, thousands are organising in colleges around the country and thousands more won't be able to pay in September; the campaign will snowball this year.
Labour succeeded in bringing in the Teaching and Higher Education Act (1998), which introduced tuition fees and abolished the grant. But they’ve still got a major battle to ensure its smooth implementation. This year they are facing the collective anger of thousands of poverty stricken students ? not spineless Labour backbenchers or the non-leaders of NUS.
If enough students in your college refuse to pay their fees, the college administration will be unable to cope. And if this happens in enough colleges, we can make the national collection system unworkable.
This is a real possibility, particularly with the student loans system promising chaos this September. The Government has admitted it is already months behind with the processing of applications. With a national non-payment campaign, the system will simply cease to function.

A political odyssey

Bob Carnegie, a longtime activist in the Maritime Union of Australia and on the Brisbane left, spoke to Workers’ Liberty, about his political itinerary, from young cadre of the Socialist Party of Australia through Maritime Union official to anti-Stalinist revolutionary.

I always had a strong underlying humanist bias. I tended not to view things not just from an ideological viewpoint, as was the rule in the SPA. My moral break from authoritarian state-capitalism, or Stalinism, which still infects the Australian left and the Australian trade union movement to a much larger degree than people realise, took a long time. I would say it took from 1979, when I joined the SPA, to the final break in about 1994. The last five years has been my great political growing-up.
I joined the SPA when I was 19. At the time, fundamentally I viewed things from an anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint. I was a keen student even then of the US labour movement, and the nobility and courage of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) impressed me a great deal. The SPA influence came from the seamen’s journals. My father was a member of the seamen’s union for 35 years, a middle-of-the-road Labor Party person in politics but a very strong industrial delegate. I’ve only really understood a lot of his political ideas in the last five years.
When I joined the SPA, I expected to find a dynamic organisation. What I saw was a group of mainly older people, very dedicated, with the party having a certain degree of influence in a number of union leaderships. I respected the older people. My major contribution to party work was selling the party paper. But I couldn’t feel that it was a revolutionary organisation.
Then I was sent to Moscow for political training in 1980. It was a great opportunity, to spend six months studying Marxism-Leninism. I met some wonderful people, including a woman I later married.
On Afghanistan, I followed the party line. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan to defend the rights of the people of Afghanistan. How stupid that sounds now is beyond a reasonable person’s comprehension, but within the closed circles of the SPA it made sense.
What did I think of Moscow when I arrived there? What would a boy from Brisbane think? I thought I had come to a place where the workers had finally gained control. We were kept within a closed university structure, and because of the language difficulties we had difficulties knowing what life was really like for Russian workers. You could see that things weren’t quite as the party hierarchy said they were. I remember one lecture which said there was no such thing as dissidence in the Soviet Union, and even then I found that hard to swallow. Some comrades from Northern Europe who were there at the time wanted half the course based around Stalin’s time. They got one four-hour lecture, and that was it.
Then I lived in Denmark for a while, and was fortunate to ship out on the Australian coast in 1981. I got back into the swing of the SPA. By then there was a split in the SPA between the industrial side of it and the bureaucracy side of it. I sided with the industrial wing.
I started reading much more broadly. I started reading Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and looking at things more from a cultural-historical side. What also changed my ideas is that I did a job on a fellow during the 1987 union elections ? a prominent rank-and-filer called Harry Leonard, who was in the CPA. I betrayed a friendship with an old-time seafarer there. I believed then (or fooled myself into believing) that what comrade Leonard was writing, about furthering democracy in the old Seamen’s Union, was tantamount to destroying the union. All he and a few other CPA members in the union wanted was a more open union.
Being a good attack dog for the hierarchy of the union, I got stuck into him, using all the vitriolic polemics of a committed Stalinist. Even twelve years later I feel I can’t wash the shit off me. Almost instantly I wanted to square up with Harry, but he died before I could. I realised that there are certain human values which you can’t walk across. If you’re going to be a revolutionary, you have to treat people decently.
In 1989 I went to North Korea as the leader of a youth delegation. It was a horror story ? state capitalism gone insane. I contracted some type of gastro-enteritis that miraculously cleared up when we touched down in the far less intrusive police state of Singapore.
But then I guess I threw myself into the union. I’d been one of the trade-union coordinators of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and done a heap of work on that. I became a full-time union official in 1994, but I spent a lot of time relieving in the union office before that, from 1988 onwards.
By that time I’d developed a lot of ideas. I’d read Darkness At Noon, by Arthur Koestler, and I’d started becoming a fan of George Orwell’s. But, while it has turned out that a lot of the old Communists were just social-democrats looking for an excuse to become open social-democrats, I still believe very deeply that we will never have any peace from war or peace from want unless we have a society where working people are in control and own the means of production. I don’t believe you will find that by being a social-democrat.
Over the last three years before the MUA dispute of 1998, I was putting in at least 100 hours a week. I was working full-time as a union official plus part-time as an International Transport Workers’ Federation inspector. On top of that I was the chairperson of the Queensland Workers’ Rights Coalition, which fought three major campaigns to enable workers in this state to have access to common law if they are injured at work.
More and more I was seeing things within my union similar to those described by Orwell and Koestler ? and even Trotsky: I started reading a little bit of Trotsky, which was probably the worst possible thing I could have done as far as the leadership of the MUA were concerned. It was becoming obvious that to some of the leadership of the union that I was not in agreement with them on some key issues. I was becoming in their eyes ? and I quote ? “a loose cannon, a Trotskyite, or a maverick”. To a man like myself I found this type of character assassination not only untrue but also extremely hurtful.
After the 1998 MUA dispute, I ended up getting very sick partly because of the huge contradictions I faced ? whether to stay as a well-paid union official, and a fairly effective one at that, but betray fundamental working-class ideals. Before my resignation from my union position I was constantly telling workers that left was right, right was wrong, night was day. It was Stalinism. I faced a huge contradiction between loyalty to the union leadership and loyalty to the rank and file. I’d known the leadership of the union, particularly on the seafaring side, virtually all my adult life, but I knew they were going down a completely wrong path. Some of them convinced themselves this was the only plan on offer; some of them, I think, had convinced themselves that they were brilliant Marxists, with the most brilliant plan to save the union.
The leadership’s answer was for the workers in the industry to forgo stabilisation and to have it replaced by casualisation. In the stevedoring area, casualisation is now an integral part of the industry. To the leadership’s credit a rank and file delegates’ conference was held, and these measures were passed. However, several points have been disregarded which were critical to the package in areas such as training and single-point-of-engagement for seafarers, and of course government assistance to the industry, all of which has not occurred.
What do I now think about the Soviet Union? It had very little to do with socialism. It was state capitalism. It was the greatest armed encampment created in human history. The last chance that I think the Soviet Union had of resurrecting itself was in the late 1920s, just before Trotsky was expelled and then Bukharin was destroyed by Stalin. When I think over the little problems I’ve had in my life, the times when your point of view won’t even be listened to within a Stalinist union structure, I understand what people like Trotsky went through on a much grander scale in the USSR in the 1920s.
Stalinism has compromised the language of socialism. It has become culturally stupid to speak about socialism. I think Lenin still has a great deal to offer, though I wouldn’t regard the Leninist political party model as one that we would adopt these days. For us to be a small conspiratorial party of a new type will not attract people. We have to learn from people like Lenin and Trotsky, but also learn from the great Marxist libertarians like Erich Fromm and anarchists like Bookchin and Chomsky. There’s a whole range of ideas on the left ? take people like Gabriel Kolko, for example. His exposure of the complicity of the Stalinist CPs of Europe after the war with US and Soviet imperialism in ensuring that the left would be defeated is tremendous.
But the Leninist party? There’s a problem with any exclusive group which claims that it is the only force in society which can deliver freedom for the workers. Undemocratic practices are bad in a trade union. But in a political party which ends up having control of the coercive means of the state you’re dealing with a much higher level of disaster. Though maybe you’re right that this is the Stalinist political model, rather than the norm of Lenin’s party, before Lenin’s death.

Kennett kicked… out?

by Richard Lane

Victoria had a most unusual election. In Melbourne, swings to Labor were moderate, giving Labor 3 seats, while in the bush big swings gave Labor 8 seats from the Liberals and replaced one National with an independent.
 Two sitting independents were reelected while the third, an ex-Liberal who left them over the neutering of the auditor general, died on election day. The supplementary election in Frankston East may determine who forms government. One new independent was elected on the single issue of restoring an environmental flow to the Snowy River.
 The state of the parties in an 88 seat lower house is:  ALP 41
Liberal 36
National 7
Independent 3
Undecided 1
  Labor campaigned on health, education, community safety (more police), and accountable government not secrecy. They targeted the provincial centers and won them all. They won seats never held before, or not since 1952. The ALP hardly has an organisation in some of these seats ? it is the unions that staff the polling booths. The Liberals are reduced to 3 or 4 seats outside of Melbourne, and Labor will hold more non Melbourne seats than the Liberals and Nationals combined.
 Labor's policy launch was in Ballarat (leader Steve Brack's home town) ? outside of Melbourne for the first time. They tapped into the rural disenchantment that fuelled One Nation in Queensland. Added to general unhappiness with globalization and economic rationalism were specific factors of Kennett's Metro-centrism and the wholesale closure of schools, hospitals, police stations, banks, etc. in the bush.
  In National seats, much of the protest vote went to independents, but in country Liberal seats it mostly went straight to Labor. Tens of thousands of rural people overcame decades of anti-union and anti Labor ideology and voted Labor. But tens of thousands of young working people in the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne continued to vote Liberal. Polls show 72% approval for Kennett in the 18-24 age group. The Liberals ran "Jeff fucking rules" as a slogan on youth oriented radio.
  The Coalition can get a maximum of 44 seats if they win the election in Frankston East. They would still need support from at least one independent to govern. A minority ALP government is now a real possibility.
 The three independents have a charter calling for accountability, inquiries into various scandals, money for the bush, restoring the powers of the auditor general and reform of the upper house (4 year terms instead of 8 and proportional representation. The Coalition has a huge majority).
  Labor has enthusiastically endorsed all of this, emphasising the similarities with Labor policy. Kennett has agreed to all but upper house reform, instead proposing a constitutional commission to look at the issues. This is a huge backdown.
 The constitution does not make it easy for the Governor to call a new election. We may see a Liberal minority government that falls during the life of the parliament as scandals (Intergraph ambulance service, casino bidding etc.) are aired. Then a Labor minority government could take over.  That is possibly better for the working class than a minority Labor government now, as it would be a slow death for the coalition. Labor would have no power to initiate as they would have to bargain everything with the independents and face a hostile upper house. They also have about 20 new pollies. The thought of Justin Madden, former AFL footballer, going straight from ruck coach for North Melbourne into the Cabinet is pretty amusing.

Socialist candidates
  Socialist candidates did quite well. The Progressive Labour Party ran two candidates. Susan Duffy in Northcote got 7.7%. In Geelong they got 2.3%. The DSP ran Jorge Jorquera in Melbourne, getting 5.5%. Militant ran Steve Jolly in Richmond, getting 12.5%.
 The Militant result is pretty good (see following article). Steve Jolly has a very high profile due to his work in the Richmond Secondary College campaign. He had the benefit of the donkey vote and no Green candidate was running. Apparently the CP used to do very well in Richmond. It is still the best result for someone running openly as a revolutionary socialist for a long time.
 The Greens had a formal alliance with Labor. They ran in marginal seats, getting 4.5%. Their preferences went to Labor. Labor did not run in one upper house seat, supporting the Greens there.
  Despite Labor’s right wing policies, it was fantastic to see Kennett kicked in the guts. Most enjoyable was hearing him blame the public for voting wrongly, moaning about how Victoria would not have strong government, complaining that it might be months before a result was known and threatening another election. Unfortunately, he avoided crying. Labor is invigorated and likely to recruit.
 There are possibilities that the hold of reactionary ideology in rural areas will be substantially weakened. The continuing irrelevance of Labor (and, largely, unionism) to working class youth in east and south east Melbourne is a huge problem.
 Whoever forms government, Kennett’s reactionary program has ground to a halt.

“Don’t throw socialist politics out the window”

Steve Jolly of the Militant Socialist Organisation spoke to Richard Lane from Workers’ Liberty about his impressive vote in the Victorian election.

You got a very good result ? over 4,200 votes, 12.5 per cent. Why there was there such resonance in the area?
SJ  According to the electoral office, it was the highest vote for a socialist in Victoria since World War 2. The area has been devastated by Kennett. The Libs knew they could never win, so there have been huge cuts to education, health, etc. Labor was like an absentee landlord ? previous MP Demetri Dollis spent the last 5 months in Greece. In the past the area (inner suburbs of Richmond, Collingwood, Abbotsford, Fitzroy) had the largest ALP and CP branches. There is a history of struggle.
That is the objective factors. Militant has been involved in many local campaigns, e.g. Richmond Secondary College ? but that was six years ago. We have continued to be active about local issues like City link pollution and heroin law reform. We were involved in supporting the locked out ADC workers. That gave me a high profile.
There was lots of work. 23,000 houses were letter-boxed, followed up by street meetings. Our whole organisation was involved, but more people outside of Militant than in it were involved in the campaign. Our best booth (16%) was in Fitzroy ? students and in the high rise, closely followed by a near the high rise in Collingwood. Our lowest was in North Richmond (10%), in a predominantly Vietnamese area. I am very proud of that vote, given the language and political difficulties.

WL  Workers’ Liberty has changed its approach to elections in the UK recently. We now work both inside and outside the Labour party. We concentrate on working-class representation. How does the result relate to building working-class representation and the revolutionary socialist left?
SJ  Militant split over our approach to the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) 18 months ago ? 12 people left in Melbourne. We agree with the idea of a new workers’ party to the left of Labor and have a united front approach to the PLP. Where we disagreed is that we won’t liquidate into a centrist or left reformist party. A new workers’ party is an agitational slogan. Left unions are not ready to split from ALP, nor is there is the mass consciousness for it ? the effects of economic rationalism, Kennett etc. The number one task is to build revolutionary socialist organisation. When the tide turns we will have a better presence.
To put it crudely, trade union, student, and community work is a richer terrain than chasing votes. We proved that even on the electoral front although we ran on a red blooded socialist program. The PLP did not mention socialism. I want to make it clear that we have good working relations with the PLP, including the people who left Militant. We supported their campaign and some of our members in Northcote gave practical help.
If we had not stood, the results of the DSP in Melbourne and the PLP in Northcote would have been seen as OK, they got their deposits back. Because we stood and got over 12% it has changed the debate on a new party. The PLP have called a meeting where all the left parties who run in elections will speak ? DSP, PLP, Militant, Greens, Cleary, Australian Women’s Party. The idea is to establish a left front, register 500 names as a party. It would be a federation, we all would run on our own program.
We need to ask left unions to give support ? tell them it is their members and activists, their supporters. If would have a big impact if they gave half or even a tenth of the money they give to the ALP. The unions are starting to take it seriously. Militant’s aim is to get the first socialist MP for a long time.
WL  In France, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire have for years run on joint tickets with assorted left reformist and never got anywhere. Recently they ran with another revolutionary group, Lutte Ouvriere, and got 5% in the Euro election, getting 5 European MPs.
SJ  You don’t have to throw socialist politics out the window. The local media gave me a really good run. I had something to say, the street meetings were news. When people buy chips, they want something with flavour ? it is the same with politics.
WL  Why did you do better than the PLP and the DSP?
SJ  The DSP did well to get 5%, but ran a very propagandist campaign. They did not relate to the conditions of the class where they live. Susan Duffy has a great history as a class fighter and 7% was a very good result, but the PLP has an electoral focus -it is not an activist organisation in the area.
We took up environment issues e.g. pollution stacks for city link, drug policy ? rallies, vigils, illegal needle distribution every Friday in Smith St [Smith St, Collingwood, is a centre of the heroin trade] We made the links with capitalism, the hypocrisy, but also raised transitional demands about rehabilitation, safe injecting facilities.
Around the world, socialist candidates who relate to local communities get results. Militant won in Dublin with Joe Higgins who was a leader of a successful campaign against a massive hike in water rates. Tommy Sheridan won in Scotland on the basis of anti poll tax campaigning.

6 November Republic referendum

Charter of the YES AND … COALITION

We believe … that Australia must become a republic, a republic that would make possible an inclusive, democratic process between the peoples of Australia and their governments, expressing our vision for a shared future in the world. We believe that our Constitution should be democratic, participatory, and should give high priority to social justice and ecological sustainability.
We believe … that most Australians, recognising the citizens’ right to participate fully in their own government, want to directly elect their president as the representative and symbol of the nation and its peoples. We believe that this cannot occur until there is thorough Constitutional reform, including the codification of the Head of State’s powers. Because this has not yet happened, the method of choosing our head of state is not the issue in the 1999 Referendum. It will be possible, however, to address this issue through the constitutional reform process recommended by the Constitutional Convention of 1998.
We believe … that we must cross the republican threshold now if constitutional renovation is to take place - though we recognise that the 1999 referendum, if carried, will not immediately achieve our broad goals.
We will, therefore, campaign for a "Yes" vote in the 1999 Republican Referendum.

Our platform:  YES - TO THE REPUBLIC

AND … YES - to a Preamble

  • that embraces all Australians, their equality, their rights to liberty;
  • which acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original owners and custodians of traditional lands and waters; and
  • which affirms our rich cultural diversity.
  • We reserve the right to support a ‘NO’ vote to the Preamble in the form proposed by the Prime Minister.
AND … YES - to the next Constitutional Convention, with delegates elected by the citizens, which will develop a Constitution that protects our rights and freedoms and ecological sustainability, as befits a nation which locates its sovereignty in its people. This next Convention was called for by the 1998 Constitutional Convention, to be held within 3 to 5 years of the passage of the 1999 Referendum.
We call for all Parties to commit to holding this Convention.

AND … YES - to an ongoing process of constitutional reform to:

  • enhance public participation;
  • achieve reconciliation with Indigenous Australians;
  • recognise the role of local government, and
  • review the relationships of the Commonwealth and State governments with the people;
  • review the matters recommended by the Constitutional Convention in 1998.
YES … and MORE! in the Nov 6 referendum

YES AND ... Coalition, Rm 610, 3 Smail St, Broadway NSW 2007.