of the working class must be the act of the working class
Workers Liberty Australia
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
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".
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”
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
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.
Liberty calls for:
1. Solidarity with the East
Timorese and Indonesian workers and peasants. Military out of Parliament
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org,
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
with the message: subscribe.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
It remains to be seen what
will result from this industrial contest.
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.
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”.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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
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
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
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:
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
The state of the parties
in an 88 seat lower house is: ALP 41
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
We reserve the right to support
a ‘NO’ vote to the Preamble in the form proposed by the Prime Minister.
We call for all Parties
to commit to holding this Convention.
AND … YES - to an ongoing
process of constitutional reform to:
YES … and MORE! in the Nov 6
enhance public participation;
achieve reconciliation with
recognise the role of local
review the relationships of
the Commonwealth and State governments with the people;
review the matters recommended
by the Constitutional Convention in 1998.
YES AND ... Coalition, Rm
610, 3 Smail St, Broadway NSW 2007. http://www.search.org.au/f_yac1.htm