The working class will rise again!

Workers' Liberty


the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class - Marx

September 1999

In this issue

Second Wave:
Will there be a Grand Final?  |  Move this in your union branch     |  Defeat Reith, defeat Capital!This is a text of a speech delivered by Gary MacLennan, a longtime left activist in Brisbane, to the Defend Our Unions Committee at the Paddington Workers Club on 23 August. Brisbane & Sydney: Campaign to stop the Second Wave

The state of the unions:
The MUA today    |    Four hundred and twenty thousand new members a year?   The new ACTU report Unions@work proposes to rebuild declining union membership.     |   How did the Oakdale miners win?     |   NSW Public Service job cuts fight hots up The last issue of WL reported the beginnings of a struggle against large scale job cuts in the NSW Public service. Industrially, things have moved on…… In NSW TAFE the fight against job losses and cuts to service provision continues.

East Timor: Indonesia troops out now! | Passion for the working class: Dita Sari speaks    |   Kosova: peace on the cheap   |
UK student anti-fees campaign hots up Following the highly successful anti-Voluntary Student Unionism campaign waged by the Australian National Union of Students it might interest our student readers that the following campaign has been launched in Britain.  |  Rob Dawber Mesothelioma Fund

The Republic debate  |   Defend East Timorese independence

Debate: Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement
Working-class independence rules out a vote for "balanced bureaucratic sectarianism" This is a shortened version of the resolution passed by a majority by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in Britain at its last conference. The Workers’ Liberty group in Australia is currently debating this same issue .  "Yes was a vote for communal compromise and peace" This position on the Good Friday Agreement is supported by Roger Clarke within WL.

Second Wave: Will there be a Grand Final?

On Sunday 29th August the Balmain Tigers played the Canberra Raiders in the last pre-final round of the Rugby League season. It was the last game the Balmain Tigers will ever play, after 81 years as a club. There were 13,700 people there. Three days earlier, in the centre of Canberra, the lunchtime rally against Reith’s anti-union legislation was attended by a crowd about one tenth the size of the football crowd.

Yet Reith’s plan to shackle the unions will have far more impact on people’s lives, than the results of a football game, even than the end of the Balmain Tigers as a team.

So what is the difference between a game of football and the Second Wave legislation? In the football game, whatever your code, both sides are playing to win.

Can the unions defeat the second wave? Jeremy Pyner, Secretary of the ACT Trade and Labour Council, expressed his doubts at the Politics in the Pub meeting in Canberra on 18 August. "The great challenge for us is — how do you transform people’s understanding into action — people want to take the pamphlets we hand out, but getting people to the ACT rally is hard, It is true that we can have various actions, but until we are able to convince and mobilise more people — the challenge for the wider movement is the difficulty of getting collective action."

Playing for a draw

Is Pyner right? He cited Western Australia, where support for the MUA campaign had been very effective, yet the August rally disappointingly small.

The biggest rally was in Victoria, with the most militant unions. It was a large rally, with attendance boosted by some unions declaring a stoppage in support. It was similar in scope to other union rallies in Victoria, in recent years, on major issues, such as the MUA, workers compensation and Kennett’s cuts.

Other rallies around the country were respectable in size, but not inspiringly large. What did the rallies achieve? The rallies provided a focus for educating unionists and other people, about how dangerous Reith’s legislation is. The NSW Labor Council’s approach of having rank and file workers describe the impact it could have on their working lives, is a good one for raising commitment. It’s like motivational coaching the team, to really not want to lose. But you need more than motivation to win. You need skills and a game plan.

The ACTU’s game plan at the moment is aimed at the Democrats. Is there any reason to think that the Democrats will throw it out, when Meg Lees has already indicated that her approach will be to seek amendments? Should we be setting our sights on amendments to make it a little less evil? It’s as though you hope for a draw in the Grand Final when you’re the underdog side — but there can’t be a draw, it will keep going to extra time until there’s a clear winner.

A game plan to win

We need a game plan to win. True it won’t guarantee victory, but without it — we’re losers. A winning game plan must include:

  • Our clear goal — is to defeat the legislation, demonstrate our implacable opposition, and announce our intention to act against it, not to comply.
  • Our clear strategy — to plan the campaign from the bottom up, with delegates meetings to canvas what actions can be organised, against what targets, to continue the campaign as a rank and file action campaign during the Senate Inquiry, not to wait.
  • Our tactics — will include using the very strength that the legislation in designed to take from us, our industrial strength, to act collectively and withdraw our labour, picket, enter workplaces.
  • You can’t follow a code, without following a team. And everyone wants their team to make it to the Grand Final, and to win. If the unions play to win, and make that clear, we can mobilise many more people for this campaign and win it. But if the unions don’t play to win, the ACTU leaders will have forfeited Grand Final victory to Reith.

    Janet Burstall

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    Move this in your union branch

  • We welcome the ACTU’s decision to call mass rallies in protest at the Coalition government’s new wave of industrial relations legislation.
  • In view of the Democrats’ record on the GST and Reith’s previous wave of anti-strike legislation, we believe that the union campaign against this new legislation should not and cannot be limited to pressuring the Democrats against it in the Senate. We endorse the ACTU’s judgement that to defeat this legislation is "a matter of life and death" for effective trade unionism. Since there is no real democracy for the working class with out effective trade unionism, it is a matter of life and death for democracy to defeat the legislation. We consider it vital that the planned rallies be the start, not the end, of the campaign.
  • We call on the ACTU and the union leaders to organise a special conference of the union movement to debate and decide a thoroughgoing campaign. In our view this campaign must include a big publicity effort, mass demonstrations, and protest strikes in defiance of the existing law. The union movement must be prepared to escalate its action, education and mobilising its members and the wider working class as it goes, as far as it takes to defeat the legislation and restore effective trade union rights.
  • We call on the ALP to represent the interests of the union movement on which it is based, by using its strength in the House of Representatives and the Senate to speak out against and obstruct this legislation to the greatest extent possible, and to pledge now that the next federal Labor government will repeal all the Coalition government’s anti-union laws.
  • Send cheques payable to "The Rob Dawber Mesothelioma Fund"
    in Australian dollars to Workers Liberty, PO Box 313 Leichhardt,  OR
    in Sterling to: Mark Serwotka, 39 Vivian Road, Firth Park, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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    Debate: Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement

    Working-class independence rules out a vote for "balanced bureaucratic sectarianism"

    This is a shortened version of the resolution passed by a majority by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in Britain at its last conference. The Workers’ Liberty group in Australia is currently debating this same issue.

    The main features of the Good Friday Agreement were:

  • A Northern Ireland Assembly was set up, to which would gradually be devolved legislative and executive authority for matters now dealt with by Northern Irish government departments.
  • The Assembly’s functioning is regulated by a complex system of checks and balances designed to structure politics around communal identity. Members of the Assembly are required to designate themselves as Unionist, Nationalist, or Other. Since a certain level of support among both "Unionist" and "Nationalist" is required for decisions, there is pressure against choosing the designation "Other".
  • A North-South ministerial council will deal with European Union matters for the whole of Ireland. The Agreement also provides for a British-Irish Council and a standing British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference.
  • The Agreement calls for the disarmament of paramilitary organisations within two years. It makes no commitment about the British Army, but calls for a reform of policing in Northern Ireland.
  • The Agreement provides for statutory guarantees of human rights.
  • The Agreement erects institutions of power-sharing above the existing partition of Ireland. These can solve neither the legitimate "Irish national" question — the right of the Catholics where they are the majority, as they are in large areas of Northern Ireland adjoining the Republic, not to be severed from their own — nor the all-island minority question, the right of the Protestants where they are a majority (mainly in the north-east of the Six Counties) to autonomy and self-rule.

    If a majority in a Northern Ireland poll votes for a united Ireland, then Britain is committed to legislate for it. This proviso both leaves the Northern Ireland Catholic minority entrapped for now, and cancels out the right to autonomy of the Protestants should demographic change make them a minority in the Six Counties, as nationalist politicians hope it will.

    In short, the Agreement tries to bury the basic question of two conflicting identities under a structure of balanced and weighted bureaucratic sectarianism, coupled with a highly explosive long-term pledge. It is in fundamentals a continuation of the programme pushed by the British state since the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.

    We are for an end to communalist paramilitary violence and to British Army and RUC violence. We sympathise with the feelings of that majority of Irish workers who voted for the Agreement because they saw it as offering a chance of peace. But only if working-class unity is built on it can the peace be solid; only if the working-class socialists maintain their political independence, and the clear counterposition of their programme to all the bourgeois alternatives on offer, can working-class unity be built on such peace as we may hope for from the Agreement. To subordinate our independent political tasks (upholding our programme) to "realistic" political calculations (our votes are needed to help the Agreement pass; or, we must vote "yes" so as not to offend the workers who vote "yes") is to misunderstand what we can and should do.

    The Good Friday Agreement flatly contradicts the democratic programme of working-class socialists for Ireland — consistent democracy, the maximum of self-determination for each community compatible with the rights of the other, a federal united Ireland with regional autonomy for the Protestants, a confederal link with Britain. Socialists therefore could not back the Agreement. We should not have advocated a "yes" vote in the referendum.

    If the Agreement holds and restrains armed communal conflict in Northern Ireland, then that will create easier conditions for working-class politics there. In that sense, the Agreement is a "lesser evil". But as between a capitalist project which runs counter to our programme and principles, and the status quo, we do not choose the lesser evil. We counterpose independent working-class politics to all the capitalist options. Consequently, it was in the circumstances a breach of working-class principles and of our programmatic position to advocate "yes". We uphold the old watchword of classical Marxism: "Not a person, not a penny, for their system!" We support "lesser evils" only when they represent a real, if limited, element of our programme, and when doing so can be clearly dissociated from any granting of confidence to bourgeois political programmes. In the actual case, to give any credit to the Agreement was inseparable from giving political credit to the British state.

    A "no" vote would have signified a vote for the status quo of polarised division between the two working class communities and a continued campaign of sectarian violence. Voting "yes" to this British state project was wrong in principle. Therefore abstention was the only principled alternative.

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    "Yes was a vote for communal compromise and peace"

    The following position on the Good Friday Agreement is supported by Roger Clarke within WL.

    [Listed here are the First 4 points of the resolution rejected by conference]:

    1. Conference endorses the decision of the May 1998 NC supporting a critical "yes" vote in the two parts of the all-Ireland referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

    2. The NC was relating to a new political situation in Northern Ireland: in particular, the change of line by Sinn Fein/IRA implicitly accepting the bankruptcy of their perspective since the early 1970s and the shifts in the Protestant and Unionist community towards forms of communal compromise/accommodation. Summing up an analysis of this situation, the editorial in WL45 ("Endgame in Northern Ireland") outlined the basic attitude of Marxists to this: "Socialists who want Protestant-Catholic working-class unity should welcome any moves that offer serious hope of permanent peace and an end to blind-alley militarism. We cannot and should not, however, take responsibility for either London or Dublin. We state what is and prepare the future. We work for the development of independent working-class politics. The first step is to understand reality clearly, and that means rejecting all delusions that "anti-imperialist war’ can bring progress in today’s Ireland."

    3. In the referendum people voted with different views and expectations, largely shaped by the communal divide. Nevertheless, the main lines were clear — 50-60% of Protestants voted for power-sharing and links with the South; the overwhelming majority of Catholic Ireland voted to recognise that the central issue was the relationship between the Irish majority and minority, and that this relationship should be settled on the basis of consent and accommodation. It was a vote for communal compromise and accommodation of one form or another against communal domination or conquest.

    What did the large mobilisation for a "yes" vote, including in our class, fundamentally express? Not an attitude towards the details of the Agreement, certainly, nor even a "vague desire for peace", but an acceptance that there had to be a new way, that any progress required consent, communal compromise, minority rights, recognition of prisoners, etc. The question of whether the actual deal can deliver on these in the long term is a different one. It cannot, but our ability to convince workers of our programme is better served by clearly indicating the shared starting point than by appearing indifferent. In the simple and limited "yes/no" of the referendum, in which the issue of communal relations was central, we needed to indicate clearly which side we were on.

    It was also a vote for peace, for the political settlement that underpinned the main paramilitary cease-fires. Whatever our criticisms of the details of the settlement we are for such peace — for the cease-fires and the consequent limiting of intercommunal slaughter. Our class has paid a terrible price for the paramilitary campaigns, seriously sharpening communal tensions and bitterness and thereby rendering more difficult a proper democratic resolution of the national questions in Ireland and also progress in developing normal class activity. If we believed that opposition to blind-alley militarism, to sectarian slaughter, constituted "working class pacifism", then we must say that we are "100% working class pacifists"! If we believed that this could simply be summed up as "war weariness" then "war weariness" is a very good thing indeed.

    The best members of our class will say, "we are for peace, for an end to working class people slaughtering each other. We need to do things differently, start working together, not try to dominate or force each other. It’s either voting for that or the status quo. We’re voting yes." And our response? Certainly not to dismiss them as being dupes of the Blairite spin-doctors! Instead: "We agree and that’s why we’re voting with you. It’s a step forward, but it’s only that. It’s better than the status quo, but it is not a solution — it’s tinkering from above. We need a different approach, that properly and democratically deals with the rights of the two Irish peoples, and which does this as part of a fight for a workers’ republic. We will try to convince you of that on the basis of experience, and also of the urgent need for our class to use the new situation to start organising politically and across the communal divide. Trust yourselves, not the bastards who are behind this deal, etc, etc."

    4. Our attitude to the details of the Agreement were spelt out in the first document, "Not a Solution but Socialists Should Advocate a Yes Vote", whose conclusions the May NC voted for: "At worst, what it does is institutionalise the sectarian conflict at the heart of Northern Ireland society. At best it provides a new framework within which the leading communal politicians can manage that conflict", "…the alternative to the communal conflict institutionalised in the Agreement is the united working class movement committed to a democratic settlement". "It is not… our solution or method" but neither are we neutral. Our class, and the possibility of developing working class unity, was affected by the outcome. The Agreement could minimise sectarian conflict; the alternative, a return to sectarian war, means more polarisation and less workers’ unity.

    Roger Clarke

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