In this issue
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:
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.
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.
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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.
How did the Oakdale miners win?
Some say It’s because public opinion was in support of the miners.
Some say it’s because the Daily Telegraph took their side.
But — what was different about what the unions did, in the case of the Oakdale miners? The miners union, the CFMEU, called a national strike.
The rank and file opposition in the waterside and seafarers’ union, the MUA, has polled well in the recent union elections at national and branch level. Nationally, the Rank-and-File candidates for assistant secretaries, Grant Holden and Ian Bray, got about 1300 votes, as against about 2400 for the incumbents and about 800 for another opposition slate backed by the Communist Party of Australia and the Maritime Unionists Socialist Activities Association. In South Queensland, rank-and-file candidate Trevor Munday won deputy secretary, and in Victoria Dave Cushion ran the establishment candidate close, with 510 votes to 576, despite there being another opposition candidate.
The Rank-and-File opposition emerged as the union’s deal to end its 1998 lock-out by stevedoring company Patrick’s worked itself through. It has raised serious complaints about the organisation and counting of the ballots, but even on the official results it is clear that it has won solid support. The MUA leadership, the CPA, and MUSAA, have branded the Rank-and-File as "Trotskyist" and ultra-left. In fact the Rank-and-File’s aims are confined to making the union more militant and democratic. But the CPA felt worried enough about "Trotskyist" influence in the MUA to put out a special pamphlet, "The Strategy and Tactics of the MUA dispute", billed as "an answer" to "War on the Waterfront", an analysis of the dispute developed by the Brisbane Defend Our Unions Committee and written by Tom Bramble. The CPA sees Trotskyist influence in the supposed presence within the Brisbane committee of Socialist Action (a group which ceased to exist many years ago), instead of the groups which actually did have members in the committee — Socialist Alternative and Workers’ Liberty — and then fades the remaining members of the committee (not members of Trotskyist groups). "From time to time forces similar to those of the Bramble group appear in the radical left and are adherents of Trotskyism. They preach confrontation regardless of the position and strength of the different class forces involved [and] are quite prepared to use the working people as cannon-fodder to achieve their political agenda".
Strategy & tactics
It is true that "War on the Waterfront" presents, not just a different tactical assessment, but a different political approach from the CPA. But the problem is not, as the CPA repeatedly claims, that "Bramble and his colleagues… have only one response for all situations — all-out industrial stoppages and preferably a ‘general strike’… They… envisage a revolutionary situation where there is no such indication". Rather the contrary. It is the CPA that has only one response for all class battles: to retreat and seek to limit the damage.
The philosophy is spelled out right at the start: "The Maritime Union… had to develop strategies and tactics that would side-step the main blows aimed at us. Our task was to survive…" The MUA worked out its strategy well in advance of the Patrick’s lock-out, and it was to avoid industrial action, to seek no solidarity action, to avoid any escalation, to stay legal, not on any account to challenge Reith’s new Workplace Relations Act, but by picketing (militant at times) and court action to win a deal that would sacrifice jobs and conditions but keep the union on the wharves.
The CPA sees no alternative. Once the Workplace Relations Act is on the statute book, then, for the CPA, any working-class action that breaches it is "falling into Reith’s trap".
Sometimes retreat and damage-limitation is the best policy. But consider the Patrick’s lock-out. The MUA, still one of Australia’s most powerful unions, was facing up to an employer and a government who had already discredited themselves when their plans to train mercenaries in Dubai for waterside scab labour were revealed. The government had also angered millions by its cuts in the public services and by its moves against Native Title. ACTU secretary Bill Kelty had publicly pledged to come to the aid of the MUA, when it was attacked — and from the time of the election of the Coalition government in 1996, everyone knew it would be attacked soon — with "the biggest picket line the country had ever seen". Despite the MUA and the ACTU expressly rejecting solidarity action, thousands of workers joined MUA picket lines.
CPA: impediment or leadership
"War on the Waterfront" argues the case in detail. It does not take it for granted that conditions exist for a working-class counter-offensive which could have saved jobs and conditions on the waterside, broken the as-yet-untried Workplace Relations Act, and boosted workers’ organisation across the board. But if those conditions did not exist for the wharfies in 1998, then when will they exist in the foreseeable future? If not us, who? If not here, where? If not now, when? To that question the CPA’s implicit answer is: no-one, nowhere, and at no time until Stalinist tanks recover the ability to roll across new frontiers!
[In the 1960s] "the Soviet Union and a number of Eastern European countries had socialist governments which considerably restrained the capitalist class of the world. Cuba and China had become socialist countries… In the 1990s… the communist movement has been weakened in a number of countries, including Australia… The setbacks to socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has enabled the capitalist ruling class around the world to launch an offensive against the working class".
It is true that the working class suffered defeats in the later 1970s and the 1980s. The collapse of Stalinism was not one of those defeats: to the contrary! Between 1994 and 1997, mass political strikes were waged — and often with partial success — by workers in France, South Korea, Nigeria, Italy, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Panama, Bolivia, Greece, Spain, Venezuela, Haiti, Colombia, and Ecuador. Why not Australia, where the working class is still more strongly organised than in any of those countries?
Union leaders who rely on some intangible hoped-for "turn of the tide", or worse, the return of Stalinism, rather than the systematic organisation and mobilisation of the rank and file, make themselves obstacles rather than leaders. Although the CPA has some differences with the MUA leadership, it defends that leadership unquestioningly against the criticisms in "War on the Waterfront".
Again, the CPA argues by caricature, claiming that the pamphlet champions an "anarchistic concept of unions run without leaders. But the CPA’s own account is that "the MUA’s leaders… worked out the tactics of the dispute… It was far from being a spontaneous action… None of this would have brought success if the union’s membership had not both participated in and supported what was being done, but to deny the role of leadership is to disregard reality". Here the role of the members is only to "participate in" and "support" the tactics previously worked out by the leaders. But the MUA ballot results show that increasing numbers of MUA members are questioning that Stalinist concept of "democracy", and questioning the CPA’s line that nothing can be done industrially except clever damage-limiting retreat.
I have to say, though, that I think "War on the Waterfront", as finally drafted by Tom Bramble, has two faults which weaken its impact against the CPA line. First, I think it presents the problem with the MUA leaders too one-sidedly as one of industrial timidity and lack of militancy. The fundamental problem, I think, was their political perception — that, because of "the world situation", "globalisation", and suchlike nebulous forces, nothing is possible except damage-limitation.
That political perception shaped the dispute on three fronts — the MUA leaders’ initial decision, which must have been taken well before the lock-out, to minimise industrial action; their willingness to be militant within that framework, as on the pickets in Melbourne; and their determination to keep the dispute strictly under central control. The final factor sealing the course of the dispute was that, unfortunately, the MUA leaders’ basic political perception was shared, more or less, by many MUA members.
That does not justify the MUA leaders’ Line: on the contrary, it is an indictment of the whole ACTU "left" that over many years, since the Accord, it has deliberately educated the union membership in defeatism and class-collaboration.
Weak victory or strong defeat
Second, I think that Tom Bramble conceded too much to the CPA and the MUA establishment by writing that the outcome of the Patrick’s dispute was a victory, albeit a much weaker victory than could have been won. It was not. It was a much less crushing defeat than it might have been — but the outcome was thousands of wharfies losing their jobs, work conditions and union power on the waterside significantly worsened, and, on the other side, Patrick’s doing good business and the Coalition government regaining its balance.
In our discussions about the pamphlet, Tom Bramble told me that I was underestimating the positive political impact of the inspiring solidarity actions during the dispute. Peter Reith, he assured me, was now a broken man and would be out of office within six months. Since then the Coalition has won an election on an aggressive platform of pushing a GST and legislated that GST. Peter Reith is still in his job and has just introduced a drastic new round of anti-union legislation, with only minor complaints from the Senate-controlling Democrats.
And on the waterfront, the MUA Rank and File report: "Over the past ten years our officials have sold all but the shirts off our backs. We lost well over 2,000 full time jobs… Wharfies suffered reduced manning scales without advancements in mechanisation… We have lost the 35 hour week… We have lost on-the-job conditions… We lost when Corrigan and Reith were let off… We have lost our weekly pay system". The MUA Rank-and-File see that bleak assessment not as a mandate for giving up, but as an imperative for action. So should we.
Unions@work is a new ACTU report, subtitled The challenge for unions in creating a fair and just society. It is produced at the initiative of Greg Combet, who is almost certain to succeed Bill Kelty as ACTU Secretary next year. According to the report, Australian unions now recruit about 210,00 members each year, which produces a falling rate of union membership. To increase membership rates by just 1%, unions need to recruit 420,000 new members per year. The focus of Unions@work is on developing effective delegates in each workplace, as the key to recruitment and union strength. The report is presented under 4 main headings — Strength in the workplace, Growth in new areas, Technologies for the times and A strong union voice. A second volume describes union initiatives in North America and some mainly English-speaking European countries, visited by an ACTU delegation earlier this year.
It proposes delegate education and union recruitment as two vital areas for unions to shift money and staff over to. I am struck by how limited in scope the report is, in addressing the context of unionism, Perhaps this is rectified in the full report, which will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of Workers Liberty. But there is no reference to government attacks on unions, no analysis of union history, periods of success and failure, growth and decline, no discussion of political relationships, with the ALP, analysis of undemocratic practices or acknowledgement of a conflict of interests between rank and file unionists and career unionists. And although it includes the goal of a ‘fair and just society’ in its sub-title, it is taken for granted that we all know what a ‘fair and just society’ would be.
The report seems to be based on the premise that effective union delegates can be mainly educated through an organised system of union run courses. Yet, the most effective school for activists, is the school of struggle. If we want social change, then we need real, vigorous struggle, with political debate as well. Polite, well-managed education programs can convey the dominant corporate trade union leaders ideology. And it is indicative of just how dominant this point of view is, that ACTU leaders can imagine that they can safely embark on a program of delegate education and delegate empowerment, without any reference to conflicting political perspectives in the labour movement. After all, the NSW Labor Council leaders can seriously support Bob Carr’s call for an end to factions in the ALP, because there is one dominant ideology of what the labour movement is about.
So, Unions@work may improve
the climate for union activism, and increase union membership, but it will
still take class struggle activists and political discussion and perspectives,
to really turn the unions around, and to meet the challenge posed by the
report, in ‘creating a fair and just society’. The report summary is available
< http://www.actu.asn.au/campaigns/@work/ >.
The web site says that the full report is available free by password access
to union staff only. I’ve since been told that this is an error, due to
a rush to get it up on the web site. Any union delegate or activist can
gain password access on request. A printed copy costs $30.00 from Labour
Information Network — ACTU Library, ACTU, North Wing, 54 Victoria Street,
Carlton South 3053, Victoria.
The chance for a rational discussion about the minority rights of the Serbs in Kosova has probably now been lost. Right now the NATO force, K-For, either through negligence or indifference, is letting the Serbs of Kosova be driven out.
The second problem is that the EU has promised just $3 billion in aid and the US has set a limit of $500 million. This is for the whole Balkan area. (Serbia is to get just "humanitarian aid" whilst Milosevic is in power.)
Even if the aid were only for the reconstruction of Kosova it is nowhere near enough to do the job. One estimate puts the figure for putting the country back together at $5 billion. The whole economy — the poorest in Europe before the start of the war — has been shattered. Re-opening factories is a complex business, requiring supplies of raw materials, electric power and a way of distributing what is made. Serb managers in charge before the war have all fled. Perhaps 25% of all buildings were destroyed by Serb soldiers and by NATO bombs. But Kosova is not the only failing economy in the region. More aid is needed for the entire region. The tragedy is that a situation of desperate poverty may continue for years. It will make the ethnic conflicts much worse.
The third problem is the partisan way in which aid has been distributed. The denial of aid to Serbia should be opposed. The Serbian economic infrastructure has suffered massive damage and one third of Serbian workers are now unemployed. Aside from any other issue, punishing ordinary Serbs in this way could push them into the arms of politicians equally as, or more, reactionary than Milosevic.
Fundamentally NATO’s war aims were to bring about a greater stability in the region for profit-making. The plan remains to integrate the Balkans — including Serbia — into the EU. The "Regional Stability Pact" agreed at the end of July by the major powers had this central aim. Serbia will not become part of this plan while Milosevic remains in power, but a broad and basically conservative anti-Milosevic opposition is forming in Serbia, of leading economists, former (critical) army top brass, the Orthodox Church and political parties such as Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement. These people did not oppose the war against Kosova.
A more radical opposition does exist, but it is very weak. One of these oppositionists is Veran Matic, the head of the independent radio station in Belgrade, B-92. It is to be hoped that Matic’s comment that "opposition agendas have been indefensible in their neglect of human rights violations against Kosova Albanians" - will become more typical.
The people of the Balkans need to be able to shape their own future — whether they are the people of Montenegro, the Albanians, or the Serbs.
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.
Friends I want to begin my talk tonight by congratulating the Defend Our Unions Committee for organising this meeting. The ‘second Wave’ of industrial legislation as it is known is indeed a threatening phenomenon and we are right to be afraid, very afraid, of the world it will create for us and our children. It seems then to me that there are three vital tasks for us to perform. Firstly we have to ask what is in the legislation. How will it work? What effects will it have? Very briefly the legislation is designed to destroy the ability of workers to form and belong to unions. The bosses will be given the power to sack any worker without having to justify their actions. Existing conditions will be stripped away. Secret ballots and secret agreements between bosses and individual workers will all create a climate where worker is turned against worker while the bosses get richer. Grim as these facts are we also need to ask: Why is the legislation being brought in? and also: How can we defeat it?
Explaining the legislation
I want to begin by looking at the explanations that have been offered to date. Firstly the government’s. They argue that the legislation is necessary to build a better Australia. They feel that if they crush the trade union movement and lower wages then we will be in a very competitive position with regards to other countries. This is usually put in terms of positioning Australia favourably within the global economy. Our goods will be cheaper. Profits will be higher and Australians will have so little money in their pockets that they will not be able to buy foreign goods, so our balance of payments will be healthy. The government feels that if they can achieve a lower paid and compliant workforce that Australia will flood the world with cheap goods and services and all will be well. There will be jobs for everyone. The wages won’t be high enough to live on of course but that does not seem to worry the government. Australia will become a nation of the ‘working poor’. Now I want to stress that it is not the case that the government is indifferent to this possibility. Rather it is actively striving to bring this state of affairs about. A working-poor Australia is what they are aiming for and it is what Reith’s legislation will give them.
Now I have put so much emphasis on what the government is thinking because it has the strength of being a coherent plan for Australia. To a significant number of significant people, the Government’s plan makes sense. Many of them accept that it is a case of TINA — There Is No Alternative. That is a fact that we would do well to take into account. I will return to this point of who supports the government but for the moment I want to go to the trade union movement and look at their explanations for the legislation. At the rally (anti-Reith) last Wednesday, Jennie George, President of the ACTU, said that the legislation was ‘ideological, pathological and un-Australian’. Let me deal first with the ‘un-Australian’ claim. This land has seen genocide and slavery. That is a truth. Another truth is that there is nothing ‘un-Australian’ about Reith’s legislation.
The union movement has been attacked and smashed before in Australia’s history. But the ACTU persist in arguing that the problem is that there is a mad dog called Peter Reith in charge of industrial relations and that he is backed up by John Howard, the Prime Minister who is an equally vicious little mongrel. Now few of you will be surprised if I tell you that I enjoy calling people like Howard and Reith ‘filth’. And it is true that they are a reminder of how low the human species can sink. The very sight of Howard, with his stupid little fantasies of being another Sir Robert Menzies, rushing to London to see the Queen and to be photographed with the Australian cricket team is deeply sickening. Howard used to have a sort of integrity when it came to sport. He once confessed he went to bed rather than watch Pat Cash win at Wimbledon. But all that has changed. He turns up at the Davis cup to be photographed with Pat Rafter and he actually contemplated declaring a ‘day of rejoicing’ because the Bombay bookies had helped Australia win the World Cricket Cup. As for groveling, Howard’s recent trip to Washington set new standards. Like all Australian leaders in Washington, Howard was ever ready to please his master. But the contempt Americans have for sycophants is such that, Clinton barely took time to look around to see who was doing it. Reith too is a low act. It is however wrong to call him a dog. Dogs are very decent creatures really. Peter Reith is human, all too human. He is in fact the playground bully. He is like the cowardly thug at school who picks on those whom he perceives to be weak and vulnerable.
The fact that he is picking on the Trade Union movement tells us a lot about the condition of trade unions in Australia today. So Howard is a little piece of dirt and Reith is a boasting bully. Does that mean that I agree basically with Jenny George’s analysis? Well the answer to that is ‘no’. Jenny George is saying that the legislation is being brought in because of the personalities of Howard and Reith. That for her is the problem. They are behaving nastily and not being nice Aussies. For her and the rest of the ACTU, the solution is to bring in a nice Aussie, someone who will be reasonable. He was presented to us at the rally on Wednesday. His name is Arch Bevis. We were told he had good pedigree. His father was a trade unionist. He himself worked for the QTU. What more could you possibly want? So there we have the ACTU position. Problem = Reith is an absolute bastard. Solution = Bevis is a good bloke. Get him elected and everything will be great. To prove the point we had to sit through a speech from another good bloke — the State Minister for Industrial Relations — Paul Braddy to tell us how good a Labor Government can be. I will return to the ‘electing Labor’ solution, but for the moment I want to repeat that Jenny George and the leadership of the union movement are totally wrong in their analysis of the reasons why the legislation is being brought in.
The government’s case is actually much closer to the truth of things. Reith and Howard argue that in the global economy Australia must become more competitive. That means harder work, lower wages, and higher unemployment. This view is shared by important sections of the Labor Party. One has only to read the books of the wannabe intellectuals, Mark Latham, Lindsay Tanner and Michael Thompson, to see this is so. Of course what Reith, Howard and their Labor Party supporters will not say is that the legislation is really necessary to continue a trend. This trend is to make the capitalist class richer and the workers poorer. No politician will admit honestly that that is what he or she is all about. Reith I should add is the exception here. He has been attacked for saying openly ‘And never forget which side we’re on. We’re on the side of making profits. We’re on the side of people owning private capital’. Is there anyone here tonight who doubts that this is also a good description of the attitude of the Hawke and Keating Labor Governments?
So let me try and summarise my points so far. The legislation is not being brought in because Reith and Howard are bastards. It is being brought in because it is what capital wants. This brings me to my third question — How to defeat the legislation?
Defeating the legislation
For me the legislation will only be defeated when we defeat capital. It is entirely possible that the Union movement will succeed in getting the Democrats to water down Reith’s bill. But it is equally certain that the Liberals and the National parties will continue the push towards a working-poor Australia. And it is equally certain that any future Labor Government will have the same orientation. The truth is that at the moment Reith is the ‘bad cop’ and Bevis the ‘good cop’. Those of you who have been arrested know that we tend to spill our guts to the ‘good cop’ and that is the evidence that convicts us. The ‘good cop’ is in fact more dangerous. Now I am fully aware that to say we must defeat capital will sound hopelessly utopian to some of you. But by that I do not mean that we somehow passively wait for the socialist society to arrive. On the contrary, we must do everything we can to drive the enemy back. We must force Reith to retreat on this bill. But that should be only part of our general strategy.
If we are to survive we need to try and put socialist ideas and solutions back on the agenda. We desperately need a world where the wealth and resources of the world are shared out according to people’s needs. Instead we have a world where a mere 1% is becoming fabulously rich, and there seems to be no end whatsoever to their greed. Within Australia we need to take the TINA folk head on. We need to argue that there are alternatives. And part of that process is breaking with the ‘bad cop — good cop’ act that the Liberal Party and the ALP have set up between them. It is a shocking fact that here in Brisbane the Socialist Left of the ALP has not one thinker capable of saying boo to the likes of Latham, Tanner and Thompson. The Socialist Left has not let out one cheep about the ‘Young Turks’. Yet Latham, Tanner and Thompson are hell-bent on leading the NSW’s faction of the party in a bid to outflank Beazley, the Federal leader, from the right. The so-called ‘young Turks’ of the Labor Party are determined to demonstrate to the capitalist class that they can be trusted to be like Tony Blair of Britain. So no section of the ALP has turned its back on the legacy of the Hawke-Keating years. That is why I reject the current emphasis within the ACTU on voting Labor as the solution to our problems. I say instead that of course we should vote Labor but that as well we need to continue the struggle for a socialist society. I would like to conclude this talk by attempting to outline some of the ways in which this might be done.
Those leftists who are in the union movement must throw their energy and their finances into creating a Left. Rather than sacrificing all for the ALP we must seek out and support those structures, institutions etc which are genuinely committed to building socialism. I am anxious here to be as non-sectarian as possible because we need to create a climate where socialist ideas flourish openly. In concrete terms, however, to support socialism in Brisbane means that unions should put resources behind the Defend Our Unions Committee, the Democratic Socialist Party and Neighbourhood News. While the union movement hesitates about getting involved in creating a true Left, capitalists like Murdoch are bank rolling institutions like The Brisbane Institute. The Director Peter Botsman recently provided a platform for Latham. Latham is the bright spark who said that pensioners should be told to get better. How much support is the trade union movement giving to those who are genuinely on their side? The answer is virtually none.
But I am anxious to end this talk on a positive note. The enemy can be defeated. Howard and Reith and Latham and Tanner have nothing to offer the working class but blood, sweat and tears. The workers will reject them and they will look for socialist alternatives. They will learn again the truth of the old slogans An injury to one is an injury to all; Dare to struggle. Dare to win and above all; The workers united will never be defeated. Thank you
Post Script: Since I delivered this speech the Australian Labor Party has joined with the Liberal and National Parties to support the bosses’ ability to create a ‘youth wage’ up to 21 where none now exists. There is no clearer proof of my claim that the ALP supports the drive for a working poor Australia.
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.
On 29 July a meeting of student activists from across the UK, hosted by the Campaign for Free Education (CFE), launched the National Non-Payment Collective. The Collective will bring together students involved in tuition fee non-payment campaigns to organise a national mass political campaign. A campaign big enough to make fees unworkable. Thousands of students still haven’t paid their fees and occupations last year successfully proved that direct action can defend those who don’t pay. This year, thousands more students will be asked to pay fees and thousands more will be unable to. The campaign will snowball.
Across the UK, students’ unions are gearing up to organise students not to pay. At Oxford, over 300 students have already pledged not to pay when they return in October. The Collective has called a National lobby of Parliament for 3 November where Tony Benn MP will address campaigners. We aim to present Parliament with a petition of over 10 000 pledges from students across the country not to pay their fees. Get your name on the petition and join us at Westminster!
By Lee Sergent, CFE Co-Chair
and Oxford non-payment campaign
In its 30 August referendum, East Timor voted by a 78.5% majority for independence from Indonesia, despite a campaign of terror in the run-up to the vote by pro-Indonesian militias supported by the Indonesian government. Since the vote, the militias have stepped up their terror. To the extent that the terror has a clear aim, it probably reflects a drive by the Indonesian military to frustrate those segments of the Indonesian ruling class who have decided that East Timor is too expensive to hold on to, and to force a partition of East Timor in which some territory will remain under Indonesian army rule.
Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest and most diverse countries, with 200 million people and dozens of ethnic and linguistic groups. For 30-odd years, until the fall of Suharto in May 1998, it was held together by an all-stifling military regime.
Fall of Portugal
East Timor was a Portuguese colony for centuries, while Indonesia was "the Dutch East Indies". In 1975, Portuguese colonial rule shattered, following the fall of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal and victories for the independence movements in Portugal’s African colonies. Given the green light by the USA and Australia, Indonesia seized the territory and kept control by massive repression.
Aceh is also rebelling against rule from Jakarta. Aceh, unlike East Timor, was part of the "Dutch East Indies", its northernmost tip, but discontent with Indonesian rule has been boosted by the way that almost all the revenue from rich oil and gas reserves in Aceh has been funnelled to Jakarta, leaving the Acehnese in poverty. Over the last ten years, military repression has increased. On 4-5 August, the province was brought to a halt by a two-day protest general strike.
Indonesia’s regime is now "Suhartoism without Suharto". There is much larger scope for independent working-class organisation and democratic organisation than there was under Suharto, but the same officials run the state machine, the same generals run the army, Suharto’s former deputy B J Habibie is president, the army continues to police daily life, and the same mass poverty continues, sharpened by Indonesia’s catastrophic economic slump since 1997.
In the country’s first elections since the fall of the dictatorship, held on 7 June, Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-Struggle won 24 million votes, while Golkar, the political party of the old military dictatorship, got 13 million. On the arithmetic, Megawati should be elected president by the People’s Consultative Assembly when it meets in November. The exact outcome is not so certain, since the old Golkar machine may yet be able to keep B J Habibie as president with the help of minor parties and the army’s guaranteed vote in the Assembly.
According to Max Lane in Green Left Weekly of 18 August: "If the Habibie group insists on an all-out push for the presidency, an explosion of political unrest is almost certain". For exactly that reason, big capital’s "dream ticket" would probably be an alliance between Megawati and army chief Wiranto. Megawati has already told Business Week magazine: "The first priority is how to get the people to believe in their government… And then, after that, give the IMF a chance to solve the problems of the people of Indonesia." She is wooing the military. She has accepted a continuing "dual role" for the military — as an army and as a political and policing force — for the near future. And she defends Indonesia’s claim to rule East Timor.
In Green Left Weekly of 25 August, Max Lane reported from a recent visit to Jakarta. "All over Jakarta, you could see small actions of one kind or another. Two hundred or more becak (pedi-cab) drivers drove down the main street to protest against harassment by city officials. In another place, 80 factory workers marched behind a banner demanding union rights.
"There were tents set up by students from campuses in West Timor protesting against the lack of facilities and repression there. A group of Megawati Sukarnoputri supporters marched down a main street with a ‘she is My President’ banner… Families of students shot in May 1998 rallied outside the UN offices demanding international support for the trial of the ‘brains’ behind the shootings. Several groups… protested in solidarity with the people of Aceh. More demonstrations demanded the trial of Suharto. On August 18, the TV showed 40 to 50 people with home loans occupying a bank to protest against the high interest rates…."
More Suhartoism without Suharto
Apart from the relatively clear-cut secessionist movements in East Timor and Aceh, Indonesian politics is reviving slowly and patchily after the annihilating repression of Suharto. It is unsurprising that a bourgeois politician like Megawati should dominate mass politics at this stage, but remarkable that she should be able to do with so meagre an investment in commitments to or even rhetoric about change.
Indonesia’s economy has changed dramatically since the 1980s, with a substantial growth of industry, and by 1997 fully 86 million of the country’s 200 million people were wage-workers, 40 million of them in industry and services. But the workers’ movement is still weak.
Nineteen independent trade union organisations have now emerged where once the government-controlled SPSI had a legal monopoly. Some of them have established an alliance, the FSU, to work together on common goals. The biggest independent union centre, the SBSI, claims 800 branches. According to Indonesian socialists, however, most unions still limit themselves to issues of wages and conditions — difficult enough in a drastic industrial slump — and lack confidence to take up broader political questions. In the June elections five socialist or workers’ parties won about 200,000 votes between them.
Without a workers’ movement strong enough to take a lead on the burning issues of democracy, there is a danger that the break-up of the old order will recruit forces for Islamic fundamentalism and communalism. Activists elsewhere should do all we can to help the Indonesian socialists gain strength and confidence, and to win freedom for political prisoners like PRD leader Budiman Sudjatmiko.
One of the great heroines of the world labour movement, Dita Sari, visited Australia in August this year. In July an international campaign had finally won her release from jail in Indonesia. She had been imprisoned since July 1996 on charges of "disturbing public order and security" because of her activities as president of the illegal independent trade union centre PPBI and a leader of Indonesia’s main socialist opposition group, the People’s Democratic Party.
When jailed Dita was only 23 years old. She had been politically active for a bit over three years, abandoning the comfortable future which had been open to her as a 19 year old law student in order to champion the cause of the working class.
What sustained her through the years in jail, during which at one point she suffered severe typhoid? Her commitment, she told a socialist gathering in Brisbane, came "not from friends or books, but from the passion I had for the working class, and the feeling that I did the right thing. Many other issues are important, but the most important thing is to stop capitalism exploiting the people and taking the profits from the working class".
Dita Sari in Australia
After her long spell in jail, and a speaking tour across Australia, Dita was in poor health by the time she reached Brisbane, and too tired to debate politics at length. However, I was able to exchange some ideas with her.
What progress was being made, I asked, after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, in the Indonesian workers organising and gaining sufficient self-confidence to pose a workers’ and farmers’ government as the only way out from Indonesia’s terrible mass poverty, unemployment, and social inequality? There are now 19 trade-union organisations in Indonesia, Dita replied, and maybe more. The workers have begun to develop a consciousness about the need to organise themselves in unions and to campaign for workers’ rights.
But there are big illusions about the next government — big illusions among working people that Megawati Sukarnoputri [the leading bourgeois democratic opposition figure in the last days of the Suharto regime] will get them out of these hard times. In fact, Megawati speaks a lot about macro-political issues but mentions nothing for the working class, nothing about freedom of association for workers. Her party, the PDI-P, has never said anything about a policy to overcome the problems facing the working class.
But the illusions are an obstacle. Another obstacle is that lots of unions think it is only important to develop economic issues. They don’t mention the role of the military. But if the military are still there, in and around the workplaces, then the workers cannot organise freely at ground level or negotiate fairly with the employers. Unions should demand not only better wages, but the end of the dual role of the military [as an army, and also as a policing agency in every part of civilian society and as a guaranteed part of government].
Dita said that she and her comrades believe they must develop a consciousness among workers that they can play a big role in changing society. They want workers to have a strong position in government policy. They try to educate workers in the need to take action not only against the employers, but also against the government — to make workers understand that they cannot improve their conditions unless they can influence government policy.
Unity with Megawati?
I asked Dita why she put the issue in terms of workers influencing government policy — the official PRD slogan is for "a democratic coalition government" which would include both Megawati and radical left forces like the PRD — rather than the workers and the farmers defeating the wealthy classes to form their own government. The masses have great illusions in Megawati, she replied. We can’t go against them. We would be isolated. In Trotsky’s pamphlet on the trade unions, he says that revolutionaries never leave the unions. The revolutionaries are always for unity, for a broad movement. It’s always the reformists who split.
Whether or not Trotsky was quite that dogmatic about trade-union unity, to my mind workers’ unity is quite a different matter from unity with a bourgeois politician like Megawati. I talked about historical examples, from our South African comrades, in WOSA, running the Workers’ List against the ANC in the first post-apartheid elections, back to Lenin’s successful struggle in 1917 to break the Bolsheviks from supporting the "democratic coalition" Provisional Government in Russia. Refusing a "democratic coalition" with Megawati would not necessarily mean shrill self-isolating denunciations or delusions of rapid socialist victory. Socialists could still say they would stand with Megawati in any real steps she took against the military, while at the same time advocating a workers’ and farmers’ government as the only proper way forward.
Dita was not convinced. In Russia, she said, Lenin talked about dual power. The PRD works on two levels. As well as working for a democratic coalition government, it works for working-class power at the base, like the workers’ councils in Russia in 1917. To make a socialist revolution, Dita said, you cannot work with the bourgeoisie, the capitalists. But you can and must work with the progressive middle class. For the PRD, Megawati represents a middle force. Whether she goes to the right or to the left depends on the pressure of the mass movement. Dita was emphatic that the PRD does not support Megawati. In strict interpretation that is true, though whether to the Indonesian workers hearing its message the PRD line really sounds any different from critical support is another question.
Working in unions
I moved on to another question. To the English-language Jakarta Post, for example, the PRD says it is definitely not communist but instead "social-democratic" — plainly using "social-democratic" in a very different meaning from Europe or Australia. Dita had explained that the PRD is reorganising its trade-union work round a new body — the FNPBI, created by bringing together several local groups — in place of the old PPBI. In 1996 Suharto not only jailed many PRD members, but organised a fierce "anti-communist" campaign against the PPBI. After that, Dita said, the PRD found it could no longer approach the masses with the old banner of the PPBI.
Why does anti-communism grip so strongly in Indonesia, I asked, even after Suharto has been discredited and chased from power? To the average not-very-political worker, what does "communist" mean? Cruel, violent, godless, replied Dita. Because of what they know about China or the USSR? Not really. Most of the workers don’t read newspapers or watch TV. It’s more a result of Suharto’s propaganda campaigns against the old Indonesian Communist Party.
What does "socialist" mean, I asked? Dita replied: to most workers, it means wanting everyone to be exactly the same, with the same wages, the same clothing, the same everything. That’s entirely wrong, she said, but it’s what most workers think.
Dita also explained that the FNPBI had recently formed an alliance, the FSU, with the SBSI (the strongest, so Dita told me, of the independent unions, but with "no politics"), the SPSI-Reform (a split-off from the old government-controlled union organisation), and some Islamic unions. Was the PRD’s aim to unite the unions into a single strong organisation, with democratic rights for minorities? Yes, said Dita, but at this stage the FNPBI is only working with five or six other union organisations out of the 19 in the field. There’s a long way to go.
What about other workers’ parties? There are four workers’ parties in Indonesia, Dita replied, all very small — the Indonesian Workers’ Party, the Workers’ Solidarity Party, the All-Indonesian Workers’ Solidarity Party, and the National Labour Party (linked to the SBSI). Who launched them? Some worker activists, some progressive-minded middle-class people. What are their politics? They advocate improvement of workers’ conditions, but have little broader politics. What scope does the PRD see for working with them? Dita thought there were better possibilities for working with the other unions than with the parties as such.
Dita’s comrade Budiman Sudjatmiko, chair of the PRD, has told the Jakarta Post that: "Che Guevara was my idol when I was in high school. I had his poster and books all over my room. What I learned from him was his consistency. He was faithful to his struggle…" Courage, the basic quality that all revolutionaries have always needed, is indeed the common thread between Guevara and Budiman, Dita Sari, and their PRD comrades.
Yet I came away from Dita’s speeches, and my conversations with her, thinking that maybe she exemplifies a paradigm-shift in revolutionary politics. Che Guevara called on revolutionaries to "create two, three, many Vietnams" immediately, though the groups he was appealing to were usually weaker than the 25,000 strong PRD. Plainly he felt that the existence of North Vietnam, China, the USSR and so on — whatever his criticisms of them — created and exemplified a great historical wave that he could "surf" on. Dita has no such easy optimism. Asked how soon the "dual role" of the army could be ended in Indonesia, Dita replied that Megawati has estimated six years but she herself doubted it would be that soon. And however soon or late Dita can reach her goal, it is not the creation of another "communist" state on the model of Vietnam.
Workers are central
For Guevara, workers, wages, trade unions, and the civil rights associated with parliamentary democracy were all very secondary and disposable in his vision of socialism. For Dita, they are central. (When I told her that our group is called Workers’ Liberty, she was pleased with the name).
In 1989 the Chinese students built a Statue of Liberty in Tienanmen Square. After a whole era in which the Statue of Liberty was only an advertising emblem for a great power which ruthlessly backed up and imposed client dictatorships across the world, it suddenly became a symbol of revolution. At the same time, the hammer and sickle, long the icon of revolution, has been perceived by more and more millions of people as a trade-mark for police states, bureaucratic privilege, and economic clumsiness or stagnation. (Even if many get the message only filtered through several voices from the minority who do watch TV or read newspapers, I can’t believe that Dita’s right about mass "anti-communism" in Indonesia having nothing to do with China or the USSR).
Budiman in jail, defiantly rejecting a government offer of conditional clemency, quoted John Lennon’s song title, "Life begins at forty" (his age on release if he serves his full 13 year sentence). Dita finished her main speech in Brisbane by singing a song from Bob Marley. Not Ho Chi Minh, but John Lennon and Bob Marley! Revolutionaries always have to take our language, images and rhetoric from a culture shaped by others. For decades we had no choice but to use concepts whose dominant meanings had been re-shaped by Stalinism — revolution, socialism, communism — and then to try to explain to those whose ears we caught that we meant something different. Dita, Budiman, and their comrades are, I think, trying to establish a new language for revolutionary politics, based on the non-Stalinist traditions of radical democracy.
PRD and DSP
There is a paradox here, or a contradiction, I don’t know which. The PRD’s closest links are with Australia’s Democratic Socialist Party. The DSP are not Stalinist, but for them the "democratic coalition government" is the centrepiece of an elaborate theory of revolution in less-industrialised countries based on Stalinist or Stalinist-inflected models. "Democratic coalition governments" describe the first post-revolutionary governments, fronted up with captive bourgeois politicians, formed by Tito in Yugoslavia, Castro in Cuba, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and so on. Revolution in less-industrialised countries has to be a "two-stage" process, with "democratic coalition government" as the goal of the first stage. This theory makes democracy an important theme in revolutionary politics — but only as a disposable expedient on the way to creating "socialism" on the model of Cuba, where all real democracy is stifled under a one-party state with no independent trade unions.
How much the PRD buys into this theory, I don’t know. I asked Dita if she saw any historical models for the "democratic coalition" government she advocates — if she thought any such "democratic coalition" governments had ever existed, anywhere — and instead of citing Nicaragua or Cuba or Yugoslavia, she said, "I don’t know". My hope is that she and her comrades will see that democracy is indeed central to revolution, but that it can be made thoroughgoing only by a government of the worker and peasant majority, not by a coalition with sections of the wealthy classes.
The Republic debate
I agree with Roger Clarke’s conclusion on the Republic referendum — "Yes, and…" — (see WL N0. 2 — ed) and almost all his argument. But I think our shared conclusion is inseparable from a more negative judgment on the "directly-elected president" agitation than Roger is prepared to give.
If I reckoned direct election of the president to be a great democratic prize, then I’d vote no. Turnbull’s republic will kibosh direct election. If direct-electionists can rouse enough people to vote down Turnbull’s republic, then they can also make it more than "mere speculation" that a directly-elected president can be brought back on the agenda. Many "vote no" direct-electionists have compromised themselves by allying with monarchists for the sake of government money, but an independent direct-electionist "vote no" campaign could make it clear to anyone who read even the headlines of their leaflets that they abhor the monarchy.
Why do I consider direct election no great prize? Though I want a republic, I don’t want a president. A sovereign democratic assembly can elect its own presiding officers and make its own rules about changing governments. It does not need an authority standing over it to represent the continuity of the state.
If we are to have a president, then let it be with the least clout. The campaign to elect the president directly so that he or she can represent "the people" against "the politicians" is inescapably a campaign to give the presidency more political clout — even if it goes with the same or reduced formal authority for the president. I agree with Roger that the widespread desire for direct election represents a healthy sentiment. And if the presidential position could be considered a fixed quantity, then I’d be for direct election. But if the presidency is to be a ceremonial position outside normal politics (as almost everyone agrees), then direct election to it can only be "ceremonial" democracy, a choice on "image" and symbolism. The upside is very limited — and the downside is that this "ceremonial" democracy then gives an unaccountable individual more authority, in times of crisis, to uphold the existing state against the unreliabilities of the more real democracy of parliamentary party politics.
Here, "symbolic" democracy is not only inferior to the organised politics in which large numbers of workers can participate and claim some accountability — working-class party politics — but cuts against it.
For me, direct election is no great democratic prize. And, since on the real democratic prizes, trade union rights, Aboriginal rights, and so on, the Turnbull republic will not worsen our chances compared to the monarchy, I agree with Roger’s conclusion: vote "yes, and…"
Our little difference here is connected to the larger difference among Workers’ Liberty activists where Roger and others (a majority at the time) advocated a yes vote in Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement referendums last year, and others of us advocated abstention. Revolutionaries should support partial reforms, or "lesser evils", when they point towards our programme rather than blocking it. But faced with a demand from the Establishment to make a yes/no choice between a status quo commonly agreed to be unviable, and a "reform" project which cuts against our democratic and socialist programme, socialists must have the freedom to take whatever stance best advances our programme, and thus the option of voting no or abstaining.
Workers Liberty has gone on record in support of the struggle for independence for the people of East Timor. Now that it appears Indonesia’s rule is about to end, their proxies — the armed thugs — are now roaming the streets and countryside killing and torturing whomever they like. These armed militias seem determined to become the new rulers of East Timor. As socialists we cannot stand by wringing our hands. It is important we have a practical policy on this question. We should call on the Australian Government to give full political and military support to Fretilin — the armed movement headed by independence leader Xanana Gusmao. We should pass motions in the trade unions calling for bans on all trade with Indonesia until the military stop doing their dirty work.
About 50 trade-unionists and activists came to the "Defend our Unions" campaign meeting called in Brisbane on Monday 23 August as a follow-up to the ACTU rally against Reith’s "second wave" on Wednesday 18 August.
Some 10,000 workers turned out on Wednesday 18th, with the largest contingents coming from the CFMEU and the Transport Workers’ Union. In his speech at the Monday meeting, TWU state secretary Hughie Williams described how his union had been able to mobilise up to 2000 members. It was done by organisers visiting all the depots — not just the big ones where they would be sure of a good welcome — holding well-prepared delegates’ meetings, and making sure that publicity aimed at their specific concerns reached all members.
What we need now is for other unions to campaign on the same lines as the TWU, to generate an escalating campaign which can progressively boost workers’ confidence to the point of decisive action to defeat Reith. The Wednesday meeting closed with a decision to set up an organising committee which will work to stir up such a campaign, both through general public activity and by operating as a "ginger group" within the unions. We already have a list of about 50 people — trade unionists, but also students, unemployed, and retired people — interested in helping.
The initiative for the Wednesday meeting came from members of the "Defend our Unions" committee set up in 1998 to support the MUA, which had been dormant since that dispute. Left groups supportive from the start were Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Alternative. The ISO and the DSP were invited to the meeting and given special speaking time at it, and their comments give hope that they will support the campaign.
One possible political problem was signaled by a muffled debate in Wednesday’s meeting, between some activists (the ISO especially) focusing tightly on advocacy of a 24-hour strike, and left-wing union officials feeling that a 24-hour strike voted through a union committee which happens to have a left majority, without adequate preparation among the mass membership, might do more harm than good to workers’ confidence. It should be possible to avoid this debate polarising destructively — since neither side is against publicity to prepare the membership, nor against strike action — but it may take some care.
The "Defend our Unions" committee meets in Brisbane on Monday 6 September, 7pm at the Paddington Workers’ Club, 2 Latrobe Terrace. Contact: Melissa, 07 3371 0797, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Sydney 15,000 rallied on 24 August against the Howard government’s second wave of anti-union legislation. The demonstration was one of the most spirited in recent times and reminiscent of rallies supporting the Maritime workers held last year. While the ACTU’s rolling cavalcade of rallies was good start to the campaign to defeat the Howard/Reith legislation much more needs to be done. One result of the decision to have only rank and file speakers at the rally was to be denied the chance to hear Kim Beazley repeat his speech to the huge Melbourne rally. In Melbourne he was reported in the Australian newspaper as having committed a future ALP Government to repealing the legislation. This is a promise for which the ALP must be held accountable by union pressure.
Outside of official union channels one group dedicated to the ongoing campaign to defeat the "Second Wave" is the Community Action Group (CAG) which is a coalition of unionists, students and community groups.
CAG meets every Tuesday at 6:00pm at Trades Hall (cnr Goulburn St and Sussex St). Contact: Nick 0414 262 170 or Amanda 0408 057 779. Website: www.sneaker.net.au/~mdavids/reformwatch
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.
About 1500 people gathered at Wentworth Park, in Sydney, for a spirited rally as part of the 24 Hour strike called by the NSW Teachers Federation and supported by the NSW Public Service Association. Earlier that morning at Sydney Institute of Technology joint union pickets were held. We had leaflets to hand out and we challenged people who crossed the picket line explaining what was going on and encouraging them to join us.
When it was time to move on to the nearby rally we gathered together and marched as a contingent through the campus with our SIT Workplace Group banner flying, our voices in full cry and emotions high from a picket well maintained. We had managed to convince a few people to join the strike (as we found out later) and others were persuaded not to staff service points even though they worked that day. A sign of our success was that very few people crossed the picket line that morning. Another indicator of our success was that the canteen was closed all day. As we made our way to Wentworth other strikers joined in and we handed out leaflets along the way.
At the rally we heard speeches from union leaders about the job cuts, management’s appalling handling of the matter and the joint unions’ fight in meetings with management and in the Industrial Commission. Then the motion was put to deplore the cuts and call for the Carr government to restore funding with a rider that if funding is not restored by 10 September then another strike is to be held on 22 September.
After the Wentworth Park rally we marched back to SIT where we blocked Mary Ann Street and more speeches were made. The members from the ‘soon to be closed’ Seaforth College urged us to join a further rally at the Head Office of the Department and in between time a picket of the SIT Ultimo library was called.
The Library was to be closed because of the strike but management forced its opening using unwilling casual labor and a few strike breakers. The library picket decided to become active and we marched through the library yelling our slogans and urging others to join us as we handed out leaflets explaining what the strike was about and advertising the SIT Action Group meeting. After we got that off our collective chest we felt a lot better and retired to lunch and then on to the last picket of the day at Head Office. Not so many made it to Bridge Street so all we could manage was a small delegation to see some of the Department of Education and Training top brass and delivered a protest at the imminent closure of the Seaforth College.
The day was well spent in open defiance of the arrogant masters of the Department and the State Government. A good opening shot in a determined campaign to save at least 630 jobs in TAFE and 2,500 in public service jobs overall.
Who is Rob Dawber? Rob has been an active trade unionist for all of his working life and a committed socialists since his teenage years, for most of them as a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Rob held various union offices and stood unsuccessfully for his union Executive. Forced out of the railways after 18 years, he took up writing. The well-known socialist film-maker Ken Loach is interested in turning a script Rob wrote about railway privatisation into a film.
Rob graduated for Leicester University with a first class degree in Mathematics. He could have earned better money than he earned on the railway. But Rob took his socialism seriously. Other student socialists of his generation learned to live with system. A few may have found that the organisational and communication skills they learned in the socialist movement have stood them in good stead and found them a place in the world of commerce and the corridors of power. If £70,000 stood between them and their best chance of life, most of them could be sure of raising it. For Rob socialist ideas were a way to find a tolerable place in an often intolerable society. They were a matter of having some self-respect.
If Rob had been injured in a fight with the police on a picket line — as he might have been on a number of occasions, in the miners’ strike of 1984-5 for example — it would be easier to pitch an appeal for money. Instead he faces a death as a result of a job injury, caused by the criminal negligence of a faceless corporation.
Rob’s friends and relatives have set up a fund to try and pay for this treatment. Rob can’t wait for compensation from British Rail. If you think that all workers should have a chance of life and protection against the capitalist system which endangers their life then help us raise some money. Make a donation yourself. Ask your workmates to make a donation. Propose your trade union branch makes a donation. Every day may count.
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 AgreementWorking-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: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.
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.
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.
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