Saturday’s socialist speak out
What is happening in the Australian economy?
Unemployment in Australia fell to 5.2%. Growth, although slowing, is still a bit over 3% per annum. However it was just 0.5% in the September quarter. This low growth if it continues will not be enough to deliver the promised Budget surplus unless the Gillard Labor Government responds by cutting spending further. That however will reduce long term growth, as the austerity program in Europe shows.
The Reserve Bank of Australia cut official cash rates to 3%, the lowest in 50 years (leaving aside the GFC, where it was also 3%.) The banks passed on most but not all of the cut to home loan borrowers, reinforcing the image of greedy bankers. They are. The Big 4 Australian banks are the most profitable in the world. Not passing on a full rate cut to borrowers retains their high net interest margins and profitability.
Productivity growth is at trend. Indeed despite the huffing and puffing from the Australian Financial Review and The Australian – the national papers of the bourgeoisie -Labor’s Fair Work Act has not impeded productivity growth at all. Productivity today is increasing at 3 times the rate under Howard’s WorkChoices.
Strikes have hit ‘record’ levels. This just means teachers in Victoria and building workers at Grocon and the Queensland Children’s Hospital, put up a fight over wages and conditions and safety and undertook concerted action.
The level of strikes in Australia is nowhere near record levels. It is just high compared to the abysmal levels of the last few years. Compared to the late 60s and early 70s strike levels are about one or two percent of the levels in those days. Even compared to the early 90s, before Keating Labor introduced enterprise bargaining, strike levels are only a fifth or a sixth of the rate then.
So we on the left should not get too carried away about what seems a big surge in strikes in the last quarter. If it is a harbinger of things to come, then well and good. But let’s wait and see.
There are more worrying signs. Unemployment in Queensland has skyrocketed since the election of the Newman Liberal National Party Government earlier this year and its sacking of thousands of public servants and other government employees, with more to come.
Apart from token days of action there has been no concerted union response to the massive attacks on jobs. I think this lack of real action is a better indicator of where the trade union bureaucracy, the current leadership of the trade union movement, is leading the working class than any increase in strikes by building workers and Victorian teachers.
The leadership of the trade union movement, the class collaborationists and the strike rejectionists, are still by and large firmly in control. Even in those unions fighting back it is at best a combination of angry rank and file and top down union bureaucratic control which sees the strikes and other action break out.
The rank and file are the troops to be marched out in the battle against the enemy, the bosses, rather than the generals in control of the campaign.
What about the Labor Party? The troops sure aren’t in control there.
To use a media cliché, Labor elder, statesman and party conscience, John Faulkner, (one of the generals, in fact) dumped a bucket on his own party the other day. This is not surprising given the stench coming out of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in New South Wales exposing just how corrupt New South Wales Labor is.
Although the allegations are against some former senior NSW Labor Ministers, the fact that the likes of Macdonald and Obeid rose to such heights and yielded such power indicates corruption is systemic in NSW Labor. It is a product of Labor and its politics, its structures, its role in society as a manager of capitalism.
Having abandoned any idea of social justice, and instead embraced neoliberalism as the ideology of action in government, the corruption, featherbedding, own nesting, are logical consequences for Labor.
The bankruptcy of Labor in power, exemplified by this Gillard Labor government, is but the other side of the coin to the corruption being exposed at ICAC. Political corruption leads inexorably to actual corruption.
Faulkner called for an end to the power of the factions in Labor. They are already dead. In the past factions represented differences in the working class over the way forward, with the Left on some occasions even being committed to socialism of some variety.
The neoliberalisation of society and of Labor has destroyed the ideological differences between Left and Right in the party, with occasional minor disagreements merely highlighting the overall level of unanimity.
The factions have become mere conduits for self-servers on the way to power. They are the safe houses where the Dons can divvy up or stash the loot of office.
There has also been some discussion about breaking Labor’s links to the unions. This is what distinguishes Labor from the Liberals. Labor is a capitalist workers’ party, or in my parlance a CAPITALIST workers’ party. Strengthening the links to unions, i.e. to the trade union bureaucracy, would restore some of the balance but would not undermine the essential character of Labor in power as managing capitalism.
Because the trade union bureaucracy is itself a contradictory group balancing between labour and capital, and is effectively the retailer of workers’ labour power to the bosses, nothing radical can come of re-building links to unions, unless there is an upsurge in working class struggle and rank and file control of their unions.
That’s why recent elections in the Public Sector Association in New South Wales are interesting. The O’Farrell Liberal Government has got rid of thousands of NSW government employees and capped pay increases to 2.5%. The union responded, eventually, and under massive rank and file pressure, with a stop work rally.
In elections in October the left won control of the union on a program promising to campaign service wide against public service cuts, outsourcing and privatisation and to fight to retain hard won conditions. Let’s see if this translates into industrial action, including unprotected industrial action, the very activity which seems to me to offer a way out of the impasse of attacks on workers and their acceptance.
Politically the regroupment and unity process under way on the revolutionary left offers a real vision and organisational expression that offers, in my view anyway, the best chance of building a socialist alternative.
As the crisis of global capitalism spreads from its heartlands in Europe and North America, as the masses in the Middle East and North Africa continue to fight for freedom and food, justice and jobs, as the strikes against austerity continue and deepen in Europe, the need to build a strong revolutionary left in Australia has never been greater. We need to be, as I have written before, running to where the ball will be. That means building a team capable right now of doing that.
Socialist Alternative’s website has details of that regroupment and unity process and proposals.
The UN General Assembly voted to give Palestine non-member observer state status and the Zionists responded by announcing more illegal settlements in the West Bank. One interesting aspect of the vote for UN non-member observer state status was that the US could only muster 8 other votes against. Even usually loyal supporter Australia abstained.
The ground is shifting and the other imperialist powers and countries like Australia recognise there has to be some seeming movement on Palestine.
The Arab Spring has changed not only the Middle East but the world. The next stage of the revolution may be unfolding in Egypt and the working class forces are beginning to stir with strikes against Morsi in Mahalla – the centre of the biggest textile factories in the world – and elsewhere and Opposition leaders calling for a general strike.
The democratic revolution now can go forward by workers leading it or, if that does not happen, slip backward to reaction under the Muslim Brotherhood or whoever assumes that role. The choice for the Egyptian working class is stark – revolution through their action or reaction through their inaction.
If Egyptian workers do take the initiative and win the battle for democracy, they will not then easily hand back power to a cowardly bourgeoisie. If it occurs, the working class winning the victory of the democratic revolution will force them to press forward to socialist revolution.
To have your say on these or any other matters, hit the comments button underneath the heading. Like all posts on this blog comments close after 7 days.