From the Labor Party to the Australian version of the US Democrats?
The push is on to break the link between unions and the Australian Labor Party.
On Sunday morning deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, told Sky News’s Australian Agenda that she supported removing the requirement for all ALP members to be union members in those cases where they ‘worked for themselves, …were retired, or … were employed in jobs that did not lend themselves to union membership…’
This follows on from leader Bill Shorten who during the week said he wanted to more than double membership from 44,000 to 100,000. However Shorten didn’t paint a grand vision for Labor to do this by shifting the Party to the left, abandoning neoliberalism, adopting pro-working class and humane policies (for example on refugees) and opposing the outright bosses’ party, the Liberals.
Oh no. Labour would double in size by recruiting ‘… a broader base including the small business and science community.’
Maybe the ALP might double in size if it defended workers and attacked the bosses rather than sucking up to them.
Having more small business owners, the same people crying that the minimum wage shouldn’t be increased and that penalty rates are an abomination, will only push Labor into being an out and out party of capital, both big and small.
Readers will know that I have characterised the ALP as a capitalist workers’ party and that the contradictions at its heart are playing out now in such a way that it is now a CAPITALIST workers’ party.
Its link to workers is through the trade union bureaucracy, a group who are not workers and not bosses but whose role is to retail workers’ ability to labour to the capitalist class. They argue with the bosses over the value of labour power, not whether our labour should have a price on its head.
The best thing the ruling class in Australia have had for the last 31 years is a union bureaucracy utterly committed to the trickle down view of the world, that what is good for capital is good for labour, as long as we get a few crumbs from the table of the rich.
Nowhere is this more aptly captured than with the example of ALP linchpin and ex-union heavyweight, Paul Howes. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, the bosses’ paper, after he had announced his resignation as head of the Australian Workers Union, Howes said that ‘the only good thing about being in the working class is leaving it.’
He added that ‘when you harness the market in the right way it can be a fundamental force for good.’ Not only that, he thought the market was too powerful for even governments to fight. Talk about a complete and utter capitulation to capital.
It is in this context – of Labor and much of the union bureaucracy worshipping at the altar of profit – that moves to reform Labor have to be understood.
Take for example the vaunted experiments with ‘democracy’. Bill Shorten beat Anthony Albanese despite Albanese winning 60% of the individual membership vote. However there is a more fundamental objection to so-called democratisation and community voting exposes that reality.
On her facebook page Tanya Plibersek says:
‘We’re holding a community preselection so members of the community can have a say in who they want as Labor’s candidate for the state seat of Newtown. This is a fantastic new approach that will continue to build Labor’s links with the community. I’ll be hosting a candidates’ forum on Saturday at Club Redfern. Please come along to hear from the candidates!’
In other words in this particular contest you don’t have to be a member of the ALP to pre-select a candidate. This is similar to the open primaries in many US States where both the Republican and Democratic parties have primaries open to all to select Presidential candidates.
One argument here is that in 2008 Democrats crossed over to turn John McCain from an also ran before the voting started to select the 2008 Republican Presidential candidate into a front runner by the time Super Tuesday came around. This is despite that fact that Republican voters in those open primary states favoured Romney over McCain. The Democrats’ voting in the Republican open State primaries swamped them.
As a generalisation the individual members of the Labor Party are to the left of the elected representatives on most if not all issues. ‘Democratisation’ of the open primary variety looks like a way of toning down the impact of the already weak influence of the leftish membership on the leadership.
There is also serious talk about breaking the links between unions and the party. Unions provide the base of funding to the ALP and have the majority or large minority of votes at Party conferences and various powerful administrative committees at the state and national level.
Unions link the Party, no matter how thin and indirect the links are, to the working class.
Breaking the link between unions and Labor, opening up the pre-selection voting process to non-members, not requiring members to be unionists are all expressions, not of the democratisation of the party but its Democratisation, ie making the ALP nothing more than another party of the bosses. It is about turning Labor from a CAPITALIST workers’ party to a CAPITALIST party.
This is the end logic of embracing neoliberalism. It flows too from the change in elected member class, from working class to professionals and small business people or uni grad to union research officer or advisor to an MP to union leader to MP.
Despite the illusions the leadership might have in this being a process to attract new active members, it may force those people who want to change the world for the better to leave the ALP (after the fake democratisation reveals its real nature) or not to join it.
The question of Labor linking or not linking to the trade union bureaucracy is the wrong one. The real question is how to build a workers’ party committed to socialist revolution. That task for the revolutionary left involves becoming the place those people in Labor and near it and even more so outside it who want to build a better world turn to and join in that fight. Labor’s neoliberalism and inhumanity help open up that possibility.