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John Passant

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February 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Saving Labor from its neoliberal self?

Labor Party hacks Steve Bracks, John Faulkner and Bob Carr have just handed down a report into the ALP’s near loss at the last election. It is an indictment of a party that has seemingly lost its way.

It tells of a marginalised, disillusioned and ageing membership, of the loss of 22,000 members in the last five years and even of the inability to man key polling booths. The Party’s membership is now only 37,000 – less than the Nationals.

Let’s be clear. The ALP hasn’t lost its way. It is marching onward and upward to becoming a completely neoliberal party of capital.

There is an irony about asking those infected with the ideas responsible for the degeneration of Labor to investigate the ALP’s problems.

For make no mistake, there has been a degeneration of Labor – from a bourgeois workers’ party to a bourgeois party. We are witnessing the death agonies of Labor as a party of labour in any sense other than formally. 

The ALP has links to the working class through the trade union bureaucracy.

But for the last 30 years that bureaucracy has overwhelmingly been the policeman of capital in the workplace, overseeing both an historic shift in the national cake to capital away from labour and the ongoing decline in the numerical and industrial strength of the union movement to such an extent that now.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics last year just 14 per cent of private sector employees were union members. 

The main reason for this is that since the early 80s the trade union bureaucrats have accepted the trickle down theory of economics – what’s good for the boss is good for the worker. The union movement has become a supplicant at the table of capital.

This has allowed and encouraged, indeed mandated,  the political wing of the trade union bureaucracy – the Labor Party – to adopt neoliberalism as its philosophy of action.

The Labor Party has thus attracted to it free market spivs, hacks and petit bourgeois careerists whose only conception of working class life comes from television or the pages of The Australian. Julia Gillard is as divorced from the life of working class Australians as Hosni Mubarak was from ordinary Egyptians.

She however has a seemingly much more effective police force – the Australian Council of Trade Unions as well as the manufactured consent Australian workers give to the dictatorship of capital. 

Nowhere does the report question this headlong march to neoliberal nirvana. Therein lies the problem. There is a contradiction between the Labor Government’s Clive Palmer vision and the desire of its supporters and members for a better world.  

Labor in Government delivers a better world alright – for the rich and powerful. Its benefit for the bourgeoisie is its ability to hoodwink and cajole, and at times straight jacket, the working class.

The result has been a steady decline in the ALP’s electoral support to such an extent that in New South Wales it may win only around 20 percent of the vote in the March election.

Federally Labor is polling 32 percent. Its neoliberal policies are so bad that arch conservative Tony Abbott – the Australian Margaret Thatcher – almost became Prime Minister last year and would easily win government if an election were held now.

The report makes no mention of the sickness at the heart of Labor’s degeneration – its neoliberalism. It can’t. Such an analysis would challenge the whole Labor project in which Bracks, Faulkner and Carr along with Gillard, Swan and the rest have been and are central players.

They have created a cesspit of neoliberalism which they cannot recognise, let alone escape from.

 The main beneficiary of this degeneration has been the Greens who have seen their vote increase from singe to double figures and who, in NSW at least, appear to have almost as much electoral support as the ALP.

Yet the Greens are not a social democratic party. They have no links to the working class or the union movement. That may explain why in the Broadmeadows by-election in Victoria on Saturday – a thoroughly working class seat – they won just six percent of the vote. Perhaps workers recognise the Greens have nothing to say to them as workers.

The Greens have some socially progressive policies but they too are thoroughly infected by the ideas of the market. Thus for the Greens the way to address climate change is to increase the price of carbon. The cost of such a policy will of course be borne by the working class.

The siren song of neoliberalism will destroy the Labor Party on the shoals of the market. If the Greens steer the same course they too will be drowned by the power of forces they do not understand and cannot control.

Declining profit rates – inbuilt into the very way production under capitalism is organised – have destroyed the economic base of reformism.There is no social surplus our of which to pay for reforms.

The task is to break completely with neoliberalism and its reformist children and build a Socialist Alternative to challenge the whole rotten edifice of capitalism and its inherent injustice and inequality. That unfortunately is for the future.

Here and now it seems some union officials have had a re-think about their role. Right wing union leader Paul Howes, the man who dumped Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and replaced him with the even more compliant Julia Gillard at the behest of the mining bosses, has now attacked mining bosses and threatened an industrial campaign against them.

Howes accused Rio Tinto bosses of ‘sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers’ to make their massive profits. True of Rio Tinto, just as it is of all bosses. Howes is threatening an industrial campaign to win better pay and conditions and to unionise the mining workforce, at least in the aluminium industry.

Let’s hope mining workers wins benefits from BHP – half yearly profit $10.5 billion – and Rio Tinto – yearly profit $14 billion – that make the mining bosses wish the Resource Super Profits Tax and its extra $6 billion in tax annually was in place.

There are two aspects to Howes’ push. Short term the Australian Workers Union has lost membership and any influence in key mining areas in Australia. It wants to win that back so that long term it can strengthen the role of trade union officials like Howes as negotiators with capital over the price of labour power.

Without a strong and growing union membership the neoliberal policemen and women in the trade union bureaucracy ultimately have no power base in the neoliberal machine.

But while Howes’ attacks on Rio Tinto bosses as monkeys and exploiters might be self serving, they open up the possibility of workers in action challenging not only the bosses but also their paid puppets in the trade union movement, right wingers like Paul Howes.

An important part of the agenda of both the political and industrial wings of labourism over the last 30 years has been the concentration of power in the hands of the leadership at the expense of its membership. Without this destruction of rank and file organisation, alternative poles of power and ideas might have undermined the bureaucracy’s neoliberal agenda.

The first task of unionists is to rebuild rank and file organisation and win back control of their unions from conservatives like Howes. As one Egyptian socialist put it, it’s time to take Tahrir Square into the workplace.



Comment from Calligula
Time February 20, 2011 at 7:52 pm

You’ve done it again –
Should read – “Saving Labor From It’s Neanderthal Self”
Heavy set, beetle browed, clannish, incestuous and aggressive the union led labor movement destroyed itself by refusing to evolve.

Thirty years ago when changes in industry demanded better education and more training across the board – the unions refused to progress while at the same time successive governments let new, value adding, industry either founder or move offshore.

Both are as guilty as sin.

Instead of reforming traditional unions into something acceptable for new age high tech highly mobile careerists (call ‘em professional associations) the unions supported narrow stream career paths through party politics straight into office.

Big problem –
Only the select few in that set-up make it to the top.
The rest either remain as timeservers or move on.
Either way the result is resentment and a waste of lifetime and resources as far as the individuals go.

It has also resulted in a couple of generations of politicians who know stuff all about anything.
Not only are they pig-ignorant of the breadth of human affairs but are also self-centred assassins by nature.

In short they pretend to represent unionists and workers when about the best they can offer is false words or a bag of celery. (Marie Antoinette – “Let them Eat cake” Peter Beattie “Here’s a bag of groceries, dickhead.” – power strikes, Qld., 1975?)

I’ve been told I’m a liar and a fascist on these pages.
What a bloody shame I’m not.
If I were a blackshirt I’d enjoy seeing what an allegedly labor government has done in Qld.
The same for the federal effort.

NSDAP – National, Socialist, Deutsches (German), Arbeit (workers) Party.
There was once a ‘Worker’s Party’ for a while up here.
Sucked everyone in with the name back then and gained votes from labor.
Their politics was so right wing they made Himmler look like a blushing pink bride.

As an expedient, to gain votes, the conservatives ‘hesitantly’ adopted some of their policies.

And of course Abbott paid to have Ms. Hansen locked up.
I suppose he didn’t want the punters to discover that some of her ideas were more bolshie than nazi?

But, as an expedient, to gain votes, John Howard ‘hesitantly’, but quite smarmily, adopted some of her policies.

Meanwhile laborites and conservatives HAVE colluded to sell off the hard won assets of Australian taxpayers.
The shiteheels doing that ARE a breed apart.

But, you see, it is not their fault.
You let them do that by voting for them.

Didn’t you?

Comment from Ross
Time February 20, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Some intresting stats about profits of Rio Tinto of $14 billion + BHP of $10.5 billion.The 4 big banks disclose a group profit of $ 20 billion.This is $44.5 billion in profits or $4,045 for every working person in this country.

The profits are enormous and this is just a small cross section of businesses in this country.

Why then do we have poor infrastructure,work increasingly longer hours for less and just put up with it.

Labor lost it long ago.At least the Liberals screw us with a straight face while Labor like the Chameleon changes colour and shape for every interest group.

Do not vote for any of them.

Comment from Ben Courtice
Time February 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I think your recognition that the union leaders in the Labor Party have been police officers of capital for the last 30 odd years, and that this has changed the nature of the ALP, is a very important point. Good article.

Comment from John
Time February 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Thanks Ben.

Comment from Magpie
Time February 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

Well John, they say that confession is the queen of all evidences and the quote below, remarkably well-timed to fit this post, is the closest to a sworn statement we can get.

Further, you’ll note it comes from Gerard Henderson, one of the leading mouthpieces of capital in Oz.

Henderson has done similar comments before, but never (to the best of my knowledge) spelling things out that candidly.

Without further ado:

“In the meantime, O’Farrell and his colleagues would be well advised to take a stance on the Greens. For starters, there would be some political benefit in acknowledging that some of Labor’s candidates are preferable to the Greens. Then there is the fact that O’Farrell is closer to the Premier, Kristina Keneally, on a range of economic, foreign and social policy issues than he is to the Greens.”

In other words: “vote Liberal (better) or Labor (acceptable), never vote ‘left’ “.

Unlike us, Henderson seems to have a very high regard for the Greens as “left”. I’m not sure about that.

But let’s continue with Henderson. He also believes not all Greenies were created equal:

“There are Greens who are primarily environmentalists – like Senator Bob Brown and Senator Christine Milne. And then there are hard-left Greens – like Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, who graduated from the Communist Party to the Greens. Byrne and Parker are close to the hard-left Greens camp.”

One could always hope Henderson has a point there.

In any case, maybe we should consider that possibility.

All quotes from:

Gerard Henderson. Don won’t, but Libs can stop left. SMH. 22/02/2011.

Comment from Tony
Time February 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

The way I see it, there are red-greens, blue-greens and brown-greens.

The original elements, the red-greens (notionally some disaffected CPA/Labor Left types with a very strong environmental bent) and blue-greens (small L liberals with professional background who also have a very strong environmental bent, traditional supporters of liberalism).

The newest element, the brown-greens (the new inner city social “progressives”. People who are basically conformist, but have a conscience about social justice, combined with a feeling other parties don’t represent their individualist tendencies. I believe, this demographic are the current Greens marginal voter. The Greens attempt to peel them off Labor in particular, but also some mainstream small L liberals. They represent consumer culture (although often in an anti-consumer sense where anti-brand (ie. niche is the new brand) except maybe iPhone (the modern pocket watch), no ethical dilemma with the existing economic engine if their super appreciates, they have a feel good angle looking to the possible future by subscribing to capitalist tricks like carbon offsets schemes, “green” cars from a coal fired powerstation, “green” loans to be able to use taxpayer subsidies and draw a private dividend, etc. Unlike the red-green and blue-green element, the demographic is not activist. The desire to participate in structural challenges is weak, principally due to this element tending to be solidly middle or upper middle class white collar workers. They perceive they may lose professionally should they take a radical stance, as they are largely dependent on their acceptance within the domestic economy for the career to evolve. To rock the boat could cause them to be overlooked for advancement.

My opinion is that focusing on the brown-green element in extended urban regions in an attempt to push the primary vote well above 20% will destroy the Greens as an organisation. It opens the door to opportunism and a tendency to make policy instruments appeal to the marginal voter as the ALP now does. The survival of the Greens requires them to recognise their current ceiling and not seek to exceed it, unless they convince people to change preference based on the logic of their arguments without changing position. In the medium term, it is essential they survive to ensure the ALP have some yardstick to be measured against. However, I have no doubt, we are not far off a fourth element in the political landscape. However, it will have to appeal to the democraphic that is no longer Labor and not a good fit for the Greens. This element has historically believed in the myth that Lib/Lab will actually deliver for them. When the housing bubble and debt binge in Australia collapses, the disparity between reality and expectations will emerge through the actions of the government and create the space for the fourth element. They will stop believing their is a dividend for them in supporting Lib/Lab. The Greens need to survive through this process too, exercise influence and hold to strong principles. In spite of their conflicted position on some areas of policy, they make a positive contribution, and must remain a voice to dislodge the neo-liberalism of Lib/Lab from primacy.

Comment from Calligula
Time February 22, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Tony –
By that may I assume that you are a pragmatist/cynic?
I trust you appreciate that Australian politics is a hall of mirrors.

I doubt whether the average bloke would have a clue as to whom was in the other person’s pocket or what might result if a razorblade was sliced between ‘em.
I reckon Brown/green politics is a hard bargain for labor and almost a vote for liberal.
Bob Brown/Green, that is.
Green/Green politics is for dupes.

They like public transport and hope if it becomes the norm – they’ll use it hoping that they can score more dates.
Maybe they lack the motor skills to ride motorcycles.
Motorcycles are the only viable form of rapid, individual, transport.

Climate change and pollution-
Most people including scientists refuse to go to the real cause of climate change.
Putting it simply theis planet is surrounded by fields that keep solar and stellar radiation away from the Earth’s surface.
They do a good job.

Unfortunately, they also reflect the radiation we generate back on-to us.
That radiation rattles around until it finally attenuates.
It is amazingly energetic.
That radiation, all across the electromagnetic spectrum, is cooking us.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is Co2 or cow farts causing all the bother?

My bet goes this way.
Any of you out there with a CO2 stove?
But I bet most of you have a mickey – a microwave?
And a cellphone.
And satellite TeeVee
And a GPS
And radio
And the odd RC toy
And fluoro lights
And various motors in aircon, fridges and washing machines, dishwashers, electric drills, vibrators (Oh,heavens,hush) fish tank pump/filters, hair dryers, defibrillators, computers, – give me a break – there’s about 200 of ‘em in the average home.
Then look at industry and what they use, either to feed us with power or produce our commodities.

That’s where the stray energy is coming from and it is frying us slowly, by degrees.
Then look at the military and all their fancy, pulsed, high energy radars and surveillance systems.

If there I any thing able to wreck our weather it ain’t co2. It is non-ionising radiation and we are drowning in the stuff.

Comment from Tony
Time February 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

There are too many easily identifiable lies in the “connected” world to not be highly sceptical of what is projected by any sectional interest group, particularly those with a profit motive. Consumerism is a mechanism attempting to maintain capitalism. The fact that few items are repairable anymore suggests that is how industry sees consumerism too.

I would not contest that most people have insufficient interest in governance to know about influence. They trust the people representing them would act like see themselves acting if in that position. Namely, that their representatives will act in their broad interests. From observation, this appears to be the key failure in representative democracy as representatives typically appear to pay far more attention to sectional interests.

My comments are principally concerned with electoral theory and identifiable traits within the Greens voting base. In treating this, I am less concerned about the validity of ideological tendencies within the Greens, other than having pointed out certain contradictions in the tendencies of the brown-greens. It is the Greens existence and identification as a block of a slightly different current of political thought which is the key factor making their role important. As opposed to their stance on particular issues, for example, climate change.

For the Greens, identifiable traits (which, of course, may be disputed) become the target of the sectional interest’s “marketing” effort, in particular that of the marginal voter. The political establishment differs little to the industrial establishment. For the Greens to shift from a basic ideological position of environmentalism ( the essence of their ideology making them distinct from others) toward appealing to the margin voter, suggests they will become captive to the same forces as Lib/Lab.

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