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John Passant

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Bligh Bligh Labor?

As defeats go, this is huge. It looks as if Labor will have seven seats in the 89 seat Queensland Parliament.

The other Tories (aka  the Liberal National Party) are ecstatic, having won 78 of the seats. Bob Katter’s Australian Party won 2 and independents the other two.

The reasons for the defeat seem fairly simple – Labor’s neoliberalism, the right wing idea that the market cures all.

So for example two months after being re-elected in 2009 and promising in the run up to the election not to privatise state assets, Bligh began a privatisation program.

Tom Bramble has covered the specifics of the defeat very well in his article in Socialist Alternative called Chickens come home to roost for Qld Labor.

What I want to do is look a bit more deeply at what appears to me to be a terminal decline of the ALP in Australia. What we now have is Zombie Labor.

This is a party that has lost power in the recent past in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and now Queensland. The Gillard Labor Government only just hung on in 2010 and now looks terminal too, with its support hovering around 30 percent, just a little better than the 26% the ALP got in Queensland.

Why? A number of left wing writers agree that since the late 60s or early 70s the rate of profit in developed countries has dropped by up to 50 percent.

Now there have been ups and downs around that trend but the trend is downward.

Why?  Marx argued that labour creates value and profit arises from the surplus value workers produce, that is the value of the goods they make less what they are paid for their  labour power. 

Over time competition forces individual capital to mechanise to make more profit. The rate of the investment in capital grows faster than the rate of investment in labour. All other things being equal this means the rate of profit falls.

Of course not all other things are equal and bosses try to address this fall in profit rates by lengthening the working day so we work longer hours and they pocket the extra surplus value we create. They can also sometimes cheapen the cost of keeping us alive.

Increased productivity is important to counterbalance the fall in profit rates. But the tendency reasserts itself in the long term.

And the politics follows.

In times of high profit rates and social struggle or its threat there is enough social surplus for the state to provide extras to workers in the form of a welfare state.

But as profit rates fall, 2 things happen. There is less social surplus to spend on the welfare state and governments redirect whatever is left to capital to help prop it up. And in Australia at least the trade union leadership have adopted class collaboration as their motto and practice, most famously in the form of the Accord, the ghost whose reality is alive today.

Social democratic parties have adapted to this decline in profit rates by attacking welfare spending and propping up capital in much the same way as conservative parties.

Indeed one advantage of social democratic parties for capitalism is they can sell neoliberal ‘reforms’ to unions and unionists much better than conservatives because of historical ties.

For the same reason they can also lead the attack. For example PASOK, the Greek social democratic party, was the party that viciously attacked the living standards of Greek workers to obtain loans to prop up French and German banks.

In Australia one of the the major achievements of the Labor Party from 1983 onwards has been an historic shift in the share of national income going to capital at the expense of labour. The other historic achievement has been to do this with the collaboration of the trade union movement, laying the groundwork for the dire situation of unions today.

Now it may be that currently in Australia average profit rates are high, bolstered by the mining sector and banks. But in many other areas profit rates may be low.

This is having ramifications for Australian society as these very profitable sectors of society battle ferociously to keep their super profitable positions at the expense of the rest of capital.

But Labor, because it is now more and more integrated into the political system of the bosses and more divorced from any union influence, is less able to rule in the interests of capital and its system and is more subject to influence from sectional interests of capital such as miners. Hence, perhaps, the weak as piss Minerals Resource Rent Tax. 

And Labor arguably has moved as consequence from being some sort of social democratic party to being just another party of neoliberalism.

The very success of Labor in managing capitalism has seen workers reject it.

In Queensland it looks as if workers in Brisbane switched to the LNP and workers in regional centres to the populist Katter’s Australian Party.  

The Greens vote fell in Queensland from what it was at the Federal election.  They are not a left wing alternative and didn’t paint themselves as one for fear of alienating ‘respectable’ opinion and voters. Workers responded accordingly by ignoring them.

In the immediate future, Queensland workers are faced with a choice. Capitulate to the LNP’s attacks on wages, jobs, health, education, transport or fight for better pay, for jobs and for better social services.

The Queensland Nurses’ Enterprise Agreement has just expired. In Victoria nurses fought a campaign that won pay rises of between 14% and 21% over paid in just under 4 years.

That is well above Campbell Newman’s proposed 3% pay limit on public servants.

If nurses walked off the job in Queensland it would close down hospitals and force Newman to give them a better offer than the one he has mooted.

The enterprise bargaining period with Queensland teachers begins on 1 April. They too will face the same cap. They too may eventually fight as they showed they could in 2009.  They could for example eventually threaten to close down schools.

If nurses or teachers or, in my dreams perhaps, both together, were to seriously fight a resurgent LNP that in itself would send a message to workers all across the State. The new Government might have 78 seats in parliament but we make the system work. Without us they and the bosses they rule for are nothing.

Let’s see what happens. Clearly of course without a fight of any sort by unions the LNP will rule the roost and ride roughshod over wages, conditions and jobs. But with a fight the cocky bastards could be sent back to their lair, licking their wounds and giving workers some breathing space.

A second article will talk more broadly about re-building a class conscious left as Zombie Labor continues its walk of death.



Comment from Shane H
Time March 26, 2012 at 7:10 am

I’m not sure that the Greens vote changed (comparing state and federal figures is tricky as you’d know). Katter scored about 11% but more like 15% in rural areas – which mirrored the swing against the ALP. So 15% of workers chose to vote for rural populist and not the Greens because the Greens didn’t present themselves as a left enough alternative? Doesn’t sound right.

Its complex firstly Katter got more coverage from the media – and the Greens are consistently labelled as anti-mining, anti-fishing, pro-drugs and anti-jobs – regardless of their policies they are presented as left extremists – which is why people don’t vote for them – especially in QLD

I think you are right about the neoliberal thing though. The ALP lost people because of its privatisation agenda (and for lying about it in the last election). A lot of people in regional Queensland who are supportive of state-subsidies for their farms and who used to vote for the National party see the new LNP as a Liberal Party takeover so Katter is, in that sense, an old National socialist. Of course there is also a protest element (a plague on both major parties) and none of them would dream of voting Green because they are social conservatives.

I think its hard to argue that if the Greens put forward a more radical (anti-market) vision (unlikely I know) that would see an increase in their vote. I’m not sure what socialist groups stood in this election but we can be pretty sure their vote was sub-1%.

Comment from John
Time March 26, 2012 at 7:25 am

Well, maybe a better formulation might have been more pro-working class policies from the Greens? Interesting too that the CSG campaign didn’t see any switch to them. yes, the socialist vote if it existed would have been sub 1 percent. Don’t know if that is relevant to the discussion of the decline of the ALP. It is relevant to the discussion about building a socialist alternative to Labor.

Comment from Shane H
Time March 26, 2012 at 8:49 am

Yes. The point was that the workers break to the right – not to the left – in a crisis.

Comment from John
Time March 26, 2012 at 9:54 am

Do they? Greece doesn’t seem to be an example of that. And perhaps the direction of that break depends in part on the existence of a mass revolutionary party as a pole of attraction. I wonder if you could call voting for populist Katter as compared to neoliberal Labor a break to the right? Maybe even voting LNP is not a break to the right because it expresses disgust with Labor not support for the LNP’s explicit or soon to be explicit anti-working class politics. What do you think?

Comment from billie
Time March 26, 2012 at 10:21 am

My stockbroker assures me that the profit share of national income is far greater than the wages share of national income.

Comment from John
Time March 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Your stockbroker is wrong then. For the first time ever. But the respective shares have narrowed, ie profit share has grown and labour share fallen.

Pingback from En Passant » Labor, Labor, why don’t you give me a call?
Time March 27, 2012 at 8:23 pm

[…] I pointed out in Bligh Bligh Labor? the social surplus out of which Labor has provided a few goodies in the past has dried up. The […]