|Issue No 122||07 December 2001|
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Unions Raise Labor Stakes
Standards Breakthrough in Call Centres
Hotel Cleaners Told: Bring Your Own Mops
Corporate Giant Sponsored IT to India Report
New Front in Battle for Compo Rights
Progress in Email Privacy Push
Christmas Progress on Sweatshops, Truckies
BHP Steel Workers Fight for Security
Union Concerned At New ASIO Powers
Workers Call for Patrons Before Pokies
Overtime Deal Helps Rural Hospitals
Writers in New Chapter for Unionism
CFMEU Backs Standards Inquiry
Mining Company Moves To Ban Fiji Film
Unions Choir Sings Up Storm
2002: Where to Now?
The Real Debate
The current debate about union influence in the ALP goes a long way beyond the simple formula for voting at Party conferences.
While the 60-40 rule has become the flashpoint, Labor faces a more fundamental crisis of philosophy that is challenging its egalitarian heritage.
At the heart of this debate is the new political orthodoxy - that we have become a society of 'aspirational' voters.
Now if 'aspirational' means that people merely want a better life, then you'd have to ask what all the fuss is about. Unions have been the vehicle for workers who aspire for greater security for 100 years.
But I suspect there's more loaded into the term than this. The 'aspirationalist' that I think the strategists are talking about is someone who aspires to claw their way to the top of the heap; more interested in attaining wealth than sharing it around.
They make their political choices on the basis of what's in it for them - and fail to recognize themselves in a broader social context. In short we are talking about greed.
In this prism, Labor's on a hiding to nothing - the aspirationalist is looking to get ahead, so it's the Liberals credo of individualism that will naturally prevail.
They live in a society where they see the gap between rich and poor increasing and the political parties polarised into a debate about how to increase the wealth (the Liberals' traditional stomping ground) or how to relieve the worst of the poverty (Labor's patch).
Labor is left with two choices - to become closer and closer to the conservatives (as has occurred over the past decade) or to begin to formulate a response to the changed environment consistent with our core collectivist values.
By opting for the former, Labor must turn its back on its history - cut union influence and remake itself as an American-style small-L liberal, free enterprise party: laissez-faire with a bleeding heart.
But reconnecting with its collectivist roots, as embodied in the union movement, may be a better way forward for Labor.
This reorientation would spark a more profound debate about distributing our collective wealth and developing strategies to increase the pie but also share it, rather than allowing the current Darwinian struggle to prevail.
Working together we could search for new ways to spread prosperity to create a base level of prosperity, a Living Wage, the promise of a family life without needing to work 50 hour weeks just to survive.
Smart people have always recognized this - smart people across the workforce realized their best way of surviving in a harsh land was to pool their resources. That's why they formed the union movement.
Unions today are a threat to New Labor because they represent the counter-argument to the political quick fix. They seek power, not for power's sake, but to be exercised for a collective good.
Ben Chifley nailed it many years ago when he said the ALP "must fight for what it believes is right, whether it brings electoral success or not".
As the bruhaha over 60-40 plays itself out, let's not get caught in the fine print. The real debate is over whether we are sucked into buying the 'aspirationalist' line and the degree to which we are prepared to junk our ideals to win their fleeting, fickle allegiance.
PS No Workers Online next week, but sit tight for a bumper Christmas edition on December 21.
|Whither the ALP?||The Gods Are Angry||Paul Howes' Week on the Web||Downer's Sticky Wicket|
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