|Issue No 17||11 June 1999|
Christodoulou on Factions - A Lefty Speaks
FACTIONS, FRACTIONS AND ACTIONS
When I was first asked to consider spending some time working for Labor Council, my immediate reaction was one of curiosity.
Was I to become the Damien O'Connor of the NSW Labor Council, or more specifically, simply a mouthpiece for the "Left"? Was I to take my seat alongside other Left comrades at Labor Council Executive and look for issues to challenge the Right leadership on? Was I there to expand the Left's influence on Council by simply demanding proportional representation on every Labor Council Committee or activity? Was I to play the typically factional role that I had become accustomed to in the ALP?
The answer of course to all these questions was no! Working for the Labor Council has reinforced the position I've generally adopted within the Left (much to the disgust of some of my Left comrades), that is, the Party and the trade union movement's general interests always need to come first before the interests of any faction or individual.
For me, those interests are about keeping Labor in government and revitalising the trade union movement.
In my view both are important objects but often lost in the factional shenanigans that goes on over the "control" and spoils of public office.
Without being in government and/or having a strong and effective trade union movement our chances of protecting and improving the lot of working people from the excesses of a free market economy are next to nil. Strong unionism and Labor governments won't resolve all the contradictions, problems, and uncertainties that come with an advanced capitalist society but these two arms of the Labor movement are our best chance in the foreseeable future to continue our work towards creating a more humane, just, and fair society.
Although I still belong to the Socialist Left faction my alignment to that faction is one of symbolism rather than absolute commitment. I would consider myself no less a "Lefty" sitting outside the formal faction. However, the way factions are institutionalised within the ALP at the moment, I and many others don't have much choice, although that is slowly changing.
Factions now have fractions. Within each fraction there are personality groups. Those that control or influence each of these groupings have really only one agenda, that is, to build up parliamentary influence capable of determining Ministerial positions. Anyone who argues that there is a lot more to factions these days is kidding themselves.
There is not enough time in this article to detail how each of these machine groups work, but those that have been the controllers, the beneficiaries or victims of factional and fractional wheeling and dealing know the exact nature of the beast. They are hardly democratic, although they try to give an impression that they are.
The zealots in all factions will argue passionately about how factionalism is necessary if we are true to our philosophical or ideological beliefs.
This is simply bullshit!
Its peoples actions not factions that will lead to change.
Factions have simply become internal mechanisms of control. They are losing authority. Within the trade union movement they are becoming only mechanisms of consultation and within the ALP they are searching to find ways to keep their constituency locked into factional caucus positions.
Factions over the last 5 or so years have become like "straight jackets", but with more people finding ways of escape. Rank and file members and unions want to be able to express their views and debate issues without being labelled Right or Left.
Defactionalisation doesn't mean an end to beliefs or debates on issues. To the contrary defactionalisation will open up debate on a whole range of issues which in the past have been "managed" depending on what's in the interests of the faction.
Defactionalisation won't mean anarchy either. Some will tell you that without factions the Party would have no direction and control.
Factional zealots will of course have less control because in a defactionalised environment it's the elected officers of the Party and the executive which would provide the leadership.They would need to be more accountable and communicative to all of Labors membership not just people in the factional know.
Not possible in the ALP you might ask? Anything is possible if there is the will to do it!
If we look at the Labor Council of NSW as an example, it still exhibits some notions of competition when it comes to the ACTU, but this is more to do with roles, relationships, processes and priorities.
In some ways the Labor Council of NSW is becoming (in political terms) the broad political church in terms of its officers, that the ACTU has been for many years! The difference? The Secretary (Costa) who can be as opinionated and pugnacious as any one I've seen, is very much open to ideas, views and debate.
I've never seen anyone in the Labor movement network as much as Costa to keep in touch with what all unions are thinking and doing.
Look at the how Labor Council Executive works by comparison to the NSW Administrative Committee. Having attended both, it's like chalk and cheese.
Labor Council is a lot more open. Very little caucusing "left"/"right" is evident on issues and unions feel at ease either raising issues with the Executive Officers or at the Executive meeting itself. That's not to say there aren't or won't be differences. More often than not, however, these differences aren't "factional", they are "issues" based.
At an Officer level the Labor Council is inclusive of ideas and no one is backward in putting forward their views. Unlike the ALP, none of the debates get caught up in the old factional time warp of the past.
Every issue that is debated invariably has a different alliance of people arguing the case.
Ultimately, on any "serious" issue there are real attempts to try an reach a position which maximises unity, not division.
At a time when the trade union movement is under continual scrutiny and attack the only way forward is under the banner of unity and cooperation. This needs to occur in the Australian Labor Party. We need to recast the culture and rules of the Party to one where the ability to stack branches, manipulate rules, and crunch numbers is not the criteria for determining public office.
I'm not able in this short article to articulate the many changes I'd like to see happen to the Party,suffice to say that defactionalisation will only be possible if the decision making processes in the Party are more communicative ,transparent, and accountable.
Changes are already starting to occur in this regard but it will require brave people and strong leadership to ensure the process towards defactionalisation doesn't stall.
Chris Christodoulou is the senior industrial officer at the NSW Labor Council and joint assistant national secretary of the ALHMU
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