||Issue No. 177||09 May 2003|
Joining The Dots
Interview: Staying Alive
Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Industrial: Last Drinks
National Focus: Around the States
Politics: Radical Surgery
Education: The Price of Missing Out
Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
History: Massive Attack
Culture: What's Right
Review: If He Should Fall
Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The Locker Room
Letters to the Editor
Congratulations on Your editorial in issue #176,
("Solidarity Forever").. this is a much needed call for building solidarity across the labour movement.. as you rightly point out, unionism is about collectivism, and history shows over and over that this is the only source of strength and hope that the working class can realistically rely on. And as you have indicated, the workers' press is a vital organ of the struggle (especially against the almost fascist tendencies of some of the extremes of the capitalist press as witnessed by the vile coverage of the war against Iraq). More power to the workers' websites.
But there has to be more to collectivism than even a whole host of wins for individual unions or even industries. The world economic system has been in and out of structural crisis since the end of the post-war boom in the seventies, and we are now in very dangerous times, both economically and militarily. The Japanese economy has been stuck in a crisis of over-accumulation since the early nineties, and the economies of both the USA and European Union have been stagnating for several years. There are some very important issues here for world peace, since there are many signs that we are sliding towards another period of inter-imperialist rivalry which has had such disastrous consequences in the past. (It's not a coincidence that at this particular time the USA is running a defence budget of over half a trillion $US per annum.) Workers everywhere must be ready to reject imperialist war.
However, there are also issues of principle for the labour movement in the struggle here at home. You say that unions need to "distance themselves from factional politics". But economics and politics are not so easily separated, and to suggest that factions are somehow just a form of bad behaviour is to gloss over the serious political issues facing the working class in this country, and the class nature of the economy. It is through struggle that we go forwards, and like it or not the class struggle goes on inside the labour movement just as much as it does outside it. Everyone knows that.
The mass media represents the contest between Crean and Beazley as a personal battle for leadership, purely between individuals. But deeper issues are at stake, and some long overdue working class policy may eventually see the light of day behind this struggle.
As Antonio Gramsci said, political parties are born of and represent class interests. The ALP is a peculiar animal in that it has both middle class and working class interests involved in it, ie it is like having two parties stuck together, and the balance of power between these two is determined ("in the last instance") by the recent history of the economy. It is no wonder that class struggle is a major feature of the party. The age-old question for workers is: which side are you on?
Solidarity and unity are not ruled out because we have struggle in our ranks.. What is significant is whether or not we can have honest open debate, and some unity on the major issues for the struggle against the capitalist class, and to do this we need to get it into our heads that individual wins (while important and necessary) are not enough, because if we are honest for just a few seconds we will admit there there is a cost to each one- casualisation and unemployment are dragged along behind us with every new enterprise or productivity agreement that sheds just a few more permanent positions. This is a class issue because as the working class struggles to keep some jobs, the non-working sector (the reserve army) is being increased behind and around us. Capitalism constantly destroys the working class so it can keep build a new, cheaper one.
How can we have forgotten that ?
In a famous address to the General Council of the First International in June 1865, Marx said:
"Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever."
What is holding back rebuilding the union movement is not some historical tribal baggage (although we obviously have more than enough), but a consciousness that seems as yet unable to grasp the fundamental nature of the capitalist economy, with its built-in barriers and limits, and the seriousness of the economic and political circumstances that we are facing. We are not calling here for some Trotskyist adventurism, we are calling for some serious self-examination on the part of the labour movement as a whole, especially from the point of view of working class political power (or the lack of it!).
Do we want more casualisation? No. More unemployment and handouts? No. Is there a magical "third way"? No. It's a good time for the labour leadership to start choosing sides. Hard times are ahead.
Geoff Haas (member ASU- NSW Clerks).
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