||Issue No. 293||20 December 2005|
Waves of Destruction
Interview: Back to the Future
Unions: A Real Page Turner
Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
International: Around The World In 365 Days
Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
Politics: The Year That Was
Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
The Locker Room
Free to Rat
Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
Proportion, Not Distortion
Letters to the Editor
Free to Rat
The Editorial in the latest Workers Online (#292) came up with the suggestion that political life in Australia could be improved by giving pollies the right to vote according to their consciences rather than being bound by caucus solidarity. While it's quite common to see this sort of idea come up in the bosses' press, it's the first time I've seen a labour movement publication in Australia advocate it.
When the ALP was formed, it adopted quite definite rules about its Parliamentary representatives, because workers were sick & tired of being betrayed by jokers who represented themselves as "the workers' friend" at election time, then kicked them in the teeth afterwards. Therefore, the ALP rules provided that:
(a) The Party members would control the Party;
(b) The Party's Parliamentary representatives would be bound to support Party policy; and
(c) The Party's Parliamentary representatives would vote together to maximise their leverage in Parliament (i.e. they would act as a caucus).
There was (& is) only one excuse under the rules for breaking caucus. This is when you vote against the majority caucus position in order to vote in favour of Party policy (i.e. if the majority rats on the Party, the Party organisation will support the minority who don't rat).
This seems to me like a very sensible situation, especially when one looks at the history of when ALP pollies have broken caucus. I remember Billy Hughes, for example. He broke caucus on conscription in 1917, took two dozen other rats with him, and turned himself into a Tory PM. In the 30s, Joe Lyons ratted on the ALP & turned himself into a Tory PM. And in the 50s, the DLP ratted on the ALP and kept Pig Iron Bob in power till well after his use-by date.
Whenever a Labor pollie wants to break caucus, they can only have leverage if they'll be voting with the Tories. Given the nature of the Tories, if the Labor polly is breaking caucus to do the right thing, this will happen only once in a blue moon. Most of the time, it will merely be a gesture of principle, with no practical effect, or they'll be voting with the Tories in order to rat on the people who voted for them.
The reason this idea can even seem half credible is that, due to changes during the Hawke years, ALP members no longer have meaningful control over the Party. Number crunchers & spin doctors have such tight control over the organisation that workers no longer see the point in joining and membership is a fraction of what it used to be. So the idea of the ALP being the voice of the workers just doesn't seem to occur to most people these days.
Some people might say that this is fair enough for the ALP, but we have to encourage dissidents in the Federal Coalition. Frankly, this is clutching at straws. Instead putting our energy into appealing to some eccentric or wavering Tory to show some backbone & vote according to principle, we'd be better off building our own movement and changing the facts on the ground. Recruiting an extra 80,000 union members would do us far more good in fighting Howard's anti-worker legislation than sending 80,000 E-mails to Barnaby Joyce ever will.
Are we up to it? We can search for "friends" in Parliament till the cows come home, but in the end we have nobody but ourselves to rely on.
Greg Platt, Vic.
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