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  Issue No 37 Official Organ of LaborNet 29 October 1999  




Guest Report

Ian Ferguson on Democracy International

A new movement pitches Labor and Social-Democratic Parties and Wage-earners as an independent political force.

In Britain, Tony Blair's 'New Labour' has cut off Trade Union influence in his Party while upholding Thatcherite policies. The Schroeder government in Germany is ruthlessly undermining the living standards of wage-earners. In Australia, the Labor opposition recently helped pass anti-wage-earner youth wage legislation in flagrant breach of Trade Union policy. Thus, wage-earners and Trade Unionists are beginning to ask the salient question, is there a need for a new political organisation to defend and promote our interests in the next century?

The New South Wales Trades and Labour Council publication Workers Online recently ran an article in reference to this problem, stating " ...The Left and the Trade Unions must fight this abomination, or seriously begin to consider setting up a political party giving expression to their ideas."

The self-appointed role of Labor and Social-Democratic Parties around the world as the political representatives of wage-earners has been confirmed by the voting patterns of electorates in the developed countries throughout the twentieth century. Recently however, with their significant shift away from Trade Unions and wage-earner interests, many Labor and Social-Democratic adherents are seriously questioning their continued support.

The central issue here is democracy. Firstly, wage-earners need a political organisation with a structure that ensures the collective rule of its membership, not a self-serving elite at the top. Secondly, this organisation's policies must be derived from the common interests of wage-earners, with the purpose of promoting those interests - not just the ambitions of a few political careerists. In short, wage-earners of the twenty-first century will demand their own democratic organisation and representation.

Democracy International (DI) is a new wage-earner organisation with a global constituency, whose aims correspond precisely to this need. DI's Constitution, Program and Policy Statement have been developed to provide a democratic " ...mass political organisation for the promotion of the interests of the wage-earning section of society" (International Program of Democracy International, 1999).

I. Party Democracy

As any rank and file member will know, the membership is always robbed of its influence over Party policy by the formidable means of 'branch stacking'. The Constitution of DI has been written explicitly to prevent such corruption, on pain of immediate disqualification. Bydefinition, a DI member is a participating member.

The Constitution, Program and Policies of a democratic organisation must be the result of an extensive process of discussion, consultation and collective decision making. Any Party in which the executive wields control over this process cannot claim to be a mass democratic organisation reflecting the views of its membership. Such is the case in Labour and Social-Democratic Parties today, as well as the dictatorial Parties of the ultra-left. In contrast, DI eliminates the executive prerogative,all policies are determined by democratic vote. and the executive must abide by the decisions of the majority 'to the letter', or face recall.

Thus, DI represents a new direction in democratic decision making for wage-earners in the coming century. As stated in the Constitution: "DI sees the strengthening of democracy as essential to the well-being and political strength of the wage-earning section of society. Hence, as an underlying principle of this Constitution, we... strive to continuously improve and greater democratiseour organisation."

II. Policies

Many trade unionists are increasingly frustrated by the growing lack of concern for the welfare and living standards of wage-earners by their supposed political representatives. The bottom line for any political influence on behalf of Trade Unions is the defence of wages and working conditions. As the Australian Labor Party (ALP) youth wage deal illustrates, Labor Parties have "...moved the boundaries of policy debate even further to the Right and shifted the balance in the ALP in favour of those who would de-class the Party" (Workers Online, August, 1999).

In other words, Labour and Social-Democracy can no longer represent themselves as a political force with the intention of attempting to redress the balance of power in favour of wage-earners. The reason for this shift lies at the heart of contemporary economic development - globalisation and the increased casualisation of the workforce.

The tripartite agreements that formed the backbone of twentieth century social contracts between nationally based employers and trade unions are being undercut by the expansion of the global investment and labour markets. Furthermore, decreasing stability of employment as it moves from the traditional industrial model to increasingly 'flexible' arrangements is making inroads into the traditional strength and stability of the trade unions' core membership. Hence, wage-earner organisation will become weaker as long as it clutches inflexibly onto its old nationally based frameworks.

It is time for wage-earners and the Trade Union movement to move beyond its reliance on its former political ally, which stood for the localised interests of national sections of the wage-earning class. As that national basis declines, the Labour and Social-Democratic Parties are deserting their alliance with wage-earners. Thus, the twenty-first century is a watershed for wage-earners, it marks the beginning of their independence as an autonomous international political force.

This broadening political context calls for more inclusive policies. Now, as never before, wage-earners' policies can no longer remain a mere accessory to limited national interests if they are to promote common needs of wage-earners. Democracy International attempts to reflect this transformation in its policies; departing from the localised and limited view to an incorporation of the common democratic needs of all wage-earners, irrespective of nationality.

III. Wage-earners' power

Winning democratic freedoms enshrined in law is not synonymous with having an influence on government. As the Social-Democratic parties desert any semblance of alliance with wage-earners and Trade Unions, and while there is no alternative wage-earner political organisation, the universal franchise, freedom of association and speech are of no practical use in regard to increasing the power of wage-earners.

Wage-earners will remain passive victims who regard democratic government with cynicism as long as they have no experience of their own strength and organisation. Similarly, they will remain ignorant of their political potential. Politics is about power - and wage-earners need their own organisation in order to attain power, and to understand the long-term objectives of this power.

"Whether votes are a power or not depends upon the type of people who cast them. If the voters are shiftless persons who live only by the favour of the rich, or wage earners whose mentality is such that they regard the capitalists as 'bread givers', such workers will certainly not capture power through the votes they cast. So far as they possess the vote at all, they will rather be inclined to sell the political power which it represents to the highest bidder.

"When the workers form a [politically organised] majority and are conscious of their importance to society, their voting for a Socialist party signifies that they have recognised their strength and are determined to make use of it. Of course the vote is only a power within a democracy..." (Kautsky, K.)

A Democratic Path

The growth of Social-Democracy has been an important advance for wage-earners in the twentieth century.

Without it, important advances in living conditions and the influence of Trade Unions could not have been achieved. In so much as such Parties continue to reflect the needs of wage-earners, especially in contrast to their more reactionary counterparts, they should be supported. It is becoming increasingly clear that these parties are decreasingly able and willing to advance the most elementary economic interests of wage-earners. It's time for wage-earners to become an independent political force - on a global scale.

A Democratic Organization for the twenty first century?

Democracy International offers itself as just such an organisation. Our aim is not merely to limit the power of employers, but to replace it with the majority power - a democratic organisation of wage-earners.


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*   Issue 37 contents

In this issue
*  Republic: Yes, It's Time
Opposition leader Kim Beazley invoked the spirit of '72 when he launched the ALP's Republic campaign.
*  Interview: What Price a Just Republic?
Magistrate Pat O’Shane is far from happy with the republican model. But she still believes a Yes vote is her best chance for genuine constitutional reform.
*  Economics: Who the EFIC are you?
If you have not heard of Export Credit Agencies, don't be surprised because it seems they're not too interested in letting the public know what they do.
*  Unions: Old Habits Die Hard
With the release of its blue print [email protected] the ACTU seems to know where it wants to go. But again it has failed to face up to the underlying structural issues preventing it from getting there.
*  Legal: Second Wave: Reith's Non-Right to Strike
Peter Reith has called his new laws the Workplace relations Amendment (More Jobs Better Pay) Bill 1999. If legislation is to carry these new, colloquial titles then the ‘More Control, Less Freedom’ Bill would be a better title.
*  International: Wahid’s New Team
Indonesias new government is blemished by Suharto-era appointees but an advance for reform, says Indonesia’s trade unions.
*  History: They Fought Them on the Airwaves
Radio broadcasts were an important weapon in the long-running struggle for equal pay.
*  Satire: Revealed: SOCOG Reserving Gold Medals for Tattersalls
The scandal over the secret allotment of premium tickets for the 2000 Olympics escalated today with the news that members of Sydney’s elite Tattersall’s Club will receive Gold Medals without actually competing.
*  Review: What The Age Wouldn’t Print
Some time before Monday 18 October, Age editor Michael Gawenda saw red and then got out his blue pencil. An article, heavily critical of Robert Manne, written by Overland editor Ian Syson, was pulled by Gawenda.

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»  Piers Watch

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»  Education an Asset for All

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