Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Interview: League of Nations
Industrial: 20/20 Hindsight
Organising: On The Buses
Unions: National Focus
History: The Banner Room
International: The Slaughter Continues
Legal: A Legal Case For War?
Culture: Singing For The People
Review: The Hours
Poetry: I Wanna Bomb Saddam
Satire: Diuretic Makes Warne's Excuses Look Thin
The Locker Room
Re-considering The Accord
Strangers in the House
Nursing Home Concerns
The Labor Party is dead. Its long slow death agonies began when Bob Hawke won Government twenty years ago.
This is not because Bob Hawke was any worse or better than Whitlam or Hayden, Chifley or Curtin.
It is because Labor is fundamentally a pro-capitalist party where profit comes first. That means labour comes second. Hawke and Keating had thirteen years to expose their rotten capitalist politics to the Australian people.
That exposé resulted in confusion for working people and a turn, in the short term, to the arch reactionary.
To understand the problems with Labor, we need to understand its roots and social makeup.
The ALP was formed out of the industrial defeats of the 1890s. It quickly became a party that substituted parliamentary change for industrial action.
As the trade union movement became more developed in the twentieth century a trade union bureaucracy developed. Trade union leaders have a different class position to their members. They balance between workers and bosses. Their very existence is dependent on the continuation of capitalism.
The ALP was the political expression of this group in society.
Trade unions arise out of the class divisions of society between employer and employee. The employing class lives off the labour of workers.
It is this exploitation that is fundamental to capitalism. Trade unions at their best exist to ameliorate this exploitation, not to abolish it. At their worst, trade unions are part of the process which increases exploitation.
It is this latter role that trade unions in practice adopted under the Hawke and Keating governments. The long working hours of today were built out of the capitulation of the trade union bureaucracy in the early 1980s to capital in the form of the social con trick the Accord.
The Accord between unions and the Hawke Government was about increasing the exploitation of workers. It was played out in terms of crass class collaboration and nonsense about working together (i.e. with the employing class) to make society better. Politically the Accord laid the groundwork for John Howard's resurgence. Economically the present government is a continuation of the Hawke and Keating governments.
Industrially the Accord concentrated power in the hands of the trade union bureaucracy and destroyed the last vestiges of rank and file control over the leadership.
The results were disastrous. Trade union membership fell markedly. Working conditions worsened. Working hours increased. Job security disappeared. Unemployment remained high.
Under the Accord capital increased its share of Gross National Product markedly, at the expense of labour.
This class collaboration politically expressed itself in the ascendancy of the economic rationalists in the ALP (Hawke and Keating, for example) over the left and right wing nationalists.
Something else has been happening. The Australian working class has changed. That process had been going on in the 1970s, but accelerated under Hawke and Keating because of their pro-market policies. To put it crudely, the number of white-collar workers increased and the number of blue-collar workers decreased.
However, while certain specific interests of blue collar and white-collar workers may conflict, all are wage slaves creating wealth for the employers. Teachers have as much interest in better wages and health services as builders' labourers.
While the nature of the workforce is changing, the complexity of modern day capitalism has created a managerial group in the workforce whose interests lie with the employer. These overlords of capitalism have come to dominate many workplaces at the expense of working people.
Economic rationalism at the political level is reflected in the new managerialism in the workplace. Although the mantra of the managerialists is working smarter, what it really means is screwing more and more out of workers to counter balance declining profit rates.
There has been a decline in the general profit rate in major industrialized countries. The political response to this decline has been, among other things, in Australia to open the economy up to the market, to cut back government services, to reform the tax system to shift the burden of tax further onto workers and to de-regulate the labour market so that when the economic bust comes the employing class can drive wages down.
To do this, the Hawke and Keating Governments consciously weakened union power. Paradoxically, they did this by increasing the power of the trade union bureaucracy. The bureaucracy became the conduit for economic rationalism into the workforce. That increased power in the higher levels of the trade union movement was at the expense of rank and file power - the very place where unions draw their real strength from. So while Kelty and Crean supped with Hawke and Keating, union members ended up working harder and longer in a more insecure job environment for slightly increased real wages.
The ALP attacked unions which didn't co-operate. Hawke used the air force to break the pilots dispute. He and the Labor premiers outlawed the Builders Labourers' Federation - the one union which had the power to challenge the Accord. Keating introduced enterprise bargaining.
These are the actions of a thoroughly pro-capitalist anti-worker party. 1996 was the reckoning.
The combination of falling profit rates, weak pro-capitalist unions, a labor party committed to economic rationalism and the implantation of capitalist overlords in the workforce has created a greedy individualistic Australia where working hours are the second longest of the OECD countries and family life is a memory for many working parents.
The ALP is now a two-headed monster. In its higher echelons it is made up of the new managerialists and the trade union bureaucracy. This is an uneasy alliance since the two groups, although they are similarly committed to capital, have different visions about how to achieve their goals. The new managerialists favour capital directly; the trade union bureaucracy does so indirectly.
That section of society concerned with equity and justice has abandoned the ALP and turned to the Greens. However in the long term the Greens cannot be the political expression of labour. This is because the Greens are a cross class alliance without any real links to the working class or trade unions. Their politics are middle class, seeing Parliament rather than the struggle as the way to implement real change. The Greens unequivocally accept the logic of capitalism.
While many good left activists and supporters are shifting to the Greens, the trade union bureaucracy remains within the ALP. They fear they will lose any influence they presently have. Of course, any rational analysis of the Hawke and Keating years might conclude that unions were systemically weakened by the dance of death they had with Labor during those years.
Hawke and Keating made respectable the ideas of John Howard. Simon Crean cannot now compete with the Liberals because he agrees with them.
The Hawke and Keating legacy is John Howard.
All that is left is dead Labor.
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