Interview: Muscling Up
Unions: Thinking Pink
Bad Boss: Global Bully
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Friend or Flunkey?
History: Young Blood
Industrial: Living For Work?
International: Fighting Together
Poetry: Medicare Plus Blues
Review: Human Racing
The Locker Room
A New Mark for Labor
Bob Gould On Kicking The Liberals Out
John Christian Watson was the youngest ever Prime Minister in Australia, at 37. Mark Latham moves into the ALP leadership at 42 years of age so could move into second place in this league next year, one hundred years after Watson and his federal ALP colleagues moved to the government benches, as a minority government.
Al Grassby and Silvia Ordonez, in their biography of Watson, paints a clear distinction between Watson and Latham. Watson, they say, "was quiet and determined". No one doubts Mark Latham's determination but he would never have been considered quiet.
He has to emulate Watson in another way, as a scare campaign was mounted to paint the Laborites as wild socialists who would destroy society and who were thus not fit to govern. The conservatives have used this line ever since, even though then and now the ALP has demonstrated far too much responsibility for many with hopes of a better state for the working classes.
Watson also showed himself to be a good party operator. He was able, according to Grassby and Ordonez, "to unite a disparate collection of free-traders and Protectionists under a banner of trade union solidarity. Among the assortment were Fabians, barely literate workers, radical Irish Catholics and Protestant moderates."
Watson moved into politics from a union background, honing his debating and negotiating skills in union and public meetings. Mark Latham has not had the union background, but has been through many a Labor Party meeting since he joined in 1979, and no-one would say that finding your way through the NSW ALP hierarchy is a picnic.
The solidarity of the ALP as a party was the key achievement of Watson, and solidarity is needed for the ALP to achieve government again. Watson got a party organization across country and city NSW when he was part of the Labour Council, and got properly endorsed Labor candidates in many seats through his hard work on the ground, talking and organizing, with support from bush union leader J M Toomey. The Young District endorsed Watson as a candidate and this forged a strong link between apparently hostile groups. The country conferences and groups were less than enthusiastic for the eight hour day section of the ALP platform, which they saw as too much pressure on farmers, who were key Labor supporters at the time.
Watson's move to federal politics came with the new century. He was elected first national president at the first federal conference held in Sydney in 1900. He was an unknown to delegates from other states, so once again had to unite sections of the party.
Watson became the member for Bland electorate (covering Young) in federal politics too, and his dedication to his local area was shown by the time he spent meeting and talking to the people he represented, another characteristic Mark Latham has shown in his constant speaking out for the people of western Sydney.
On 8th May 1901 the leadership of the federal ALP was decided by the 22 elected members. His biographers emphasize the disciplined party he lead. The party he lead into Parliament bears some resemblance to the Werriwa electorate and the multicultural Australia of today, with members originating in New Zealand, Chile, the USA, Scotland, England, only the cultures were chiefly of white English-speaking backgrounds, as opposed to the broader spread of ethnicities in western Sydney today. Not many such voices have made it to the federal parliament yet. The first debate on the Immigration Restriction Bill cemented this White Parliament and nation for many years.
Watson remained true to his union background, moving to ensure a system of compulsory conciliation and arbitration in Australia. Mark Latham will need to look hard at how his support for the "aspirations" of those he sees he is representing can be assisted by re-embracing a fair system of industrial relations in Australia.
Watson's ministry was reluctantly sworn in by the Governor-General on 23 April 1904. Generational change was in evidence, with the average age of his ministry being 47. As a minority government they battled the prejudices of the born to rule crowd from the first, but achieved unity of the party, established themselves as credible alternative and began to push the policies that defined the ALP for many years, including arbitration, a people's bank, old age pensions and defence. All concerns that the current ALP has to address today for a new century.
John Christian Watson was a key player in developing a political labour party, balancing different views within that party, and selling the party as a credible alternative to the conservative money men and landed gentry who felt they were the only ones qualified to rule the rabble.
Billy Hughes, the Labor Rat but a colleague of Watson's during his time in NSW and Federal Parliament, and perhaps someone whose plain language and aggressive style are more in the Latham line, said of Watson (who supported Hughes in the conscription debate), "he was a man of fine character, high ideals, clear vision, sound judgment, and great tact, and was richly endowed with powers of lucid and direct speech. He was a man of the people - he spoke their language, he understood their wants. Above all, he was man whom all men trusted; his word was his bond. He had a great tenacity of purpose and great courage; never discouraged by reverses, he pressed on, never fearing to say what was on his mind. Of all the men in public life whom I have known, he stands up in my memory as the very embodiment of steadfastness and loyalty."
Mark Latham knows the ALP has the capacity to run a fairer egalitarian Australia, and he we hope he is open enough to the many ideas that we hope are still around in ALP circles to forge a collective vision for Australia in the 21st century.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online