(Above: Maritime Union members in Fremantle make sure their agenda of opposing privatisation is heard)
In the prevailing circumstances of an essentially two-party parliamentary democracy there is no more important task for workers and their friends than to build the capacity to struggle independently of whichever party holds the reins of government.
A major obstacle to this is the residual loyalty that some express towards the Labor Party. Historically the ALP has presented itself – dishonestly in our opinion – as the creation of the workers through their unions, and therefore as the party that represents their interests in the political arena.
Some in the union movement and in progressive circles cling to this sense of ownership of the Labor Party despite its having sold itself at birth to the big end of town. It did this politically by confining itself to the big end’s institution, parliament; and economically by confining the steps it has been prepared to take to the continuation of the big end’s system, capitalism.
Some people seem unable to break out of a cycle of hoping for a better deal under Labor than they know they are going to get from the Liberals, and then losing heart every time Labor wins office and backtracks on its promises to the point where it seems indistinguishable from the more open party of big business.
Labor continually alienates itself from the class which it pretends to serve by its actions on behalf of the class which it really serves. Not only that, but in the sphere of foreign policy it has successfully sought to replace the Liberal Party as the closest ally of, and agent for, US imperialism in Australia and globally.
Working and other progressive Australians, with the industrial workers at the core, can point to little they have gained from Labor. Indeed, many can point to much they have lost. This sense of loss is particularly acute within the lost disadvantaged communities: Aboriginal, asylum seekers, single parents and welfare recipients. In these circumstances, through disillusion with Labor, the danger of election of the political party which makes no pretence of its service to the big local and overseas corporations looms large.
Sensing victory at hand, there are repeated calls for Abbott to harden his industrial relations stance. The Murdoch media aggressively pursues this approach, front-paging the views of Liberal MPs known to favour the IR policies of the Howard government, pushing the case for “greater flexibility in the workplace”, a “crackdown on union power”, “scaling back of unfair dismissal laws” and use of “individual contracts instead of union awards”. They want to re-establish the ABCC so as to reignite the building bosses’ war against construction workers.
Our choice is to develop unity on the ground around a set of common demands that encompass defence of people’s rights and demands for independence from all imperialist entanglement, OR to wallow in the disappointment of Labor’s track record and resign ourselves to passivity and the inevitability of an Abbott government.
This goes very much to the psychology of the times, to the degree to which we as workers can hold on to the confidence that our actions can make a difference, that it is possible not just to defend ourselves, but to take the initiative in the struggle between the classes and against imperialism.
Current circumstances require readers of this paper and all other left and progressive individuals and organisations to be active in a non-left sectarian way: meeting people at their own level, in their own work and social environments, in the suburbs and the rural centres where the talk might more commonly be of footy rather than fascism, netball rather than national independence, socialising rather than socialism.
To read a paper like Vanguard is to look for ideas that can be brought into the most mundane of conversations in the most apparently casual and unassuming of ways, but always with the goal of lifting awareness of the possibility and necessity for change.
We need our own agenda and we need our social connections as a basis for building it.
Through this agenda and on the basis of good social connections we will be able to confidently face any unexpected and unwelcome developments on the domestic and international fronts.