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43564Re: The left, the trade unions and the Labor Party ranks

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  • Tristan
    Jun 7, 2007
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      The problem with the debate we're having is that DSP contributers
      seem to assume that union disaffiliation in of itself is a step
      forward - without there necessarily being a credible alternative to
      labour as an alternative pole of attraction.

      Personally I see the ALP Left as having three options;

      i) either demand more in return for consensus in the party,
      including the right to maintain independent positions on policy,
      ableit putting formal party policy first... Evan Thornley suggested
      that a more independent role for the ALP Left might be preferable
      in 'Coming to the Party'. He noted that the existence of figures
      taking a more radical Rightist position in the Liberal Party actually
      gave Howard cover to move more gradually to the Right while looking
      reasonable. Such a strategy could be combined with an effort to
      reach consensus on the broad Left that affiliation of all Left unions
      was desirable if it would lead to Left control of the ALP National
      Exec, Conference etc... Here the Left would have to consider whether
      it was really ready to lead with vision and responsibility, or
      whether it was too afraid of destabilisation and a fear campaign
      about 'the socialists';

      ii) OR seriously consider regroupment outside the Labor Party in the
      form of a new mainstream party of the Left, with a realistic program
      of reform which unites the currents of liberalism, socialism and
      social democracy of which the party is comprised. As I've said
      elsewhere, with support from unions, prominent intellectuals, the
      welfare sector, such a party could make a real impact;

      iii) OR continue 'business as usual', with minimal policy influence,
      attacks on the building unions and on the right of all unionists to
      engage in pattern bargaining, no movement on expanding the social
      wage, silence and demobilisation as a condition for unity and the
      Left's share of the jobs...

      The DSP is only really considering option ii) seriously, which might
      be part of Bob Gould's objection, as I imagine he would prefer option
      i), but is in no position to spur the ALP Left into action...

      The reality is that most on the Left want to pretend everything's ok -
      as getting Rudd elected after over a decade of Howard is all that
      matters to them... A Labor government is the best prospect we have
      at the moment - but let's remember the Left's past experience - being
      sidelined, silenced and contained through successful tax cuts,
      austerity, the future marginalisation of government pensions as a
      consequence of the superannuation system, introduction of user pays
      in education, privatisation of utilities, Government Business
      Enterprises, the Commonwealth Bank, the wasteful duplication of
      infrastructure between Optus and Telstra... And now we're going to
      have a part-private monopoly in fibre optic cable infrastructure -
      unless Howard does a deal with Telstra first - and we get a full
      private monopoly with few protections for consumers...

      But everything's not ok... And already Rudd's showing - with is
      commitment to maintain the ABCC - that he only respects the binding
      nature of conference in so far as he can use it to get his own
      way... Personally, for instance, while I think I should be free to
      campaign to expand taxation, I accept that we can't expand it as a
      proportion of GDP until the next National Conference opens the way
      for such measures... This is a bitter pill to swallow, but that's
      democracy... But I could well see Rudd following the example of
      British Labour and Tony Blair; just disregarding Conference when he
      doesn't get his way...

      So - what are we going to do? As I stated, we have three options.
      It's probably best to leave any movement on building a new party
      until after the election... But if people with real influence in the
      Left decided on this path it would be necessary to begin private
      discussions and planning. And even discussion on the issue could
      spur Rudd to compromise - if he imagined he was no longer going to
      get away with policy unilateralism...

      Problematic as a Rudd government would be, we know the prospect of a
      new wave of Conservative 'reforms' would be worse... Whatever we
      decide, we should try, on the broad left, to reach agreement
      first... The last thing we need is the Left self-destructing in
      schisms and recriminations...
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