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An Australian Response to Tony Blair: ‘Convergence Politics is not the Answer’

By Tristan Ewins

The ‘Weekend Australian’ (8/10/16) quotes former Labour British PM, Tony Blair as urging Bill Shorten to tack “back to the centre”. Typically, Blair holds that the occupation of ‘the centre ground’ is crucial to building a significant-enough constituency to carry an electoral majority. And that regardless of this ‘it is the right thing to do’. Furthermore, Blair contends that Australian Labor must not only “talk to its core constituency”. (ie: we might reasonably assume he means ‘the traditional working class’).

Blair also warns of the danger of unions becoming a small ‘c’ conservative force: mainly fixated on the public sector, and unable of grappling with the nature of today’s private sector – where unions have long been in decline.

Finally, Blair makes the usual assertion that parties of the ‘centre-left’ must be about ‘growing the [economic] pie’ – with the implication that ‘dividing the cake more fairly’ runs contrary to this.

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is dismissed as ‘ultra-left’, with Blair raising his head as the champion of the globalist, cosmopolitan ‘third way’ ‘social democracy’ popularised by Giddens and others. Importantly: ‘globalisation’ is not some single, homogenous phenomena. There are desirable aspects of ‘globalisation’ as well. Though specifically, here, we are concerned with its neo-liberal guise; including how that applies to world investment and trade.

To briefly engage with some of Blair’s contentions before moving on:

There is truth in the observation that organised labour must ‘return to the private sector’. Indeed a strong foothold in the public sector could provide a base from which solidarity could be extended to less-secure private sector workers in the midst of industrial upheavals. Furthermore, Labor’s legacy of labour market deregulation must be reconsidered ‘at the lower end’ – with the aim of ending the exploitation of various workers in areas as diverse as child care, aged care, cleaning, retail, hospitality and so on.

Labor’s ‘natural constituency’ – the broader working class – is still very much in the majority (if one focuses on the social relation of wage labour, as opposed to peoples’ ‘self-identity’). Labor’s difficulty is not the dissolution of the working class: but the development within it of various conflicts and contradictions. Including conflicts of ‘consciousness’ and ‘identity’.

For example: there are residual delusions on the part of some white collar workers that they comprise ‘the middle class’ ; which are reinforced by social democratic reluctance to actually speak of ‘the working class’ – and elucidate what that really means today. Also: there is the supposition that ‘Labor’s base’ can be taken for granted – and that it’s ‘the swinging middle’ that really counts.

Class loyalties do not necessarily shift straight away – but over generations. Surely the United States shows the consequences where the US Democrats have long spoke only of ‘the middle class’, and could not bring themselves to prioritise discussion of ‘the working class’. They did not deliver workers from the ravages of deindustrialisation and ‘the neo-liberal version of globalisation’. And demagogues such as Trump have filled the vacuum. Trump does not represent workers’ interests; and this could be made apparent if only the Democrats would rise to the occasion. Similarly, Labor must overcome and heal the internal divisions within the Australian working class to promote a social democracy which appeals to the interests of the majority of voters.

Also admittedly: Unions are not ‘essentially progressive’ even if their class location positions them to effectively promote the interests of the majority of the labouring masses (as against a minority bourgeoisie). German unions, for instance, were central to mobilising the war-effort in Germany in 1914 ; and beforehand had turned against more radical elements who had traditionally led the Social Democrats, and who would come to oppose that conflict. That war decimated German social democracy, and also the German working class.

Revisionist socialist scholar and parliamentarian Eduard Bernstein also warned that specific unions had the potential to become ‘corporate interests’ who furthered their own dominance of particular markets and industries without prioritising the position of the broader working class and labour movement, and others amongst the disenfranchised and oppressed.

In Australia, meanwhile, (with a much different phenomenon) some right-wing unions have promoted agendas of privatisation and economic neo-liberalism; and some (such as the right-wing ‘Shop, Distributive and Allied’ union – or ‘SDA’) have at times abandoned their own members’ interests in order to secure industry coverage (and hence political power within the Labor Party) due to collusion with employers. Sometimes unions are seen as vehicles for political power and political careers, as opposed to being primarily vehicles for workers’ interests, and social democracy.

That said: these instances should not be taken as ‘typical’ of the Australian labour movement. Despite legitimate misgivings about The Accord years and their aftermath, for example, Australian unions waged a vigorous campaign against the Howard Government’s regressive ‘Workchoices’ industrial legislation. They are still capable of representing and mobilising their members, and of waging successful campaigns.

With regard the old shibboleth that neo-liberal economic policies are required to ‘grow the pie’: something ‘traditional social democracy (supposedly) is not positioned to do’ , we might make another series of observations. The Nordics have demonstrated that it is possible to build a robust public sector and welfare state; with saturation levels of unionisation ; and a culture of solidarity. In the ‘golden age’ of the Swedish ‘Rehn-Meidner’ economic model, this combined effective full employment with low inflation, and the extension of welfare and social services. If not for a series of tactical errors, economic democracy might also have been entrenched through the ‘Meidner wage earner funds’ initiative during the 1970s and 1980s.

In fact, today it is ‘the systemic imperatives of capitalism’ and capitalist Ideology that stand in the way of fulfilling the personal and social needs of humanity. Amidst greater abundance than has been known ever before in human history, we are informed repeatedly that we must ‘tighten our belts’. Welfare and social services are progressively cut. Education is for ‘industry needs’ and not ‘the development of human potential’. And of course ‘the user must pay’ (though this is taken to mean students; and not the corporations who benefit from the various skills and aptitudes which are developed). Improved life expectancy is seen as a ‘curse’ rather than a ‘blessing’. So the retirement age is pushed upwards incrementally. The elderly are made to feel they are ‘a burden’ , and working class people are expected to exhaust their assets and savings to pay for ‘aged care’ which denies them dignity, comfort or happiness.

Alongside an increased age of retirement, the intensity of labour increases. Capitalism demands growth into new markets to preserve its own stability; but with ‘globalisation’ (just for now interpreted as the expansion of international trade; though it has other interpretations) reaching its limits, markets for consumption depend on increasing the sheer volume of labour (and hence purchasing power). Though casualisation shows it does not always work out that way (‘capital mobility’ is another aspect of globalisation; as is the rise of a ‘global culture’ that emerges via improvements in communications technology; Marx himself had observed the emergence of a ‘world literature’ as early as the 19th Century).

Where technology does not improve productivity, instead productivity is tied to that intensity of labour. In Australia today improvement of wages and conditions are largely ruled out without such productivity improvements. Hence for a great many wages and conditions stagnate or are rolled back. Organised labour is vilified. The working poor are even played off against the vulnerable welfare-dependent with ‘the politics of downward envy’. In response the Left must promote a politics of respect and solidarity.

A move back towards a social democratic mixed economy could stabilise national economies and the world economy over the short to medium term as a consequence of superior cost structures. But this is eschewed for reasons of Ideology, power, and private greed. Instead trade agreements are deployed to break down any ‘barriers’ preventing the fullest possible exploitation of potential markets by multinational corporations. ‘Natural public monopolies’ could stand to be criminalised (ie: sovereign governments could be sued); as well perhaps as ‘market distorting’ initiatives which may promote economic democracy (for example, any scheme providing assistance to co-operative enterprise of various sorts). Amidst all this ; and even after the cataclysm of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – Tony Blair and ‘The Australian’ are still trying to sell us ‘neo-liberalism with a human face’.

From the outset it is also worth observing that historical traditions other than ‘modern third way social democracy’ have also claimed the ‘centrist ground’ (for instance Catholic ‘social Centrism’ in Germany, and the Swedish ‘Centre Party’). Defining ‘the centre’ is fraught with possible confusion. As opposed to a linear ‘left-right spectrum’ a ‘political compass’ accommodates both economic egalitarianism AND personal and collective liberties. But Blair is employing a more ‘traditional’ left-right spectrum.

Hence Blair’s ‘centrism’ is confusing: sometimes comprising a mish-mash of liberal and authoritarian positions. Hawkish foreign policy; rejection of class struggle; embrace of economic and cultural globalisation; according to some interpretations implementation of ‘punitive welfare’ and labour conscription; and effective rejection of a traditional mixed economy in favour of privatisation and what we have come to know as ‘neo-liberalism’.

Also importantly: ‘the Centre’ is always RELATIVE. A political party which makes a habit of ‘passively occupying’ ‘the middle ground’ rather than striving to RE-DEFINE and shift it resigns itself to a passive or even reactive response to social issues and conflicts.

Under Hawke and Keating – who Blair praises profusely – Australia moved decisively to the Right on many fronts– embracing small government, privatisation, deregulation, dilution of progressive taxation, rejection of class struggle; widespread deindustrialisation ; and so on. Whereas Blair followed Hawke and Keating, Australian Labor in turn followed Blair. The consequence was a ‘rightward-spiral’ which was the undoing of social democracy and labourism as we had known them.

In a further article in ‘The Australian’ by Troy Bramston (8/10), poet, W.B.Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ is taken very much out-of-context. The title proclaims “Things Fall Apart – The Centre Can’t Hold’. Bramston is very much with Blair, fearing the decline of the ‘centre-left’ as a consequence of a more unambiguous left-turn by Corbyn. Corbyn (and perhaps by implication, Shorten) are portrayed as wanting ‘a return to the past’ rather than ‘progressing forward’. Ironically this implies the in-some- ways similar notion of a ‘progressive teleology’ as proposed by Hegel and Marx; and more recently by Fukuyama. ‘Neo-liberalism’ is upheld as ‘the progressive and objective direction of history’: in a way which denies historic choice; and the meaningful contestation of history by social actors.

The problem with Blair is that his position is very much one of ‘convergence politics’. ‘Convergence on the centre’ actually dissolves genuine ‘centre-left’ politics as we once knew them. Whereas democratic socialists once claimed ‘the centre left ground’ – roughly halfway between liberal centrism and the unambiguously revolutionary Left traditions; today ‘convergence on the centre’ is the undoing of meaningful democracy. It is the undoing of meaningful choice.

As French social theorist Chantal Mouffe has insisted ‘convergence politics’ ‘empties out’ democracy by denying real choice and democratically-mediated conflict as a consequence of ‘a rush to the Centre’. It is worth briefly considering her position – and that of critical theorist, Jurgen Habermas – to critique the ‘Blair-ite Third Way’ from different perspectives.

Whereas Habermas supposed a ‘deliberative democracy’, with the pursuit of a ‘perfect speech situation’ – or ‘communicative rationality’, Mouffe does not believe rational exchange and engagement can resolve all differences and conflicts. Still strongly-influenced by Marx, though, Habermas continues to suppose a ‘historical telos’; which will be realised through ‘communicative action’ (ie: rational engagement, argument and deliberation by social actors). Importantly, as opposed to Blair, Giddens, etc, Habermas was optimistic enough to suppose that this process would ultimately lead to socialism (realised via communicative rationality and not only through ‘traditional’ class struggle; hence some divergence from Marx’s original position).

Both Habermas and Mouffe are radical Leftist democrats, however; and BOTH Habermas’s ‘communicative action’ and Mouffe’s ‘Agonism’ reject ‘centrist convergence’. What is notable with Mouffe’s position is essentially that history is not assumed as ‘having a fixed direction’ (or ‘telos’). And as opposed to traditional Marxism, neither are particular social actors (such as the working class) assumed to have any ‘essential and fixed historic mission’. For Mouffe history is contested by social actors who articulate ‘counter-hegemonic strategies’. History is not pre-determined but rests on our CHOICES. Though Mouffe does accept that despite this capitalism has systemic imperatives and ‘logics’ that no isolated individual can challenge.

Here ‘meaningful choice’ – central to democracy – must mean a robust pluralism. But as opposed to older notions of class struggle, Mouffe’s ‘post-Marxism’ insists that:

“within the ‘we’ that constitutes the political community, the opponent is not considered an enemy to be destroyed but an adversary whose existence is legitimate.”

And most preferably these assumptions must cut both ways! (though it will not always be the case) Importantly, Marx argued for the dissolution of the bourgeoisie as a class; that is the dissolution of particular social relations – as opposed to the wholesale murder of human beings as occurred under Stalinism. But Mouffe insists an ongoing and legitimate place for pluralism, and hence appears to reject Marx’s notion of communism as ‘an end destination’ (or to put it in Marx’s own words, ‘the end of pre-history’).

So Mouffe assumes mediated conflict as being central to meaningful democracy. And the silencing of dissident voices by ‘third way, cosmopolitan, neo-liberal globalism’ could perhaps even lead to a technocracy – governance by ‘experts’ – and rejection of the proper place of democratic conflict.

Effectively siding with Blair, ‘The Australian’ has predictably embraced ‘neo-liberal globalism’.

Shorten has ‘been taken to task’ for a very modest step back towards traditional social democracy and labourism. Under Shorten there has been talk of enforcing corporate taxation and effectively tackling ‘corporate welfare’. There is talk of holding the banks accountable. ‘Small government’ is no longer explicitly endorsed (though neither is ‘big government’). “Trickle-down” is rejected. In the ranks of Labor there is some talk of tackling obscene superannuation concessions which feather the nests of the unambiguously wealthy (to the tune of tens of billions annually) at the same time as vulnerable pensioners are vilified by the Conservatives for the sake of ‘budget repair’. But Shorten still insists on ‘budget repair that is fair’.

None of this is particularly radical! But as the Anglosphere and parts of Europe continue to turn Left in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis the voices of Conservatism and neo-liberalism have become more shrill. Modest reversions to ‘traditional social democracy’ are ‘fought tooth and nail’ as they ‘set a bad example’ which may provide a ‘turning point’ away from neo-liberalism, and the prioritisation of corporate interests in economics and trade policy. Bernie Sanders has seen the rise of a distinctly Left politics ‘into the US mainstream’. Accused of ‘ultra-Leftism’, in fact British Labour Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn is also reverting to more-traditional Labour perspectives on the mixed economy, rights of labour; affordable education; and support for progressive tax; with a commitment to the NHS (National Health Service); as well as a rejection of ‘Hawkish’ foreign policy. This ought not be seen as ‘going backwards’ – because (contra-Marx) there is no objective definition of what ‘progressing forward’ actually means anyway.

With his warnings of ‘impending doom’ for British Labour – as well as the need for a ‘policy correction’ by Shorten in Australia, Blair does not seem to perceive the shift Leftwards in parts of Europe, and even the ‘Anglosphere’ itself. Ironically it is Blair who is ‘looking backwards’: to the 1990s – when ‘the historical moment was his’. Similarly ‘The Australian’ looks back to the ‘reform era’ where Hawke and Keating to a significant degree liquidated much of what had before-hand passed as labourism, social democracy and democratic socialism in this country. That’s not to say ‘Third Way’ theorists cannot strategise such as to set the agenda once more. But such success in the past is no guarantee of success today or in the future.

So history does not stand still. Over a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union neo-liberal triumphalism is beginning to wear thin. The Stalinist nightmare is fading from living memory; and the Democratic Left is finally re-emerging from behind its long shadow. Bernie Sanders has brought the American democratic socialist Left ‘into the mainstream’. McCarthy-ist hysteria is largely in the past. And despite defeats, parties like Syriza and Podemos have heralded the return of the Democratic Left after years utterly eclipsed by a ‘Third Way consensus’ in European social democracy.

Again: Amidst all this Shorten’s tentative shift to the Left is very modest. And hand-wringing by Blair and ‘The Australian’ that Shorten Labor must ‘return to the Centre’ clearly demonstrates how narrow a political milieu certain interests, as well as ‘the media establishment’ would have us choose from. ‘Convergence on the Centre’ denies politics; denies pluralist, democratically mediated conflict; and denies real democratic choice.

Nonetheless; Mouffe’s ‘Agonism’ suggests the possibility of a new pluralist democracy – where the democratic Left and the democratic Right accept each others’ ‘right to exist’ – and indeed their ‘legitimacy’ in the sense that voters and citizens must always be posed with real choices in order for democracy to flourish. And that certain liberties are necessary to overcome alienation; and socialists perhaps should even think of their adversaries here.

Perhaps therefore the Left could accept a place for Conservatism in a pluralist democracy; and on the basis of an inclusive public sphere; a more ‘level playing field of ideas’. But in Australia the monopoly mass media is dominated by figures such as Murdoch and Rinehart. The monopolists think they are in control and beyond effective challenge. Hence they do not discern any compelling pressures to accept a more inclusive public sphere; or say ‘active-critical’ civics and citizenship education curricula which also promote ideological and political literacy, and hence informed and participatory citizenship. Some would argue when the opportunity comes the advantage must be pressed. And so long as the Conservatives are not willing to accept the democratic and authentically pluralist principles promoted by the likes of Chantal Mouffe – then perhaps they have a point.

Also ‘social rights are human rights’. No less essential than civil liberties. And ideally should be constitutionally enshrined. Even though these matters should nonetheless be deliberated upon freely. There is the challenge of balancing the aim of ‘pluralism’ and hence ‘openness to change’, while striving for a ‘baseline consensus’ of liberal and social rights which is acceptable to the various social actors. Habermas believed this (and ultimately socialism itself) could be achieved via ‘communicative action’.

In many parts of the world ‘the tide is beginning to turn’. PERHAPS once again the future belongs to radical social democracy.

tristan Tristan Ewins is a freelance writer, Social Sciences PhD Graduate and Labor Party activist of over 20 years ; He blogs at ‘ALP Socialist Left Forum’ – where amongst many other things he published a ‘model policy program’ for the ALP titled ‘For and Equal and Democratic Australia’ ; He is passionate about contesting ALP Policy. Also he has self published other websites such as ‘The Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy’ . He specialises in Marxist, Post-Marxist and Democratic Revisionist theory , as well as the history of democratic socialist and social democratic movements. He also considers himself sympathetic towards ‘radical liberalism’ as complementing his democratic socialist politics. A teaching graduate, also: he has an interest in educational curricula reform.


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  1. economicreform

    As he is little more than a neoliberal propagandist, what Blair thinks about political and economic matters should be dismissed with contempt and derision. He is not in a position to lecture others about their responsibilities, and is very fortunate to have been spared gaol time for his part in orchestrating the illegal and disastrous attack on Iraq, its subsequent invasion by western forces, and the absence of thought and planning in regard to the future of that unfortunate country following the invasion.

  2. vaughann722

    Unfortunately the likes of Tony Blair still have influence over Labor policy makers in Australia ; especially within the Right faction. The interpretation of ‘Third Way’ social democracy promoted by Giddens and Blair still prevails widely. Though that is under challenge. A good thing. ‘The Australian’ plays to this demographic – in order to nudge Labor policy right-wards. And to ‘control the historic Labor narrative’. Blair’s role in the Second Gulf War will not be forgotten. But he still has some hold on the imaginations of many British Labour and Australian Labor policy makers ; So we need to actually respond to Blair and refute him in detail if we want to challenge that. Ideally we need to go further than just forming a bulwark against neo-liberalism within the Socialist Left… We need to try and take the Right – or at least part of the Right – with us. And set today’s Federal Labor on a serious reform trajectory : one that is serious about distributive and social justice ; about social wage expansion and progressive welfare reform ; indeed even about economic democracy.

  3. Glenn K

    Tristan, brilliant article. thank you for posting.

  4. John Lord

    Truely an excellent piece of writing. Some questions are already forming in my mind to ask you. I will be back.

  5. lawrencesroberts

    Obviously The Murdoch Press are concerned about rumblings from The Left.

  6. New Left Alternatives

    Thanks to Tristan for his critique of the push to the bland centre in the politics of developed countries where pragmatic commitment to market ideology in economic development and to the US Alliance as the military arm of this commitment prevail unchallenged. Commitment to the Centre permeates most mainstream current affairs reporting even on quality programmes. As the electorate has traditionally voted Labor to change the political system, this dull conformity is eroded the Labor vote on both the right and left wing of mainstream politics. Keep working for change, Tristan by assuring everyone that the electorate really wants alternatives within the wider Labor Movement.

  7. KamNam

    May I point out, we do not want LNP light, We want a better standard for all Australians. That Means a move more to the left than centre, Policies that promote a better education system, for all students, be that TAFE, Secondary, and University, (a better funding system for free Uni Education or part pay with co funding from Government that puts an end to $100,000.00 Uni courses, which leaves the student in massive debt even before he/she begins there work life, That is called debt servitude) a Medicare that is properly funded and in Government hands NOT in the hands of the private sector even in part, a fairer proportion of pension payments, which is pegged to a reasonable proportion of the Average wage, Our essential services,. water, gas. electricity roads, all back in Government hands.Finally there is a reason Blair lost in the UK, he lost touch with the people and almost destroyed the labour movement there. Do not let him try to influence the same result here. Bill,
    just Ignore this Judas of a labour EX leader.

  8. John Passant

    Hi Tristan, I doubt that Shorten is ‘step[ping] back towards traditional social democracy and labourism.’His economic policies look to me much like the Liberals, although with a smile. Cuts, cuts, cuts with a smile.

  9. totaram

    Economic reform: I agree with your remarks completely. As for Shorten, unless he gives up on “budget repair” and considers more serious issues in the real economy such as “true” unemployment, he won’t get very far towards addressing the real problems.

  10. vaughann722

    John, I think Shorten has moved modestly in the right direction ; That said there is no decisive break with neo-liberalism ; of course with Shorten there is no open critique of capitalism ; For leading figures in Labor my vision of expanding social expenditure and progressive tax by 5% of GDP over 3 terms is – I think- seen as ‘too radical’. But that’s the point. Even a modest move in the right direction – opposing massive Company Tax cuts ; pursuing full employment (which weakens the position of capital over labour) , raising the issue of corporate tax avoidance – is something Tony Blair, the Murdoch Press etc feel ‘profoundly uncomfortable’ with. They want a very narrow ‘spectrum of legitimate political opinion’ – and for them even Shorten’s modest shifts are seen as warranting the demand that he ‘move back to the Centre’. ( as they ‘the opinion makers’ construct it) In the light of this Mouffe’s demand for a genuine, robust pluralism resonates strongly.

  11. Happy___Annie

    Tony the “War Criminal” Blair should realise he has no right compelling Shorten to do anything.
    After we have been dragged so far to the right, a firm shift to the Left is needed.
    Keep moving left Bill. Help labor again be the champion for the majority of Australians.

    We know in spite of the spin by the MSM that trickle down economics is rubbish.
    That mantra is destroying our chance to access a satisfactory life, while we scramble to keep low paying jobs with ever shrinking hours.

    With downward pressure on wages and the constanct harping to decrease wages more, every time I hear “Productivity” I know it means lower pay for someone, work less for more, so the CEO and shareholders can get more and more of the pie. This rubbish IS the new centre. It is a lie.

    Folks from both blue and white collar working families are hurting and we are looking for someone who will work to give us back out “fair go for all” country.

    Watching our elderly being classed as leaners is the most disgusting insult to all of us with elderly relatives who have worked all their life and paid taxes to build this great country, seeing our children attend university and still being unable to access meaningful full time employment while being persecuted for being a leaner is despicable and seeing people I know who are disabled, being refused recognition for their disability is shameful. This is not the Australia I was brought up to believe in. Yet those in charge refuse to see the pain while their snouts are firmly embedded in the trough.

    We’re sick of seeing those in power from both parties pander to the big end of town, suring up fat paying jobs for themselves, when they retire while working against what’s in the best interests for the majority of Australians while they’e in power.
    The rest of the world seems to be noticing keeping the status quo is not working for us.. but only helping to keep inequality growing.
    We need someone to be that voice in Australia.. Bill Shorten, I am hoping that voice will be yours.

  12. king1394

    Blair shows he is stuck in the past with his ‘grow a bigger pie’ remark. This is of course where all the neo-Libs will crash and burn eventually. Over the last 50 years or so, it has been possible to create a reasonably prosperous society by increasing GDP etc, but it has not been through fair distribution. Now we are hitting resource limits and the pie can no longer provide enough to keep the general population contented, and at the same time provide excessive wealth to some, the whole idea of ‘growth’ is passe.

  13. vaughann722

    Perhaps the best hope of responding to the limits to growth is to emphasise the information and culture industries – which can produce ‘economic goods’ without such a cost to the natural environment.

  14. Mike Ballard

    Most of the union leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing. There is a need for a rank and file newsletter in order to elect a more informed leadership because the rank and file don’t know what’s going on either as official union publications don’t tell them that they produce the wealth for the companies they work for. With the exception of rank and file gossip within very small circles of fellow workers, nothing is politically and industrially focussed on class interests.

    Most comrades I have spoken with in the WA union movement are favourably disposed to tactically organising toward a strategic goal. With the WA state election six months on the horizon what has been envisioned by some are mass rallies taking place outside Parliament pressuring MLAs to support pro-working class positions i.e. publicly supporting the Collie workers in their struggle over the wealth they are producing for a capitalist corporation based in India. Collie workers just got a 45% pay cut courtesy of Fair Work Australia.

    My point is that nobody is going anywhere without rank and file workers themselves becoming more class conscious about who produces the wealth and which class appropriates the lion’s share. This realisation will also lead them to other conclusions about the unequal political power they face in the workplace and society at large. A movement to the left of Blair’s centre will emerge out of this awareness.

    Comrade Shorten has been talking about achieving “full employment”. But full employment is impossible as long as there is bipartisan support for NAIRU which is set at 5.7% unemployment; the government keeps issuing 400 series work visas for 1.2 million non-citizens (in spite of the 800,000 unemployed Aussie citizens); unions are hogtied by section 45 D and E of the Trade Practices Act; and shorter work time isn’t the publicly stated policy of the unions and the Labor Party. Productivity increases need to be recognised for what they are, the social product of labour time. While real wealth, as measured by real GDP, grows every year by 2-3%, the percentage being returned to the useful producers has declined 13% since 1974. Not only that but work time is increasing for full-timers badgered into accepting 50-60 hour work weeks or face unemployment.

    The working class needs to be in a stronger legal position in Australian society. It has been weakened by years of conservative control of industrial relations law making. This is a motion which we passed at the AMWU Retired Members’ Division in WA. We also passed the same motion with a different actor demanding it at the Manufacturing Branch of WA Labor. I urge you all to get the same or a similar motion passed at your branches and in your unions to get the ball rolling because if you don’t it, it won’t get done:


    The Trade Practices Act, section 45 D and E of 1974 (amended in 1977) makes it illegal for unions to act in solidarity with each other during strikes. In common parlance, unionised workers’ solidarity has been reinterpreted in section 45 D and E as workers engaging in ‘secondary boycotts’. Accordingly, unions are required by section 45 D and E to scab on each other or be found in breach of the law.
    The AMWU Retired Members Division calls on the AMWU as a whole to use its resources and influences, both politically and industrially, to get The Trades Practices Act amended to legalise solidarity between unions engaged in industrial action.
    As background, I think a critical reading of this H. R. Nichols Society piece would benefit our collective understanding of what the employers’ point of view is:
    To its credit, the Hawke Government attempted to repeal sections 45D and 45E in 1984. but its legislation was defeated in the Senate:
    “The unions were strongly opposed to sections 45D and 45E, but an attempt to repeal them in 1984 had been defeated in the Senate.
    “The government’s industrial relations reforms were submitted to Parliament in the Industrial Relations Bill 1987, but lapsed with the 1987 election. The 1987 Bill prohibited access to injunctions under common law to combat industrial action and gave the proposed Labour Court the power, if conciliation had failed, to deal with trade union contraventions of sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act. These provisions were opposed by employers, and they and the proposed Labour Court were omitted from the Industrial Relations Act passed in 1988.”

    The Trades Practices Act section 45 D and E has legally hogtied the union movement for decades now, leaving workers to see unions as being impotent–not worth joining. Unions are dying on the vine as a result. Of course, people like Blair are happy about this as they attempt to push the labour movement back to a future of mid 19th century misery. The rejection of this “centre” by rank and file UK Labour Party members has the ruling class trembling. So, they trot out their favourite poodle to practise his usual sophism in the name of reason and holding the centre.

    The wealth of nations is created by employing labour and using natural resources. Real wages in the USA have not grown since 1964 yet real growth in the GDP has accumulated capital at a rate of 2-3% a year. U.S. workers are hurting and reacting. Now, the representatives of the “elites” aka the ruling classes, e.g. Lagarde, Schaeuble and People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Yi Gang, are fretting that the immense majority of their useful producers are starting to wake up to the fact that the upper 10% and the companies that they own are getting richer and richer even as they demand more tax cuts for themselves along with cuts to wealth flowing into public health,education and welfare including, most prominently, the age pension.

    The material dynamics of the wage system are unfair to the bottom 90% of the population. The people who are obliged to sell their labour power at its market price are beginning to chafe under the harness of the capitalist and landlord classes. Some are reacting rightwards e.g. Trump, Le Pen and Brexit. Some are turning left e.g. Sanders, Corbyn and the Occupy Movement. The class struggle over ownership and control of the collective product of labour continues even as politicos on the left languish in the illusions of liberalism and on the right in a dream of the man on a white horse come to save them from Big Gov’mint and taxation to support the “surplus population”, aka the poor.

  15. Andrew Oliver

    As someone who sympathises with right wing social democrat theory rather than Marxism, might I remark that parliamentary ultras have the wrong end of the stick. One can’t reform society simply by electing a leftist parliament. Parliaments only can implement reforms if pushed to do so, for example by workers using such industrial liberties as strikes and boycotts; the Prime Minister can’t just decree Voila, utopia tomorrow! The industrial liberties of boycott strike picketing if conducted under a fair regime that gives reciprocal rights to employers and employees to economic liberty, rather than legislated wage slavery, that lets free workers demand a fair share of the cake, is the only way to cause trickle down. No supreme leader, no all wise politbureau, no parliament, has the power or reason to do that!

    Let’s free the workers from slavery and give them industrial liberties. Then, their complaints of underpayment to others deserve the reply: your fate is in your own hands!

  16. townsvilleblog

    To the best of my knowledge the Labor Party was established to raise the standard of living for Australian labour, which to my way of thinking is a Left leaning party, with no need of a right wing of crawlers who talk nicely to the bosses while a 10 Ton concrete block drops on and kills two CFMEU members in Brisbane. The State govt should adopt a criminal charge of Industrial Murder or at least Manslaughter.

  17. vaughann722

    Hi Andrew ; the difficulty with identifying as a ‘right-wing social democrat’ is that the ground has shifted. Someone like Anthony Crosland, for instance, who was British Labour Party Right at the time when he was an MP – would probably be well to the Left of Tony Blair today. Back in the 1990s the Pledge faction (in Victoria) probably would have been depicted as such (ie: ‘ultra-left’) – simply because they would not cave in on privatisation. That’s really unfair – and simply reflects the Ideological climate that developed within Labor.

    Personally I identify with radical social democracy. I’m not a Stalinist or a Leninist or a Trotskyist. But social democracy began as a radical tradition ; and I identify with those currents in social democracy who blurred the lines of reform and revolution. That is: aspire to qualitative change ; but gradually and democratically where-ever possible. But I don’t just ‘fit neatly in an ideological box’ – because I’m interested in democratic revisionism and the Nordics as well.

    I agree with you re: industrial liberties, though. Even some libertarians admit they have to accept the right to withdraw labour if they are at all serious re: their positions on personal liberty. Industrial liberties mean the industrially strong can support the industrially weak. It means political strike action can be accepted as a right. It can provide a framework for unions and their members to be politicised more strongly as a consequence of greater freedom to act. And hence a culture of action.

    What we need, I think, is a culture of engagement within the Labor Party – and including between the factions. Labor needs to support and develop its activists and its intellectuals. And support truly wide-ranging debate. The old social democratic parties had schools, papers, journals, radio, conferences… A culture of engagement gives good ideas the hope of prevailing. Both Left and Right need to accommodate more intellectual freedom ; greater engagement ; less pressure to conform. The Fabians have long provided a vehicle for some of this at least.

    I think on the Right especially there needs to be a rethink on the mixed economy. Did privatisation go too far? (yes) Should the Right engage with democratic socialism? Gough did, for instance. There have always been Fabians in the Right. Surely any social democrat worth their salt wants progressive tax reform and social wage extension…. But do these progressive elements in the Right hold the leverage they want over policy? Do progressive elements in the Right sometimes get ‘silenced and contained’ because of patronage and top-down decisions? (It happens in the Left too) What about a Centre Left faction, maybe then? Is it worth maintaining discipline at the level of the National Right when there are people in the Left the more progressive elements could work with? Who are capable of compromise where necessary. When the battles of the 1960s are long behind us.

    Thanks everyone your comments ; hoping they may be some more discussion even yet. 🙂

  18. vaughann722

    nb: In addition to what I just said – there’s a place for ‘watershed’ moments and struggles as well ; and ‘ground up’ action and organisation can be a good thing. The democratic revolutions of the 1917-1919 period were a good thing – delivering free, universal and equal suffrage – which had long been a core social democratic demand. In Austria, for instance, they probably should have gone further. Perhaps then they would not have ended up being landed with fascism in 1934.


    Poor Mr Blair, it astonishes that the man has no self-perception. He should stay in bed , keep his mouth firmly shut, pull the covers over his head and pray that justice doesn’t come his way.

  20. Alan Baird

    Excellent article. Also amen to those hard-nosed replies on our own Labor Party. A Jeremy Corbyn leader in Oz would provide an instant expose of just how Blair-like Oz-Labor pollies are, and an Oz-Jeremy would immediately find him (or her)-self sent to an Oz “Coventry”. No matter how enlightened Bill seems (and compared to the Tories that’s no achievement) in power I feel he’d be very, very conservative. And he won’t think about any of the arms-length perspectives from the above article (and similar) AND its attendant feedback. He’s no political philosopher, more a reactor-to-situations. In addition, the past Albanese-Shorten competition for Opposition Leader and the ALP members vs MP voting patterns reflect the UK divide too, not that Shorten is Blair and Albanese is Corbyn. History apparently rhymes but there ARE signs it also attempts to repeat itself.

  21. Andreas Bimba

    An excellent contribution to the debate that gives an insight into the thinking of the ALP’s socialist left. Some of the terminology used I find a little confusing no doubt as it arises from the often archaic political writings of the international left movement.

    The disgust with neoliberalism, excessively free trade (for those parts of the economy where working people find employment but not those parts where the crony capitalist elite enrich themselves), monetarism economics, chronic tax evasion and crony capitalism (e.g. resource companies paying no royalties or tax, corrupt privatisations, exorbitant super funds management fees and the real estate speculation bubble) is shared across the political spectrum. Conservative people also hate this rampant fraud and corruption.

    When people break through the relentless neoliberal propaganda presented by the mass media and educate themselves about the sad reality of what is really happening in the world where sections of the corporate world are running off with all the loot leaving austerity, rising living costs, declining real wages, brutal competition and excessive unemployment or underemployment for the majority; the mixed economy, social democratic and more egalitarian model has renewed appeal to not only traditional Labor voters but also to those who vote for the Greens, to small ‘L’ Liberals and rural voters.

    In the final analysis the Liberal and National Party are merely agents for the rich elite and have nothing to offer the vast majority of the Australian people and their trajectory even with a corrupt commercial mass media and complicit state owned media is downward. If the ALP continue to be just the more ‘humane’ version of the appalling Liberals and Nationals their share of the vote will also decline as it did at the last federal election.

    Tony Blair is just an opportunist and political harlot for hire by the highest bidder and as Tristan wrote he is just trying to protect the neoliberal agenda of the capital controlling elite that fails us all so badly.

    Continue the fight within the ALP for democratic socialism, full employment, comprehensive social welfare, a mixed economy and greater egalitarianism, or watch the parties slow demise and replacement by the small political parties of the left and centre such as the Greens and the national evolution of Nick Xenophon’s NXT or similar parties and independents.

  22. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Rhetoric and opportunism as promoted by Tony Blair has been a failure. I support Tristan’s commitment to policy best practice and democratic membership control. How many Labour Party Branches in Britain called for an invasion of Iraq or a commitment to the war in Afghanistan?

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