Should the Labor Party sever its long-standing ties with the union movement? In this guest post, well-known blogger Hillbilly Skeleton argues that they might suffer politically if they don’t.
Can we talk?
How can I put this?
I can either try and put this delicately, as some partners try to do when a long-term relationship ends, and hedge around the truth which is usually as clear as day in your own mind, hoping you won’t offend the other party’s feelings, or, you can be brutally honest and believe that by doing so you can have a positive, not negative, cathartic effect.
So, as I have never been one for humming and hawing, let me get straight to the point here.
It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to cut the ties that bind it inextricably to the Australian Union movement and divorce itself from the overwhelming and over-weaning and disastrously destructive (in recent history) control they have over the parliamentary Labor Party.
“Heresy!!!” I can hear 90+% of you shouting at their computer screens. Also, “Aren’t you a member of the ALP? So, why are you saying this?”
Well, no, and, yes.
No, I don’t think I’m being heretical, and, yes, I am a proud member of the ALP and will continue to be unless they kick me out for this blog. Lol. Which I doubt because I am increasingly not on my Pat Malone in the modern-day ALP. I know this because I have had many conversations with fellow ALP members about this subject, many of them members of unions too, and they agree that a redefining of the relationship needs to occur. Something needs to be done about the overt ALP/Union nexus. Major transformational change to the party scaffolding must occur. Or the ALP will simply bleed to death slowly but surely, as the Unions in Australia (and globally), with membership in Australia at a paltry 13% in private enterprise, are doing right now.
Which is not to say, most definitely and wholeheartedly, that I agree with the presumption of the Abbott government and it’s fellow travellers in the business community and in ideologically-bent union-smashing outfits such as the HR Nicholls Society and the IPA, that the very concept of workers organising for their mutual benefit is anathema and all stops should be pulled out, both legislatively and persuasively via the bully pulpit, to bring about their demise.
Not. At. All.
On the contrary, I fully support the concept of Unionism and collective organisation of employees for their mutual benefit as they attempt to gather strength from their numbers against any employer with the whip-hand who seeks to exploit and capitalise on their honest toil for their own profit, whilst the workers pay, and hard-won but reasonable work conditions languish or die on the vine by neglect and design. More power to the workers in their constant struggle against this and strength to their arms in their fight against the oppressive forces of global and national monopolistic capitalistic enterprise. It’s only fair and reasonable after all and the basis of a cohesive, harmonious, equitable and content society. I’m a Social Democrat, after all.
Nope, what I think needs to be the transformative change that the ALP should, no must, undertake, is that it must change from being a party OF the Unions and BY the Unions, to being a party FOR the Unions, but first and foremost, simply a 21st century Progressive Social Democrat political party, whose narrative encompasses Unionism as but one of the pillars upon which the scaffold of the party is built.
Yes, over more than 100 glorious years the ALP has been the longest-lived, continuously-surviving political party in the land, and it’s a proud history which should be fulsomely embraced. However, times change, situations change, environments change, and relationships, one with another, change.
Such that the cardinal rule of relationships kicks into gear. ‘Adapt or die’.
That’s what the Liberal Party have successfully done, to the extent that they are presently cannibalising their Coalition partner, the National Party, by taking rural seats off them at elections. Also, they have aggressively identified and gone after new constituencies as they have appeared on the horizon, and legislated to accommodate them felicitously, which has been repaid with loyalty to and membership of the party and enough votes to be winning elections more often than not.
New constituencies such as the Tradies, who are now also small businesspeople, the Franchise owners and operators, Small, Micro and Home Businesspeople, and ‘New Professionals’, if I can coin that term, in the Alternative Therapies disciplines. Not to mention their traditional constituencies in Big Business who never desert them.
Yet Labor have doggedly stood by the Unions as this transformation of Australian society has occurred. And turned a blind eye to the canker of corruption, all too obviously on display now and serving to aid the enemy. Not only that, but if you play your cards right, in this Closed Shop, you could end up sitting in a comfy chair in parliament. Not as a result of having any other talent beyond playing the Union Stepping Stone game well.
Well, in the words of that great Monkees song, ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone!’
It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to undertake the necessary structural change that will see it survive and prosper against the Liberal Party in the 21st century in Australia. We need an effective force for good (if you want to cast everything in terms of ‘Goodies and Baddies’ as Mr Abbott does) then Labor are the ‘goodies’ and the Coalition are the ‘baddies’, as so much of what made Australia a utopia in the 20th century is now under threat in the 21st.
Unions are a social good; however, the times whereby workers are herded into unions are gone. Unions should be there for workers to choose them if they want to, and Labor should fight to the political death for unions to be allowed to exist in every workplace, and their practices should be their own best advertisement for the benefits of unions and unionism. And each and every union member should have the choice whether they join and fund the ALP, or any other political party, and thus they should get one vote with one value only in the ALP. The days of bloc votes and union Secretary control and string-pulling must be gone and we should see those ties that currently bind the Unions to the ALP severed. Even if it does upset all the union factional heavyweights to do so. Anyway, if a stronger Union Movement, with broad community support, arises from the ashes, then that can only be good for the Labor Party.
As I fear that if the party isn’t reconstructed along more democratic lines and the pre-selection of candidates not necessarily in a union, but who believe in unions, doesn’t occur, then all those people who recently formed a new relationship with the party after those liberating and refreshing signs of reform which broke out in the ALP after the last election, will come to the same conclusion.
ALP, I’m just not that into you any more. You’re a dud.