Resignation from Socialist Alliance

by

Michael Thomson

National Executive
Socialist Alliance
Sunday 25 January 2004

Dear Comrades

I am writing to inform you of my resignation from the Socialist Alliance.

My reasons for resigning include:

  • the recent decision of the Socialist Alliance to accept Green Left Weekly as the paper of the Alliance. Green Left Weekly is the paper of one of the affiliates and as such brings with it not just its readership but also a certain set of political positions associated with the Democratic Socialist Party. It does not represent anything new for the organisation of the far left in Australia. It will not be seen as a paper of an alliance. Instead, the decision will be seen by many outside the Alliance that their suspicions were right — the Socialist Alliance is another “DSP front group”. This will make it harder to attract those people to a new political organisation. It also begs the question of what sort of paper and organisation is really needed to be a bridge to the thousands of people looking to the left of Labor. It represents a decisive shift away from our original determination for the Alliance to be built on the organic development of an independent membership beyond the combined memberships of its founding groups.
  • the sectarianism of the Socialist Alliance to members and supporters of the ALP. The Socialist Alliance press release “Condolences to Labor supporters” commenting on Labor Party leadership ballot in December last year could have come from Stalin’s Comintern during the third period.
  • the failure of the Socialist Alliance to attract and systematically relate to those who have been radicalised by the Liberal government’s continuing attacks on the Medicare, higher education, political correctness, those who took the streets to oppose Australia’s involvement in the most recent Gulf War and the racist policies of the Australian government towards refugees.The formation of the Socialist Alliance represented a chance for the far left organisations to attract, to work with and to organise the thousands of disaffected ALP members and the thousands of people who had taken to the streets to blockade the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in September 2000 in an alliance that was left of the ALP. As one of the NSW Convenors for roughly the first two years of the Socialist Alliance (covering the period when we achieved federal and state electoral registration, and the 1991 Federal and 1993 NSW State elections) I was often reminded of the potential for the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance has failed to realise this potential. This failure can not just be explained by the objective circumstances of the struggle today, in fact, the objective circumstances for socialists today are better than they have been for a long time. This failure must also reflect how the organisation relates to and intervenes in real struggle.One example, from my personal experience of the weakness of the Alliance in struggle, is the experience of the NTEU and the fight against the Nelson “reforms”. My union, the NTEU, had a real win against the Nelson agenda; we knocked the Howard/Abbott Industrial Relations proposals out of the legislation. This involved much union action including a national strike. The NTEU and NTEU members campaigned widely against the whole of the Nelson agenda — organised rallies, wrote letters, contacted members of parliament, lobbied the independent Senators and took industrial action to take on the “reforms”. The NTEU grew out of these actions — nationally 1000 new members in October.At Sydney University, the NTEU has won a significant Enterprise Agreement. We have won landmark parental leave provisions (36 weeks paid parental leave), an agreement to cap casual employment at the university, an increase in the casual loading to 25 per cent, Indigenous employment provisions and substantial pay increases. Other wins in the new Agreement include improved provisions for academic workloads, general staff classification, managing change and general staff redundancy (12 extra weeks). No doubt to Tony Abbott’s dismay, union rights were protected and improved. The union provisions include time off for union delegates, trade union training, time release for the NTEU Branch President, payroll deduction for union fees, an office and use of university phones. This fight involved three 24-hour strikes and some stopwork action. All the strikes were very strongly supported. The final strike on December 3 was particularly noteworthy — it was held on a non-teaching day, a first for the NTEU, the other union (albeit a considerably smaller union) at Sydney University encouraged staff to work and the NTEU shut the campus down.Articles in Green Left Weekly, Socialist Worker and comments on the Socialist Alliance NTEU email list have either been silent on, or deny, the NTEU has had these big wins. Rather than welcome and celebrate these big wins alongside the activists who worked so hard to achieve them, the response from some NTEU Socialist Alliance members has been at best dismissive of the wins. The NTEU has been accused of engaging in a “Senate strategy” and of “selling out” the student movement. Although the NTEU National Office lobbied the Senate (including lobbying the Independent Senators) as you would expect them to do, we were clearly engaged in an industrial and political campaign with University of Sydney NTEU Branch at the centre of the activity. To deny the effectiveness and importance of this national strike of the sector fairly beggars belief. Surely a socialist message is that the victory of the NTEU shows that this government is not invincible but can be confronted by mass action and we encourage all other sectors out there to do the same.

    Clearly students will be a lot worse off under the new Nelson package and thee package will have a major influence on the future dynamic of higher education, but to blame this on the NTEU is nonsense and counterproductive. Perhaps the major feature of the recent mobilisation against the Nelson reforms is the lack of a student campaign. 1996 saw a near national strike in Higher Education. The 1996 staff strike was boosted by thousands and thousands of students organised to attend the rallies. This did not occur this time around. Why? What was different this time? Like before, the NTEU mobilised its members. What appears to be missing is a viable student left. Why is that student left not there? This is the question the Socialist Alliance needs to address. To scapegoat the NTEU for this problem brings the Alliance no closer to an answer. It also leads to a largely propagandistic, “how do we expose the leadership” response from university union members of the Alliance. Further, to not address this problem leaves our newer and younger comrades with no clear direction on how to turn the situation around and build greater levels of unity between students and education workers in the process. This represents a genuine disservice to those student activists and will limit the Alliance’s ability to grow on the campuses.

    I remain committed to building a larger socialist movement in Australia and I am of course willing to collaborate with Socialist Alliance members in the struggles before us.

    Discussion

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