Strong protest against Howard’s industrial laws

by

Greg Adler

May Day in Brisbane drew a record crowd of 35,000 unionists and supporters in a march through the heart of the city to the big showground venue for a rally cum carnival of opposition to the anti-union, anti-working-class legislation that has been brought in by the federal Liberal government. The crowd was 15,000 larger than had been predicted by organising officials.

Unionists came out decked in T-shirts bearing slogans attacking the legislation and supporting the fight to protect workers’ and union rights. Bright banners and loud chanting marked the long and cheerfully determined march.

At the rally Clem Jones, who was the long time Labor lord mayor of Brisbane, and was attending his 51st consecutive May Day, got an especially warm response from unionists when he said the need for healthy trade unions was more relevant than ever, under the oppressive Industrial Relations laws.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharon Burrow declared that the union movement would defend anyone victimised under the so-called Work Choices legislation, as the Liberals have lyingly labelled their repressive laws.

Kim Beasley, the federal leader of the Labor Party repeated his declaration that he would tear up this legislation if Labor is elected to office. He has come under attack from right-wingers for using his appearance at the Brisbane may Day rally to highlight the threat to workplace safety posed by the new legislation. He tied this to the ongoing rescue operation for two miners who had been found alive after five days in a collapsed mine in Tasmania the night before May Day. (Unfortunately another miner had already been found dead some days previously as a result of the same collapse.) Beasley’s statement was seized on by the Liberals to mouth some pious hypocrisy about bad taste, but the truth is not always sweet.

In a generally quite good report on this and some other May Day events in Queensland, on the Green Left discussion group Dave Riley mentions a contibution by Dick Williams, Queensland secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, who was called up on stage at the rally to receive a trophy for the best contingent in the march. Williams took the opportunity to remind the crowd that the fight for rights included industrial action on June 28, the national day of action called by the ACTU against the legislation.

Riley’s report is marred by some sectarian sneering, as might be expected from a spokesperson of the Democratic Socialist Party’s front group, the Socialist Alliance. What was absent from Riley’s report was any comment on the so-called “Fightback Contingent” in the march.

This is surprising, as the day before May Day he made a post to the discussion group in which he set out a program for the day in which this contingent would assemble seperately from the main march and join it en route, and then at the rally it would “support an alternate platform (with militant and progressive music NOT Peter Beattie!)” Apparently this contingent was to be so pure that it wouldn’t even share the same music as unionists and others on the march. Beattie, by the way, is Labor Premier of Queensland, and he told the rally that the record crowd was a message that the Howard industrial laws should be repealed.

The fact that Riley talks about none of this presumably means one of two things: either saner counsel prevailed and the plan was not carried out, or that it did unfortunately go ahead but that such a small fringe element was attracted to this sectarian frolic that even Riley can’t bring himself to mention it in his report of such a powerful workers’ demonstration.

The Queensland turn-out on May Day is an inspiration to other unionists around the country. In Sydney the May Day march will be held next Sunday, May 7 (May Day is not a public holiday here, as it is in the historically more progressive Labor and union state of Queensland). Sydney’s May Day is expected to attract a bigger turnout than in the recent past. Trade unionists who want to take forward the fight against the Howard laws and for workers rights should swell the ranks of union contingents on May Day with their militant demands, rather than parading separately under the dead-end banners of sectarianism.

May 2, 2006


The reaction to my comments about May Day in Brisbane

My brief comment on the Brisbane May Day march and rally published on Ozleft, and originally posted to the Marxmail site, has elicited an extremely strange reaction from the Democratic Socialist Party apologists Nick Fredman and Dave Riley.

In a number of postings on the Green Left Weekly discussion site they have asserted inter alia that I wasn’t at the May Day march so how could I comment, I was talking abvout events outside of my home town therefore couldn’t know what went on in Brisbane and in particular I am ignorant of what happens at May Day in Brisbane, the previous history of an alternative platform at May Day and I have a deferential attitude towards the Labor Party. Oh — and I wrote my piece as an answer to Riley.

Now each of these claims are either plain wrong or so cack-handed as to set a challenging standard for anyone who wants to indulge in bottom-level polemics in defence of sectarianism.

I make my comments on this site as I attempt to register on the GLW site, but have been told my request to do so is pending approval from the owners of the site: ie the DSP. My request has been pending for more than two and a half days at the time of writing. So whilst DSP members engage in wild surmise and slander against me — even, in the case of Fredman, suggesting I am not interested in discussion, but I am denied an opportunity to respond to all of this on the the site and before the readership that has seen this material.

The truth is that I grew up and became involved in socialist politics in Brisbane and I am extremely aware of , and a participant in, the history of the struggle for socialism in that city since the late 1960s.

I don’t expect anything I say to cut any ice with the the Fredmans and Rileys and the other lords of sectarianism in the DSP front organisation of the Socialist Alliance, but maybe they still are willing to note what the deposed DSP leader John Percy wrote in his book about the history of the DSP: “A process of political clarification was accelerating in Brisbane also, with different currents crystallising out. In 1970 the RSA ( Revolutionary Socialist Alliance) split into a Socialist Union, which didn’t last long , and a revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), whose founding members included Greg Adler and Terry Cook (who became leaders of the Socialist Labour League), Diane and Larry Zetlin (who were supporters of the Fourth International) and Brian and Jaunita Laver (who were increasingly drawn to anarchism).” (p 203)

“In October 1970, a tendency in defence of Leninism was declared by Greg Adler, John and Sue McCarthy, B. Derrier (sic should be R. Perrier as I told John at last year’s Socialist Alliance conference), Mal Price and Di and Larry Zetlin (Terry Cook should be included in this group) against the more anarchist perspective of Brian laver and his supporters.”

So not only was I in Brisbane but a defender of Leninism according to John Percy — maybe it was partly John’s vestigial attachment to truth that led to the sharpening of assassins’ knives against him within the the DSP.

The mention of Brian Laver is interesting. As John correctly notes, I broke with him on the issue of his increasingly anti-communist anarchist position some 35 years ago. He was a main speaker, I have been informed by my Brisbane contacts, on the so-called alternative platform on May Day in Brisbane — the one that Riley reports attracted some 100 people out of a crowd of 35,000.

As to my lack of presence in Brisbane on May Day — that is so. I was very excited by the reports I was seeing from over the internet about the big, colourful and militant turnout at May Day. I had also been reading reports on Marxmail about May 1 demonstrations and boycotts by the Hispanic immigrant community in the US and its supporters and other powerful May Day events around the world.

I wanted to put up a report on what had happened in Brisbane but I hadn’t seen anything about the “Fightback Contingent” which Riley had foreshadowed in a pre-May Day post to the GLW site, so I checked the site and saw Riley’s report of the event, which said nothing about this contingent or the alternative platform but did include some reportage that I wanted to incorporate into what I was writing. I did so, acknowledging his post — characterising its as quite a good report but criticising what I view to be his previous sectarian position. (Which he latterly confirmed he still proudly holds in spades.)

Nick Fredman said the fact I didn’t post the URL to Riley’s post meant tht I wasn’t interested in discussion — no it just means I am an aging semi-cyberphobe without a clue as to how to do that.

My supposed deference to the Labor Party is a puzzle to me. I have never been a member of the Labor Party (I think that in 1971 or 72 I did apply for ALP membership as part of a brief tactical move by the Socialist Labour League to do entrist work, but that was abandoned before my membership was confirmed to the best of my memory). In fact, I regret that for most of my time in socialist politics I have held an ultraleft sectarian position on the ALP fairly close to that of the current DSP.

If my deference to the ALP means that I agree with Martin Kingham, Craig Johnson and Chris Cain and other leaders of the Socialist Alliance-proclaimed militant faction in the unions who all declared at the DSP-SA Fightback Conference last year that they supported the election of a federal Labor government at the next election as part of the fight against the Liberals’ reactionary industrial relations laws, I would just have to plead guilty. I await with interest the blistering attacks that Fredman and Riley will unleash on those unionists.

I also agree with the document being circulated in the union movement headed: “Masses more important than High Court judges” authorised by Andrew Ferguson, NSW secretary CFMEU, Paul Bastian NSW secretary of the AMWU, Robert Coombs, Sydney branch secretary of the Maritime Union, and Derrick Belan, NSW secretary of the NUW. In this document this extremely important group of union leaders declares: “We need to rebuild the campaign with the mass mobilisation of workers. The ACTU has endorsed a week of action in late June, and mass rallies on Wednersday, June 28. ACTU television advertising, the legal challenge in the High Court and campaigning against Liberal MPs in marginal seats are all important, but our most important strategy is the mass involvement of rank and file workers.” They end with the call: “Support mass activity on the ACTU community day of action on Wednesday, June 28.”

The important political point for socialists is that May Day is an opportunity to connect with this mass movement rather than showing off a separate sectarian purity such as the group of between 20 to 30 people who had some connection to the SA group in the Brisbane May Day once the CPAers , Laverites and other odds and sods were deducted from the rag-tag group that attached itself to this powerful working-class manifestation.

If alternative platforms etc were ever a good way to proceed — which I now very much doubt — they are entirely out of place for socialists now. This May Day I will be proudly marching with my union contingent (the PSA) and solidarising with the call for mass action on June 28.

Discussion

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