Howard’s brutal wedge politics


And the workers movement

 Bob Gould

John Howard has wheeled out his wedges for the federal election. They are alleged union power in society and the Labor Party, and the sudden discovery of child abuse in Aboriginal communities as a justification for trying to roll back Aboriginal land rights.

It remains to be seen how well these wedges will work, because the Tories are so on the nose with the electorate. The worst thing about the situation is that the new Labor leadership of Rudd and Gillard has retreated on both questions.

I object strongly to Rudd’s hand-wringing, pseudo-Christian moralism on traditional trade union rights and prerogatives. I’ve been a Labor Party member for more than 50 years, and if wearing braces and occasionally swearing, like Joe McDonald, was the criterion, I would have been flung out in four seconds flat. So would very many ordinary trade union officials and rank-and-file Labor Party members, who go about their industrial and political business in a normal way.

Dave Noonan’s article in the Daily Telegraph about the history of bad language in the workers’ movement puts all those things in proper perspective. I’ve heard much more colourful language year after year at Labor state conferences than that used to whip up the shock-horror “revelations” about trade union bad language.

The real point here is that the constant struggle of trade unions to maintain safety in tough industries such as construction should be defended strenuously by everyone in the labour movement.

However, in the world of politics and the labour movement, things often don’t move in accord with one’s preconceived ideal scenarios. The left of the labour movement is being confronted with these questions now, and a mobilisation should begin forthwith to defend the rights and interests of trade unionists and unions in the labour movement and the Labor Party, at the same time as campaigning for the necessary election of a Rudd Labor government and hopefully a significant increase in Green representation as well.

Those are the immediate political necessities and considerations that preoccupy the overwhelming majority of the left in Australian society. Working class politics is a tough game.

There are already serious moves towards such a strategy. For example, the Victorian branch of the CFMEU has decided to continue supporting the election of a Labor government, and to direct its financial support to those Labor candidates who commit to a minimum program in support of basic trade union rights.

The response of the DSP majority to these events

The DSP majority leadership is proving to be a hardened sectarian outfit moving rapidly to the right, camouflaged by the usual veneer of left talk.

The majority leaders seize on every scrap of evidence of shifts to the right by Rudd and Gillard and by and large ignore incidents of resistance within the official labour movement. Resistance such as Dave Noonan’s very intelligent article in the Telegraph is an example.

The DSP majority seizes on contradictory events to wheel out its wacky mantra that the unions should ditch the Labor Party and give financial support to the Socialist Alliance (which is not an alliance).

As the struggle unfolds in the material world to defend union rights in the Labor Party, the DSP leaders add their little tin whistle, allegedly from the left, to Joe Hockey’s demand that Rudd throw the unions out of the Labor Party. That’s the only way it’s possible to read Dick Nichols’ sinister press release declaring that now is the time for the unions to ditch the Labor Party and give the money to his outfit. This sectarianism is utterly surreal in the real world of the workers’ movement.

Maybe Joe Hockey and Dick Nichols can get together and create another party, which could be called the Dick Nichols-Joe Hockey alliance.

There has been an interminable debate on the Green Left list between the vituperative Peter Murray and Riley-Boyle and co, in which the metaphysics of the Boyle bunch’s political perspectives emerge loud and clear.

In defiance of the demonstrable fact that there are no other significant forces besides the DSP majority in the so-called alliance, Boyle and co project a parallel universe in which things could be better if everyone else on the far left rallied to the alliance under the Boyle leadership. This is the stuff of science fiction, not any realistic political perspective.

The resident slanderous pro-Stalinist who is treated by such respect by the Boyleites chimes in with his ponderously elaborate schema: socialists can do little in this period except refine their arguments and programs in a media framework. There’s a more sinister aspect to the slanderer Raven, of course. He jumps in, ostensibly from Western Australia, to attack the ETU Labor candidate in Tasmania, Harkins, an ally of Dean Mighell. I imagine Raven has never met Harkins, yet he belts out the nasty mantra that being from the ETU and a union official, Harkins is probably no good.

That’s also the Joe Hockey line.

(Another feature of the DSP majority leadership’s desperate efforts to make a mouse look like an elephant is the Boyleites’ big talk about a bit of a conference they held in Victoria, which they claim was attended by 80 or 90 people, the precise number varies from reporter to reporter, of course. On my experience of the way the DSP counts heads at these things in Sydney, that means there may have been 30 or so people at the conference, with maybe a few more passing through during the day. To bolster this bootstrap-lifting, the DSP has come to light with a couple of new individuals on the Green Left list who write under pseudonyms and who claim to be independents inspired by these events. This stuff is obviously written by the Boyleites to convince their own members, as it clearly can’t have any impact in the material world external to the DSP.)

All of these reponses in DSP leadership majority land to the real political questions in the labour movement, the working class and electoral politics, underline the general fact that the Boyle leadership majority in the DSP is a rapidly rightward-moving sect. The World Socialist Web Site and the DSP majority should perhaps put aside the small matters of detail that divide them and form a new party together, based on their unremitting hostility to the actually existing workers’ movement.


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