Australasian Spartacist No. 196
Break With Laborism! Build an Internationalist Revolutionary Workers Party!
Down With Government and Bosses' Union Busting!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! No Deportations!
While Australian capitalism celebrates a resources boom and massive profits, the working class and oppressed are being driven to the wall. Real wages are rapidly declining in the face of rising living costs. Under a concerted union-busting offensive, long-held working conditions are being slashed while thousands of permanent jobs have been replaced by casual and contract labour or simply destroyed. This has particularly impacted women, immigrants and youth, already disproportionately represented in the casual labour market. The governments sadistic welfare-to-work reforms aim to throw thousands off welfare, particularly the disabled and single mothers, while state Labor governments run down hospitals, schools and transport, further degrading the lives of working people. The deeply oppressed Aboriginal people face daily racist terror and increased state repression alongside grinding poverty and enforced marginalisation.
The marked rightward shift in Australias political climate is paralleled in capitalist countries across the globe. It is integrally linked to the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, which plunged the working people there into mass unemployment and social devastation. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, encircled by hostile imperialism and betrayed from within by its Stalinist misrulers, removed the chief obstacle to unbridled imperialist pillage across the planet and has given rise to increased interimperialist rivalries, long held in check by anti-Soviet unity. Counterrevolution has unleashed a global offensive against workers and minorities as the capitalist rulers have sought to increase the rate of exploitation, drive down living standards and slash welfare, health and other social programs in order to gain an edge against their competitors.
The restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was an historic defeat for the worlds proletariat. It has led to a regression in political consciousness, albeit uneven, with few workers today identifying their struggles with the fight for socialist revolution. The International Communist League fought for the unconditional military defence of these bureaucratically degenerated and deformed workers states against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution, while fighting for workers political revolution to replace the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracies with regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
Contrary to the wishes of the bourgeois rulers as they ratchet up their attacks on workers today, class struggle cannot be legislated or repressed out of existence but is a product of class-divided societies. As long as capitalist exploitation exists, new struggles will break out. The question is how to win. The October 1917 Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotskys Bolshevik Party was the greatest victory for the working people of the world. The young Soviet workers state was a beacon of liberation around the world. It is necessary today to forge revolutionary internationalist proletarian parties that fight for new October Revolutions to sweep away the brutal capitalist system.
War on Terror and War on the Unions
The imperialist governments around the world seized on the criminal 9/11 World Trade Center attack to legislate a raft of anti-terror laws, targeting immigrants for racist scapegoating and trampling on the democratic rights of all as they intensify state repression at home. Ultimately targeted are working-class organisations including the left, as the ruling class seeks to suppress resistance to its attacks on wages and conditions and silence opposition to their bloody colonial-style occupations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The war on terror has also been used to tighten the reactionary U.S./Australia alliance and strengthen the ability of the Australian military to uphold the predatory interests of Australian imperialism in the Asia-Pacific region, enforcing the plunder of resources and extraction of superprofits that Australian companies such as Woodside Petroleum and Leighton Holdings, for example, gouge from the East Timorese and Indonesian masses. Imperialist bullying and exploitation abroad results in terrible suffering of the neocolonial masses, while strengthening the ruling class in their attacks at home. Down with the racist war on terror government repression! Australian imperialist troops and cops get out of East Timor, the Solomons, Iraq and Afghanistan!
A key weapon in the bosses offensive against the working class is the union-busting laws of the Howard Liberal/ National government. The latest far-reaching laws outlaw almost all strikes and seek to entrench individual contracts (AWAs—Australian Workplace Agreements). They are consciously being used to purge union delegates from workplaces, with many militants—from Botany Cranes, to Boeing, to Toyota—victimised and targeted with the sack. Meanwhile workers around the country have been thrown out of work and rehired on AWAs under inferior conditions.
On top of the draconian WorkChoices legislation the government has introduced even more repressive laws that target unions in the construction industry. The capitalist rulers are keen to smash this highly unionised and historically militant sector of the working class and roll these laws out across all industries. Howards new building industry police force, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has been given wide-ranging ASIO-style powers allowing it to act against unlawful industrial action. Already they have forced at least 29 building workers to attend compulsory and secret interviews, with legal threats of six months jail if they refuse to cooperate or subsequently talk about the interrogation. It is clear that the ruling class aims to treat union militants the same way they treat imprisoned refugees and framed-up alleged terrorists.
Among those currently targeted by the ABCC are 107 members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) in Western Australia (WA) who are being sued for striking in defence of their sacked union safety delegate earlier this year. They face substantial individual fines of up to $28,600 each. In a separate case, 40 WA members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), were sued by their employer, Total Corrosion Control (TCC), and face similar fines. While the court case was adjourned on 28 September pending the outcome of negotiations between the AMWU and TCC, the ABCC has threatened to intervene to ensure the workers are penalised (West Australian, 27 September).
Workers around the country have given generously to the fighting fund launched by the ACTU and CFMEU in support of the 107 CFMEU unionists. However the union leaders refuse to mobilise their membership in struggle to defend their union brothers instead pursuing a strategy of reliance on the courts. Rather than the straitjacket of playing by the bosses rules, the best defence of workers is the widest possible class-struggle mobilisations. With the high demand on construction to service the resources boom in WA, workers employed in these industries are in a good position to wage a struggle against the bosses union-busting offensive. Such a struggle would galvanise wider proletarian layers also confronting the governments vicious anti-worker laws. The attack on the CFMEU and AMWU workers is an attack on all! Drop the charges against the WA unionists! Down with the ABCC and all government and bosses union busting! For a class-struggle fight to defeat Howards war on the unions!
There is no shortage of worker hostility to the governments attacks. Hundreds of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in mass protest on 28 June this year and twice before that. Many workers struck in defiance of the laws (and despite their union leaders not calling for a stop-work). Unleashing the immense social power of the multiracial working class could have turned, and still can turn, Howards IR laws into worthless scraps of paper. The attacks are not irreversible. Hard-fought strikes backed up by solid picket lines and occupations are the weapons with which the working class can defend and extend its gains against the rapacious capitalist class.
Labour Lieutenants of Capital
However the union bureaucrats have kept a tight lid on protests, channelling workers anger into the dead-end of support to the ALP in parliament and looking to the bosses courts, particularly Arbitration and its Awards system. In pushing their nationalist campaign to convince the community that Howards laws are un-Australian and bad for business, the union tops also hope to convince sections of the capitalist class that it is in their interests to back the ALP and maintain the role of the capitalist Arbitration courts which have served the bosses well in constraining working-class struggles over the previous century.
Calls by union officials to restore Arbitration or appeals to the High Court are about preaching reliance on the capitalist state. The Arbitration system is no independent umpire but a mechanism for the bosses to keep the working class hogtied, allowing the capitalist state to regulate union struggles in every sphere, from wages and conditions to the conduct of strikes. Arbitration was built on a racist pact early last century between the Laborite bureaucracy and the capitalist rulers, institutionalising tariff-protected industries and a whites only labour force. The Arbitration courts also enshrined anti-woman chauvinism including the legal basis for unequal pay for women!
The capitalist state exists and is replenished to enforce the interests of the capitalist rulers against the interests of the working class. This state consists at its core of the army, courts, prisons and cops that today terrorise the population of Iraq, kill Aborigines, incarcerate refugees and attack unions. To further its own class interests, the working class must be mobilised in complete independence from the capitalist state and all bourgeois parties (including the Greens and Democrats). No reliance on the bosses courts! Bury Arbitration! State out of the affairs of the unions!
The Laborite misleaders of the unions form a pro-capitalist bureaucratic caste, bought off by crumbs allowed to fall from the capitalist table laden with the enormous wealth extracted from Australian imperialist exploitation abroad. Under increased pressure from their working-class base, they are on occasions compelled to call strikes and other actions to defend workers against the capitalist rulers attacks. Such was the case recently when maintenance workers organised in the electrical and manufacturing workers unions at the Toyota plant in Altona, Melbourne, successfully struck and picketed in defence of their victimised union delegate. On the whole however, the pro-capitalist union tops act to police the working class for the capitalist rulers. This was graphically illustrated with their participation in the government witchhunt against union militants who acted to defend Aborigines against a cop assault at the August 1996 mass workers demonstration which led to the spectacular storming of Parliament House in
As Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky outlined in his 1940 article Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay:
The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.
Today the hidebound union leaders seek to lull workers with false assurances that Beazleys ALP will rip up the anti-union laws once in office. While the ALP, if elected, may tinker around the edges of the legislation, Beazleys boast to rip up the laws is pure theatre aimed at capitalising on a perceived vote winner at the next federal election. As soon as the bosses started making worried noises, ALP IR spokesman, Stephen Smith, was dispatched to assure them that nothing fundamentally would change.
The ALP is what Lenin called a bourgeois workers party: while having historic organic ties to the workers movement through the unions, its program and leadership are thoroughly pro-capitalist. The ALP upholds and defends the capitalist system and when in power, as it is in all states and territories today, administers that system for the bosses. In 2000, Victorian ALP premier Steve Bracks invoked emergency laws to break the Latrobe Valley power workers strike threatening individual workers with fines of up to $10,000 each, and in 2004 imprisoned militant union leader Craig Johnston for defending striking workers against scabs.
During its 13 years in power from 1983 to 1996, the Hawke/Keating ALP government showed nothing but contempt for the workers and oppressed they claimed to represent. Under a series of Accords, the ACTU collaborated with the federal Labor government to slash jobs, conditions and living standards, all in the name of making Australian capitalism more competitive (i.e. profitable). Those unions that stepped out of line were smashed. Beazley was a member of the Hawke cabinet that presided over the smashing of the militant Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in 1986. As minister for defence, Beazley also oversaw the use of the airforce to break the pilots union in 1989. Labors union busting emboldened the bosses and paved the way for Howard & Co. to escalate their attacks.
We seek to forge an internationalist revolutionary workers party. Such a party will be built by splitting the working-class base of the ALP from the pro-capitalist leadership through winning the workers and oppressed to a revolutionary program. A Leninist vanguard party must be built, fighting to replace the social-democratic union misleaders who divert workers struggles into parliamentary and legalistic channels, with a class-struggle revolutionary leadership of the unions committed to the fight for international socialist revolution.
While the Leninist tactic of critical electoral support to a social-democratic party can, when appropriate, be useful to expose the contradiction between the ALPs pro-capitalist program and its working-class base, we firmly oppose the Laborite view that socialists must support the ALP in elections. This is simply part of their illusory strategy to reform capitalism. In 1983 the Laborite left hailed the election of the federal Hawke ALP government as a victory for the working class. However Hawke stood on an openly pro-imperialist, anti-working-class program that included bellicose support to the U.S.-led anti-Soviet war drive. We said at the time, and with every federal election since, No vote to Labor! In the last federal election in 2004 Labor offered more of the same racist reaction, strong state militarism and attacks on workers. We Trotskyists of the Spartacist League declared that no party standing in the election offered workers the opportunity to vote for their own class interests, however crudely, against their class enemy (see Elections of Racism, Militarism: No Vote to Labor! Australasian Spartacist No. 188, Spring 2004).
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants and Guest Workers
Covering for their prostration before the bosses attacks on unions, jobs and conditions, many ALP and union leaders are directing workers anger against deeply exploited foreign workers. The number of skilled workers brought to Australia as temporary guest workers has rapidly expanded in the past few years following deregulation of the category 457 visa scheme. Some 70,000 workers are expected this financial year, including Chinese meatworkers and printers, Filipino construction workers and cooks, South Korean welders and Indian IT workers.
At the mercy of their sponsoring employer, temporary overseas workers are prey to dire exploitation, denied elementary rights and conditions, often subjected to dangerous conditions and sent back to their country of origin at the bosses whim. Recently in Melbourne Chinese immigrant worker, Fu Zhihong, was sacked by his employer after he injured both his wrists on the job. He injured his right wrist in April but with no income he returned to the factory two days later. Then in June he broke his other wrist while attempting to use an electric drill. The company promptly stopped his pay and shortly after informed him that he was terminated and would be deported.
The exploitation of guest workers by Australian bosses echoes the plight of such workers around the globe. Two years ago 23 Chinese cockle pickers in England drowned while working in debt-bondage to gangmaster contractors, denied all legal rights and given no safety instructions. Western Europe has taken advantage of the destruction of the deformed workers states in Eastern Europe to import skilled labour from countries such as Poland, often working under similar conditions as illegal immigrants. And the U.S. economy today relies on the labour of millions of superexploited Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, many of whom have been deprived of a livelihood at home by the U.S. free trade rape of Mexico.
In Australia, guest worker schemes recall the notorious blackbirding of the late 1800s when thousands of Pacific Islanders were basically kidnapped to slave on Queensland sugar plantations until they were deported en masse early the next century. Recently the World Bank called for Australia to import Pacific Islanders as unskilled guest workers to relieve the pressure of mass unemployment in places like Vanuatu and the Solomons. Like East Timor, which is today under the brutal occupation of Australian military and cops, the economic devastation of such countries is a product of their rape by the imperialists. A smaller force of Australian troops and cops is present today in the Solomons. Pushing for a greater role for bloody Australian imperialism in the region, the ALP were in the forefront of those demanding Australian troops occupy East Timor in 1999 and again this year. Enthusiastically marching in demonstrations behind the ALP parliamentary and union misleaders in 1999 were the various reformist organisations including the Socialist Party and Socialist Alternative. Leading the charge for troops in were the social-chauvinist Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP), who also refuse to call for the Australian imperialist occupiers to get out of East Timor today.
Unions such as the CFMEU, AMWU and the Liquor, Hospitality & Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU) have, to their credit, at times taken up and defended a number of guest worker cases. The CFMEU have called to stop the exploitation of these workers saying Australian workers should join with workers across the world in opposing these capitalist tactics noting that the bosses seek to set worker against worker in cut-throat competition (Hard Hat, June 2006). Some union officials have decried racism while at the same time stating that they only want to protect Australian conditions. This in fact breeds the very prejudice they claim to oppose. The racist White Australia policy was always justified by its ALP and union proponents as protection for the living standards of the white Australian working class.
The defence of individual guest workers and anti-racist rhetoric notwithstanding, the union tops have joined an ALP-led nationalist chorus that portrays guest workers, and all foreign workers, as competitors for jobs. This is instead of mobilising unions against the capitalists destruction of jobs and union conditions. The NSW branch of the CFMEU pushes a Campaign for Aussie jobs to protect the jobs of Australian workers and provide genuine training for young people instead of importing cheap guest labour while railing against employers caught using illegal workers (Unity, June 2006).
Meanwhile WA CFMEU chief Kevin Reynolds graphically illustrated the racist logic of the campaign. After declaring he welcomed immigration as long as the immigrants had full rights of citizens, he added Two elections ago, Howard won an election on Tampa, saying were not going to let these bastards in the back door. Hes flung the f-----g front doors wide open and now theyre coming through legally.... Ive had members of ours come to me saying theyre no different to scabs. Theyre coming in and taking the jobs of Australian workers (Age, 15 September).
Such xenophobia is poison to advancing the interests of the working class. Unions must fight to defend the rights of these workers—and all workers—through organising them into unions, fighting for full union wages and conditions and demanding full citizenship rights for all who have managed to make it here, including full access to social services, unemployment and sickness benefits, healthcare and education. While opposing all racist immigration laws and policies, including the indentured servitude that guest worker schemes represent, as Marxists we recognise that the capitalist class will always use immigration to suit their purpose, which is first and foremost to maximise profit. As we wrote in our International Declaration of Principles:
Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands. Everywhere, the capitalists, abetted by aristocracy-of-labor opportunists, try to poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is thus a vital task for the proletarian vanguard.
—Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program, International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), Spartacist No. 54, Spring 1998
Far from being helpless victims, immigrant workers form a vital component of the force capable of destroying this racist capitalist system. Alongside bringing valuable experience of class struggle abroad, they also form a living link to workers of other countries, something essential to making international working-class unity more than a mere slogan. A revolutionary leadership in the unions would oppose surrendering one job, whether here or overseas, and fight for international co-operation between workers, such as between Australian workers under attack by BHP Billiton and Chilean workers who recently took on the Big Australian through concerted strike action at its massive Escondida copper mine. For international proletarian class-struggle unity against the capitalist exploiters everywhere!
Protectionism Poisons Proletarian Struggle
Today ALP leader Beazley competes doggedly with Howard over who can be the greater nationalist—thus his recent call for all those arriving here to sign up to Australian values. Nationalism is an ideology that serves to strengthen the capitalist ruling class against the proletariat, blinding workers to the fact that there is an irreconcilable conflict between labour and capital. The ALP misleaders along with the Laborite trade-union bureaucracy are the chief purveyors of this poison within the workers movement. It serves to divide the proletariat and paralyse class struggle, so vital for the working class to not only defend hard-won gains but to fight for its historic interests, i.e., state power.
The increasing decimation of Australias traditionally tariff-protected manufacturing base has given Beazley the opportunity to whip up fears within the working class of a race to the bottom against heavily exploited workers overseas. This is echoed by the pro-capitalist union misleaders as they push the lie that protecting Australian industry will protect workers jobs and conditions. In fact protectionism—whether in the form of tariffs, quarantine regulations or government subsidies—protects only the bosses profits while inflating the cost of goods, from bananas to cars. Ultimately the result of protectionist measures against rival nations is not more jobs and better working conditions but trade war. In this epoch of imperialism, trade wars inevitably lead to shooting wars, that is, interimperialist wars over access to raw materials and labour power.
Protectionism is particularly pernicious when directed against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. When the president of Bluescope Steel slammed the federal governments proposed Free Trade Agreement with China in July, the South Coast Labour Council applauded. Finding unity with the class enemy, the Council secretary declared What are the benefits of the FTA with China if the casualties are likely to be tens of thousands of Australian jobs? (LaborNet, 16 July). This, even while the union misleaders accept, with little to no struggle, the projected loss of hundreds of jobs from Bluescope Steels planned closure of its Illawarra tin mill plant.
The 1949 Chinese Revolution was a world-shaking victory against the Chinese capitalist rulers and their imperialist overlords. Despite the revolution being deformed from its inception by the rule of a parasitic nationalist bureaucratic caste, it resulted in a collectivised economy, which not only meant enormous social progress for the Chinese masses, particularly women, but an historic gain for the working class internationally. Today the belligerent targeting of North Korea by various ALP leaders is ultimately aimed at fostering capitalist counterrevolution in China, a strategic task which the imperialists hope to achieve through imperialist economic penetration and overt military pressure.
As with the other bureaucratically deformed workers states of Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam, we stand for the unconditional military defence of China against the imperialists drive to overturn the 1949 Revolution and return China to one gigantic sweatshop of untrammeled exploitation. It is the task of the Chinese working class, led by a Trotskyist party committed to defending and extending the gains of the 1949 Revolution, to sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracy through proletarian political revolution. In counterposition to the reactionary Stalinist program of socialism in one country, soviets (workers councils) will fight to extend working-class rule internationally through socialist revolution particularly in imperialist countries such as the U.S., Japan and Australia.
Like all class-collaboration, which pushes a false unity between workers and the bosses, protectionism is poison to class struggle. In contrast to those who preach protectionism, a revolutionary leadership of the unions will demand a shorter workweek with no loss in pay to spread the available work around; it will oppose all sackings and fight for union hiring halls with union programs to recruit and train those who have been historically discriminated against; against craftist divisions, a class-struggle leadership will fight for industrial unions and it will undertake an aggressive union drive to organise non-unionised workers. However for the working class to secure jobs for all at decent wages, free education and health care, and decent housing for all requires socialist revolutions across the planet and an international collectivised and planned economy.
For a Revolutionary Internationalist Workers Party
Against the government and bosses union busting, the perspective of the ostensible left is to pressure the ACTU to fight and, along with the union tops, to mobilise to put the Labor Party in office federally. With the evident rank and file irritation at the passivity of the Laborite union leaders, the fake left have sought to find ways to re-connect frustrated union militants to their leadership. One such attempt, strongly supported by the DSP, is Melbourne-based Union Solidarity (USol) led by former BLF official and union militant Dave Kerin. USol states that they aim to build a broad peoples movement to beat back attacks on workers, unions and communities while acting as one link between communities, unions, Vic Trades Hall and the ACTU.
Echoing the ACTUs community campaign, a major refrain of USol is for community assemblies. These can at times be a valid tactic to supplement an existing industrial struggle facing legal sanction, such as when USol activists mobilised to support strike pickets at the Amcor plant in Melbourne in August. But USol also uses community assemblies as a cover for the refusal of the union tops to organise effective proletarian-centred action. In their brochure, USol idealises the 1998 mass picket-line at Webb Dock in Melbourne when Patrick Stevedores locked out the MUA members and sought to replace them with scabs. Itching for a fight, thousands of unionists assembled
to stop the scabs at Patricks sites across the country including at Webb Dock.
It was clear that all the ports could and should have been shut down tight by the MUA, backed up by other unions. But the ACTU and MUA leadership pursued a strategy of keeping Australian ports working and the bosses profits flowing, relying instead on the capitalist courts to re-instate the unionists at Patrick. The result was a defeat for the union that allowed the loss of over 600 MUA jobs (see Australasian Spartacist No. 164, Winter 1998). It also signalled an end to the hard-won union closed shop on the waterfront. USols claim that the MUA won in 1998 simply serves as a cover up for the treacherous role of the ACTU and MUA leaders during that battle.
The push for community campaigns today by the pro-capitalist ACTU and union misleaders serves to bury the need for an independent class-struggle fight, reducing the role of the working class to just another player in social struggles. Rather, the proletariat is the only social force capable of not only beating back the attacks of the capitalist ruling class but carrying through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Its enormous class power lies in its numbers, organisation and, above all, the fact that its labour makes the wheels of profit turn in capitalist society. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin stressed:
Whereas the liberals (and the liquidators) tell the workers: You are strong when you have the sympathy of society, the Marxist tells the workers something different, namely: You have the sympathy of society when you are strong. What we mean by society in this case is all the various democratic sections of the population, the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants, and the intellectuals, who are in close touch with the life of the workers, office employees, etc.
—Economic and Political Strikes, 31 May 1912
It is necessary to wage a political fight against the Laborite union tops and their left hangers-on, who have brought the unions to the current impasse, and replace them with a revolutionary class-struggle leadership willing to fight for working-class power. We in the Spartacist League fight to build a revolutionary workers party, a tribune of the people, that can draw the oppressed in behind a class-struggle fight that mobilises the proletariat in its own class interests and in defence of all the oppressed.
Australian capitalism was built on the murder and dispossession of the Indigenous peoples, pogroms against the Chinese and racist exclusion of non-whites, deep anti-woman bigotry as well as the bloody suppression of struggles of the toiling masses of this region from the Korean peninsula to Indonesia. It can promise the working class only increased immiseration, racism and war. The only road forward is for the working class to seize control of the means of production and set them to work in the interests of the workers and oppressed. This requires socialist revolutions internationally to smash capitalist rule and replace it with a planned, collectivised economy on a global scale. To prepare the working class for this historic mission requires reforging the Fourth International as the international proletarian party of socialist revolution.