a nation betrayed .....
Labor has traditionally been a party of bigotry, a party of ruling class bigotry. Its formation after the defeats of the strikes of the 1890s saw many workers and their leaders substitute Parliament for direct action as the motive force of history, as the agency of change.
One of the first acts (and Acts) of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901 was to implement the White Australia policy. This was a policy born of British colonialism and an expression of the role of Australia as a white settler state in Asia. It was a ruling class strategy to protect British and Australian capital in the country.
The Labor Party supported it enthusiastically against other workers on the basis of their skin colour to supposedly protect wages and jobs here.
Just as ever since it has supported whatever the dominant ruling class position has been on imperialism and war, racism and women’s oppression, homophobia and religious intolerance, and keynesianism or neoliberalism. Occasionally, and mainly in response to the forces of the left and working class mobilising and forcing it to do so, it has taken minority ruling class positions that can perhaps even give it the cover of progressiveness. On rare occasions it is forced to attack capital to buy off mass movements and perhaps even halt their development outside the bounds of the system.
Attacking unions, privatisation, floating the dollar, attacking single mums, gays and lesbians, racism and sexism, and now accepting religious bigotry – that is what a reformist party, intent on managing capitalism, and looking for ways to ‘Stockholm’ the working class, does.
Labor’s lack of direct links with the ruling class in the past enabled it on occasion to impose solutions on capitalists in the interests of capital. However the class collaboration that now dominates the union movement, and has done since the Accord discussions in 1982 with Labor, has destroyed the fighting left in the unions and concentrated power almost exclusively in the hands of the class collaborationist retailers of labour to the bosses.
The end result has been an ALP which is thoroughly neoliberal, or as John Quiggin puts it, market liberal, that attacks Aborigines through the Northern Territory intervention to further dispossess indigenous people and help put downward pressure on wages, that blackbirds refugees to concentration camps offshore and onshore, that refuses to recognise equal love and under whose time in Government the gender pay gap has increased and now seems stuck around 17.5%.
Despite the revisionist attempts of former economics professor and current Labor MP Andrew Leigh to reclaim the ALP as a liberal party since its inception, standing supposedly in the tradition of Alfred Deakin, the change is more recent. Andrew’s arguments are an attempt to justify its retreat into and complete surrender to market liberalism.
There is or should be nothing surprising about this. Labor in government has always adopted the dominant ruling class economic ideology. Indeed it was the Hawke and Keating governments which started the neoliberal project in Australia and laid the groundwork for Howard and the rehabilitation of his right wing ideas, policies and ‘persona’.
The latest example of Labor’s capitulation to bigotry is its Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. As David Marr put it in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘It’s a bigots’ charter.’
It allows religious institutions, and the schools and hospitals and other services they run with public funds, to discriminate in employment against people who don’t have the anointed faith. Further it allows them to discriminate against employing gays, lesbians, unmarried people ‘living in sin’, bisexuals, transsexuals and single mothers. These ‘sinners’ have no place in the world of the pure. Just ask some of the paedophile priests whom the Catholic Church has protected and protects.
Labor’s Bill will entrench discrimination by those who claim a higher calling for support for their rotten bigoted positions.
As Marr points it this also means these ‘sinners’ have no employment security in religious institutions.
The ALP was too gutless to even distribute school funding from rich private schools to poor schools. It is too gutless to attack bigotry masquerading as religion too.
OK. Gutless is not the right word. It takes real guts to impose the bosses’ agenda, including its bigotry, on working class resentful in its core to the increasing inequality, pay and other limitations and restrictions attacks on jobs and unions.
Some of Labor’ policies might resonate with the less unionised and class conscience section fo the class. However the problem then becomes the workers, accepting the logic of capital accumulation and all that go with it including racism, homophobia, sexism and religious bigotry might vote for the original rather than the carbon copy.
Thus the social conservatism and reaction are the logical conclusion of the ALP being a party of capital, even if it also has links to the working class though the trade union bureaucracy, that group of vultures hovering over the working class waiting to sell its carcass to the bosses for the best price. Labor is a CAPITALIST workers party.
The first step in fighting this bigotry is to recognise that for 30 years workers have chaffed under the restrictions of neoliberalism. While average wages have increased, the share of national income going to labour is at historic lows. In other words the gains of the last 3 decades have gone disproportionately to capital.
When the unwritten compact collapses, eg with the spread of the economic crisis engulfing Europe and North America to Asia and Australia, that uneasy alliance may be broken.
However what is required then is an organisation with working class roots, with a working class approach and an understanding that the crises of capitalism, economic and environmental, can only be overcome eventually by a revolution of the majority, the working class, in the interests of the majority.
That’s why it is important to fight every manifestation of Labor’s neoliberalism now, its attacks on workers, its racism, sexism and homophobia, its kowtowing to religious bigotry.
But that will not be enough because any gains, even if won though mass action, itself problematic in today’s environment of class peace, will be under attack as the needs of capital for more and more profit reinforce the attacks on women, Aborigines and the discrimination against gays and lesbians and the acquiescence to religious bigotry of all parties in government, Labor or Liberal.
A revolutionary workers party, big enough to offer an alternative vision of real democracy and production to satisfy human need, is needed now. That is what Socialist Alternative and its unity project is about.