October 1917 - Time to celebrate workers' struggles
October 2017 marks the centenary of the historic Russian Revolution of 1917 when workers broke one key link in the imperialist chain which enslaves the workers of the world.
The victory of workers in the Russian Revolution gave Australian workers great hope that a better world was possible when workers take control of the whole society. It inspired workers in the 1920s and 30s to struggle for better pay and conditions in many developing industries in Australia. Those experiences extended after WW2 to include an embryonic car industry which was taken over by US imperialist interests led by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler and more recently Japanese imperialist interests led by Toyota.
As imperialism expanded production of motor cars and car components in factories built in Australia it strengthened and expanded core elements of the industrial working class (proletariat) in Australia. The very conditions of working life in the large car and car component factories compelled workers to organize in mass organisations to defend and advance their own interests. The tremendous gains made by workers in the Soviet Union after the 1917 October Revolution inspired thousands of working class leaders and activists in many industries, including the large car industry factories in Australia.
The great 1964 four-week strike by 20,000 General Motors Holden workers for higher wages and better working conditions was led by progressive rank and file workers including Communist Party members and supporters. In the late 1960s and 1970s the struggle of car industry workers escalated with US-owned Uniroyal car component workers in Adelaide striking for six weeks. The Ford Broadmeadows strike in 1973 was a highpoint of worker militancy. For 9 weeks, a largely migrant workforce battled their US bosses and a subservient union leadership which included prominent revisionists.
The political consciousness of car industry workers was high with their shop floor leaders campaigning for nationalization of the car industry in response to US imperialist car industry barons developing the "world car".
It was car workers' political consciousness and agitation that provided the impetus to Labor Minister Mick Young in the Whitlam Government period calling for "Nationalization Of GMH".
The world car concept was a deliberate strategy by the imperialists to weaken the working classes of individual countries by spreading the design and production of cars and components across multiple countries. This was the start of US imperialism's assault on the working class internationally by playing one country off against another. It started closing plants in some countries where the working class was strong, such as Australia, and opening new ones where it estimated there would be less resistance to its profit maximization goals.
This assault on the working class in 'the West' complemented its relentless attempt to divide and conquer the workers of the Soviet Union.
This strategy by car industry multinationals in Australia was accelerated by mass sackings of workers due to overproduction and also automation and use of robotics. In the 1970s and 1980s many progressive workers in the car and car component factories were targeted for redundancy. This included the very effective Rank and File organisation at Chryslers in Adelaide. Hundreds of workers were sacked in 1977 to ensure that a core group of militants were removed.
US imperialism succeeded in smashing the Soviet Union, aided by the bureaucrat capitalist roaders within the Soviet Union. However the car and car component workers in Australia, although diminishing in numbers, continued to struggle together to defend their living standards right in to the 21st Century and up to the present day, sometimes with little or no assistance from the union official leaderships and neo-liberal politicians of both major political parties.
While it is true that the economic imperative of profit maximization of imperialism has led to car and car component factories being moved around the world like pawns on a chess board, it is also true that the only way the imperialist corporations could defeat these car and car component industry workers in Australia was to close the whole industry down and move it to where it hoped to find less organised workers and even more compliant governments.
So in October 2017 when General Motors and Toyota and their component suppliers have closed their production lines in Australia, remember that like the workers of the great October Russian Revolution of 1917, the car and car component workers in Australia provided magnificent leadership and inspiration to the working class of Australia as a whole stretching across three generations.
Their legacy of daring to struggle and daring to win against the show pieces of imperialism in Australia over the last century will continue in the working class communities which nurtured them and which they enriched and continue to do so