The Independent Fight of the Working Class
We have seen our defensive organisations, the unions, lose much of their freedom of action.
We have seen rising unemployment disguised as precarious work: work that is irregular, at the whim of the employer, and often coupled with spurious “self-contractor” arrangements that deprive us of long and hard fought for conditions such as sick leave, long service leave and penalty rates.
There is a culture of punishing the poor. It is as if being poor, unemployed or precariously employed is the fault of the worker. It is as if the only people who are losing out in the class structure of society are those who won’t “have a go”, who won’t “make the effort” to get ahead. They need to be pushed into work by being kept on the starvation-level Newstart Allowance. They need to be regulated and controlled by having their social service benefits managed through a prohibitive income card. They need to be drug-tested and kept on the merry-go-round of applying for jobs that don’t exist or for which they are not trained.
Unions are subject to all sorts of restrictions and penalties. Many workers have given up on them and union density is at an all-time low. A promising campaign by the ACTU to “Change the Rules” was diverted into supporting the electoral campaign of the Labor Party at the last election. It appears as though, with the massive loss suffered by the ALP in the elections, the steam has gone out of the ACTU’s campaign. It has now abandoned the mass grass roots campaign for workers’ rights it had mobilized to elect the ALP.
Conditions have been stripped in enterprise bargaining, penalty rates have been removed, and wages have seen no growth.
Many workers are asking when and how things will change. They question the future of work itself given the phenomenal growth of computerisation, robotics, autonomous operations and artificial intelligence. Parents question whether their children will be even worse off than they are themselves. There is a widespread feeling of uncertainty about the future. People question whether they can have any control over what the future may hold. This extends far beyond the world of jobs and housing to climate change and the aggressive behaviors of the world’s big powers. More people are questioning whether the planet itself can survive under capitalism..
These questions are indeed urgent. Things can no longer go on as before. But what can be done?
Relying on others will not help
For many years, relying on politicians and on parliamentary processes were how people found answers to their questions.
The Labor Party in particular upheld the view that political action within the institution of parliament was what was required “because,” (to quote a Labor brochure from the September 2019 climate change rallies), “in our democracy that is where policies are made”.
For over a century now, that is how many working people hoped to see their fundamental questions answered, and problems fixed.
The right to elected political representation is dear to all workers. They know it had to be fought for – it was one of the key demands, for example, of participants in the Eureka rebellion. We would resist any attempt to restrict it or remove it – as happens in countries where the ruling class opts for open, fascist dictatorship.
However, relying on parliament whether Labor, Greens or cross-bench Independents, or the courts, only results in the continuation of the status quo and repeated disappointment. This has been the history of the Labor Party and partly explains the current attraction of minor parties and Independents.
• hope that Labor will do the right thing by its electoral base within the working class;
This cycle cannot go on indefinitely. It is a cycle in which workers wait upon the actions of a party which will always act in the interest of big business and multinational corporations . It is a cycle in which that action is seen only or mainly in its being carried out in an institution, parliament, that will never enact legislation to curb capitalism and force it to bend to the will of the people.
We need our own agenda
We can only break out of this self-defeating cycle by finding the way to develop our own independent working class agenda (that is, things to be done and ways to do them).
The actual content of that agenda, of the things to be done, will change according to the needs of the time. Demands will be raised and prioritised, additions made and wordings changed. To that extent, the content of the agenda is of secondary importance. (Our Fighting Program, available soon on our website is an example of such content).
What is of primary importance is developing the forms of struggle, the organisations, and alliances with common demands and struggles for a working class agenda, not a big business agenda of exploitation and repression.
We cannot and should not overlook the existing organisations within our workplaces and communities. Fighting for progressive leadership of unions and community groups is essential. It requires patient and skillful work at the grass roots and the development of a strong rank-and-file presence in such organisations.
These organisations are both necessary and very limited. The top officialdom of unions is more often than not beholden to the ALP electoral fortunes, are highly paid, and unlikely to enter into any struggle beyond those allowed by legislation that protects big business exploitation and profiteering. Those unions with a large asset base, property and investment portfolios are more reluctant to take any action that may risk their financial arrangements.
It must be our objective that unions and community groups have an independent capacity to act in their members’ interests regardless of which party holds office in parliament. The agenda must serve the needs of the people, not an electoral cycle.
That is why the main focus of organisation must be in the workplaces and communities where our real strength resides and where there is less temptation to sell out and to go soft for the sake of one’s personal or political career.
Working class demands and mass actions based in workplaces and communities, and not tied to parliamentary parties and reliance on parliament, have enormous capacity and power to organise, unite and mobilise the working class and communities to fight back the big business assault and advance the interests of all working people.
An independent working class agenda will advance people’s immediate demands for a decent standard of living for all people, workers’ rights and democratic rights and job security. It will vigorously oppose austerity and promote taxing the profits of multinational corporations and big business to pay for public health, education, public transport, affordable housing, social and community services for all. It will put forward an alternative vision for our country that puts the needs of the people above the electoral fortunes of politicians and parliamentary parties, and the profit interests of big business.
The independent working class agenda will build broad unity and mobilise the working class, city and rural communities, farmers and environmentalists. It will unite people from all walks of life who are attacked by the capitalist economic crisis. This will be an independent working class movement that cannot be turned on an off when it suits the Labor Party or the ACTU.
It will achieve all this so long as it is truly independent of parties and processes that prioritise “the exploitative capitalist economy” over the people.
That means a preparedness to break the rules, to act illegally, if need be, in the face of anti-union and anti-worker legislation. Only a real upsurge of rebellion and open defiance will return to workers and unions the initiative and confidence in the fighting capacity of the working class. The same applies to community organisations, to organisations of the First Peoples, of environmental, heritage, public housing and transport, anti-war and other arenas of people’s struggle.
We must have courage and faith in the collective strength of the working class as a whole.
We can find the answers and solutions to the great questions troubling our people.
We will find them in struggles with the people, as we learn what can be done, and when and how.
Raise the demand widely that there be an independent agenda of the working class!
Let us define the content according to what we need and in the interests of the whole working class!
Let us bravely surmount all difficulties and obstacles and break whatever legal shackles are placed on us!