Young people shake up capital’s strategy to undermine communal strength
Written by: John G. and Louisa L. on 1 March 2020
Young people have inspired tens of millions into urgent climate action worldwide. In Australia the bushfire crisis seems certain to mobilise older people who have never taken collective action before.
Many ask why it has taken young people to lead, what happened to the mass collective action of the past?
For many, last century is a world away. But, in terms of individual lives, capitalism is long-lived. Those who seek to overthrow it need to understand where we’ve been and how we got where we are.
The post World War Two economic boom bred the relative industrial quiet of the 1950s. But in 1961, a short-lived credit squeeze put ten per cent of Australians out of a job. For many the Australian Dream of job security and home ownership evaporated overnight.
Then, as now, capitalism’s failure came into sharp focus. Suddenly a much wider base existed for the growth of militant collectivism. Militant trade union leaders, many of them communist, inspired the working class to break the shackles on trade unions in 1969 and, with a phalanx of young people, lead wide political rebellion for quite a few years.
Naturally the U.S. - which had taken over as the dominant imperialist power from Britain after the latter’s abandonment of Australia in World War Two - step by step reinforced its position.
The CIA and a bit of history
Many progressive Australians see the first big blow to collective spirit and action as Whitlam’s overthrow in 1975, engineered by the CIA. ACTU President Bob Hawke nipped industrial action in the bud.
Hawke’s ascendancy had been supported by the U.S. embassy’s ‘Labour Attaches’ (code for CIA operatives) who in 1969 saw his then militancy and credibility as a way to head off mass worker struggles unleashed by the Penal Powers dispute the same year, led by our Vice Chairperson Clarrie O’Shea. (Humphrey McQueen speech ‘The O’Shea Struggle: 50 Years On’ 17/5/19 Spirit of Eureka)
U.S. control of Pine Gap, plus CIA operations, went on undisturbed by the two questions Whitlam was due to answer about them in parliament the day after his sacking.
From then on, U.S. imperialist domination of Australia’s economy and culture and its reflection in actions by the state apparatus and parliamentary administrations - state and federal, Coalition and Labor - continued relatively unhindered.
Five years later Hawke entered parliament and in 1983 overthrew Bill Hayden, a former minister in Whitlam’s administration, as Opposition leader. Hayden famously said a drover’s dog could have won the 1983 election for Labor. More the CIA dog…
The Hawke-Keating administration lasted till 1996. It smashed a path through peoples’ collective strength – most notably the unions. Many union leaderships organised their memberships’ own disorganisation and disempowerment under the so-called Accord between workers and capital.
But a long economic boom provided the framework for mass acceptance of capitalism. Reformism thrived on this objective foundation.
Non-compliant and militant workers, unions, and political formations were systematically targeted by the Labor administration and the state apparatus of laws, courts, police and gaols as well as the cultural organs of media and educational institutions. The military threat was not needed, as former national solidarity won in the Penal Powers’ dispute was pushed aside by most union leaderships.
Unions were picked off one at a time.
The road to capitalism
On Christmas Day, 1991, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites finally reached the inevitable decline to open restoration of capitalism. Begun in 1956 with Kruschev’s not so secret denunciation of Stalin, Communism’s image was further tarnished.
Alongside it, China’s advance along the path to capitalism flared up in the events of May 1989, though its origins are clearly earlier.
While our party, since its formation in 1964, condemned the former Soviet Union as a revisionist and then social-imperialist, we did not make the same analysis of China until far more facts accumulated. Ongoing criticisms and concerns crystallised at our 13th Congress in 2012. A resolution stated that the capitalist “restorationists in China have the upper hand” and that a trend towards imperialism, most notably the export of capital, was clearly developing.
In the minds of the Australian people, socialism and communism had failed. We - like all other avowedly left parties - demonstrated a lack of ability to lead at this time. Yet we continued to learn from and serve the people by involvement in mass struggles and to present communist analysis and guidance where there were openings.
The highway to war
A million people marched against Australian involvement in the invasion of Iraq. Well over 90 per cent of our people opposed this war without UN support. Our members worked in the coalitions that led the protests.
As in every war, Australia sent troops because our imperialist masters demanded it. In Iraq, only the UK and Poland also marched to the U.S. war drums.
It showed capitalist democracy is a farce.
But such brazen rejection of an expressed majority demand and other similar government actions at various levels shoves down peoples’ throats an impotence, powerlessness, an inability to affect government action. The ruling class capacity to do this, to an extent, reflected the shallowness of the anti-war coalitions’ organisers connection with the masses.
At some level frustration, anger and a sense of passivity, depression, arise amongst those raising demands when they are unable to effect change. Their lack of agency in getting things done can become a feature of their understanding of their place in society.
Again and again, people have used the Iraq War as a reason for inaction. Who can blame them? It’s one reason unions eventually became so tied to parliamentary solutions focused on the election of Labor administrations. After all, the ALP was born after the ‘failed’ 1890s’ shearers strike.
Yet the people’s struggle against the Iraq invasion cemented Muslim peoples here as part of the Australian community. For decades it largely protected us from the ravages of terrorism. Ordinary Australians were not seen as the enemy. U.S. imperialism and its parliamentary puppets, Howard and co, were clearly exposed, for a time at least.
Australian capitalism is facing multiple crises. Young people face a future of insecure jobs, exclusion from the housing market, a rapidly deteriorating climate with harsh conditions, nature under threat, industries collapsing, a declining education system and many other critical problems. Wages are forced down under the weight of declining rates of profit. Small business is squeezed by monopolies. Exploitation of the workers is ramped up. Many older women face retirement poverty. Capitalism is in crisis on many fronts.
The Morrison administration responds, building on the past disempowerment and cynicism of the people, and on anti-collective attacks launched by the intervening Rudd and Gillard administrations, to undermine demonstrated community organisation around demands.
This is no accident. Morrison has expressed it as one strategy to respond to various social demands. He is determined to head off rising demands by embracing them to a degree. For example, in response to wage theft outrage and union and community NGO action to hunt down the thieves, force payment and seek penalties, the government has created a pathway to seek redress through the Fair Work Ombudsman, as a government authority to investigate and prosecute wage theft.
(Above: Fair Work Ombudsman protest 2018)
That strategy cuts unions and NGOs, community organisations, out of the path to solving the problem. It takes opportunity to build communal power away and isolates the oppressed from power.
It is designed to disempower community and build individual isolation. It also leaves the framing, the character, the range and lines of solutions, in the hands of government regulators, with all the inadequacies, narrowness and designed restrictions of that.
The strategy is being applied to many areas of social concern. The government’s privatisation of aged care services, in home care, social welfare, and disability services, defunding of the feminist movement’s established women’s shelters, all display similar approaches. Removing these from community control, initially favouring religious and institutional service providers, and increasingly corporate ones, again closes down fields of community organisation.
After the bushfires, the Business Council of Australia and its member corporations took matters into their own hands. On January 26, the CFMMEU opened a house it built for a member in Cobargo. A few weeks later and with much fanfare, the BCA trucked a whole demountable village to nearby Brogo.
The world’s big four tax-dodge-organising accounting firms particularly pepper boards of what would have once been Australian community organisations.
And – against the very spirit the Eureka flag represents – Lend Lease is taking the Australian Building and Construction Commission to court to defend its workers’ rights to fly the flag. It sends a deceptive message that the flag and its history is no threat to the ruling class. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s got to go!
The lack of agency in resolving problems tends to leave community organisations’ views of injustices quite restricted in scope and depth. They may see some instances, but being excluded from deep investigation and from seeing all who come forward with cases of injustice, the scope and depth are somewhat hidden.
It means there is effectively some community influence and maybe consultation but little mobilisation and organisation. So, there is little room for community control and community development.
There is a need to adjust activists’ demands to incorporate building communal power, community control, as a priority in mobilising people. This means rethinking calls such as the one to criminalise wage theft.
Unions have thousands of field organisers across the country, with wage theft as one of their responsibilities. Government regulation restricts their right to see wages records, requires them to give notice of a site visit, restricts them to sites where they have members, and requires members to be identified, which hugely limits their access to fight wage theft. Campaigns against wage theft should highlight the opportunity empowered union organisations could make to stamping out wage theft, and contrast it with the Fair Work Ombudsman’s inability to attack it even if they were serious about it.
Similar things arise in many campaigns. Community control and action should be our watchwords. Appeal to government to establish agencies to solve problems should be anathema.
Young people have shown no fear in taking on the giant corporations that underpin U.S. imperialist rule in Australia. Rank and file activism is rising in unions, training new generations in how to fight and organise.
And a mood for revolution is growing. Capitalism has failed the people and the planet. It’s got to go!
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