Today’s protests are a great chance to start a massive fight back against the bosses’ attacks. Students are striking and joining the protests. Pressure from rank and file workers has forced the bureaucrats who run Trades Hall to accept an historic stop work on May Day to join the struggle. While the bureaucrats have tried to limit the stop work as much as possible, it’s still a great step forward. But we shouldn’t stop there!
Trades Hall leaders Leigh Hubbard and Brian Boyd no doubt hope that after we’ve let off steam for a couple of hours they can send us back to work. There’s even talk that the bureaucrats will stop workers from uniting with the M1 protesters if there are clashes with the police. Damn cowards! If the police attack the M1 protesters, the protesters will need our help to defend themselves. In any event, we’ll have the biggest effect if the union march joins with the protesters in a united show of force.
Workers should defy the bureaucrats and stay at the protests. If we stay and take action to shut down at least one of the targets of today’s protest (like the Stock Exchange or the offices of Yallourn Power and Energy) we’ll send the message that it’s time to stop just complaining about layoffs, pay cuts and the slashing of social services, and time to start the mass struggle to defeat these attacks; that it’s time to throw the whole weight of the union movement behind the struggles of the Yallourn power workers and all other workers who are fighting back. Through decisive action, we can send the message that whether there’s a Liberal or Labor government after the next Federal elections, we’ll fight to smash the Workplace Relations Act (WRA) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), to end the anti-immigrant offensive and racist attacks on Aboriginal people.
Today marks the first time in decades that the Australian labour movement has taken stop work action on May Day. Let’s make it a truly historic day that will be remembered as the day we started to turn the tide against the bosses’ attacks.
We’re hardly alone in this struggle. May Day actions are taking place not just in cities across Australia, but in other countries as well. Indeed recent years have seen massive struggles against imperialist “globalization,” privatization and “free trade” attacks, mostly in “Third World” countries. Massive protests and general strikes have recently shaken Argentina, Bolivia and India. In Ecuador, workers and peasants have used mass strikes and uprisings to topple one government after another in response to attempts to open the economy to greater imperialist exploitation. General strikes and riots have similarly broken out in response to IMF and World Bank policies, from Indonesia to Zimbabwe.
The powerful imperialist countries like the U.S. and their junior partners like Australia have not been hit by such explosive struggles – yet. But today’s actions do follow the militant protests against the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Melbourne last year. Indeed they are part of a series of “anti-globalization” and “anti-capitalist” protests that began in Seattle in 1999, and have taken place in many other cities since, most recently with the massive protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec.
Seattle was so inspiring because anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protesters were joined by a massive mobilization of workers. Union leaders had mobilized tens of thousands of their members with the aim of only having a passive march separate from the other protests. But many of the workers wanted a real fightback, and broke from the assigned route of the march to join protesters blocking the streets around the WTO conference. The union bureaucrats lost control and the repressive apparatus of the state was taken by surprise. The workers united with the protesters and succeeded in shutting the conference down. (See our article “Battle Over Seattle” in Proletarian Revolution, No. 60 for a full analysis.)
Since then, the state has learned its lesson, and is no longer taken by surprise. Every protest in every country since has seen escalating shows of armed force by the state. At S11, baton wielding cops beat protesters, charged them with horses, and ran over them with cars and motorcycles. Last month in Quebec City, protesters were met by six miles of steel fencing and thousands of riot police firing water cannon, rubber bullets and nerve gas!
The union bureaucrats have also learned their lesson. They avoid mobilizing masses of workers, and when they are forced to, they try to keep the workers under the tightest control and if at all possible separate them from the youth. We saw this with S11 where Hubbard had to be forced to allow the workers to cross the river to join the protesters. Boyd also threatened to impose his brand of discipline on the protests and then bussed in workers to break the picket set up on S11. It couldn’t be clearer that the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats are the bosses’ police inside the working class, just as the real cops wait outside with their batons, guns and tear gas.
The Trades Hall bureaucrats are up to the same tricks today. At first, the Trades Hall leaders wanted to have nothing to do with the May Day protests. Then, when pressure from the ranks forced them to come out in support of the planned actions, they did nothing to build for them. And they still hope to keep the workers under their control today.
In this way, just as in the day-to-day struggles of workers, the union bureaucracy is the chief barrier to an effective fightback against the capitalist attacks. But the example of Seattle shows what great things can be achieved if workers break free of the constraints of their bureaucratic misleaders, and take matters into their own hands.
Today’s action is perfectly timed to start the fightback the working class needs. Probably the most important struggle being waged right now is that of the Yallourn power workers. Facing demands that they agree to a contract that would allow the bosses to change wages and working conditions at a whim, the workers launched a six-week go-slow and a four hour work stoppage last year. Since then, however, their struggle has been trapped in the courts.
But the chains come off the Yallourn workers on May 2, when they can legally take industrial action again. A powerful, united rally today that sends the message that union members are ready to back the Yallourn workers would be a big boost to the struggle. It would also encourage La Trobe Valley miners, who are considering industrial action against the proposed use of contractors in the mines.
Moreover, the bosses’ main weapon against workers in the La Trobe Valley is the same one they’re using against workers everywhere: the WRA. The current wave of mass retrenchments and lockouts are all made possible by the WRA. This general attack by the bosses needs a united response by the working class – a general strike.
A general strike would hit back at the bosses’ profits and demonstrate to the working class the power it has when it is united in struggle. Turning today’s stop work into an all-out united protest will show workers’ determination to fight, and help spread the idea of a general strike. An indefinite general strike – one that continues until victory, and not a symbolic strike – could smash the WRA and the GST.
But the inspiring general strike of 1992 against the Kennett-Liberal Government, and the powerful strike and mass pickets of the MUA struggle of 1998, show that for as long as workers fight under treacherous pro-capitalist leaders, their struggles remain vulnerable to betrayal and defeat. Struggles like today’s, however, can give the most militant and politically advanced workers and youth the confidence and experience to start building the new leadership that our class needs.
The union bureaucrats’ response to workers’ demands for a general strike will be the same one they always use: wait to elect a Labor government.
Labor looks set to win power later this year. One reason is that Howard’s Liberals are so widely hated. But another is that the bosses have largely given up on the Liberals, and are backing Labor strongly, including donating millions more to the ALP’s election campaign than to the Liberals.
The bosses hope a Labor government will continue to implement the Liberals’ WRA and GST, while using its control of the unions to head-off the rising level of strikes and protests. Of course Beazley’s doing his best to reassure the bosses’ that his ALP won’t let them down. He refuses to commit the ALP to overturning the WRA or the GST.
What can be expected from a Federal Labor government can be seen in the current policies of State Labor governments. In Victoria, Bracks’s ALP governs in the traditions of Kennett. With a record budget surplus, Bracks refuses to reverse past budget cuts to health care, education and other social services. And Bracks will no doubt mobilize the cops to violently confront today’s protests, as he did against the S11 protests last year. In NSW, Labor is mounting an historic attack on workers’ compensation rights. Labor retained power in Western Australia and won office in Queensland thanks to a massive rejection of the Liberals, but also thanks in part to running on a racist, anti-working class program of mandatory sentencing and killing native title rights.
Labor may be the party of the unions and in that way a workers’ party. But its policies and leadership are no less capitalist than the Liberal’s. Nonetheless, most militant workers hope that by ousting the Liberals and putting Labor in power, they will face a government that won’t fight them like the Howard government did, and will even make concessions if enough pressure is brought to bear.
Revolutionaries have to join with their fellow workers in voting for Labor in order to use the experience of voting them into office to prove that the ALP is no solution to their problems. Workers must be warned that they will face further attacks from a Beazley government, just as they did under Hawke and Keating. In this way revolutionaries can convice workers that to fight the bosses and win, they must break from the ALP and build a revolutionary party dedicated to the overthrow of the entire capitalist system.
The working class has to break out of the cycle of betrayal in parliament at the hands of Labor, and on the picket line at the hands of the union bureaucrats. The Labor hacks hold back and sell out our struggles because they rely on the capitalist system for their privileged positions. Their pay and power depend on their position as brokers between the working class and the capitalists. So as the economic crisis deepens and the capitalists must cut jobs and wages and intensify exploitation, the Labor hacks must try to help the bosses implement these attacks and hold back our struggles against them. At the same time, when attacks from above, or workers’ anger from below, go so far as to threaten their privileged positions, they must at least make a show of putting up fight against the bosses.
The only leadership that can be relied on to lead our class’s struggles forward and not sell out is one that won’t compromise with the capitalists because it is dedicated to their overthrow – a revolutionary socialist leadership. Such a leadership won’t come from intellectual saviors from above, but rather from the efforts of the most class conscious vanguard workers. The fight to build a revolutionary party will be greatly advanced by the success of mass struggles like today’s. As the working class begins to sense its power, more and more workers will start to see the possibility of not just struggling to defeat the capitalists’ attacks, but to overthrow their entire system and replace it with a socialist society of plenty and freedom.
There is no need for hunger, homelessness and all the other shortages that are used to force workers and poor to fight one another like dogs. International capitalism has built up a world economy of such capacity that there is no need for the scarcity of jobs, goods and social services anywhere. If the world economy was liberated from the shackles of producing for private profit, and instead directed toward producing for what people need, there would be an abundance for all.
A classless, cooperative socialist world cleansed of all oppression can be built. But the capitalists and their lackeys will not give up without a fight. Their practically military response to simple protests like this one makes that obvious. Capitalist rule will have to be overthrown by revolutions that smash the capitalist state and put the working class in power.
To offer effective leadership to today’s struggles for workers’ most immediate needs and to link them to the aim of overthrowing capitalism, a revolutionary party needed. To lead such an international struggle, the most politically advanced and militant workers in each country must join together to build revolutionary parties as sections of a world revolutionary party, a re-created Trotskyist Fourth International. Only with such a disciplined, united leadership will the vanguard workers of the world be able to lead the struggle for world socialist revolution to victory.
The Communist Organization for the Fourth International’s supporters in Australia want to begin a discussion of these ideas with revolutionary-minded workers and youth. The huge class struggles that are developing will provide fantastic opportunities to build the genuinely revolutionary socialist leadership our class needs. Take advantage of the offer of a free sample copy of our magazine, Proletarian Revolution. Get in contact with us. There’s no time to waste!
With Labor set to win the next election, Beazley’s ALP refuses to commit itself to overturning the Liberals’ most hated policies: the WRA and the GST. Meanwhile State Labor governments are pressing ahead with anti-working class attacks. No wonder the ALP no longer has the support it once did among militant workers.
Supposedly to provide an anti-capitalist alternative to Labor, a number of socialist groups have come together to launch the Socialist Alliance (SA), which plans on running in the upcoming Federal elections. Led by the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the SA includes a number of other socialist groupings, and is the supported by some union leaders, like the AMWU’s Victorian State Secretary, Craig Johnston.
The idea that these socialist groups have solved their differences and formed a party to challenge Labor could be an exciting prospect to some revolutionary-minded workers and youth. But if so, they will be sorely disappointed.
The SA says it will bring the “s word” – socialism – back into the mainstream. It may. But you can be sure that it won’t do the same for the “r word” – revolution. The SA’s draft platform features a grab-bag of policies for reform. But nowhere does it mention that to achieve all these reforms and build socialism, capitalism will have to be overthrown by means of revolution. No, the SA draft platform stands for the reform of capitalism.
United socialist electoral tickets based on reformist programs supposedly acceptable to the largest number of people have been tried many times and most often fail to get significant support. One reason is that when given the choice between big reformist parties like Labor who could potentially wield power and be pushed to make concessions, and pip-squeak reformist socialists, most workers will follow their common sense, hold their noses, and vote for the big guys.
But worse, such campaigns are an obstacle to the mass struggles workers need. Whenever workers try to launch a struggle against the bosses, the main obstacle they face is the trade union bureaucracy which holds them back and betrays them. But led by the DSP and the ISO – two groups that cheerlead for the union bureaucrats and never expose them – the SA has no intention of preparing workers for the struggles they face against the union bureaucracy.
Furthermore, while it says it’s for workers’ struggles to win their demands, the SA’s platform doesn’t feature a call for the key form of struggle workers need to build for to unite their struggles and beat back the bosses’ attacks - a general strike.
We have many other disagreements with the SA’s draft program and will provide a full analysis of it in the next edition of Proletarian Revolution magazine. But one point that can not escape mention is that despite opposing globalization and Howard’s military expansion and being in favor of world peace, it is not genuinely internationalist. It obviously doesn’t explain that the overthrow of Australian capitalism is essential for the liberation of the South East Asian masses from one of their imperialist oppressors. And it doesn’t promote the creation of a world party of socialist revolution through which genuine internationalism is possible.
The SA’s draft platform also doesn’t address concrete struggles against Australian imperialism – with good reason. Opposing Australian military intervention in Asia is an elementary principle for genuine socialists. But the SA doesn’t clearly take up the issue since one of its leading groups, the DSP, took the pro-imperialist position of supporting Australian military intervention in East Timor, rejecting the internationalist strategy of fighting for the arming the East Timorese and Indonesian masses against the Indonesian dictatorship. What sort of leadership can be expected from a pseudo-party that would split over the question of supporting Australian imperialism?
The working class doesn’t need another reformist party. It needs an internationalist revolutionary party. Only such a party can link today’s struggles against the bosses, to the struggle to overthrow this rotten capitalist system.
Sometimes a mass movement of workers leads toward creating a new party. Under such circumstances revolutionaries can join the movement and in the course of the struggle seek to convince workers that the party should be based on a revolutionary program. But the SA is not the product of such a movement. Rather, it is a manoeuver of relatively small socialist groups hoping to get rich quick by recruiting people to a watered down program. In this situation, it is the duty of revolutionaries to show the bankruptcy such an approach, and do all they can to stop the creation of another reformist obstacle to revolution.