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Australasian Spartacist No. 191

Winter 2005

Laborite Union Tops Tie Workers to Bosses' Courts

For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defeat Howard's Union Busting!

Down With Nationalist Protectionist Poison!
Break With Laborism—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Building on more than two decades of union busting under first the Hawke/Keating federal ALP governments and then the Liberal/National Coalition, the Tories today have their sights set on far-reaching attacks on workers. Howard’s industrial relations package draws on the union-busting experience of British Labour Party prime minister, Tony Blair. Indeed, across the globe from Australia to Europe, capitalist governments are on the offensive to ratchet up the rate of exploitation, maximising the profits the bosses squeeze from workers. With the wind in their sails, particularly since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the capitalist rulers aim to eliminate union conditions won over decades of struggle.

Howard’s proposed legislation places ever more restrictions on union access to worksites, further “outlawing” strikes and ordering compulsory secret ballots before any strike. It also vetoes industry-wide agreements and seeks to entrench individual contracts (AWAs). Such contracts are designed to atomise workers, gutting their ability to collectively organise against the bosses’ attacks on hard won union conditions and jobs. The bosses are salivating at the prospect of a qualitative diminution of union power. Companies, such as Appaloosa Holdings in Sydney and others across the country, have demanded employees sign AWAs or lose their jobs.

Many workers know what is at stake and are angry and eager to fight back, such as the mostly immigrant women workers who have been striking and picketing the Kemalex plant in Melbourne for weeks. On 1 June strikes and rallies occurred in the education sector, and rallies and work stoppages are planned in most capital cities on 30 June. Against Howard’s anti-working-class legislation we say: Bury the union-busters! All out for the 30 June strikes and protests! For broad-based strikes nationwide backed by mass pickets that no-one dares cross!

What the capitalists are able to get away with depends on the outcome of class struggle. These anti-union laws can be turned into a dead letter if unions mobilise workers to exercise their enormous social power and bring the wheels of capitalist profit making to a grinding halt. In 1969 it took concerted mass strike action to win the release of Victorian tramways union leader, Clarrie O’Shea, jailed for refusing to pay fines for defying anti-strike laws. These strikes spiked the Arbitration court’s penal powers for over a decade. The only illegal strike is one that loses!

Laborite Obstacles to a Class-Struggle Fight

But the chief obstacle to bringing such power to bear is the current leadership of the unions, which is committed to preserving capitalist rule. Instead of class struggle against Howard’s attacks, the ACTU tops offer a “community” publicity campaign which is designed to channel workers’ anger into the dead end of support to the ALP in parliament and to the bosses’ courts, particularly Arbitration and its Awards system. Joining them are right-wing bureaucrats such as Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, who appeals to NSW Labor premier Bob Carr to “abide by” and “defend” his state Industrial Relations regime.

Responding to the anger of workers throughout the country right-wing federal ALP leader Kim “Bomber” Beazley has now declared he will “roll back” Howard’s laws should he be elected in three years time. But make no mistake, in defending Arbitration Beazley is simply offering the ruling class more of the same type of union busting used during the 13 years of Hawke/Keating ALP governments, in which he served as a leading and loyal minister. Meanwhile state Labor premiers have unanimously declared their opposition to strikes in response to these attacks. Like Queensland premier Peter Beattie, who boasts of the lowest level of strikes in 30 years, these capitalist politicians are proven strikebreakers.

In 2000, Victorian premier Steve Bracks invoked emergency laws to break the Latrobe Valley power workers’ strike. Last year he imprisoned union militant Craig Johnston for defending striking workers against scabs. The NSW Carr government, notorious for its racist police attacks on immigrant and Aboriginal youth, is also widely hated by workers. In June 2001, when workers blockaded the NSW state parliament to stop Labor MPs voting legislation to deprive injured workers of billions of dollars in workers compensation, Carr mobilised mounted police to bloodily smash the blockade.

With the right-wing union tops openly defeatist, some unionists are looking hopefully to the “left wing,” like those in the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) who have called for a half-day stoppage in Melbourne on 30 June. However the VTHC is not qualitatively different from union bodies elsewhere throughout the country; it too consists of pro-capitalist Laborite bureaucrats. The VTHC began their “Fair for all, not free for all” campaign by wheeling out former Labor prime minister, certified union-buster and Cold War anti-Communist, Bob Hawke, who was deservedly jeered by angry union delegates at the Melbourne meeting.

In March last year, when the VTHC put forward an ACTU-brokered motion condemning any union support for “criminal or violent behaviour,” several union officials walked out of the meeting, rightly viewing the motion as an attempt to strangle defence of union activists such as Craig Johnston. Later, when acting at the behest of the Police Association the VTHC scandalously banned a Spartacist meeting at Melbourne Trades Hall in defence of Redfern Aborigines, the “left” officials to their credit responded to our fight against this sinister police provocation and pressured Trades Hall to reverse the ban, thus striking a small blow against the intrusion of the bosses’ state into the workers movement. However these “left” union leaders will only go so far. Thus despite organising some rallies in defence of Johnston, they in effect bowed to the violence-baiting VTHC motion by refusing to unleash union power in a concerted struggle to win his release. Instead they channelled rank and file support for this militant into the dead end of pleading with Johnston’s jailer, ALP premier Bracks, to grant clemency. Underscoring their commitment to Laborite social-democratic capitalism, the “left” and “progressive” union tops from around the country, such as Martin Kingham, Chris Cain and Johnston joined with reformists at Socialist Alliance’s National Union Fightback Conference in Melbourne on 11 June to back a draft statement which in part declared: “We therefore call on the ALP to commit to opposing all anti-union laws and to repealing them when they are next elected to office” (“Now’s the time for a united fightback!”).

The ALP is a bourgeois workers party. While it has organic ties to the workers movement through the unions, its program and leadership is thoroughly pro-capitalist. When in power, as it is in all states and territories today, an ALP government administers the capitalist state for the bosses. The working-class base of the ALP must be split away from its pro-capitalist leadership. This will require a sharp political struggle against Laborism within the unions, in the process building a class-struggle leadership linked to a revolutionary workers party that fights for workers revolution to end the whole system of capitalist exploitation.

Howard’s anti-union legislation sits alongside the recent federal budget, which mercilessly bleeds the poor including single mothers, disabled workers, the sick and working poor. While banks and other businesses are reaping record profits, today almost one in four Australians officially live in poverty. Cuts to social services including education and health and punitive measures against the unemployed go hand-in-hand with assaults on women, immigrants and Aborigines who are now subjected to paternalistic “shared responsibility” agreements. In this brutal society where Aboriginal people are killed by the cops with impunity, immigrants locked in concentration camps and even citizens such as Vivian Alvarez Solon deported basically because they’re not white, the capitalist rulers whip up racist divisions in order to drive down the conditions of all.

To take on and defeat the capitalists’ union-busting drive will require a serious, politically organised fight. A class-struggle leadership would reach out to, and draw upon, the untapped reservoir of strength from the hundreds of thousands of as yet unorganised women, immigrants, disabled and young workers who make up the growing numbers barely eking out an existence under capitalism. To address the poverty and severe exploitation of the large mass of workers, and reverse the steady decline of union membership, we say: Organise the unorganised! Equal pay for equal work, including for women, youth and minorities!

We fight for one out, all out! For industry-wide strikes defended by mass pickets that no-one dares cross! The bosses’ scab-herding can be undercut and defeated by drawing casuals and the unemployed onto picket lines! Fight unemployment through reducing the working week with no loss in pay—make the bosses pay! To ease the burden of child rearing particularly on women, the working class must take up the fight for fully paid maternity and paternity leave, for free quality 24-hour childcare and healthcare for all! A union struggle to win jobs for all, including integrating the heavily exploited immigrant outworkers into the unions, would strengthen and unify the class against the bosses’ attacks.

But providing even the basic necessities of life—decent jobs, free quality education and healthcare, decent housing and public transport—for all, requires a workers state with a planned collectivised economy where production is organised for the needs of society not for capitalist profit. Under the leadership of a revolutionary internationalist party the victory of the proletariat on a world scale would place hitherto unknown material abundance at the service of humanity, laying the basis for the elimination of all exploitation and social inequality.

No Illusions in the Capitalist State!

The ALP and Laborite union leaders have historically upheld the system of “labour relations” embodied in the Arbitration and Awards system. This system was erected upon an historic racist pact between the Laborite bureaucracy and the ruling class, which institutionalised tariff-protected industries and a “whites only” labour force, and enshrined unequal wages for women. Far from independent, Arbitration is a corporatist straitjacket which isolates and chokes off struggles, allowing the courts to regulate the unions in every sphere—from wages and conditions to the conduct of strikes.

The pro-capitalist union tops repeatedly seek to divert trade-union struggles into the bosses’ courts in order to stifle them. In 1998 thousands of unionists around the country, and internationally, rallied in defence of waterfront workers against the vicious union busting of Howard and Patrick boss Chris Corrigan. We Spartacists argued at the time for a solid national port strike with mass pickets to shut down the docks. However the Maritime Union (MUA) tops instead pushed deadly reliance on the capitalist courts. While the reformists peddled the myth of a union victory and deep-sixed the treacherous role of the union bureaucrats, the result was a sell-out which saw hundreds of jobs lost, speed-ups, increased casualisation and an end to the closed shop on the waterfront.

Any determined union fightback must oppose all attempts to subordinate workers struggles to the bosses’ courts. We fight for the complete independence of the working class from the capitalist state! Bury Arbitration! Arbitration is not a “safety net” for workers but a safeguard for the bosses to keep struggles within the bounds of capitalism.

The capitalist state apparatus was created and exists to defend the interests of the ruling capitalist class, who own the mines, vast agri-businesses, factories and other means of production, against the counterposed interests of the working class. Forced to sell their labour power, from which the capitalists extract profit, the workers’ key role and organisation at the point of production makes them the only class capable of replacing the rule of capital with a new society based on socialised means of production. To defend its own rule, the bourgeoisie will send its cops and army to break strikes and picket lines. It will use its courts and laws to threaten workers and the oppressed and its prisons to incarcerate them. The capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of workers. It must be replaced with a workers state through proletarian socialist revolution.

Grotesquely the union tops have welcomed police into union ranks alongside organising security guards and prison screws. These forces are the armed thugs and auxiliaries of the bosses’ state, not “workers in uniform” as some, like the reformist Socialist Party, try to peddle! As part of the fight to make the unions weapons of struggle, cops, security guards and screws must be driven out of the unions! They have no place in the workers movement! Similarly we oppose inviting the bosses’ courts into union affairs. Last year, both the Victorian leadership of Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) and their NSW counterparts called on federal courts to intervene into an internal union dispute. This only serves to legitimise the very institutions that have been conducting the government offensive against the union. State out of the unions! The workers must clean their own house!

Proletarian Internationalism vs. Laborite “Aussie” Nationalism

In laying out the Unions NSW/ACTU campaign to union delegates recently, Robertson patriotically declared “we need to connect these [work] rights with the things we hold dear as Australians: a fair go for all, strong families and a society that gives everyone a chance in life” (Sydney Morning Herald website, 27 May). Thus, in the service of whipping up Laborite “Aussie” nationalism, Robertson buries the racist, sexist brutality of Australian capitalist society. It is a grim reminder that such union misleaders have thus far uttered not even a word in defence of the Aboriginal protesters witchhunted in the wake of the upheavals last year in Redfern and Palm Island which were sparked by the cop killings of Aborigines “TJ” Hickey and Mulrunji Doomadgee. We stand for union/immigrant/black actions to demand: Drop the charges and convictions against the Palm Island and Redfern Aborigines! Free the jailed Redfern political prisoners now!

A few years ago right-wing AWU national secretary, Bill Shorten, opined in the pages of the Australian Financial Review that, “the Australian Workers’ Union can offer valuable insights into how we can preserve jobs and keep our industry profitable through our partnership with industry” (AFR, 18 March 2002). Alongside this false view that workers have an interest in protecting the profits of Australian industry goes the lie of a “fair deal” for workers and oppressed under capitalism. More than 150 years ago the founders of scientific socialism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, argued that the conservative motto of a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” which accepts the right of the capitalists to exploit the labour of others, must be replaced by the revolutionary demand: “Abolition of the wages system!”

But beholden to capital, the trade-union tops sell out workers’ hard won gains in the “national interest,” that is, in the interest of capital. Thus, under the Prices and Incomes Accords of the Hawke/Keating federal ALP governments, the union tops presided over a massive loss of jobs, dismantling of union gains and wage cuts. When anyone got out of line Hawke, assisted by the ACTU, carried out open union busting. In smashing the Builders Labourers Federation in 1986, the federal ALP government was backed by the Victorian ALP government of John Cain, which brought in special laws for the occasion. Then in 1989, Hawke used air force pilots to smash the pilots’ federation. In doing so he stood in the tradition of ALP prime minister Chifley’s use of troops to crush the 1949 miners’ strike.

An adjunct to the union tops selling out workers in the “national interest” is lining them up against workers in other countries through peddling protectionist tariffs. Thus protectionist union leaders such as Michelle O’Neil, who blames government tariff cuts for the loss of jobs and conditions in the textile and clothing industry, serve to tie workers to their exploitative bosses and pit them against their international class brothers and sisters. It is the capitalist system at home not overseas workers that causes unemployment! In promoting racist protectionism, the Laborite bureaucrats also undermine the class unity of the multiracial Australian working class, fostering racist scapegoating of immigrants.

In NSW and Western Australia, union tops from CFMEU Construction have railed against the employment of “illegal workers” and assisted in the round-up of undocumented workers, leading to their incarceration and deportation. The union should be organising desperate immigrant workers with full union rights, responsibilities and conditions. The working class must oppose the government’s anti-immigrant witchhunts and vicious deportations. Down with racist protectionist poison! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all!

Like the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) slogan “Make it here or jobs disappear,” the MUA slogan “Australian crews for Australian ships” is a racist, protectionist appeal to “Aussie” bosses and their government against foreign seamen working coastal shipping. This is particularly grotesque given that many seamen from overseas work on Flag of Convenience (FOC) ships under terribly oppressive conditions. There needs to be an internationalist fight demanding full union rates, conditions and protection for all seamen working Australian ports and shipping, backed up by a closed shop on the waterfront.

Nationalism is a fraudulent ideology that strengthens the capitalists against the working class. Instead of opposing Australian imperialist plunder abroad, the pro-capitalist union leaders have given approval and support to military expeditions, such as the neocolonial occupation of East Timor in September 1999 which laid the basis for Australia’s theft of the Timor Sea oil and gas. In 2003 in the lead-up to the unpopular war on Iraq the Australian union tops threatened industrial action. However when the bombing of Baghdad began, the union leaders patriotically fell into line behind the capitalist rulers, reneging on promises of industrial action out of loyalty to the racist Australian imperialist military.

Such support to the Australian imperialist military abroad spits on the best traditions of the Australian labour movement including waterfront workers’ actions in solidarity with Indonesia’s struggle for independence in the late 1940s and with the fight of the Vietnamese workers and peasants against U.S./Australian imperialism in the 1960s and 70s. It also assists in disarming the workers movement at home in the face of heightened state intrusion and constriction of rights. We say: Not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! Defend the Iraqi peoples against the U.S./Australia colonial occupation of Iraq! Australian and all imperialist troops/cops out of Iraq, East Timor and the South Pacific!

Together with the pro-capitalist ALP parliamentarians, the bureaucratic caste of trade-union misleaders is based on an increasingly thin layer of privileged workers. This caste is bought off by the crumbs obtained from the profits of Australian imperialist plunder abroad. Whatever their background and original motivation, unless they follow a communist revolutionary course, the leaders of the unions are forced by their social role to subordinate the interests of the working class to the bourgeoisie. In his 1920 pamphlet “Left Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin captured the role of these “labour lieutenants of capitalism”:

“Present-day (twentieth century) imperialism has given a few advanced countries an exceptionally privileged position, which, everywhere in the Second International, has produced a certain type of traitor, opportunist, and social-chauvinist leaders, who champion the interests of their own craft, their own section of the labour aristocracy…. The revolutionary proletariat cannot be victorious unless this evil is combated, unless the opportunist, social-traitor leaders are exposed, discredited and expelled.”

Building a class-struggle leadership of the unions that is linked to a revolutionary party demands a sharp struggle against Laborite nationalism and militarism in the workers movement. It will also mean fighting to mobilise organised labour in defence of the especially oppressed sectors of the population. Organising these workers would undercut the bosses’ divide-and-rule schemes and bring into the unions a powerful source of fighting strength and a bridge to class unity with the rest of the oppressed, including workers overseas.

A Syphilitic Chain: Reformists Promote Militant “Alternatives”

Socialist Alliance (SA), which is based on an uneasy amalgam of various reformist and centrist groupings, postures as a fighting alternative to the no-struggle ACTU union tops but in reality acts to buttress the Laborite political obstacles to waging class battle. Thus SA promotes militant “left” union leaders such as Martin Kingham, secretary of the Victorian CFMEU, and Chris Cain, SA member and Western Australian MUA branch secretary.

Cain has carried out successful union actions such as leading MUA members to join construction workers’ pickets in WA’s south in early March this year. In a report on the action (Australian, 4 March), Cain said his members were taking a stand against the Howard “Government’s IR reform agenda....” However, the same article goes on to report that Cain declared “his members...would fight any move to bring cheap overseas labour into the country.” Buying into racist protectionism, Cain in fact shares the same nationalist outlook as the right-wing union tops and thus acts to divert militant workers back into the dead end of pro-capitalist Laborite nationalism.

In June last year, Cain scandalously joined the nationalist bipartisan “anti-terror” campaign declaring “major ports are open to attack” and that there were “6500 vulnerable kilometres” of Australian coastline (Australian, 29 June 2004). Alongside feeding the racist campaign against refugees, Cain gave credence to government measures to increase state policing of the waterfront, which aims to destroy the MUA. Subsequently in March, MUA officials confronted “national security” legislation when the captain of an FOC ship tried to prevent them boarding in support of striking seamen by accusing the delegates of posing a terrorist threat.

Imperialist governments around the globe seized on the criminal 9/11 World Trade Center attack to legislate a raft of “anti-terror” laws, which in fact erode the democratic rights of all and are ultimately aimed against the working class. On 7 June, the federal government announced massive security screenings of some 70,000 airport staff and 130,000 port workers under the guise of cracking down on criminal activity. The Transport Workers Union leadership, which has pushed for greater government security at the airports, responded by saying that the line should be drawn “at workers with dated, minor convictions” (Australian, 8 June).

Meanwhile government accusations of “dark and murky” criminal elements populating the waterfront have rightly outraged MUA officials. But far from taking up the fight against this government snooping on unionised workers, and the overt racist targeting of dark-skinned and Near Eastern workers, NSW state secretary Robert Coombs has offered an alternative “security” arrangement, demanding increased inspections of shipping containers! Any security apparatus put in place by the bosses and their state will be used against the working class. We demand: Hands off airport, shipping and waterfront workers! Down with the anti-terror and national security laws—they are racist anti-union laws!

Defend the Gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution!

Echoing the oft-repeated protectionist sentiments of AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, the NSW state secretary of the union, Paul Bastian, recently declared that attempted job slashing and wage cuts in the auto industry resulted from Howard’s free trade push with China. “Howard is telling Australians to compete on labour costs, with an economy where core standards do not apply. There is no level playing field” (Workers Online, 13 May). Such expressions of poisonous Australian nationalism by the trade-union bureaucracy reflect the long-standing fear and hatred of the Australian imperialist rulers towards the potential social power of the superexploited Asian workers and peasants. Historically, the Laborite leaders have been vicious proponents of such sentiment within the workers movement, particularly when it intersects deep-seated anti-Communism.

In the recent period the ALP has been in the forefront (along with anti-Communist bourgeois Greens leader Bob Brown) of sabre rattling against the North Korean deformed workers state, particularly targeting their right to build and test nuclear weapons to defend themselves against the imperialists. The ALP push to militarily target North Korea is also aimed at fostering capitalist counterrevolution in China, a strategic task which the imperialists hope to achieve through imperialist economic penetration combined with overt military brinkmanship.

The Chinese Revolution of 1949 was a victory against the Chinese capitalists and their imperialist overlords. Despite the revolution being deformed from its inception by the rule of a parasitic, nationalist bureaucratic caste, it resulted in a collectivised economy, which meant enormous social progress for the worker and peasant masses, particularly women. As with all the other remaining deformed workers states—Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam—we stand for the unconditional military defence of China against the imperialists’ relentless drive to return it to its pre-1949 state of untrammelled imperialist exploitation. Key to our defence is the struggle for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucratic caste, which undermines the gains of the 1949 Revolution while fuelling forces of capitalist counterrevolution through promotion of “market reforms.”

It is in the urgent interests of the working class to prevent capitalist counterrevolution in the deformed workers states today. We fought tooth and nail against capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union, defending the gains of the Russian Revolution to the last barricade. The destruction of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was a massive defeat for former Soviet peoples and for the international proletariat. As the post-Soviet world makes clear, the future of workers and the oppressed under capitalism is one of austerity, immiseration, racism, sexism and war. In their competition for ever-increasing profits and to maintain their class rule, the capitalist rulers throughout the world will not hesitate to plunge humanity into ferocious dictatorial oppression or nuclear holocaust. Laborism serves to keep workers’ consciousness firmly within the bounds of the bourgeois order, providing the Australian capitalists with new generations of obedient wage slaves to fill their factories and patriotic cannon fodder for their imperialist wars.

Today, as a consequence of the destruction of the Soviet Union, workers’ consciousness has been thrown back, with workers today no longer readily identifying their struggles with the fight for socialism. It is the task of socialists to bring that consciousness to the most advanced layers of the working class in the process of forging a revolutionary, internationalist proletarian vanguard party.

We seek to build a Bolshevik party that Lenin and Trotsky would recognise as their own, a revolutionary leadership capable of leading the working class in fulfilling its historic task of consigning the vicious capitalist system to the dustbin of history through victorious socialist revolution. Bury the union-busters! For solid strike action to defend the unions! Defeat union-busting attacks through hard class struggle! For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!

Australasian Spartacist No. 191

ASp No. 191

Winter 2005


Laborite Union Tops Tie Workers to Bosses' Courts

For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defeat Howard's Union Busting!

Down With Nationalist Protectionist Poison!
Break With Laborism—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!


Chinese Bureaucracy Promotes Reactionary Nationalism

Resurgent Japanese Imperialism Sparks Protests in China

For Unconditional Military Defence of Chinese, North Korean Deformed Workers States Against U.S./Japanese/Australian Imperialists!


Imperialists Mourn Pope of Counterrevolution


Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Mobilise Union Power to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!


20 Years Ago: Victory for Industrial Unionism at Cockatoo Island


Vietnam Was a Victory!
Two, Three, Many Defeats for U.S./Australian Imperialism!


Down with VSU! Free Quality Education for All!

No Faith in the Capitalist Vice-Chancellors!

(Young Spartacus pages)


ROTC, Military Recruiters Off Campus Now!

Not One Person, Not One Cent for the Imperialist Military!

(Young Spartacus pages)