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Australasian Spartacist No. 216

Winter 2012

Union Tops' Ugly Furore Over Temporary Overseas Workers

No to Nationalist Poison - For Proletarian Internationalism!

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! Break With Laborism! We Need a Revolutionary Workers Party!

JULY 17—With the capitalist system in its deepest economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, bourgeois rulers around the world are enforcing savage austerity measures to smash unions, drive down wages, slash social services and scapegoat minorities. In Australia, while the banks and mining magnates rake in record profits from a minerals resources boom, much of the rest of the economy is in a trough, with manufacturing bosses slashing tens of thousands of jobs and state governments mounting sweeping attacks on public sector workers. Alongside this, the federal minority Labor government is overseeing savage welfare cuts and extending the vindictive welfare “quarantining” imposed on Northern Territory Aboriginal communities to some working-class and downtrodden urban centres. Amidst this war on workers and oppressed, the federal Labor and Liberal/National Coalition engage in a barbaric “debate” over which party is toughest on “border protection,” hypocritically wringing their hands over the deaths of hundreds of refugees who have drowned off the north-western coast of Australia.

The situation cries out for a class-struggle leadership prepared to take on and defeat the bosses’ attacks and their rigged anti-union laws that aim to shackle and suppress workers’ struggles. Under capitalism, society is cleaved into two fundamental, irreconcilable classes. The workers must sell their labour power to the capitalists, a tiny minority who own the means of production and profit from the wealth produced by the proletariat. As long as capitalism and its inherent exploitation exist, new class struggles will break out.

Indeed, across the country workers have taken defensive actions as anger grows over austerity measures and attacks. In June tens of thousands of teachers struck and rallied in Victoria and New South Wales. Other public sector workers, including firemen, have also hit the bricks in NSW. On 4 July, 10,000 construction workers in Melbourne walked off the job telling the Victorian state government to shove its new anti-union building code. A week later workers in the National Union of Workers (NUW) picketed and shut down a Coles warehouse operated by Toll Holdings in Somerton, Melbourne, fighting for equal conditions with workers at other Coles sites.

Strikes backed by solid picket lines and occupations are the weapons through which the working class can defend the unions and defeat the bosses’ relentless attacks on workers’ living and working conditions—the mass layoffs, speed-ups, erosion of work and safety conditions, as well as fierce union-busting. What’s necessary is to mobilise union power in struggle independent from and opposed to the capitalist class and its government. However, far from such a class-struggle perspective, the current misleaders of the trade unions seek to divert workers into wretched class-collaborationist nationalism and loyalty to the capitalist state.

Unions Must Defend Immigrant Workers!

In late May, a xenophobic outburst erupted in the labour movement when Chris Bowen, ALP immigration minister in the Gillard government, granted an Enterprise Migration Agreement to profit-gouging resources baron Gina Rinehart, allowing her company, Hancock Prospecting, to employ 1,700 temporary overseas workers at the Western Australian Roy Hill iron ore mine. Led by elements in the Labor Party and the trade-union bureaucracy, this blowback was spearheaded by arch-protectionist ALP senator Doug Cameron, who bellowed against “marching Chinese workers on to Roy Hill” (, 26 May).

The fracas points to tensions in the ALP over how best to administer Australian capitalist society in the context of a China-fuelled resources boom on the one hand and slump in tourism, retail and manufacturing on the other. Responding to increased insecurity and fear among workers about job losses occurring in much of the economy, both wings push pro-capitalist nationalism. The likes of Bowen and the Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, push the lie that what benefits the rapacious profit-gouging resources giants benefits the working class as a whole, while protectionists like Cameron peddle the lie that unemployment can be solved by protecting Australian industry and forcing the bosses to employ “local” labour first.

Currently there are more than 90,000 so-called “guest workers” on short-term 457 visas in Australia, including in the construction, mining, healthcare and information, media and telecommunications industries, and the numbers are growing. Highly dependent on their sponsoring employer, these immigrant workers are often subject to brutal exploitation, denied basic rights, and can be sent back to their country of origin at the bosses’ whim. The capitalist rulers seek to use the highly-exploited labour of unorganised workers, including those from overseas, as a wedge to divide the working class and drive down the conditions of the whole class. It’s up to the organised workers movement to fight in defence of such workers, organising them into the unions and together winning equal rights and conditions, including full citizenship rights, for all. This includes full access to social services, unemployment and sickness benefits, healthcare and education. It also means fighting against deportations.

Unions such as the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have taken up the cause of some workers on 457 visas, just as on occasions they call strikes and other actions more broadly in defence of workers against the bosses’ attacks. This in part reflects the pressure from their multiracial working-class base. Last year the AWU took up the fight for four horribly exploited Filipino workers who were enslaved on an oil rig off the coast of Western Australia working 84 hours a week at less than $3 an hour. The AMWU, which has produced a handbook outlining rights for temporary workers, documents a number of cases where it has sought to organise and defend such workers to ensure them the same rights and conditions as local workers.

However, occasional defence of individual “guest workers” cannot disguise the vile xenophobia whipped up over the recent Roy Hill decision. In Perth on 4 July up to 5,000 workers organised by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), AMWU, CFMEU and Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union rallied outside Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting offices. While there was anti-racist rhetoric and acclamations about protecting the rights of overseas workers, the speeches by the union tops were shot through with Australia-first protectionism and economic nationalism. AMWU state secretary, Steve McCartney complained, “There’s $220 billion worth of project work yet to go in Western Australia, there’s millions of dollars worth of manufacturing work going to India and China and there’s thousands of kids on the Kwinana strip who can’t get a job.” “At the end of the day it’s our gas, it’s our rocks and it’s our jobs,” he seethed (, 4 July).

Leading the charge was demagogic Western Australian (WA) MUA Branch Secretary Chris Cain, who railed at the multinationals: “if you’re going to work in our country, you’re going to pick up our labour.” A former leader of Socialist Alliance, Cain has been waging a chauvinist campaign against employment of overseas labour by the U.S.-based oil and gas giant Chevron. The April edition of the MUA’s WA branch newspaper, Rank & File Voice, is full of demands to defend “Aussie jobs.” One photo features a large banner at an MUA protest outside Chevron offices calling for “Aussie Resources...Local Jobs; Aussie Ships, Aussie Wharves, Aussie Ports.” In another article, Cain calls on members to “sign up to the ALP” and bring it “back to its grass roots, namely the working class,” and then goes on to grotesquely brag that he has “made it known to all our membership that we will not stand by and watch foreign labour take our jobs, and we as a Labor movement, need to take on these multi-national corporations, to secure a future for us all” [emphasis in original].

Cain’s reactionary talk against “foreign labour” is a fool’s gold which serves to undermine the unity of the multiracial working class and fosters racist scapegoating of immigrants. Attempts by union bureaucrats to corral militant workers back into the fold of the ALP parliamentary party only exposes their servility to the capitalists and their state. Such a course leads to selling out the interests of the working class and oppressed. A case in point is Cain and the MUA leadership’s despicable support to the government’s “anti-terror” measures on the wharves and demand for even greater border “security,” which facilitated a crackdown on waterfront workers while bolstering the bi-partisan anti-refugee “border protection” frenzy.

Break the Laborite Chains on the Unions!

To unlock the social power of the multiracial working class will require breaking the Laborite chains by which the union tops shackle the proletariat to their capitalist exploiters. Fostering class-collaboration has always been an article of faith for the trade-union bureaucracy, who formed the ALP parliamentary party in response to the defeats of class battles in the 1890s. Tying workers to ALP parliamentarism has been an historic graveyard for proletarian and all social struggles. The ALP’s “roots” lie in explicit rejection of class struggle and the adoption of “White Australia” racism. The exclusion of “cheap Asian labour” was the basis of the ALP’s chimera of bringing prosperity to its white Australian working-class base through domestic capital ownership and the exploitation of Australia’s natural resources.

Capturing the class-collaboration and nationalism of the union tops, CFMEU national secretary, Michael O’Connor declared before the 4 July Perth rally, “Let’s make sure we use this [resources] boom to develop our economy, develop our community, develop our local kids ... we need the government to intervene and businesses to step up to the plate” (Australian Financial Review, 4 July). It is little wonder that a “Resolution on Immigration and Temporary Workers,” passed at a 14-15 June CFMEU Construction and General Divisional Executive Meeting and posted on the union’s national website, positively notes that the policy of the ALP “is that Australian workers have primary rights to Australian jobs” and “welcomes the implementation of a jobs board and statements by the Prime Minister and Government that EMA users will be required to offer jobs to Australian residents and citizens before bringing in temporary overseas workers.”

The union tops’ nationalist appeals to the capitalist state to defend “Australian jobs” is a cover for their prostration before the bosses’ attacks on unions, jobs and conditions. Their abject betrayal of class struggle has seen them sell out workers’ struggles in the bosses’ courts from the maritime dispute in 1998 to the knifing of the struggle at Qantas last year. In the last month alone, almost 30,000 jobs were lost with little or no struggle by the union bureaucrats.

Fused at the hip with the pro-capitalist ALP parliamentarians, the bureaucratic caste of trade-union misleaders is based on a thin layer of privileged workers. This caste is bought off by the crumbs obtained from the profits derived by Australian imperialist plunder and exploitation abroad. In contrast to the poisonous chauvinism promoted by the union bureaucracy, Marxists make clear that it is not overseas workers who cause unemployment but the bourgeois rulers at home and their capitalist system. While opposing all racist immigration laws including the indentured servitude that “guest worker” schemes represent, we do not seek to advise the bourgeoisie on how best to run their racist and exploitative system. The capitalist rulers will always use immigration to suit their purpose, which is first and foremost to maximise profit. As we wrote in our International Declaration of Principles:

“Modern capitalism, i.e., imperialism, reaching into all areas of the planet, in the course of the class struggle and as economic need demands, brings into the proletariat at its bottom new sources of cheaper labor, principally immigrants from poorer and less-developed regions of the world—workers with few rights who are deemed more disposable in times of economic contraction. Thus capitalism in ongoing fashion creates different strata among the workers, while simultaneously amalgamating the workers of many different lands. Everywhere, the capitalists, abetted by aristocracy-of-labor opportunists, try to poison class consciousness and solidarity among the workers by fomenting religious, national and ethnic divisions. The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is thus a vital task for the proletarian vanguard.”

—“Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program, International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist),” Spartacist No. 54, Spring 1998

Seeking to escape the unemployment and devastation wrought by imperialism, many “guest workers” today doing back-breaking work in agriculture in Australia are Pacific Islander workers. A class-struggle leadership would organise domestic and “foreign” workers to fight shoulder to shoulder against the attacks of the capitalist rulers. Far from being helpless victims, immigrant workers, if organised, can form a key component of the force capable of destroying this racist capitalist system. A concerted struggle to defend “guest workers” would strengthen the organised working class, drawing in new layers of immigrant workers, and forge a living bridge to proletarian struggles overseas.

Reformist Waterboys for the Union Bureaucracy

Opposed to the necessary political fight against Laborism, a number of the reformist opponents of Marxism have lawyered for the nationalism and xenophobia that has been pushed by the union tops. In their long-standing Stalinist tradition, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) are ever ready to push class-collaborationist nationalism. Claiming that “We don’t support jingoism,” a CPA statement in The Guardian (6 June) magnanimously allows that “Foreign workers should be welcomed to fill genuine skills shortages and their ongoing needs met.” The CPA buy into the nationalist outburst from the union bureaucracy, lamenting that the federal minority Labor government has not taken strong enough measures to ensure “that local workers should be taken on first.” Condemning the government’s ruling to allow Rinehart to “import 1,700 foreign workers” for her Roy Hill project, the CPA call on “workers, their trade unions and the community to fight and overturn this reactionary decision.”

Socialist Alternative (SAlt) in their article, “457 visas an attack on all workers” (SAlt, June 2012), also cynically whitewash the chauvinism of the union tops. Vaguely noting “some admittedly dubious comments from [unnamed] union leaders” and that “some [unnamed] union leaders have capitulated to nationalist racism,” they laud the manufacturing and construction union tops. Reporting on the 4 July WA protest in an article titled “Perth workers rally for jobs, reject racism smear” (, 3 July [sic]), SAlt enthuse that “Unions in Western Australia today rallied against the use of temporary overseas labour on big resource projects in the state.” These waterboys for the union bureaucracy attempt to give the union tops’ campaign a left cover, politely labelling the unions’ nationalist “local jobs first” slogan “counter-productive.” While noting that the “crux of the issue” is that workers from overseas “should be afforded the same rights as anyone else in the community,” SAlt throughout the article bury the role of the union tops and their poisonous campaign for “Aussie” workers to be given priority for jobs over “foreign” workers!

The logic of the union tops’ position was seen in Britain in early 2009 when construction workers at oil refineries and power plants across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland staged a series of reactionary strikes demanding “British jobs for British Workers!” The strikes were not intended to secure more jobs or indeed any gains for the working class as a whole, nor to defend existing jobs. They were about redividing the existing pool of jobs according to the nationality of the workers. (See “Down With Reactionary Strikes Against Foreign Workers!” Australasian Spartacist No. 204, Autumn 2009.)

In covering for the chauvinism of the union tops, reformists such as SAlt and the CPA expose their role in the syphilitic chain that binds workers to the capitalist system. These reformists act as a cover for the “left” union bureaucrats, who in turn cover for the ALP, whose role in government is to administer racist Australian imperialism on behalf of the capitalist rulers.

For a Revolutionary Internationalist Workers Party

Behind the xenophobic outcry over overseas labour stands the treacherous lie of a partnership between labour and capital. At the ACTU congress in May the ALP’s Workplace Relations minister, Bill Shorten, called on the labour movement to “reclaim the middle ground” of “employers and workers engaging” on the enterprise level. This was echoed on 22 May by Shorten’s protégé, and favourite of the Murdoch press, AWU honcho Paul Howes, who called on business, unions, academia and bureaucrats to “sit down together and collaboratively solve our productivity challenges.” Accepting the right of the capitalists to exploit the labour of workers, this claptrap pushes the lie that workers have an interest in protecting the profits of Australian industry. It flows from the union tops’ support for the capitalist system and their identification with the “national interest” of blood-soaked Australian imperialism.

The feverish AWU and AMWU campaign to pressure the mining bosses and government to prop up Australian industry by using “Australian-made” materials on major government infrastructure, defence and mining projects is not only a nationalist diversion from the desperately necessary class-struggle fight against the ongoing jobs massacre in the manufacturing industry but also serves to line workers in Australia up against their class brothers and sisters overseas. Protectionism, which ties workers to the interests of their own capitalist rulers, is poison to international class-struggle unity. Against those who push protectionism a class-struggle leadership of the unions would fight against layoffs, demanding a shorter work-week with no loss in pay to spread the available work around. It would undertake an aggressive drive to organise non-unionised workers and fight for union hiring halls with union programs to recruit and train those who have been historically discriminated against.

A class-struggle leadership would fight for union jobs and seek to unite the working class across national boundaries. This includes crucial international solidarity action. Giving a taste of such solidarity, this March Sydney MUA workers took 48-hour action in support of wharfies locked out in Auckland, refusing to unload a container ship that had been loaded by scab labour employed by Ports of Auckland. We look to the internationalist traditions of the workers movement in this country when it engaged in powerful acts of struggle on behalf of oppressed peoples. At the end of World War II, as Dutch and Allied imperialists sought to move troops and supplies into Indonesia to shore up colonial control, Australian and New Zealand waterfront workers, alongside Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian unionists, slapped “black bans” on Dutch shipping in support of the Indonesian independence struggle. Australian maritime unions several times placed bans on shipping war matériel destined for use against the Vietnamese Revolution.

To make the unions weapons of struggle fighting on behalf of workers and all the oppressed will take a sharp political fight against the union bureaucracy. A class-struggle opposition in the trade unions would seek to exacerbate the contradictions between the aspirations and objective interests of the working class and the policies and actions of their social-patriotic Laborite misleadership. The ALP is the key obstacle to revolutionary struggle in Australia. It is pro-capitalist in its program and leadership while based on the trade unions. In the course of class struggle, and intransigent political opposition to Laborite treachery, a new leadership will be forged within the trade unions, fighting to transform them into instruments of revolutionary class struggle, not of class collaboration. It is through such struggle that the ALP’s proletarian base will be won from the reformist leadership and a revolutionary Marxist party forged that can lead the proletariat in the overthrow of the capitalist order.

The multiracial proletariat’s key role and organisation at the point of production makes it the only class capable of fundamentally changing society, by sweeping away the rule of capital and its system of exploitation, racism and war. Proletarian revolution will smash the capitalist state and establish in its place a workers state—the dictatorship of the proletariat—based on a collectivised, centrally planned economy under workers democracy. Expropriating the banks, mines, ports, industry and agribusiness, proletarian state power would lay the basis for eliminating the scarcity and violent oppression which defines the capitalist order. Such a society would necessarily be internationalist, reaching out to workers and the oppressed across the globe in the struggle for world socialist revolution. This is the basis for building an egalitarian communist society based on “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Our model is the Russian Revolution of October 1917. Led by the genuinely communist Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, the young Soviet workers state, a beacon for liberation throughout the world, was based on the principle that workers of the world must unite against their capitalist oppressors. As Article 20 of the 1918 founding constitution of the Soviet workers state laid out:

“Acting on the principle of the solidarity of the toilers of all nations, the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic grants all political rights enjoyed by Russian citizens to foreigners resident within the territory of the Russian Republic provided they belong to the working class or to the peasantry not using hired labour. Local Soviets are authorized to confer the rights of Russian citizenship upon such foreigners without any formalities or difficulties.”

In opposition to Laborism we seek to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party like the Bolsheviks—a tribune of the people—ready to take up the struggle against every manifestation of capitalist oppression as part of the fight to overthrow racist Australian capitalist rule and establish a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia.


Australasian Spartacist No. 216

ASP 216

Winter 2012


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Union Tops' Ugly Furore Over Temporary Overseas Workers

No to Nationalist Poison - For Proletarian Internationalism!

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants! Break With Laborism! We Need a Revolutionary Workers Party!


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