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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 69December 2018

20th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties

CPA General Secretary Bob Briton’s contribution to the meeting

Comrades,

On behalf of the Communist Party of Australia, I would like to thank the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) for hosting this 20th gathering called the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties. We would like to acknowledge the crucial role of the KKE in reviving the international meetings and its contribution to the movement over these past 20 years. I would like to send greetings on the centenary of the founding of the KKE and the 50th anniversary of the Communist Youth of Greece (KNE). These are major achievements and milestones and deserve our heartiest congratulations.

The working class in today’s Australia

The international working class has changed and developed over recent decades in line with the imposition of capitalist globalisation, new trade and economic frameworks and even military conquest. In developed countries like Australia, there has been a major change in the composition of the working class. Manufacturing, which used to flourish behind a wall of tariffs, quotas and other instruments of protection, has shrunk dramatically in the face of competition from cheap imports from low-wage centres.

This process of de-industrialisation was begun in the 1980s and coincided with the floating of the Australian dollar on world currency markets and the first moves to the privatisation of the significant public sector of the Australian economy. Australia has never recovered the levels of employment maintained in the early to mid-1970s. Jobs lost in the manufacturing sector were replaced, to some extent, by those in the service sector.

Most significantly for the Australian working class, it was the beginning of the era of a class collaborationist approach by most Australian trade unions and their peak council, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). Union leaderships accepted capitalist arguments regarding wage rises and inflation, a feature of capitalist economies of the time, and promises for increases in the “social wage” in return for industrial peace.

The emphasis in much trade union work shifted from organisation in the workplace to “fixing” issues at meetings of governments, heads of industry and trade union leaderships. Trade union activism began a decline from which it has never recovered.

The combination of the decline in manufacturing and the ideological betrayal of trade union leaderships have left the working class in Australia vulnerable to the relentless attacks on its rights and conditions built up over decades of often bitter struggle. The lack of effectiveness of trade unions has led to a steep decline in membership setting off a downward spiral with grave consequences for Australia’s trade unions.

The shift from manufacturing to the service sector has altered the class consciousness of the organised labour movement. Manufacturing and other directly productive exploiters of labour create circumstances more conducive to a militant class consciousness among workers. Marx and others noted the effects from the early days of manufacturing in Britain. Workers were brought together in large numbers and disciplined to produce commodities in massive amounts. Their exploitation and alienation from the products of their labour was obvious.

This is not so in the modern service sector but the reality of exploitation in the whole system of exploitation is just as real. Service sector workers may not have the same level of class consciousness on the whole as the industrial proletariat but they are members of the working class.

A special category are the large numbers of Australian workers spun off by large corporations and even government enterprises to work as contractors. Naturally, these workers may drift into a petty bourgeois outlook as the operators of a small business but their conditions and need to find a buyer for their labour power is the same as it was when they were employed “in house”.

The role of the working class in Australia

These changes in the composition of the working class and the decline in the ideological level of the organised labour movement have led some to conclude that the working class is no longer the main force for revolutionary change in countries like Australia. Some have despaired and said if such potential exists it will be led by the unemployed and others completely cast off by the capitalist economy. Some have gone so far to say that there is no working class at all in the developed capitalist countries and that their inhabitants will have to await an uprising in the developing countries to achieve liberation.

Such confusion is rife in the “left” media and social media. It has taken root in the political environment of recent decades of retreat. In the education system, post-modernism, which denies concepts such as class or class consciousness in favour of the supposed primacy of personal perceptions, has enforced this deliberate blurring of the persistent fact of increasing rates of exploitation.

The working class is not the only section of the population to suffer increased exploitation and disregard at the hands of monopolies. Poorer family farmers are extremely vulnerable to the demands of supermarket chains and other monopoly purchasers. They no longer have the assistance of government-run marketing boards for cereal crops. Government assistance during times of drought is miserly. Agri-business sits ready to pounce to buy up more and more farms held by families, sometimes for generations.

Notions that exploitation somehow does not exist in countries like Australia or has somehow become benign denies the deteriorating reality of large sections of the working class and poor family farmers. The working class, due to its indispensable role in the process of production, remains the only class with the potential to end the system of exploitation it suffers under.

The situation of the working class in Australia

Almost four decades of retreat in the organised labour movement in Australia has delivered bitter results for Australian workers. Precarious work dominates in the sluggish jobs growth that does take place. OECD research[1] suggests that nearly 40 percent of jobs in Australia are now categorised as precarious. Workers in this category have little security and few rights. Economically, it means such workers have issues in planning long-term budgeting and securing the basics of daily life such as housing. Thirty percent of Australians do not have a secure home of their own and over 100,000 are homeless.[2]

The wages share of GDP has shrunk to 53 percent while the profits share has swollen to 27.6 percent. The tax burden on workers has remained steady or increased due to wage rises trailing inflation. Corporations tax has declined from 33 percent to 30 percent.[3] For those Australians unable to find work, a heartless system of “work for the dole” exists. The unemployment benefit has not increased since 1996. The poor are humiliated by the increasingly privatised and charity-dominated social security system.

Workers are punished under a restrictive industrial relations legislative framework. Unions are prevented from taking industrial action during the term of their enterprise bargaining contract. These contracts can only include a limited number of types of conditions for workers. Workers’ access to their unions is strictly policed and restricted. Unions taking industrial action have incurred huge fines designed to break them. Union organisers and activists also face fines and jail time for defying the anti-worker industrial relations regime. A secret police force in the construction industry has special powers that completely deny workers the right to remain silent and other basic legal protections.

This repressive environment has developed over the decades since the 1990s and has tightened regardless of whether the openly conservative Liberal-National Coalition or the nominally social democratic Australian Labor Party has been in office. Disillusionment with these two major forces is on the rise. The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign has mobilised many workers to act against the crushing industrial relations framework. The CPA supports this campaign but has put more ambitious demands including the unfettered right to strike. It is warning workers of the inevitable betrayal of workers’ interests in the event of a Labor victory and reminding them of the need for a revolutionary change in the social and political system; for socialism.

Aboriginal people continue to suffer the worst oppression of any section of the Australian people. Report after report has identified a wide gap between life expectancy, health, education and other vital indicators. Incarceration rates among Indigenous Australians are the highest in the world and deaths and mistreatment in prisons persist despite government inquiries and undertakings. Children are still forcibly removed from their families and resource companies are still working to remove Aboriginal people from their traditional lands over which they have no effective control. Aboriginal workers toil in slave-like conditions for meagre government payments.

Tasks of the Communists, the alliance of the working class

The primary task of the Communists in Australia is to forge the strongest possible alliance of workers and other exploited people to resist and to defeat the capitalist agenda. It means rebuilding the trade unions on a militant, class-conscious basis. In Australia it means raising the ideological level of workers to a socialist one to give them the confidence in their own capacity to break through the legislative and other shackles placed on them.

Communists must unite other struggles of the people against the sneaking privatisation and other aggressions by the monopolies and show the connection between people’s declining standards of living, loss of security and support and the existence and functioning of capitalism. They must unite with Aboriginal workers in their joint struggle for liberation. While much can be and must done in the short-term, only socialism will take on the task of smashing racism and guaranteeing real rights to land.

Communists must fight racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the rise of the far right. Attitudes from these sections of the population have infiltrated mainstream political parties and their purpose, to disunite the working class, must be exposed.

Communists must also rebuild an anti-war movement with an anti-imperialist orientation. The peace movement in Australia has suffered a long decline following the massive rallies against the second Gulf War. There are promising signs following the establishment of a new nationwide peace organisation called the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN).

The challenge before the anti-war movement is huge. Australia is still locked into a war-fighting alliance with US imperialism. The government robs the people to meet its commitment to wars of conquest. Over the next 20 years, the Australian government is to spend $1 trillion on the military. It is helping to provoke wars in the region, chiefly with the People’s Republic of China, and beyond. It hosts military bases including the Pine Gap spy base so vital for US aggression across the globe. Communists must win workers to an understanding of the existential threat this alliance involves and convince them of the need for peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with our neighbours.

Building the revolutionary Party

The Communist Party of Australia has experienced growth in recent times, particularly among the youth. The increase in membership is encouraging but still inadequate for the size of the challenges ahead. Members, and not just younger ones, come to us from a political environment that is confusing for those wanting to fight back in an effective way.

The Party’s 13th National Congress held last December declared in its Political Resolution that the Party must refocus on the trade union movement and that every member should be an activist in it and in their workplace.

The Party must increase its efforts in the area of education. Members must be united around our Marxist-Leninist Program and not be diverted into left, or the more dangerous right, errors. This is of great concern in Australia due to more than a century of the dominance of social democrat ideas on the workers of Australia and the trade union movement.

We must meet our commitments to solidarity with our brothers and sisters struggling for liberation internationally. Our Party has an unbroken tradition of internationalism and much fine work is currently being done. We must play our part in the reinvigoration of the International Communist movement. Our focus on the struggles of our own people must never blind us to the struggles of others, often carried on in even more trying circumstances.

The Party must recruit more members with an emphasis on young workers. The youth of the Party have been tasked with this work in their growing networks across the country. Signs are very encouraging with some outstanding community work being done in the spirit of serving the people as Party members. Much more work in this spirit needs to be carried out.

The finances of our Party must be built to increase the volume and professionalism of our propaganda and our other campaigning work. This is a great challenge because our supporter base is feeling the pinch financially along with the rest of the working class.

The time has arrived to devote unprecedented effort to all these requirements, to thwart the monopolies’ agenda to impose more open slavery on workers and to profit from imperialist war. As the Communist movement approaches the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the original CPA in 1920, all members of our Party must act in the spirit of the 13th National Congress by “Taking the Party to the People”. Our success in this task of building the Party through action is essential for the future wellbeing and even survival of our people.

[1] OECD, In it together: Why lower inequality benefits all, 2015.

[2] Australian Council of Social Service, Housing and Homelessness, 2018.

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian System of National Accounts, 2017-18, 2018, 2018.

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