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Issue #1507      29 June 2011


Gillard 12 months on

Prime Minister Julia Gillard symbolises an end of an era of Labor governments in Australia. She takes every opportunity to reassure that she still holds to “Labor values”. Yet it is the desertion of “Labor values” by successive Labor governments – state and federal – that has seen the ALP’s popularity sink to record lows in the opinion polls. Labor Party ranks are haemorrhaging and the Party is failing to recruit younger members. It copped a hiding in the most recent NSW elections, has lost office in Victoria and Western Australia, and is hanging in with minority governments in Tasmania and Canberra.

Historically Labor governments have delivered progressive reforms that improved the lot of working people. They recognised a role for the trade union movement while at the same time using their special relationship with the movement to contain it. They sought to manage the capitalist economy better than the Liberals, “for all Australians”, and never posed a serious threat to ruling class interests or the capitalist system. Labor for decades took for granted the vote of the organised working class who seemingly had nowhere else to turn, certainly not to the overtly anti-worker Liberal Party.

The struggles of the trade union, women’s and other social movements saw Labor deliver a number of progressive social and economic reforms amongst others that were not so progressive. For example, it was the Whitlam Labor government that introduced free tertiary education, Medibank (Medicare’s predecessor) and no-fault divorce. It recognised the importance of land rights, women’s equality and promoted multiculturalism. Labor attempted to give capitalism a human face.

The abandonment of progressive reforms, in fact the roll back of past gains commenced under the Hawke/Keating governments in the 1980s when they adopted economic rationalist (neo-liberal) policies. University fees were re-introduced, key public enterprises privatised, financial deregulation begun in earnest, wages were restrained, and the process of undermining the award system commenced. In its later years the Keating government began the undermining of Medicare, public education and the social security system.

But it was the Rudd Labor government that took the abandonment of “Labor values” the next step. When the electorate threw out the Howard government, there were expectations of real change, of progressive reforms.

Fair Work Australia retained much of Howard’s WorkChoices legislation. The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was left in tact with its draconian anti-worker, anti-union powers. Rudd said “Sorry” to Indigenous Australia but continued Howard’s Intervention in the NT. Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol and then set about destroying it. He failed dismally on climate change. Some initial but short-term improvements were made in the treatment of asylum seekers only to be reversed later.

Rudd’s attempt to introduce a mining super profits tax package backfired badly. The mining magnates used all their power and wealth along with right-wing connections in the Australian Workers Union and ALP caucus to bring down Rudd. The excuse was poor ratings in the opinion polls. The victor, Julia Gillard immediately promised a weaker, replacement tax, which a year on is still being negotiated with the mining magnates.

Gillard has no love for the trade union movement and makes no pretence of it. She prefers to snuggle up to the likes of the Business Council of Australia. Her callous attitude towards asylum seekers is far to the right of many Liberal Party MPs and is causing dissent within her own ranks. The Intervention continues. She is in the process of privatising public education and Medicare.

Labor, not surprisingly, is on the nose with many workers, environmentalists, teachers, health workers, families, welfare recipients, pensioners, students and all those who care about refugees and Indigenous Australians.

Gillard consolidates and symbolises the end of the ALP as a working class-based party capable of delivering progressive reforms while governing for the capitalist class.

Overall, the Rudd and Gillard governments have proven to be a continuation of the Howard government under another name, representing the same corporate interests through the same vicious policies.

Gillard, in the eyes of mining corporations and the right-wing ALP power brokers who put her into office, may only be a caretaker PM. Those same forces may well use her unpopularity with the electorate as an excuse to dump her and put their man, the extreme right-wing former Australian Workers’ Union leader Bill Shorten into the job.

Next article – All Workers Militant Front (PAME) in Greece

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