The Guardian • Issue #2097

ALP: A crisis of policies and ideology

Communist Party of Australia

Opposition from Labor Party members to the Albanese government’s AUKUS war coalition with the US and Britain emerged in Labor Party ranks, and was quickly suppressed by the ALP leadership. In broader terms the rank and file unrest reflects a deep-seated and widespread dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the ALP among working people.

It is a crisis of political leadership of the working class. It is a crisis of the policies and ideology of the Labor Party which have been followed by many trade unions.

Disillusionment, frustration, and anger will intensify as the leadership of the Labor Party distances itself more and more from the interests of the working class and the trade unions; as the Albanese government cuts further into basic and crucial services such as health and education.

The present day disillusionment (there have been previous periods of dissatisfaction with Labor – the actions of Labor governments during the 1930s Depression, for example) commenced with the adoption of economic rationalist policies by the Hawke/Keating Labor governments of the 1980s and ‘90s.

The Labor Party adopted the so-called “competition policy.” Its main aim was to justify the breaking up and privatisation of public enterprises. Since then the privatisation of publicly owned enterprises and institutions has been pushed by succeeding governments both Liberal and Labor.

As public ownership went, so did the social charters that were associated with public enterprises. Profits came first – not social responsibilities and commitments.

Private ownership was crowned king as the ALP handed over public assets to the corporations. Not even those public enterprises that had been created by the Labor Party years before, were defended.

Many other consequences flowed from the adoption of economic rationalist (neoliberal) policies. Instead of technology leading to shorter working hours and other benefits for workers it became accepted that technology was sufficient reason for the number of workers employed to be substantially reduced. Support for a reduction in overall working hours was abandoned.

Tens of thousands of jobs were lost and hours of work rose substantially. The argument that employers had to cut costs, despite enormous profits, was accepted. The centralised system of legally binding and comprehensive awards was scuttled and replaced by individual work contracts and enterprise agreements.

All these measures are means by which employers reduce costs, and at the same time, reduce the living standards of workers.

The ALP implemented policies of contracting out, casualisation of the workforce, privatisation, the winding back of Medicare and the promotion of private health insurance, the cutbacks to public housing, the transfer of state school funds to private schools, and cuts to university funding.

It is in these circumstances that the perception grew that there is little difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. With this disillusionment came the search for an alternative.

The fact that many trade union leaders failed to contest the policies and arguments being advanced by the leaders of the Labor Party resulted in widespread disillusionment among workers with trade unions as well. This disillusionment contributed to a decline in trade union density compounded by Labor’s reforms imposing serious limits on the right to strike.

There was an all too ready acceptance by trade unions of the policies and arguments put forward by the Labor Party and the employers that are behind the present political crisis.

The solution is not to be found in mere organisational measures but in the adoption of working class policies and ideology.

Disillusionment up to now has been expressed in one election after another as the primary votes for both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have declined and those of some of the smaller parties have risen.

Some voted for the demagogy, racism, and phony nationalism of the likes of the One Nation group or United Australia Party. Some went to the much more progressive Greens. Overall, the protest vote has been fragmented and without direction.

Working people require honest representation and policies that will look after their interests. Anti-worker policies and sham arguments that have had such bad consequences for working people need to be rejected.

The Communist Party supports every effort to win support for policies that serve the interests of the working class. Many others, in a variety of organisations, also support and advance such policies.

Working class policies include support for public ownership with social commitments, working class democracy (which means the participation of the working people in all aspects of economic, social, and political life), peaceful and humanitarian relations with other countries, substantial improvements in living standards, jobs, a fully maintained public health service, public education system, environmental protection, and much more.

The implementation of such policies requires the establishment of a new type of government such as has not been seen in Australia before.

Such a government, closely linked with the people’s mass movements and struggles, could implement many of the policy proposals which have been put forward by the left, and progressive political parties, by trade unions, environmental, peace, educational and community organisations, health and democratic rights bodies.

To be effective, we believe that such a new type of government would have to substantially curb the power of the big corporations. It would not be beholden to the military industrial complex or fossil fuel corporations.

Such a government would include the political representatives of all the progressive and democratic forces, from communist and left Labor, from trade unions and progressive community organisations, from the Greens and environmental organisations, from working farmers, professional and small business circles. It would be democratic and multi-party and answerable to the people – the vast majority of whom are working people.

This is not some opportunist ploy arising from recent developments, but is rooted in the historical fact that to bring about a significant change in direction Australia needs a government giving priority to the needs and interests of the working people, to country people, to educators and professionals, and those who provide the many necessary services required by the community.

The Communist Party would contribute by assisting work on policies in cooperation with others, working for unity, providing hard working activists and so on. Communists have proved to be committed and reliable stalwarts who are loyal to the working class.

The Communist Party has a wide range of working class policies. It is a working class party. Those who are committed to the immediate and longer-term interests of the working class have a place in its ranks as active members. We hope that those who are at present looking for an alternative do not limit their perspectives and will think seriously about joining the CPA.

In Australia, the best years for the trade union movement were those of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s when the Communist Party of Australia had considerable influence in the working class, in the trade unions, and the labour movement generally. Many of the strongest unions of those years had a combined communist and left Labor leadership.

The present CPA needs to be much stronger and this can only happen when working class and other committed activists join it, thereby extending the Party’s activities and helping in the formulation of policies in the fields of social, economic, political and cultural life.

The CPA will continue to respect and work with all who have similar or identical policies on the issues that confront the working people of our country.

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