Australia: Kevin Rudd doesn’t get it but the capitalists do - the coming election will be fought on class lines

The forthcoming federal election in Australia is shaping up to be an almighty contest between the classes in spite of the moderate stance of the Labour leaders. The Australian workers are fed up with anti-trade union legislation and are turning to Labour on the electoral front as a way of combating these.

The forthcoming federal election is shaping up to be an almighty contest between the classes. Already the initial skirmishes have begun. Workplace relations minister, Joe Hockey, has revealed the shocking fact that the ACTU wants a Labor victory and has engaged in the dirty and underhand practice of talking to union members on the telephone in order to persuade them to vote Labor. A 'secret' manual has been released which gives union activists guidance on how to discuss the issue of AWAs with members contacted by telephone. This, of course, is entirely different from the perfectly legitimate practice of big business and the Liberal government taking out multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to promote Individual Workplace Agreements. The real scandal, of course, is that the years of right-wing leadership have reduced to the Labor party to little more than a shell. Convincing voters to vote Labor should be the job of party activists in the unions and in the broader community, but the contempt shown by the leadership to the views of ordinary members means that activists are thin on the ground and the election will be fought from the top as a presidential contest highlighting Rudd's superior ability to manage capitalism. While a Labor victory remains the most likely prospect, the eagerness with which Rudd and Gillard have embraced big business is already sowing demoralisation among workers. Unless they take a clear class position, it is entirely possible that Rudd and Gillard will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory condemning the working people of Australia to further untold horrors.

Big business is scared but not by the ALP leadership. Rumbling under the surface is a deep current of anger among ordinary working people. An ABC special earlier this week exposed the realities of life under the 'Work Choices' legislation. Several workers came forward to highlight the severe decline in safety standards and the atmosphere of intimidation that followed the demise of collective bargaining at BHP Billerton, in Western Australia. This was contrasted with the much more favourable situation in Queensland, where miners continue to be employed under collective agreements. The workers interviewed revealed what we already know: without the protection of collective bargaining, we are the mercy of the 'good nature' of the bosses. In times of boom, workers may be able to wrest concessions from employers. However, even during the relatively favourable economic conditions we are currently undergoing, employers have been cutting corners on safety. For Australian workers, the next election is not a question of which man in a grey suit will live in Kirribilli House: it is literally a matter of life and death.

The ALP leadership must take a clear and unequivocal stand. Labor was created by the union movement and remains the political voice of that movement. This is not something to be ashamed about; it is a matter of pride. We stand on the shoulders of those giants who built this movement with their blood sweat and tears, who paid with their livelihoods and in some cases their lives, to create a political voice for working people. We cannot permit this precious legacy to be squandered by a few middle-class interlopers. If the Labor leadership showed the same degree of commitment to our class as the Liberals do to theirs, the Liberal Government, its disgusting workplace legislation and the stench of corruption hanging over Canberra would be a faint memory by now.

Repeal WorkChoices! Labor to power on a Socialist Programme.

June 2007

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