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Issue #1537      29 February 2012

EDITORIAL

Covered in bad blood, it’s Gillard for now

Julia Gillard remains prime minister by a convincing caucus vote of 71 to 31. Kevin Rudd is on the backbench and his replacement as minister for foreign affairs is still to be announced. Gillard has the difficult job now of trying to mop up the bad blood that has been spilt and building what appears to be a united Party in the eyes of the electorate. Rudd is out of the way, opening the way for a future challenge by the likes of Bill Shorten. As the parliamentary party tore itself apart, Tony Abbott watched on, letting MPs and Senators do the job for him. The internecine warfare reflects a crisis of social democracy as it attempts to manage capitalism in the era of globalisation and monopoly capital.

The backroom squalid, gutter politics of the ALP was laid bare for the world to see. It was no no-holds barred, dirty and personal, fuelled by behind-the-scenes operators serving the interests of mining, finance and other corporate interests. It was a battle between Right factions.

Gillard still remains vulnerable; there will always be blood on her hands in the eyes of the electorate. She still has to overcome the loss of trust following her failure to honour her agreement with independent Andrew Wilke on poker machines and the dirty dumping of the Speaker of the House. Rudd’s behind doors scheming and plotting for a come-back created just the situation for the Right to make their move to end his leadership ambitions in a future challenge.

There was a certain irony in the juxtapositioning of Gillard’s demands that she be allowed to get on with the business that she was elected to do and Rudd’s claims he should be allowed “finish the job” he was elected to do in 2007.

Poor opinion polls were used as the excuse in the coup against Rudd ten months ago. The same line did not work for Rudd in his challenge on Monday. The opinion polls rated Rudd higher than Gillard and Abbott in the popularity stakes. But the electorate does not elect prime ministers, their parties elect them, and public opinion could change many times over in the next 12-18 months before the next elections.

After some months of rumours about a leadership challenge by Rudd, it was brought on by Gillard supporters. They went public first with their vilification of Rudd. They crossed the line with their squalid, personal abuse, which hurt not only Rudd but the Party they all claim to be so loyal to. Trust, discipline and any semblance of proprietary went out the window. The media had a field day spreading rumours and giving space to every MP or Senator willing to join the fray.

Attorney-general Nicola Roxon and environment minister Tony Burke stated categorically that they could never work with Kevin Rudd. Simon Crean’s very public and personal attack on Rudd last week was a conscious move to bring the situation to a head and force a ballot. Gillard’s failure to pull Crean up or publicly reprimand other MPs for their mud-slinging, set the scene for Monday’s ballot.

Whatever scheming Rudd was up to, and rumours abound about conversations with business leaders, Rudd had not lowered himself to a public slanging match. He resigned his position, pointing out correctly that it was untenable without the confidence of the PM. He contained his remarks to political comment about Labor’s electoral chances under a Gillard leadership.

Both Gillard and Rudd are cut from similar political cloth. Both are right-wing Labor. The differences in detail are relatively small. They are strong adherents to neo-liberal (economic rationalist) economics, supporting privatisation, the winding back of the welfare state, promoting free trade and deregulation of financial sector. Both leaders have overseen ongoing regressive corporate tax cuts and privatisation by stealth of public health and education.

Both uphold Australia’s military alliance with the US as the central pillar of foreign policy. Neither are friends of China, neither will refuse to send troops off to future US wars or reverse the massive build-up of US forces and bases in Australia and our region.

Gillard continued the Rudd government’s opposition to implementation of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and her government played an important role at Durban in thwarting the attempts of developing nations to get agreement on new binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Faceless men”

Rudd picked up on an issue that he had raised before the ALP National Conference in November 2011, that of democratising the ALP and ending the power of the “faceless men”. These “faceless men” orchestrated the coup against Rudd, and have considerable control over pre-selections and policy. Threats that MPs would lose pre-selection if they did not vote a certain way were very real.

These “faceless men” are a section of the Right within the ALP. They include Bill Shorten, David Feeney, Steven Conroy, Mark Butler, Don Farrell, Bill Ludwig, Mark Arbib and outside of parliament, Australian Workers Union(AWU) national secretary Paul Howes.

There is a history of branch stacking, dirty deals and lack of democracy which has seen the ALP lose tens of thousands of members. It also reveals how the “Left” sew up deals with this Right faction to carve up positions.

A number of them are adherents to the most conservative, Catholic social values, opposing IVF, abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and euthanasia and several have a background in Santamaria’s Catholic Action (Groupers). The main aim of the Groupers was to gain control of the trade union movement, keep communists out of trade unions and keep the ALP out of office as long as possible. They formed the original Democratic Labor Party following a big split in the ALP in the mid-1950s.

They succeeded in splitting the Labor vote and keeping Labor out of office at the federal level in the 1950s and 1960s.

These same political forces, including some non-Catholic fellow travellers, now control the ALP and a number of right-wing unions.

Rudd’s calls for power to be transferred to the membership of the ALP, for the membership to be able to have a say in policy and a greater role in selection of parliamentary candidates, are valid.

The electorate have had enough of its conservative policies, its failure to protect ordinary working people, its adoption of the same austerity measures as conservative parties. Today, just as when the Howard government was thrown out, the majority of Australians are seeking real, progressive change. Labor is seen as being corrupt and undemocratic; it cannot be trusted and has turned its back completely on the working class. The same powerbrokers on the Right and some calling themselves “Left” have strengthened the grip of the Right on Labor.

The ALP has already been swept from office in Victoria, NSW and WA, and is about to take a hammering in Queensland. The only thing it has going for it with the electorate is the unpopularity of the Coalition’s leader Tony Abbott.

ALP membership is haemorrhaging, its electoral support has declined and would be even less if the Opposition and its leader were not so unpopular. Its decline and this latest leadership dust-up are symptomatic of the crisis and bankruptcy of social democracy facing social democrat parties around the world.

In Greece, for example, the future of the social democratic party, PASOK, is being discussed. The former PASOK government attempted to impose the crippling, anti-people austerity measures dictated by the IMF, European Central Bank and EU on the people of Greece, and then joined the conservative New Democracy and ultra-nationalist LAOS parties in a coalition government to do the job.

Social democracy, historically a party of social reform during times of capitalist boom has changed. It is no longer prepared, and not permitted by monopoly capital, to make such concessions as in the past.

Neo-liberalism, which was unquestioningly adopted by the ALP and other social democrat parties around the world, involves taking back the past gains of the working class, shoring up finance capital and corporate profits. Capitalism is in crisis, it is experiencing one of the deepest economic crises in its history and is attempting to lift itself out of crisis on the backs of workers with the full co-operation of social democrat parties, including the ALP, as well as through war.

Bit by bit the pro-working class policies of the ACTU were wound back. The campaign for the 35-hour week, opposition to privatisation, defence of Medicare and public education, “no ticket, no start” on jobs, and other progressive policies were quietly dropped. Many workers began to question the need to join a trade union, many succumbed to increased employer pressure and media propaganda not to join, especially under the Howard government’s WorkChoices. This is despite the fact, that in unionised workplaces workers’ wages are far higher and working conditions much better than in non-union shops.

It is important that trade unions are in a position to fully reflect the wishes and interests of their members, support candidates and political parties that best reflect those interests. This involves asserting their independence, rethinking their affiliation with the ALP so that their support cannot be taken for granted, but must be earned.

To those who are disillusioned with Labor, who are seeking a party that puts working class interests first, who are prepared to struggle for those interests, we urge you to consider joining and building the Communist Party of Australia, and if you are in the workforce to join the appropriate trade union.

For more information on the “faceless men”, visit The Power Index website (thepowerindex.com.au).

Next article – WA Chief Scientist visits northwest mining boom centre

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