I used to be active in the ALP – an example for Progressive Australia

I used to be an active ALP member.

I used to be able to combine ALP membership, campaigning for ALP candiates in elections and recruiting new members with putting my own socialist point of view and opposing Labor government actions that I disagreed with. The internal forums, a measure of democracy and the presence of other socialists in the ALP made this all fit together.

But an active left in the ALP and the unions was an inconvenience. NSW Women’s conference was shut down. Head Office, Premiers and PMs have all demanded that they can recognise merit and talent better than the rank and file, so they should pick candidates and ministers. The rank and file is further disenfranchised when Labor in government acts AGAINST the expectations of ALP members and supporters.

For example:

When Unions NSW led by John Robertson opposed electricity privatisation, and there was a rank and file campaign against it, we had a victory. Then Robbo became a Minister and did not speak against Keneally and Roozendal’s privatisation. It doesn’t wash to stand for one thing as a leader of a grassroots movement and then the justify the opposite as an MP.

Your Rights @ Work is hailed as a successful campaign, and it was successful at mobilising support and votes for Kevin in 07. But Labor has not fully restored union rights, especially not building workers’ rights. The meaning of “success” from a grassroots point of view is not how many people or votes there are but what changes are made. The question ‘how can we get Labor back into government’ seems much more important to people hoping for a career as part of a Labor Government. The question for the rest of us is ‘how can we get Labor to do the right thing in government?’

I support public education and hoped that Howard’s outrageous subsidies to wealthy private schools would be abolished by Labor, but instead Gillard as Education Minister and PM embraced the worst of right wing anti-teacher union policy from the USA and UK. Actually I think that all unions, including my union NSW Teachers Federation, should affiliate to the ALP and fight to hold Labor to account, for example on public education.

I support a progressive income tax system. But Rudd, then Gillard seemed completely unprepared to stand up to mining corporations by increasing taxes on mining profits. The ideology of kowtowing to markets and profits has been the only one heard for so long, that unsurprisingly even mining workers were frightened of losing their jobs and Labor had no answer other than to cave in.

Most of what Labor does badly in government is because the parliamentary party is much more eager to please capital or conservatives, than it is to stand for fairness, and its traditional working class constituency. It should be no surprise that the consequence is widespread conservatism in the electorate, combined with more progressively minded people bailing to the Greens.

I am even more skeptical of the Greens. They are not socialist. Labor at least has roots in the union movement. Class is the fundamental division in Australia even though conceptions of and identity based on class have changed.

But these changes are over-relied on to gloss over the damage that has been done to the labour movement and the Labor Party by failure of leaders to stand up for working class interests, gutting labour movement democracy and ditching long held policies and values in government. I don’t care to be treated like a focus group member, ‘listened to respectfully’ by party officials who are going to make the decisions themselves. I want the chance to vote and make my case to others who vote too in a democratic party.

People who are disappointed and disillusioned with Labor in government might be more interested in the ALP if it was obvious that it is possible to organise for and win alternative policy positions and hold MPs to account for them.

Without that I worry that a lot of the other ‘imaginative’ campaigning ideas discussed at Progressive Australiahttp://progressiveaustralia.org.au/ – will achieve very little for Labor supporters.

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