Bill Shorten, the leader of the ALP opposition, strode the stages of the National Press Club and delivered a speech that The Australian described as ‘Corybn-like’ and a ‘populist pitch to low-income earners, unionists and left-wing voters’ (Brown, Chambers, and Additional reporting: Sarah Jane-Tasker 2018). But before we break out the red flags and rally around Comrade Bill we should pause and stop: for the content of Shorten’s speech was actually terrible, a continuation of the ALP tradition of class appeasement and compromise and wrapped in mystifications about the nature of capitalism, wages and class. It was the exact opposite of the approach that we need.
Those of us who want to overcome capitalism aren’t in competition with the ALP. The ALP is just another faction for capital in the political apparatus: it is one of our enemies. Our project and theirs are radically different. However, the ALP has a long history of sowing mystifications – that is reinforcing the ideology that strengthens capitalism. This is part of its historic role of acting to integrate the working class within capitalism.[i] These mystifications have two key claims:
That the ALP and elections can address the major sources of misery for the majority of people
That the causes of our misery are from errors or problems that can be solved within the boundaries of the capitalist mode of production.
Rather than being swept up in the appearance of some kind of radicalism or broadly pro-worker rhetoric it is necessary to be razor-sharp and expose all that is wrong with the approach of the ALP. As Humphrey McQueen has written the ALP is ‘fog-bound within capitalism’ (1977, 345). The point of critiquing the ideas of the ALP is not to change their minds but rather to help dispel the fog of illusions that threaten to cloud ours.
In this episode of Living the Dream Jon (@JonPiccini) and Dave (@withsobersenses) are joined by Liz Humphrys (@liz_beths) who torpedos the hagiography of the ALP Hawke-Keating government. Whilst the talking heads of the ALP like Van Badham and Wayne Swan argue over if the Hawke-Keating government was mainly excellent with a few flaws or really excellent with none, Liz’s ground breaking work on the Accord shows how the latter was the central plank of the implementation of neo-liberalism in Australia and the method of delivering an epoch defining defeat to the working class and the decomposition of our power. Not one for pointless pessimism Liz also gives us some key insights from this history that can help us recompose a viable anticapitalist project today.
Should we care? Or just point and laugh? What is the relationship of the political to capitalism on a whole and to our struggle against it? How much of this is this a broader and global phenomenon and what can it tell us about life in Queensland?
On the 20th January workers at Ergon Bundaberg Depot walked off their jobs in protest at proposed plans to cut positions and increase outsourcing. This followed a similar action in Atherton the previous Friday. Whilst this industrial action has received little news coverage it is of incredible importance. It is the articulation of a group of workers’ collective self-interest in a way that actually points to the deep flaws in the ALP state government’s attempt to manage the challenge of funding social reproduction and honouring the state’s debts (in the context of the end of the mining boom which is a symptom of the Global Recession). What this struggle shows us is that under the layers of mystification debt is ultimately about class struggles: debt hinges on the struggle between the ability of capital to secure the future of its profits via the imposition of work and discipline today and our collective ability to refuse it and assert our dignity and desires.
Predicting the future is often a mug’s game but we can be fairly confident that 2016 we see the conditions for capitalism, both in Australia and globally, worsen. At the very least the mining boom is grinding to an end and perhaps there will be another global meltdown. What will this mean? Depending on the size of the malfunction it will (probably) mean rising poverty, homelessness, unemployment (though currently employment in Australia is surprisingly high) and general misery and declining wages, government spending (as revenues drop), wealth levels and good vibes. This will (probably) all manifest in impacts on life expectancy, mental health, identity based-conflicts, state repression, social cohesion… all this in a world already marked by war, violence, inequality, alienation and ecological disaster. A grim prospect unless we can collectively change our destiny.
On this show (@JonPiccini) and Dave (@withsobersenses) talk about what is going on in Queensland under the ALP. We look at the attempt to fund social reproduction and stimulate capital accumulation in the conditions of the end of the mining boom whilst trying to manufacture social peace.
The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption continued last week in Canberra. The media attention it has received (vastly overshadowed by the Speaker of the House saying ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ and a debate if booing an Indigenous man for displaying pride in Indigenous culture is racist or not) has focused on three related arrests. These arrests need to be separated out. Tuungafasi Manase and Fihi Kivalu have been arrested for a matter of personal criminal corruption. John Lomax on the other hand has been arrested for simply being a successful union official:
Police will allege that Lomax forced a Canberra painter to sign a union enterprise bargaining agreement in April last year.
The owner believed he would be blocked from working in the ACT and NSW if he did not sign.
It is understood police will allege the owner suffered a financial loss as a result because he had to pay his workers $26 an hour when he could have paid as low as $17. (Inman 2015)