SEARCH Foundation decided at its last AGM to make building an alliance against the Right our main political priority for this year.
On the 7th of April at the Secure Jobs Green Future Conference Sydney there is a panel plenary session on strategies for the left to which I will contribute as SEARCH President.
I thought it appropriate to circulate some points in advance as they go to renewal and the role of SEARCH. Any comments would be appreciated and of course you are welcome to participate in the forum.
Secure jobs in a green future: Australian Left Renewal Conference
Participatory Forum: Strategic Priorities for the Left
CAN WE BUILD AN ALLIANCE AGAINST THE RIGHT?
Rob Durbridge, President SEARCH Foundation
Recognise the Eora People, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet
· All of us can agree to campaign to oppose the Coalition in the 2013 Federal election as well as its rightwing state/territory counterparts; despite everything the Gillard Government has progressive reform achievements and policies on which to stand; its failures should not lead us to surrender or despair; the alternative is undoubtedly worse and the problems of the ALP make it harder to get this across
· Uniting against the Coalition gives the left the opportunity to work with others to build an alternative to rightwing policies which can only be achieved through action and analysis
· The rise of neo-conservatism reflects the success of rightwing think tanks and media dominance; to turn it around means challenging rightwing social, environmental and political opinions and developing a clearer statement of the values and solutions of the Left
· Much of the success of the Right is its appeal to simple reactionary values, while the Left’s principles and disparate campaigns are difficult to reduce to slogans; a Left alternative is more than an aggregation of progressive issues; an alternative which can sum up and provide a direction on issues of the day is critical
· The Left is good at protest politics and in a range of areas knows how to win public support, but has yet to mount a coherent challenge to the dominance of the Right
· Progressive politics in Australia reaches well beyond the political parties and processes; progressive issues command the support of substantial majorities which the major parties are able to ignore because of bipartisan domination, one prime example being commitment of forces to wars without mandate
· Indigenous peoples rights have strong support which is masked by competition by the major parties for redneck votes
· This conference can be a step in the process of developing a response to the Right which will not be resolved in the parliamentary arena alone and must be built in workplaces and communities to succeed, as we achieved with Your Rights at Work in 2007
· The defeat of the Howard Government mainly on the issue of workers’ rights was repaid by the Federal ALP with half-hearted and often cosmetic changes to Workchoices leaving the labour movement open to severe repression in the event of a Coalition victory.
· The profound crisis of the ALP is not just about opportunism and psychopathic politicians, it is a crisis of purpose. When a Minister from the Left’s resignation was met with dismay by some of the biggest mining corporations in the world it highlights a loss of direction by the ALP including its left factions
· Reform of the ALP to put members’ views forward rather than the reactionary social policies of remnants of Catholic Action, rightwing factions fostered by corporations and the US as well as Zionist interests all of which Gillard relied upon is essential; that these factions are often based in influential major unions without members’ knowledge or consent raises the whole question of union affiliation to the ALP
· The growth of radical right politics internationally has followed the onset of crisis and despair by millions of people in countries where neo-liberalism and austerity has failed; the combination of an Abbott Government with control of the Senate and rightwing state governments would pose a real threat to living standards and all progressive movements
· Close links between British and Australian conservatives exampled by Cameron adviser and former Howard staffer Lynton Crosby show the likely direction of an Abbott government to “socialize corporate failure and create new opportunities for capital accumulation through privatization and outsourcing of public services” (Spoehr)
· Repression of workers’ and union rights would be at the core of the Abbott project, headed by the violently anti-union Eric Abetz as Shadow Minister
· This is not yet being communicated well by unions and social movements, nor by the ALP given control by its own right and transfixed by leadership crisis; nevertheless the fortunes of the ALP and its genuine left is critical; helping to bridge the bitter divide between the ALP Left and the Greens to avoid damaging competition will assist the movement to unite and counter the right; the ALP will not govern again without Green preferences on current voting patterns
· Left movements have grown in response to the crisis in the European context and the US which have great relevance for the Australian Left; the defeat of Blairite policies in UK Labour and its reform has relevance as ever for the ALP, or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes again?
· Latin American countries which suffered austerity and privatization programmes at the hands of the IMF and World Bank have embarked on renationalisations and social programmes to attack poverty and corporate domination; there are lessons for the world in these attempts
· Following the death of Chavez elections in Venezuela will determine the course of the socialist government which has attracted support in many other Latin American and European countries
· New left movements have often taken the form of coalitions of various social and political organisations and movements, often incorporating ex-communist elements, notably Greece
· Political parties of the vanguard style have not grown in the new conditions, attempts to reinvent the past is ahistorical and likely to fail. The experiences of the left internationally are valuable as sources from which to learn both positive and negative
· SEARCH has adopted the goal of an environmentally sound and democratic socialist society because in our view corporate capitalism is incapable of ending exploitation of nature and people or moving to a sustainable economy based on renewable energy sources
· We want to work with others to oppose the right, to build an alliance for change and to learn from experiences of our movement from history and internationally; SEARCH is not a political party and its members participate in parties and social movements across the spectrum of the Left
· The tragic history of authoritarian and bureaucratic communist societies and the failure of “Third Way” social democratic parties in the name of socialism pose major obstacles in the development of a society which is based on social ownership and democratic control in workplaces and the community; new ways of constructing an alternative are critical
· These obstacles call for the left internationally to confront its past and develop social and political forms to extend democracy and ensure that a new form of socialism can guarantee wider rights as well as sustainable growth based on renewable energy based industry and agriculture
· Growth of the left occurs across movements, parties and formations from social democratic to revolutionary, environmental, feminist, unions and community campaigns; the conditions for the growth of one are likely to support growth in the wider left; in that sense sectarianism is not only damaging but futile
· New policies and organization by the ALP, and a broader social conception by the Greens will be an aspect of renewal; both parties need to accept their mutual interests, to avoid conflict and relate to the interests of working people and progressive movements rather than attune to the political “class” and sectional campaigns
· Left Labor and the Greens are parts of the broader left, neither can succeed on their own and neither can substitute for the broader left which has strong roots in communities and workplaces
· Left renewal demands new strategic thinking based on current needs, values and issues; it cannot be proclaimed but learned and built from analysis of campaigns, defeats and victories; an honest assessment and lessons of the ALP-ACTU Accord are long overdue because denial has become a block against linking the industrial and social wages and rethinking social democratic strategy
· In Australia the left is now composed of a wide and disparate number of activist groups and individuals who pursue discrete campaigns without being able to create a coherent alternative or focus on unifying themes and strategies
· In total these disparate elements constitute a more critical oppositional proportion of the people than at any previous time, or conversely the major parties command less support than previously, a fact masked by compulsory preferential voting and polling
· There is no theory which unites the Left but this should not prevent joint campaigns around agreed issues; there is a real danger of a lurch to the Right unless the components of an alliance can begin to work together and project coherent alternatives to win the support of large numbers of people who support progressive movements and organisations
· Protest politics while important, such as “Occupy”, cannot mount a coherent challenge to global capitalism unless workers and their organisations can be involved in around societal objectives
· As the largest civil society organisations, unions have a particular role and responsibility to involve their members, to provide the means for them to be involved at work and to link with other social movements and campaigns;
· The recent National Community Summit saw the ACTU and community sector organisations unite around “Secure Jobs and a Better Society” and determine to work together against the right
· The project was expressed by ACTU A/Sec Tim Lyons as: “We need an economy and a social wage (and of course an industrial system) that isn’t just about protecting and serving a shrinking pool of ‘insiders’ – the wealthy and those with relatively secure jobs with decent wages and conditions – at the expense of ‘outsiders’, including workers on lower wages, those with lower skills, those in insecure work and those outside work altogether. We need a comprehensive agenda about a stronger and fairer society.”
· Participants and workshops discussed the attack on workers’ rights and standards implicit in high levels of insecure work, industrial responses, training, women at work, productivity, attacks by rightwing state governments, poverty and inclusion, “flexibility” and work/life balance and creating a progressive agenda, organizing and community activism
· This is a shift from uncritical ALP adherence by significant sections of the union movement to a more independent stance in alliance with social wage dependents and community activists; however little attention was paid at the Forum to the environment movement without which the project is flawed
· Nevertheless job insecurity and the social wage complement each other as major organizing issues against the right
· The nature of the threat posed by the radical rightwing in government is already evident in state government decisions to direct funding away from public services and infrastructure, to commence wholesale destruction of the public sector in favour of private interests and to interfere directly into industrial relations arrangements to destroy union influence and make workers vulnerable to authoritarian management and insecure employment.
· The Costello Report for Queensland demonstrates what the Rightwing thinks and what a Coalition Government would do if it gains control of the Senate; it should be widely analysed and reported
· Proposals and policies of the rightwing are not widely understood and makes it critical that organisations and movements widen their perspectives from particular issues and campaigns to join together to warn the public of the threat posed by rightwing dominance
· Labor’s own crisis of confidence and direction contributes to disorientation of the whole left and movement; working with the best of the ALP Left, Greens, unions, social welfare and social movements to promote new policies for sustainable economic growth, decent employment and a fairer society can help restore a sense of purpose to the Left
· A project like this can find expression in social democratic as well as radical politics; a key task for an alliance is to develop a strategy for transition which can win broad support for democratic social reforms to challenge neo-liberal orthodoxy and establish structures for social ownership and control
· Despite its geo-political dominance over the globe, in developed countries capitalism is struggling to maintain growth on its own terms, driving catastrophic climate change and exacerbating inequality and exploitation within every country
· There is a major rift between Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism which is seen by German-based “ordoliberalism” as one of the causes of global financial crisis; Swan’s attacks on “slash and burn fiscal austerity” as a “handbrake” on growth open a direction for reform of social democratic policy in future
· Burgeoning growth and development, often in environmentally and socially exploitative form, is concentrated in countries often with low levels of democratic accountability and rights
· Australia is somewhat insulated from the crisis of corporate globalization due to demand for minerals and polluting fossil fuels, but the general characteristics are present
· Nevertheless decomposition of the typical pattern of western political settlement is occurring across developed economies, particularly the European South and Latin America, and in developing countries the dominance of pro-western client governments is being challenged, arising from the Arab spring and leftist governments in Latin America
· Social democracy’s traditional hegemony over movements for social justice and labour standards is being eroded, creating space for the rise of the Greens and a range of independent movements and organisations
· An alliance to build a sense of purpose and direction for the left is possible with goodwill and determination; out of this can develop ongoing contact and exchange so that solidarity around campaigns and movements can be built to challenge the power of the rightwing which is often well concealed but vulnerable to social exposure
· Examples are the concentration of media ownership and power, executive and director largesse in corporations, public tax gifts to the rich in superannuation, mining profits, elite education funding and creation of safety net to protect the working poor etc.
· The creation of a “working poor” arising from market dominance in the labour market, insecure employment and casualisation, outsourcing and contracting out as well as fake independent contracting is a real threat to traditional notions of fairness and equity in Australia
· Campaigning for decent and secure employment in sustainable industries and against the ideas and policies of the right can build a strategic vision and organizational base for left policies and progressive social movements
· SEARCH wants to work on an equal basis with individuals and organisations who share this view