Above: June 2016, in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, workers at the Bitzer refrigeration firm are on the picket line and on the verge of victory. After a hard fought nine week strike workers won a pay rise, the guarantee of permanency for casuals after six months’ service and control over what hours they work. The Australian working class is very multiracial. Unity of workers across racial and ethnic lines is key to victory in the class struggle.
As Capitalist Rulers Beat on the Unions and Poor:
Opposing Racism & “Aussie First” Economic Nationalism Key to Defending Working Class People’s Rights
29 January 2017: Thousands upon thousands of the most economically deprived people in Australia have been driven to despair over the last few months. Many are on the verge of suicide. These people have been sent debt letters by Centrelink telling them that they owe large amounts of money. Many of the letters were erroneously sent. The Liberal-National Turnbull government’s scheme to recover supposed “excess” payments to social security recipients through a computer program matching Centrelink with tax data is full of flaws. The system seems to be wilfully designed to incorrectly flag several types of valid welfare payments as “overpayments.” However, it is not just the errors in the program that are the problem. The whole purpose of the program is the problem: to gouge ever more from the most impoverished people in the country to allow, in part, the right-wing government to implement large tax cuts for rich business owners.
This hated “debt recovery” scheme is symbolic of what the government led by the supposedly “moderate” Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, has been doing to working class people. In November, the Turnbull government, with support in the Senate from the fascistic One Nation party, the Nick Xenophon team and right-wing “independents” like Derryn Hinch, put through legislation to resurrect the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The ABCC is a set of rules and government bodies targeting unions in the construction industry. Its resurrection is yet another sign that the capitalist rulers are ramping up for a full-scale attack on the CFMEU construction workers union. They want to attack one of the most militant unions in the country as a way of pulling the teeth out of the entire union movement.
The Turnbull government has been emboldened by its win in last July’s election. However, even though the Coalition are more openly anti-working class in its agenda than the ALP, even an ALP victory last July would have been no good for the masses. Thus although the ALP opposed the ABCC, it had brought in the previous set of anti-union laws targeting the CFMEU – a regime under which over a hundred union officials were facing legal persecution last year. It is true that the ALP has joined with the Greens to oppose the Turnbull government’s plan for a massive cut in company tax. Yet in September, it was the ALP’s support that enabled the Coalition to get through its Omnibus Bill of budget cuts that hurt working class people the most while the following month the ALP voted up tax cuts that were exclusively given to the richest one-third of taxpayers. The Omnibus Bill measures that financed the tax cuts for the rich include the slashing of the Energy Supplement for new welfare recipients, high interest charges that will further grind down welfare recipients with a debt, delays to the receipt of the Carers Allowance for many new carers and a more severe repayment through taxation schedule for ex-students with a tuition fee debt. Meanwhile, although the ALP has demanded that the Coalition suspend its Centrelink “debt recovery” scheme, the ALP took to the elections its own scheme to punish welfare recipients with a debt. Under the Labor proposal, welfare recipients who had outstanding fines from government agencies would have their fines automatically deducted from their payments in yet another compulsory “income management” scheme subjugating the poor.
The fact is that the determination to rip ever more from the pockets of the masses comes not just from the ideological nature of the current parliamentary parties but from their adherence to a capitalist order which requires increasing exploitation of workers as a condition for its very existence. This is especially so because the world capitalist economy is in a fragile state right now. The Australian economy is somewhat held up from a major collapse by exports to China’s booming economy. Yet China’s continued economic successes – not withstanding the regular but always unrealised predictions made by wishful mainstream Western “experts” that her economy is about to implode – come from the fact that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is not under capitalist rule. Although the PRC’s leadership has allowed a dangerous level of capitalist intrusion into her economy, China’s economy remains held together by a powerful backbone of socialistic state-owned enterprises. However, let’s look at the condition of the major capitalist economies of the world. Big European economies like those of France, Italy, Germany and Austria have barely recovered from the worst of the 2008-9 Great Recession. The U.S. recovery is a fragile house of cards based on cheap credit and the capitalist Japanese economy continues its long term drift in the doldrums. Meanwhile, large non-Western, capitalist countries like Russia and Brazil are still mired in recession. It is in this context that the Coalition election slogan of “jobs and growth” has turned out to be a load of crock. If the unemployment rate has remained steady in Australia rather than ballooning up since the election it is only because so many people who want to work full-time are being forced to accept part-time work. Since the election, over 33,000 full-time jobs have been lost. As for “growth” the latest figures show that the economy actually shrank in the three months since the elections. With the economy in such a state, the capitalist rulers propose the only “solution” that they always advocate for any problem: increase the rate of exploitation of workers.
With both the Coalition and the ALP not even promising much good for the masses and with both stating their intention to implement budget cuts that would hurt the poor, the post-election period was always going to be a challenging one for the masses. Under the system of capitalist “democracy” elections serve to “legitimise” capitalist governments by giving the impression that they have a “mandate” because they and their agenda have been “chosen by the people.” Therefore, in an immediate post-election period, governments claiming the authority of a “mandate” are often able to implement severe attacks against the masses. But that is only if working class people believe the hoax that election victories are a “mandate”! It is the duty of those within the workers movement who understand that elections in capitalist countries are not fair reflections of the will of the masses to explain this to others. They must expose how capitalist elections are overwhelmingly shaped by the reality that it is the ultra-rich capitalists who own the mass media and book publishing houses and uniquely have the wealth to fund political parties, employ lobbyists and full-time staffers to shape public opinion, buy political advertising, hire forum venues and establish sympathetic NGO’s to subtly promote views coinciding with their interests. In other words, it is the capitalist tycoons who are able to, disproportionately to their numbers, shape â€œpublic opinionâ€ and election results. The reality of democracy in capitalist countries is not one person one vote but, in reality, something more like one million dollars buys one million votes. Furthermore, no matter which party wins the elections, they will be administering a state machine – including at its core the police, courts, military and bureaucracy – that has been built up to enforce the interests of the capitalist class and is tied to this ruling class by a thousand threads. If those vanguard layers of the workers movement who understand this are able to patiently and humbly explain this to the broader masses and in the process win others to also play a vanguard role in spreading such ideas then the working class will be in a much better position to resist the attacks it is facing today.
Today’s onslaught on working class people’s rights is of such severity that there really should be a working class fightback right now. So let’s clear the confusion that is blocking that fightback by destroying the illusion that capitalist elections give a government a “legitimate” “mandate”! Let’s fight to unleash working class industrial power! Let’s unleash mass action uniting the working class with all the other downtrodden – including brutally oppressed Aboriginal people, people from other embattled coloured ethnic communities, the unemployed and low-income single mothers. Fight to defeat the ABCC and all other anti-strike and anti-union laws! Smash all attacks on welfare and all punitive measures against the unemployed! Let’s put the blame where it should be for unemployment: on the capitalist bosses. Let’s stop billionaire bosses retrenching workers! Force capitalist bosses to increase hiring at the expense of their fat profits! Oppose the moves to make education and health care increasingly “user pays.” For free public education at all levels from pre-school to TAFE and university! Let’s also fight for completely free public medical and dental care. Against the bi-partisan sell-offs of public housing we need to demand a massive increase in public housing. There needs to be a struggle to oppose racist state terror against Aboriginal people and the stealing of Aboriginal people’s children. We also need to demand asylum for refugees and full rights of citizens for everyone residing here or currently locked up in the Manus Island and Nauru camps. Let’s demand the closure of all the onshore and offshore detention centres!
It Is the Capitalist System That Is at the Root of the Problem & Not the “Two-Party System”
Reflecting widespread disenchantment with the status quo of insecure jobs, decaying social services and unaffordable housing, voters punished the Liberals and ALP at last July’s elections. Instead, they gave their vote to independents and smaller parties. Some on the Left have hailed this as a positive development as it undercuts the “major parties” and the “two-party system.” It may indeed show a weakening of the “two-party system” but that in itself is not a step forward. As the support of many of the Senate cross-benchers to the ABCC showed, all the elected independents and minor party parliamentarians are pro-capitalist and anti-working class. The fact is that having more than two pro-capitalist parties in parliament does not make life any better for the masses. Indeed, in many European countries there have long been three, four or even more significant parties in parliament but that has not stopped these parliaments from legislating for capitalist austerity, imperialist wars abroad and racist attacks on non-white minorities and refugees. You see the problem is not the two party system as such – it is the capitalist system whether capitalist interests are represented by one or two or three or four or five or any number of major parties.
That the masses are unhappy with the current rulers is inevitable under capitalism. The task of conscious partisans of the exploited and oppressed is to ensure that this anger is directed in the correct direction. The election results signalled that, unfortunately, this is not what is happening right now. One of the most notable aspects of the July election results is the growth in support for Pauline Hanson’s extreme racist One Nation party which now has several seats in the Senate. Like Donald Trump, Hanson’s claims to be “anti-establishment” are completely bogus. A former smaller-scale capitalist business owner who exploited workers, a better description of Hanson and her One Nation Party is that they are ultra-establishment. Hanson supports anti-union laws and disgustingly brands those doing it hard as “welfare bludgers.” Indeed, not only does One Nation support Treasurer Scott Morrison’s legislation making young jobseekers wait four weeks before getting the dole but its leader Pauline Hanson has called for the waiting period – i.e. the starving period – to be made even longer. Meanwhile, One Nation’s defining feature – racist scapegoating of Aboriginal people and non-white “ethnic” communities – serves the capitalist establishment by getting the masses to turn on themselves and divert their attention away from struggling against their exploiters: the greedy capitalists.
It is notable how much airtime and sympathetic – or at least “understanding” – coverage the mainstream media have been giving to Pauline Hanson even compared to when she first entered parliament two decades ago. It is also noteworthy how many more other politicians have been going out of their way to show their respect for her and her disgusting racist rants. This reflects the further rightward shift of the ruling class. They see an increasing need for the division caused by fascistic forces to help protect their rule. Hanson’s One Nation party allows the mainstream of the capitalist ruling class to ensure that society is flooded with extreme racist views while not themselves taking responsibility for spreading this hatred – lest that upset trade ties with Asia or Australia’s bogus image of being a “human rights defender” (that they use to justify predatory imperialist interventions abroad).
Hanson spews venomous bigotry against Aboriginal people. In her book released soon after she first entered parliament, Hanson made outrageous claims that Aboriginal women ate their babies, claiming that she wanted to “demonstrate the savagery of Aboriginal society.” Although she shifts her main target depending on which type of racism is most in vogue, her agenda is to spread hatred against all people of colour. When she first entered parliament she ranted that, “Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians.” Now she makes similar claims about Muslims while continuing to stand by her attacks on Asian communities. The first time round, when Hanson made her drive against Asians, Asian people were often spat on and abused at train stations and threatened and bashed on the streets. Today, One Nation’s bigotry is again inciting racist terror on the streets. Its electoral gains and the ascent of far-right bigot Donald Trump has emboldened violent racists. Various violent fascist groups in Australia like the Party for Freedom, True Blue Crew, and Australian Settlers Rebellion have been falling over themselves to declare support for One Nation and have been congregating at One Nation public events. There have been at least two white supremacist murders in the period since One Nation made its comeback into federal parliament: the murder of 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie and the murder of Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher in Brisbane. How many more racist murders there have been and the much larger number of racist bashings is unknown.
Working-Class Based Opposition to One Nation’s Racist Agenda versus “Take Down Capitalism” Instead
n response to One Nation’s resurgence, people of colour activists and other anti-racists have rightly protested outside some One Nation events and media appearances. However, a leftist Facebook site calling itself the “Communists of Australia” posted a statement that poured cold water on the idea of protesting against One Nation. This 15 September 2016 posting read:
Australian far-right politician Pauline Hanson is back in the parliament after 20 years. The message is the same racist message as before. Capitalism throws up these fascists from time to time. Some will respond by attacking the figurehead. That is OK if they want to do it. But the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself. Target the boss instead of the stooge.
We will respond to this assertion not necessarily because of the weight of the group making it but because this stance represents a viewpoint held by a section of the nominally “Marxist-Leninist” left. In itself, the statement that, “the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself,” is of course incontestable. However, the struggle against capitalism will not be advanced by merely proclaiming its necessity, although that must certainly be done as well. The revolution against capitalism will mainly be built by conscious pro-socialists supporting struggles waged against the various injustices and oppressions caused by this system and fighting to direct these struggles onto an anti-capitalist strategy. It follows that in addition to participating in workers’ struggles for economic gains and in struggles against government racist measures, we must also join with those protesting against the extreme racism of One Nation while fighting to turn this anti-racist resistance into a pro-working class, anti-racist resistance. This is different to the perspective of not only the “Communists of Australia” but in a different way also to that of most of the left social democratic groups – like Socialist Alternative. These latter groups – to their credit – are heavily involved in building anti-racist rallies against One Nation and have raised slogans at such actions that correctly link One Nation’s rise to the racist policies of the major parties (even though they tend to soft-pedal on criticism of the ALP’s racist policies). However, the slogans that these groups build the anti-One Nation rallies on and the slogans that they raise at the events shy away from linking the anti-racist struggle to the class-struggle of the working class. They choose such a strategy because they hope that this will allow small-l liberals and middle-class antiracists, who may not be pro-working class, to be more comfortable about attending the actions. However, a huge price of making the events as amenable as possible for such elements is that it holds back the movement from becoming a force that opposes the capitalist ruling class – the class whose attacks on jobs and social services fuels support for One Nation and whose racist policies legitimise such fascistic outfits. In other words, the strategy of the reformist left groups, while helping to attract well-meaning, anti-racist university students to rallies, retards the movement from turning to the direction that can actually lead it towards its goal. Moreover, it makes it harder to attract the powerful workers movement into joining these struggles. In contrast, Trotskyist Platform (TP) has been participating in anti-Far Right actions with slogans that not only oppose the government’s/ALP’s racist attacks on Aboriginal people, refugees and Muslims – which other Left groups also do to some extent – but with slogans that directly appeal to the interests that the workers movement has in strengthening its unity through combating racism. Our slogans also seek to connect healthy hatred of One Nation’s racism with opposition to the mainstream, “Aussie first” economic nationalism that helps legitimise the extreme racists. We call for class struggle opposition to the bosses’ job-slashing and casualisation that is the cause of the unemployment and insecurity that is helping fuel fascism’s rise.
Even though the reformist left groups that are currently leading the anti-One Nation protests shy away from an openly pro-working class strategy, this is no excuse for the so-called “Communists of Australia” to downplay the need to participate in anti-One Nation actions. To reject intervention in this way means to turn one’s back on the possibility that a movement burning with hatred at far-right racism can – or at least its most pro-working class elements can – be steered onto an anti-capitalist strategy. Worst of all it means turning one’s back on the desperate concerns of people from the various coloured “ethnic” communities – the people who are suffering the direct brunt of the redneck violence and abuse that One Nation’s racist hate speech fuels – and refusing to walk them onto a path that connects their passion to fight against far-right racists to an all-sided struggle against the capitalist system that breeds racism.
It is simply wrong to reject struggles against fascist and fascistic forces on the supposed grounds that it diverts from a direct struggle against capitalism. Workers from various embattled “ethnic” communities form an important part of the working class – the class that is central to the fight against capitalism. Many work in the most exploited jobs and, thus, have the most to gain from anti-capitalist class struggle. Some are even today amongst the most militant trade unionists. Yet the vilification that they cop from the likes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the violence being incited – and sometimes directly carried out – by outright fascist groups intimidates coloured workers and thus undermines their ability to participate in the struggles of the workers movement. Opposing the far-right racists is thus an important part of the struggle to unleash the full combative potential of “ethnic” workers and, therefore, of the workers movement as a whole. It is, thus, incorrect to suggest that struggles against far-right forces somehow takes away from the necessary struggle against capitalism. In fact, the very opposite is true provided that struggles against the Far-Right are waged on a pro-working class agenda that refuses to be diverted into the dead end of “lesser evil” support for liberal or social democratic-led capitalism.
That is why, in contrast to the likes of the “Communists of Australia,” we communists in TP stand for spirited, working class centred, anti-racist protests outside One Nation events. Let’s demoralise One Nation supporters and discourage new ones from joining by showing them how much resistance they will face. Most importantly, we fight for actions uniting trade union contingents with Aboriginal people, coloured “ethnic” communities and other anti-racists to drive off the streets the outright fascist groups that have been congregating at One Nation events. When the workers movement mobilises in this way to stop violent fascist forces, it not only enhances their unity but also strengthens their trust in their own power, develops their fighting organisation and experience and increases their willingness and ability to unleash their might in direct physical action. In other words, acting to crush fascist outfits – who are still overall unpopular – helps prepare the working class for the future, more difficult task of overturning capitalist state power. This is partly why Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who would go on to lead the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, devoted so much effort to mobilising to crush the violent far-right groups that existed in Russia in their time – like the notorious Black Hundreds. By downplaying the importance of similar tasks today, the avowedly “Marxist-Leninist” Communists of Australia group are actually turning their back on an important aspect of real Marxist-Leninism.
The biggest reason why it is wrong to claim that struggles against far right racists are counterposed to a direct struggle against capitalism is that workers unity is absolutely essential to any struggle against capitalism and such unity cannot be built without fiercely counteracting the dividing effect of racism – whether it be the extreme racism of the Far Right or the patronising racism of the mainstream of the ruling class. In white supremacist Australia, racism and economic nationalism are, indeed, the biggest factors tearing apart workers’ unity. Indeed, the racism and economic nationalism engendered by capitalist society can be so strong that even some avowed socialists recoil from directly standing up to it. Those leftists who say that there is no need to attack One Nation, with the excuse that the dominant capitalist bosses should be attacked instead, are misusing Marxist theory to rationalise a reluctance to challenge extreme racist ideas. This is an opportunist capitulation to backward racist notions amongst their co-workers, acquaintances and those considered potential allies of their parties.
Protectionism Hurts the Struggle to Save Workers’ Jobs
The germination of openly racist forces in Australia has been bred in a noxious political climate created by the major parties’ – and the mainstream media’s – attacks on refugees, Aboriginal people and various different coloured “ethnic” communities. In particular, the mainstream of the ruling class has infused society with anti-Muslim hysteria through the repression and coded racist messages associated with its “War on Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Direct Australian imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq further intensifies the chauvinist climate at home. Meanwhile, the Australian fascistic groups sprouting into the open have been pollinated by their rapidly breeding counterparts in other parts of the capitalist world. Most significant has been the ascendancy of racist, ultra-protectionist Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. There has also been the Brexit vote in Britain – in which racist hostility to immigrants and protectionism were the main factors – and the growing influence of extreme right-wing parties throughout Europe from France, Netherlands and Austria to Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. With the current social democratic leaderships of the workers’ movements refusing to mobilise a militant class struggle fight for workers’ jobs, far-right forces have been able to promote restrictions on immigration and extreme nationalism as an “answer” to unemployment and deteriorating social services. Since economic insecurity remains rife in a capitalist world that is still caught in the vortex of the late noughties Great Recession, many in the middle class and some backward workers have bought into such illusory “solutions.” What has arguably most legitimised the Hard Right and their agenda is that social democratic politicians – including supposedly “anti-establishment” ones like America’s Bernie Sanders and British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – have been standing on similar economic nationalist platforms as the Far Right. Bernie Sanders has even on several occasions praised Donald Trump for his opposition to trade deals from a protectionist standpoint – even promising to work with Trump if he seriously implements such an agenda.
In the wake of this growing influence of national-chauvinist ideologies and the increasing weight of fascistic forces in all the capitalist powers it has hardly been just One Nation and its satellites that have been spewing racist filth and extreme protectionism. Barely a week after Trump’s election win, immigration minister Peter Dutton criticised former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who was from Dutton’s own Liberal Party, for allowing in some migrant groups in the 1970s. Dutton blamed their descendants for social problems. This was part of a cosy interview he did with extreme racist media commentator Andrew Bolt who attacked “allowing in” people from Middle Eastern and African nations or cultural groups. Later, Dutton singled out Lebanese Muslims as a community that he believes should have been excluded. Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan responded aptly:
Let us not beat around the bush here, what Mr Dutton said was racist, what he implied was racist, and the lack of outrage in Parliament reflects on the racism underscoring much of how we talk about minorities in Australia.
This statement reflects widespread outrage at Dutton’s stance within Lebanese and other migrant communities. Yet Turnbull stood by his openly racist minister.
The Labor Opposition did criticise Dutton’s comments – albeit very mildly. However, the ALP itself has been spreading poisonous nationalism. In November, Bill Shorten ranted that temporary overseas workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians. He made this xenophobic claim as part of announcing Labor’s plan to place more restrictions on guest workers entering on the 457 Visa program. Shorten’s comments came within a week of Trump’s election win. He was aping Trump’s “America First” protectionism. Claiming that Australia must learn from Trump’s victory, Shorten raved that, “we make no apology for saying Labor’s approach to the Australian economy is buy Australian, build Australian, employ Australians.” Although Shorten would deny it, by claiming that foreign workers were “taking the jobs” of Australians, Shorten is inciting racist hostility to migrants. After all, the primary cause of racist attitudes are ignorant notions that other races present a threat to the majority ethnic group’s economic security. Arch-racist Pauline Hanson knows this, which is why she was quick to hail the ALP leader’s comments. Indeed, the ALP’s renewed protectionist push reflects not only a buy into the Trump approach and, of course, its own lifelong embrace of economic nationalism but an attempt to appeal to supporters of the newly resurgent minor parties. The distinguishing feature of the newly elected – or re-elected – minor parties and independents is rabid protectionism. This is the case whether it be One Nation, Jacqui Lambie or the group led by multi-millionaire, property investor Nick Xenophon.
Apart from fuelling racism, claims that foreign guest workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians are simply not true. The number of 457 Visa workers in Australia is just 94,890. This makes up a tiny 0.8% of the workforce! Furthermore, even if this number were all stopped from entering it would not increase employment for Australians. Other countries would likely respond by placing restrictions on Australian expatriates working overseas. These Australian citizens would then be forced to come back here and try to engage in, supposedly, “taking the jobs” of Australians already residing here. Indeed, the number of Australian citizens working in Britain alone approaches the entire total number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. When you add the 65,000 Australians working on temporary work visas in the U.S. (out of a total Australian population of 200,000 there) and the tens of thousands of Australians resident on temporary work visas in each of the UAE, Hong Kong, Thailand and China and tens of thousands more in other parts of Asia and the world, one can see that the number of Australians working abroad as guest workers far exceeds the number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. In other words, mutual restrictions on temporary workers in Australia and other countries would lead – if one accepts the warped logic of the ALP, One Nation and Co. – to a net taking away of the jobs of Australian workers.
Yet, regardless of the relative amounts of 457 Visa workers in Australia and Australians working as guest workers abroad, the whole notion that temporary workers or immigrants are “taking the jobs” of Australians is false to the core. A 457 Visa worker employed here not only works but spends money and pays taxes: both of which create jobs. In the end, the entry of guest workers just like immigration in general is employment neutral – it neither leads to more or less unemployment. The actual – and indeed sole – cause of unemployment is the relentless drive for profits of capitalist business owners. This means that capitalist bosses often would rather employ less workers and produce less than put the resources into training additional workers. Depending on market conditions, corporate bigwigs may find it more profitable to cut production and jobs because that enables them to increase prices since they have a lower number of goods or services to sell. Then there is, of course, the unceasing campaign of bosses to boost profits by cutting jobs and pressuring those left behind to work dangerously faster. All this means that greedy business owners will slash jobs even when they are making filthy high profits – if that can help them make even larger profits. Meanwhile, companies that have ripped hundreds of millions in profits out of the toil of their workers do not hesitate to throw these workers onto the scrapheap if they make a slight loss for even one year. Over the last couple of years, fabulously wealthy Australian-owned mining giants and big banks have slashed thousands upon thousands of jobs in search of even more billions of dollars in profits. So have the greedy owners of profitable IT giants, breweries and hundreds of other businesses.
Under the capitalist system, there is always a certain – rather high – level of unemployment below which unemployment will not drop. This is because as more workers are hired and unemployment falls bosses are less able to make workers accept lower wages and less able to make their standard threat (which may be spoken or unspoken) to bully workers: “if you don’t like the [miserable] conditions that I am giving you there are plenty more without a job that I can hire.” This reduced ability to keep wages low and conditions poor when unemployment falls makes capitalist bosses recoil from hiring any more workers. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of immigrants or the number of guest workers. Even if there is zero immigration, no guest workers and a very low population there will always be this certain unemployment rate under the capitalist economic system. The only way that this level of unemployment can be reduced is if class struggle by the organised working class is powerful enough to force capitalists to maintain a larger workforce than that which enables them to make the greatest profits.
This base level of unemployment within capitalism occurs at the best of times – even when capitalist economies are at the highest booms that they can reach. As capitalist economies move out of this high point in their economic cycle, unemployment rises. And when the capitalist system is wracked by its periodic crises of over-production or other states of chaos, rich business owners throw their workers out of their jobs like there is no tomorrow. Unemployment rises rapidly and again this has nothing to do with the number of guest workers or immigrants. Thus, the highest unemployment rate Australia has ever had was in the height of the Great Depression in 1932 when the official unemployment rate was around 30%. This was a time when the population was barely more than a quarter of what it is now, when there were no guest workers and when the racist White Australia Policy still existed. Similarly, consider the most severe unemployment in Australia in the last few decades. This occurred in 1993, during the early 1990s recession, when official unemployment was nearly twice the rate that it is now. Yet not only was this three years before the 457 Visa program was even introduced, it was at the end of a five year period of falling immigration levels. In that period of extremely high unemployment, the net migration into Australia was only 34,000 per year – which is about five time less than it is currently. In summary, when immigration was five times less than it is today and no guest workers were arriving, unemployment was twice as high. This once again confirms that the entry of immigrants and guest workers has nothing to do with creating unemployment and if anything one could argue the opposite.
Although Marxists do not advise the capitalist rulers on how many or how few guest workers should be brought to work in this country, we do resolutely oppose all attempts to turn guest workers into scapegoats for unemployment and oppose all the other divisive rhetoric – and associated laws – that counterpose the interests of local workers to those of guest or foreign workers. We do so because any attempt to set up local workers as rivals of guest workers diverts workers from fighting to stop the real cause of unemployment – the capitalist bosses and their decaying system. It also divides local workers from their important allies – guest and international workers. This, in turn, weakens the ability of the working class to struggle against the capitalist exploiters and demand jobs for all. Such class struggle, which in the end would culminate in the replacement of capitalist rule with working class rule, is the only effective way to defend workers’ jobs. Put simply, calls to put “Australian workers first” in hiring actually harms the fight to protect the jobs of local workers – and, of course, the jobs of international workers too.
This does not mean that local workers’ fears are not real that bosses will try and make 457 Visa workers a lower paid workforce and use their extra exploitation of these workers to drive down the conditions of all workers. After all, this is part of the reason why big business owners are in favour of the 457 Visa program and why the capitalists’ open representatives in the Liberal Party favour the scheme. Yet the response of the workers movement to this should not be to make demands calling for local workers to be favoured against guest workers but rather to fight to improve the working conditions of guest workers themselves. In other words, the workers movement must use the same approach to guest workers as the approach that it ought to use towards specially vulnerable groups amongst local workers: like casual workers, apprentices, youth workers and workers on probation. Especially severe exploitation of all these latter sections of our class can also be used to drive down the conditions of all workers – but that does not mean we should call for kicking these workers out of their jobs. Rather, we should fight to uplift their conditions, legal rights and job security – in particular, by fighting for permanency for all these workers and for their wages and conditions to be brought up to that of the rest of the working class. Similarly, in order to prevent greedy Aussie bosses super-exploiting vulnerable 457 Visa workers, local workers should demand that guest workers be given additional protections such as a requirement that they be paid at the highest pay rate going for those doing their type of work in Australia. Most importantly, the Australian workers movement must demand that all 457 Visa workers be given the rights of citizenship. This will stop bosses threatening guest workers by pointing to the current reality where they will be booted out of the country if they lose their job. By fighting in this way to defend the rights of guest workers, local workers will not only undercut attempts by the bosses to undermine general working conditions but will be able to attract guest workers into our unions and unite with them in struggles to demand improved working conditions and more jobs for all workers. Our guest worker sisters and brothers can in this way bring much to the trade union movement here. Many of these workers have experience in intense class struggles abroad. Furthermore, because they often suffer intense racist discrimination here, many guest workers may well have less sympathy for the capitalist order than local workers do. Therefore, when freed from the threat of deportation and when uplifted by the hand of solidarity by local workers, guest workers could become a militant component of the trade union movement in this country. They would become a key part of a united working class fight to win fully paid, secure jobs for all workers through stopping capitalist bosses from retrenching workers and forcing profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their own profits.
Workers of All Countries Unite!
It is not only the fascistic One Nation, the right-wing Coalition and the social democratic ALP that have been pushing “Australia First” nationalism. So too in a big way have the middle class, “progressive” Greens. Soon after Bill Shorten launched his “Australia First” push in November, the Greens campaigned for new legal measures restricting 457 Visa workers and the use of imported steel on construction sites. The Greens lower house member, Adam Bandt, openly proclaimed the measures as an attempt to compete on protectionism with not only the Nick Xenophon Team but with One Nation. Bandt stated, “We’ll see whether Pauline Hanson is serious about looking after local jobs or whether she just talks protectionist in Queensland to win votes then backs the elites when she’s in Canberra” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2016).
Yet, even after promoting such rabid economic nationalism, the Greens still manage to attack the ALP for inciting racism with their attacks on 457 Visa workers:
For years, the Greens have been urging we protect our sovereignty without racist rhetoric. Now Labor has embraced the Greens’ policies but with Pauline Hanson’s rhetoric.
Do Bill Shorten and Labor genuinely want to help create jobs for locals by fixing our migration and employment laws or is this just dog-whistling in a post-Trump attempt to chase the One Nation vote?
There is, indeed, no doubt that the ALP is churning out Pauline Hanson-like racist rhetoric and dog whistling. However, the irony is that by promoting “Aussie First” migration and employment policies, the Greens – like the ALP – are only pouring fuel into the engine of fascistic units like One Nation who are, after all, always the most consistent nationalists. The Greens economic nationalist policies are fuelling One Nation’s rise no matter how clean and liberal the rhetoric that they present these policies with.
As harmful as the Greens’ hard line protectionism is, this poisonous ideology spreads deepest into the workers movement when it is being poured by those within it; that is, by the ALP parliamentary and union leaders. Economic nationalism pushed by our union leaders in particular does the most harm as they have more authority amongst workers than ALP parliamentary politicians. But not only are most Laborite union officials pushing protectionism – they are doing so with increasing vigour. The more that these officials – unwilling to defy anti-strike laws – recoil from a class struggle fight against bosses slashing jobs, the more that they promote “Australian workers first” policies as an illusory “solution” to joblessness. The Laborite, current union leaders slogans include not only calls to keep out guest workers but demands to favour Australian companies over overseas producers. Yet just like calls to favour local workers in hiring, calls to favour locally made products are an illusory strategy to “save Australian jobs.” For any restrictions Australia places on overseas produced items would be met by countries abroad placing similar restrictions on Australian-made products. In the end all that such demands do is to divide workers of different nations by setting them against their sisters and brothers abroad. Meanwhile, the capitalist bosses in all the different countries are left laughing all the way to the bank – laughing because their own workforces, instead of fighting against these bosses who exploit them, are set against their actual allies, workers overseas.
Even the most left-wing union leaderships in Australia are strongly pro-protectionist. Take the Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). To the credit of the members and leaders of this union, the MUA Sydney Branch amongst all unions in NSW have done the most to support anti-racist causes like Aboriginal rights and refugee rights. However, the union has also long used the divisive nationalist slogan, “Australian crew on Australian ships” as part of a campaign to stop overseas workers working on ships on Australian coastal routes. This campaign was put into overdrive when workers on the MV Portland were disgustingly sacked on January 13 last year. After the workers who worked on this Alcoa alumina cargo ship had found out the ship was to be taken to Singapore where they were to be replaced by overseas seafarers on much lower pay, the local crew refused to sail the ship to Singapore and took industrial action by docking the ship in the far south-west Victorian port of Portland. The greedy Alcoa bosses eventually organised dozens of security guards to raid the ship at 1am at night and heavy the workers off the ship. This sacking of the MV Portland workers by Alcoa and their use of physical thuggery to break industrial action was indeed despicable. It was despicable because all smashing of industrial action and all sackings of workers, especially by a multi-billion dollar behemoth like Alcoa, is despicable, no matter what the reason! The sackings deserved to be opposed by industrial action. However, instead of focussing solely on the sacking of workers by Alcoa, the MUA leaders chose to focus on the issue of Australian workers being replaced by overseas workers. They ran a campaign called “sacked for being an Australian” complete with rallies, media publicity and canvassing of politicians. The campaign addressed not only the events around the MV Portland but the broader issue of overseas crew working on Australian coastal routes. It won the support of the ACTU and Bill Shorten and other politicians. At a rally outside Malcolm Turnbull’s office, union officials wore “Sacked for Being An Aussie” t-shirts, questioned the competency of overseas seafarers and the validity of their Australian visas and spoke favourably about how the campaign against foreign crew on Australian coastal routes had even won the support of right-wing radio shock jocks from 2GB and the like. Yet the only reason that those staunchly anti-union shock jocks were supporting the movement was because it appealed to Australian nationalism and stoked hostility to overseas workers from the “Third World.” Those anti-working class, multi-millionaire shock jocks love workers being divided. The fact is that the “Sacked for Being An Aussie” slogan is something that a far right political party could come up with!
A far most honest t-shirt expressing the plight of the MV Portland workers would say something like, “Sacked for being a more decently paid worker by a greedy company seeking to make more profit.” Unions should of course oppose all sackings of workers – including when bosses seek to cut wage costs by hiring new workers on lower pay. Where workers are being replaced by overseas workers on lower pay our unions should not make the issue about local workers being replaced by overseas ones. That is not the point. It is about workers being sacked because of greedy capitalists trying to drive down wages … full stop! Our unions should simply demand that sacked workers get their jobs back and, instead of shouting divisive slogans against the hiring of overseas crew, should demand that all workers on Australian routes be paid – the much higher – local wage rates. However, the MUA leadership has chosen, instead, to appeal to xenophobic Australian nationalism and hopes to win support from broader elements – like “independent” politicians and right-wing media commentators – on this basis. In doing so they are in the long run shooting the union in the foot. For the very Australian nationalism that they are churning up today will tomorrow be hurled back against the union – including by the very same right wing shock jocks who today claim to back the union campaign – when the union launches any major strike to defend workers’ interests. These shock jocks and other Australian nationalists will scream that the union is “harming Australia’s national interests” and “putting at risk Australian jobs and Australian industry.” Furthermore, by turning the issue into an Australian workers versus overseas workers issue, our union leaders are undermining the potential for international solidarity action in support of the sacked workers. Consider, for example, how an alternative strategy for the struggle would look like: The union refuses to make this a question of Australian workers versus overseas workers. Instead it demands through industrial action not only the reinstatement of all sacked workers but, as a way to build international solidarity and undercut Alcoa’s efforts to play one lot of workers off against another, demands that a portion of the proposed overseas crew also be hired. It, of course, insists that this overseas crew is hired on the better Australian wages and conditions with the resulting lower workload per worker, resulting from a now larger workforce, being used to reduce working hours with no loss in pay. The right wing shock jocks and politicians, of course, then refuse to support the union campaign. However, the union’s internationalist stance meets with a very enthusiastic response from Alcoa workers throughout the multinational corporation’s operations in nine other countries. These workers then launch protest industrial action in support of the MUA demands. Now that’s a strategy worth fighting for! A strategy befitting the very good work that the MUA is doing in other arenas to oppose racism and support other progressive causes like defence of public housing in Millers Point.
Yet protectionist ideology is so overwhelming within the workers movement in Australia – and indeed most of the richer capitalist countries – that even most of the Far Left embraces it. Thus, the newspaper of Socialist Alliance, the Green Left Weekly, supported the MUA leadership’s “Australian workers first” strategy on the MV Portland sackings while trying to ignore some of the most blatantly national chauvinist aspects of the campaign. However, Socialist Alliance are hardly alone on the Left in pandering to economic nationalism. So too does Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and – in an even more blatant way – the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Both these groups hailed the largest economic nationalist rally in Australia in recent times: the 10,000 strong “Local Workers First” rally in Perth in July 2012. To be sure, they sought to distance themselves from the most jingoistic aspects of the rally. Yet, no matter in how cleansed a form they presented it, as the rally’s main banner slogan “WA Kids Miss Out When Miners Use Overseas Workers” made all too clear, this was a poisonous campaign that pitted local workers against their overseas comrades.
Just like the Greens, those far left groups that think that it is possible to have a “clean” version of protectionism that does not dog whistle to racism are deluding themselves. Any policy that calls for putting the interests of (mainly white) Australian workers over (overwhelmingly coloured) lower paid workers from “Third World” countries will inevitably appeal to and reinforce White Australia xenophobic attitudes as well as “First World” arrogance. This will be the case regardless of whether those making such calls intend this to happen or not.
Yet even if it were hypothetically possible to promote protectionist policies without inciting racism it would still be harmful to the struggle for working class people’s interests. For it would still divert workers away from the struggle that is actually needed – the one against the job-slashing exploiters – and would still pit local workers against their natural allies: the working class people of the world. Marxists have long understood the danger that could arise if workers end up being divided along national lines. That is why Marx and Engels chose to make the slogan, “Workers of All Countries Unite!” as the central slogan of their famous Communist Manifesto. This slogan does not only mean that workers in one country should collect money to support a strike by workers in another country or take industrial action in solidarity with an overseas workers’ struggle. All that, of course, is a very important part of it. But to “unite” means much more: it means to fight as one. That, naturally, means rejecting any calls for workers in one’s own country to be prioritised over workers abroad. Indeed, the Communist Manifesto even emphasised that fighting for the common interests of the international proletarian working class – as opposed to standing for one’s own national working class in competition with those of working classes abroad – is indeed the number one difference between communists and other tendencies in the workers movement:
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality…
Those nominal Marxists who spit on this central message of the Communist Manifesto by making calls to favour Australian workers in hiring over their sisters and brothers abroad have no right to call themselves “communists.”
Indeed, those leftists and trade union officials that promote “Australian workers first” demands are not only violating the key principle of Marxism, they are in fact violating the spirit of trade unionism itself. The essence of trade unionism is the idea that only if workers stand united as one can they effectively fight for their rights. Trade unions – and, indeed, workers’ unity at a workplace – are built on the understanding that if one group of workers – say, senior workers – ask for the boss to favour them in employment and conditions over other workers and the other sections of workers – including, say, a bloc of younger workers – who, in turn, respond by making their own selfish demands all that will happen is that workers will be divided and weakened in their ability to win concessions from the boss and all workers will end up losing out. If, in the above scenario, one replaces the senior workers making demands to be prioritised with Australian workers and those groups responding to these demands as the workers of other countries, then one can see how “Australian workers first” demands not only fly in the face of basic trade union principles but damages the interests of all workers.
Is “Globalisation” Really the Problem?
The most seemingly left-sounding argument that pro-protectionist leftists and social democrats use to justify their demands is to claim that giving jobs to Australian workers instead of foreign workers saves those non-local workers from being badly exploited. Of course it is true that 457 Visa workers and workers in poorer countries are often exploited more starkly than local workers. However, to say that these workers should have their livelihoods taken from them to save them from being exploited is the very height of cynicism. Will that not make them suffer even more? Will that not compel many of these workers to accept other even lower paying jobs? Mexican workers themselves answered these questions when they angrily protested outside Ford dealerships in Mexico against Trump’s plan (which is similar to Bernie Sanders’ plan) to make auto companies move their production from Mexico to the U.S. Their protest actions on the day of Trump’s inauguration especially targeted Ford after the company pulled out of a car assembly plant that it was building in Mexico’s Villa de Reyes in the wake of Trump’s election.
To the extent that social democratic protectionism is not consciously a selfish, nationalist agenda to favour workers in one’s own country at the expense of their counterparts abroad, it is the core part of an ideology that sees the main problem of the world as “globalisation.” Now, “globalisation” means different things to different people. The term is generally used in the economic sense to refer to growing trade as well as investment by capitalists in other countries; and in particular to investment by capitalists of richer countries in business operations in poorer countries. Leftist supporters of protectionism, when seeking to mask the nationalist essence of their politics, focus on opposing “economic globalisation” which they say hurts the working class and poor of all countries. Now, certainly in the ex-colonial countries, which are still subjugated by imperialism, opposition to “globalisation” represents a very understandable resistance to the imperialist exploitation of the masses in these countries by the capitalist bigwigs of the richer countries. However, anti-“globalisation” sentiment in the imperialist countries – like the U.S., Australia, Britain, Germany etc – usually reflects a “First World” chauvinist desire to keep the privileged position of these countries by ensuring that jobs and trade advantages do not flow to the poorer countries. The “leftist” cover for such sentiment is the cynical – as we have shown above – claim that ensuring that economic activity is kept centred in the wealthier countries saves the “Third World” masses from being unscrupulously exploited. This opposition to “economic globalisation” from social democrats ends up being quite similar to that of the Far Right. For example, fascistic U.S. president Trump rails against U.S. jobs being lost to Mexico and against Mexico supposedly hammering the U.S. in trade. The racist Far Right, of course, add to the reformist Left’s stand against “economic globalisation” opposition to the movement of people and opposition to “cultural globalisation” – in other words, they add open xenophobic nationalism to economic nationalism.
The working class in the imperialist countries like Australia should solidarise with the concerns of the masses of the so-called “Third World” about “economic globalisation.” They should do this by very militantly standing against the raping of the poorer countries by capitalists of the richer countries. This should be the case whether that imperialist theft takes the form of exploitation of labour, plundering of natural resources, reaping of exorbitant interest payments from indebted poorer countries or through forcing producers in these poorer countries to sell their produce at ultra-low prices through tyrannical imperialist control of world markets. That means we should oppose Australian capitalists looting exorbitant wealth out of the likes of East Timor, PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands and to some extent also from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka; just as we should stand against U.S. imperialists raping the likes of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
However, Leninists understand that whether there’s more “globalisation” or less, capitalism will bring misery to the masses. Therefore, the Left and workers movement – while standing resolutely with the masses of the neo-colonial and semi-colonial countries against imperialist exploitation – should be neither for more or less “economic globalisation.” This does not mean we should be indifferent to the case where capitalists in richer countries close down factories in these countries in order to set up ones using a lower paid workforce in poorer countries. Capitalist bosses use the threat of such offshoring to bully workers in their base countries into accepting poorer wages and conditions. This is, after all, why mainstream conservatives and liberals tend to support economic globalisation. We should of course stand against all workers losing their jobs – importantly including when the bosses are to hire other workers on lower pay. However, the slogans we must fight on should not be the divisive and deliberate pandering to nationalism of “save Aussie jobs from being exported” but, instead, demands of “no job losses,” “jobs for all workers” and “the best and equal conditions for all workers.” In cases of mooted offshoring, we should not in the least object to the plant opening up in the poorer country. We should welcome more jobs for our working class sisters and brothers abroad. Only we demand no loss of jobs for the already employed workers in the richer home country of the business and demand a massive uplifting in wages for any workers hired in the poorer country.
At the same time we should understand that the impact of companies slashing jobs to move operations to poorer countries abroad is full of myths. One myth is that companies are moving in a big way to China. Although that may have been true in the past it is now largely out of date news. China’s socialistic economy has pulled its people so far out of the dire poverty of its pre-1949 capitalist days and wages are rising so quickly there and workers’ rights have been so boosted by Red China’s 2008 pro-worker Labour Law that many Western factory owners are actually leaving China. Some are moving their plants to lower wage countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand. However, others are even slowly picking up shop to move or return to wealthier countries like the U.S. In the five years to March 2016, almost 100,000 factory jobs have moved back from China to the U.S. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of job losses in Australia have nothing to do with being “exported overseas.” Indeed, many types of jobs cannot be sent overseas by their very nature including most jobs in construction, commuter and cargo transport, infrastructure, mining, maintenance, home service/repair, medical and aged care, childcare, teaching, utilities, warehousing, post, hospitality, food service, tourism, retail and the public service.
So, when part Australian-owned mining giant Rio Tinto slashed nearly 700 jobs last year – those jobs were not sent overseas at all. It was simply that the greedy company owners who were already making a profit of some $2.3 billion dollars in just half a year wanted to make even more profit by cutting their wage costs. Similarly, the over 4,000 jobs axed by the four big banks last year were not “exported.” The bank bosses simply cut these jobs in order to boost the already exorbitant profits of these corporations by downsizing less profitable divisions. The same goes for the 500 jobs slashed by retail giant Woolworths last July. And the over 18,000 federal public service jobs that have been axed over the last three and a half years have certainly not been off-shored – the jobs have simply been eradicated to help the government finance tax cuts for wealthy business owners. So all this gets us to the crux of the matter about “globalisation.” Although we should oppose companies slashing jobs in order to move operations to lower-wage countries and should stand with the “Third World” masses in opposing imperialist exploitation of their countries; and although the workers movement should neither call for more or less “globalisation” under capitalism: we must expose the myth that “globalisation” is the major cause of unemployment. For this myth is obscuring the truth that the principle cause of workers losing their jobs is the drive of the owners of profitable businesses to make even more profits by pruning their workforce in order to cut “labour costs.” In other words, belief in the myth that “globalisation” is the main cause of unemployment is diverting workers from a fight to force capitalists to maintain larger workforces – which is the real way to struggle against unemployment. Furthermore, this myth about globalisation, which is consciously promoted by sections of the mainstream media in order to impede class struggle, is propelling the growth of dangerous far right, racist forces.
Even when a corporation cites overseas competition as an excuse for job cuts such cuts are only “necessary” because those bosses insist on maximising profits. Consider Australia’s biggest steel manufacturer, Bluescope Steel. The steel industry and Bluescope in particular have been at the centre of protectionist calls to buy Australian-made steel and restrict competition from imports. In October 2015, Bluescope arm-twisted unions into a deal that saw 500 jobs axed and wages frozen for three years which the company said was essential to keep its Port Kembla operations going. Yet, the company, which is owned by rich investors through several wealth management firms, was even then making over $136 million in profit! Its latest annual profit was in fact over $353 million. In other words, if we do the maths and assume generously that Bluescope’s average annual wages bill per worker is between $80,000 to $100,000, we will find that if Bluescope had not slashed those 500 jobs and even if those workers contributed zero to total revenue (which would of course not be the case), the company would still only have most lost some 11% to 14% of its current profit. Here we see very starkly exposed how protectionism covers up the truth that job shedding is not ultimately caused by competition from imports or from a lack of “buying Australian” but from the drive of greedy company owners to make even more profits than they are making today.
Those Who Understand the Harm Done to the Workers Movement by Economic Nationalism Must Fight Against It By Organising Themselves into an Internationalist Workers Party
Today, protectionism – whether pushed in the name of “anti-globalisation” or open economic nationalism – is rapidly escalating all across the capitalist world. It is being pushed by those from right across the political spectrum from outright fascists, to far-right leaders like Trump and Pauline Hanson to mainstream Laborite social democrats to Greens to so-called “anti-establishment” progressive liberals and social democrats (like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn) to reformist far left groups to pseudo- “Marxist Leninists.” This economic nationalism is undermining class struggle resistance to job slashing. That in turn leads to higher unemployment and hence leaves the masses even more prone to accepting protectionist slogans. Protectionism is, on the one hand, being incited by national chauvinism and racism and, on the other, is itself further igniting national chauvinism and racism. In this way the raging wildfire of economic nationalism is continually spreading and getting hotter. It will end up in setting off a trade war. We know that trade wars can in turn ignite a shooting war. Notwithstanding pseudo-Marxist attempts to resurrect a version of Kautsky’s theory of a united imperialism – which Lenin so fiercely attacked – by explaining the world as consisting of just a single imperialist bloc led by the U.S., we are actually in a world of inter-imperialist rivalries. Massive U.S. spying on Germany revealed a couple of years ago and prickly relations between new U.S. president Trump and some West European imperialist leaders amid a backdrop of impending trade frictions and a possible re-alignment in U.S. alliances with other capitalist powers all point to increasing rivalries between imperial powers. To be sure, competing imperialist powers are somewhat held together by their common enmity to socialistic rule in China. However, the long term trend of the capitalist “order” and heightened economic nationalism is towards inter-imperialist conflict – especially when capitalism dives into severe economic crises. Let us not forget that last century the imperialist powers plunged humanity into two catastrophic world wars (although the socialistic USSR’s role in WWII was to wage a progressive class war of a workers state against Nazi-led, German imperialism). This time all the capitalist rivals will have access to nuclear weapons at the start of a war!
Even right now protectionism is doing immense harm to the masses. Economic nationalism in Australia is literally strangling workers’ resistance to job slashing and casualisation. It is also hurting union membership numbers. For if the fight to save jobs is focussed on calling for policies to help Australian corporations compete against overseas rivals then that takes away a sizeable part of the reason for workers to join our unions. Workers could help Australian corporations by joining the bosses lobbying efforts to government for “Buy Australian” policies – they don’t need a union to do that. After all, the purpose of our unions is to unite workers to stand up against the bosses. Economic nationalism has, indeed, so diverted the workers movement from fighting the capitalist exploiters and so poisoned workers’ class consciousness that most job slashing by bosses is today met with little resistance. About the only time that most Laborite union leaders are taking any stand against job losses is if they can demonstrate a connection between these layoffs and off-shoring or competition from imports. Yet, as we have shown above, their answer to such job cuts is simply more protectionism which, far from saving jobs, divides and diverts the working class and, thus, ultimately harms the fight to save workers jobs. Furthermore, the majority of job slashing by bosses has little to do with either competition from imports or offshoring.
A rare example of a recent union struggle against job slashing was seen in the struggle of Carlton & United Breweries maintenance workers at Melbourne’s largest brewery in Abbotsford. There, the bosses outrageously retrenched 55 maintenance workers last June and told them to re-apply for their jobs through a new non-union contract involving a 65% pay-cut and a loss of most of their hard-won conditions. However, after a seven-month long struggle involving sacked workers picketing the brewery and stopworks by production workers, the sacked workers won back their jobs with most of the previous pay rates and conditions and a guarantee of no forced redundancies for at least three years. Although the struggle was endangered by Laborite union leaders refusing to mobilise a shutdown of the brewery – through a no-cross picket line and an ongoing strike by production workers – the December victory does show that class struggle can stop job slashing.
Worker activists need to outline a class struggle program to win jobs for all if we are to turn back the tide of protectionist ideology that is engulfing the workers movement. Working class people, understandably worried about finding and keeping jobs in these uncertain times, will be hypnotised by the false salvation promised by economic nationalist policies if they are not presented with a viable alternative. However, a class struggle movement will only be powerful enough to force bosses to retain a larger workforce than their profit imperative requires if it is able to unleash the full power of the workers movement. This requires a program to defy the whole swath of anti-strike laws that have been instituted by Liberal and ALP governments alike – abiding by which makes it very hard to win any struggle. Of course, defying these laws up the ante and would be met with threats of repression by the capitalist enemy and hysterical denunciations from their media. However, if our trade unions in turn crank up the struggle with indefinite strikes backed by solid picket lines and secondary solidarity strikes then we can hurt the bosses’ profits so much that they may be scared to actually use their anti-union laws. We need to turn our union movement into one that understands this and is prepared to fight for such a militant, class struggle perspective. Such a movement requires a leadership that does not restrict its outlook to what is possible within the capitalist system – which is what the current social democratic leadership does. For if the working class starts to look like winning victories in forcing capitalists to maintain larger workforces than they want to, the capitalists will scream that this will make the system collapse and will threaten to withdraw their capital. We must respond that: if you capitalists are not capable of running your businesses and the economy in such a way that providing jobs for all will not cause collapse then we will need to strip you of the means of production and place it into our, the working class peoples, hands under a state where it is we who have the power.
However, to even begin to mobilise such a struggle we need to counter economic nationalist ideology within the workers movement. For economic nationalism and its divisive and diversionary effects has become the number one obstacle to a working class fight back against capitalist attacks. Currently, the proportion of worker and other Left activists who do understand the harm done by protectionist ideology is relatively small. This makes it triply important that those that do understand stand up and energetically take on this political battle. Unfortunately, however, even amongst these layers many shy away from this crucial ideological struggle. Some do so because they are uncertain about their own impulse to oppose protectionism – given that they are constantly bombarded by economic nationalist appeals from Laborite union officials and from their co-workers. Others worry about being “vanguardist” if they “tell workers what to think.” The problem with this notion is that workers are constantly being told “what to think” by the mainstream media, by pro-capitalist politicians and by the current, Laborite union leaders. To not counter the false ideologies of economic nationalism and White Australia chauvinism that these forces are flooding the workers movement with is to be complicit in drowning the class struggle. It means leaving the working class under the “vanguardship” of Laborite social democracy – and that spells defeat for the working class and all the downtrodden. It is therefore the duty of those who understand the harm done by protectionist ideology to resolutely oppose it. This, of course, necessitates strengthening one’s own ideological commitment to opposing economic nationalism, co-ordinating with like-minded activists to amplify their common political struggle and winning others to this perspective in order to strengthen the forces waging the battle against protectionist ideology. Yet a group of like-minded worker activists who coordinate in a struggle for a revolutionary class struggle perspective and against economic nationalism, who consciously seek to improve their ideological training and who seek out new activists to wage this political struggle is nothing other than a budding revolutionary, internationalist “vanguard” of the workers movement. Such a class struggle, would-be leadership of our unions would be linked to a party that would also include the most active revolutionary elements from all the most downtrodden sections of society. The prospects for a badly needed working class fight back depend on the building of such a revolutionary workers party. So do efforts to pull humanity to the safe haven of socialism as we, increasingly rapidly, near the cliff that will drop down to the hell of fascism and world war.