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What is the problem with the Australian Labor Party? Critics claim it has lost its direction. Julia Gillard claimed it has lost its way. Voters claim it has lost touch. Hell even the opposition claim they have lost their way.  But has it?

The root goals of the Labour (before it dropped the u) movement was to protect workers rights from at the time rather harshly imposed conditions by business owners and capitalists. Work hours where high. Wages were low. Education was not an option. Poverty was widespread. Certainty of employment was a non issue. While workers suffered, the rich reaped the rewards.

The working class made up the majority of the working force. The middle class was relatively small. And the upper class was the true ruling class.

But that was then. This is now.

Now wages and work conditions are much better. Workers have access to superannuation. Universities now take people on merit and not by class. Education and health and lifestyle has not only improved, but has moved Australia into the top ranks of OECD countries.

Now many that used to work for someone else are sole traders or small business owners. The ‘working’ class is now a large part of the growing middle class. Many who used to be in the ranks of the disadvantaged are now no longer so.

And that is where the problem lies. People assume that the ALP has done what it set out to do. That it is a matter of Mission Accomplished.

But is that really true? You see there still are those who are disadvantaged. They are now so out on the fringe, that those who used to associate themselves with them no longer associate themselves with them. For all intensive purposes, they are beneath them now.

The ALP  has helped create this picture of almost equality. And many now have jettisoned the party as they do not see their goals linked to their own. 50 years ago, working class families did not have more than one car in the drive way. 50 years ago working class families did not know how to invest in the share market or saw it as a risk. 50 years ago working class families did not send their children to ballet and martial arts classes. All these things that people do are a direct result of the work of the ALP. Now however, they are no longer interested in helping others so much as helping themselves.

The irony is the working class has always been the selfish class. The ‘what about me?’ class.

The Coalition too has helped to better the lifestyle of the working class although at times rather begrudgingly and always by giving a handful of coins to the working class and a fist full of dollars to the rich. While many recognise that the Coalitions goals are always designed to favour the better off, they have benefited from the crumbs this shift of focus from social causes – something the Coalition have always looked on with distaste – to economic ones.  The shift has given them a great boon as the are seen as the help yourself party as opposed to the bleeding heart help others party. This is what happened between the Hawke-Keating era to the Howard era. The ALP had set its focus on the economy and the Coalition said thank you very much.

To me the real reason the ALP is floundering now is they no longer can call out to the working class and remind them they are underprivileged etc because quite frankly, they are not. Any talk of social reform now must be balanced with the economic reform monster they let out of the bag in the 80’s and 90’s.

To many, it is the word LABOR in the Australian Labor Party that is their problem. Workers have moved on it seems, but the party is still beholden to a strong unionist base.  And this base is as fractured as a broken mirror.

Ironically, many still consider themselves working class. Many take pride in it. But they do not like to admit what they consider working class today is not a working class by any stretch of the imagination any more.

So what is there to do for a party that still speaks like social democrats and acts like economic conservatives? There are so many social issues left that need to be tackled, but this comes at a cost that make them economically un-viable for many of the so-called working class. Likewise all the Coalition have to do is turn around and point to people’s bank accounts.

Voters no longer are claiming they want to see social or industrial reform. All they want – all they ever wanted – is for someone to show them the money.

So what is there to do for the ALP? They find themselves in a bed of their own making. Any economic reforms  will be seen as stolen from the Coalition. Any social reforms will be seen as stolen from the Greens. Any lack of either will be seen as their legacy.

They truly find themselves behind the 8-ball.

A. Ghebranious       2010             All Rights Reserved

  1. Catching up permalink

    Are all the working class problems solved? Does that mean that the boss sees working class as having tights equal to his?

    We only have to go back to Mt. Howard’s government actions in relation to workers rights. His focus from the day he took government was to remove any rights the workers have with the full support of the employers. Workchoice was the culmination of what he did over ten years.

    I suggest that we have improvements owing to the unions and the Labor party. I also suggest that these have been hard fought for mainly by the workers themselves. The ruling class did extend education to the working class because as technology changed the way we worked, educated workers where needed. The ruling class is willing to extend any benefit to the working class, if it enables the working class serve the needs of the employer.

    I still use the term working class as it best describes were the worker sits in society. There is no such thing as a worker being on equal footing with any boss without the support of the law. The worker does not have control over his working conditions without the support of industrial law and public opinion.

    The boss has the power to hire or sack. What workers have to day is the ability by education and obtaining skills to add more to the employers businesses. It is true, in my opinion that what has been gained by the worker can easily be taken away by employers and government.

    What is amazing that at end of Mr. Howard’s reign, the percentage of profits going to the worker fell dramatically, and is still the case. Only this morning it was revealed that fifty percent of new jobs created are casual jobs. Workers now are working huge amounts of unpaid overtime. Many employers have gained a new control over workers by mandatory drug testing that goes beyond the needs of safety. What is happening is that the boss is taking back the control he lost to workers.

    Workers must be aware that what has been gained can easily be taken away. Workers cannot protect what they have alone, the employer class does allow some workers to believe they can by consulting with the boss, can ensure they are treated well. This is not the case, as what the win independently is always a base on what the employer has to pay. The boss only gives what he is preferred to pay.

    This means that Labor has fulfilled spme of it’s role by improving working conditions but these improved conditions and the money in the workers pockets have to be protected. That is a harder fight, as many workers themselves think they are OK and can look after themselves.

    Yes I am a leftie but to be anything else is closing my eyes to the real world we live in.

    • But there lies the problem. Note I used the term ‘almost equality’. It is a perception. The other is that the union movement is leading what should be a workers movement.

      Two things here.

      (1) The trade unions need to get their message out. What are they working on. What they are delivering. But at the same time they can not harp on the history as to many that is truly history.

      (2) The trade union can STILL have a say, but this can be outside the ‘walls’ of the party rather than on the balustrades. The unions can and should become independent of the Labor party rather than be the driving force.

      This allows the unions to once more to get its message to not only it’s core, but to the general public as a whole. Secondly it allows them to criticise and this is not seen as internal factional fighting. It allows them to support good ideas when they hear them regardless of political affiliation and it allows the ALP to be seen as an independent entity.

      Yes there will be a strong link and yes union members can still join the party and involve themselves in the party, but they do it as individuals who also happen to be union members.

      Remember, many of the working class are now also small business owners or sole traders and they operate a business. They feel excluded from a party that is dominated by unions, even though they support the values of the party.

      This separation is crucial for the survival of a party where the terms working class and ruling class are being eroded by the middle class.

      The reason the Greens find support is they champion social causes, not necessarily worker causes although the causes are usually one and the same. The ALP must stop being a union movement and start being a peoples movement. It is time for the Australian Labor Party to become the Australian Party.


  2. Catching up permalink

    Sorry for the spelling mistake. (tight >right)

    Yes, many of yesterdays workers are today’s small business holders and contractors. They are in reality doing the same work as if they remained wage earners with less protection from the big boys. They have little power and are at the mercy of big business.

    The small contractor is generally a subcontractor, who has no control over what they are paid. The small businessman’s main role is to service big business. Most of our small farmers have been caught in this net also.

    I agree hundred percent that the Labor movement should split into two separate entities as in Britain. It would make both arms stronger if this happened.

    The union movement should be making the effort to attract many of the small contractors and business people. These people do not have much to gain from mainstream business associations groups. The union movement in strengthening their rights makes it harder for employers to undermine wages.

    In my opinion people, perceived view of not knowing what Labor is doing started back in Hawke’s day. Many worker could not understand why Labor was making the changes they did. (Which mainly benefited the lower paid). Keating was seen as selling out the Labor party, for once again doing the right thing.

    The Labor party and the union movement have to get out in the community and convince these people they have not been sold out. They need to explain how they intend to protect workers, small subcontractors and businesses. They are still the natural party to do this. Labor has to convince people they are good economic managers. The best way to protect the lower paid is a worker is low unemployment and a strong economy.

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