The town that was murdered

Ellen Wilkinson


The capitalists are murdering towns, suburbs, farms, rivers and seas. They are killing people in wars and through environmental destruction. Against all criteria governments’ state of the environment reports declare that the natural world is losing in the war with capitalist exploiters.

The ALP-Greens alliance will not  stop this assault by capitalism but was inevitable nonetheless.

Just think where Peter Garret would have been today had he stuck with the Greens. He would have a seat in parliament and might even have been a minister for the environment.

The Greens should learn from Garrett’s opportunism and use the power that millions have given them to stop destruction of the natural world and to stop the sale of public assets. Put People before Profit!

See ‘PM’s high-risk Greens embrace’ @…

The Town that was Murdered”

A friend has lent me a book called “The Town that was Murdered” by Ellen Wilkinson, published by the Left Book Club in the 1930s. It is the story of a town in the north of England called Jarrow. The introduction reads:

The poverty of the poor is not an accident, a temporary difficulty, a personal fault.

It is the permanent state in which the majority of citizens of any capitalist country have to live. That is the basic fact of the class struggle, which not all the well-meant efforts of Personal Services Leagues and Social Service Councils can gloss over.

Class antagonism cuts as deeply to the roots of capitalist society as ever it did. Mean are regarded as mere instruments of production, their labour is a commodity to be bought and sold. In capitalist society vast changes can be made which sweep away the livelihood of a whole town overnight, in the interest of  some powerful group, who need take no account of the social consequences of their decisions. These are the facts at the base of the modern labour movement.

Generalisations are not proof…

You can view this article on YouTube below or read on:

In the 1970s there was a group of workers in Sydney, they were builders labourers and were in the BLF. Traditionally, in union parlance, a black ban is a refusal by trade unions to supply or buy goods or services . So in 1973 Jack Mundy coined the term ‘Green Ban’. to describe the withdrawal of Labour for social and environmental reasons.

So by 1974 the NSW BLF had listed 49 Greens Bans in the Sydney Metropolitan area.

Joe Owens, a member of the BLF, explained: “The Green bans were a peculiar phenomenon. The BLF do demolition work, which are the first requirements before any construction can take place This gave us extraordinary power over construction we were able to control areas which other unions could not. Any way you can read about this in a book by Greg Mallory called ‘Unchartered Waters’. Anyway this kind of movement was possible because that was a period when people were wiling to take action outside the institutions of capitalism – institutions like the courts, the parliament, the mass media – people were seeking control over their workplaces. Nearly all of that (kind of action) has disappeared now. There are pockets of it here and there but it has mainly gone.

So while the Qld State Labor Premier has re-affirmed her support for selling all the assets like Queensland Rail, Ports, electricity and water to capitalists there is little opposition to it on the ground. The Labor Party has lost its social democratic roots.

At the same time as the green bans in Australia there was a strong anti-nuclear power and ecological movement in Europe based upon anarchist principles of self management. In Germany in particular – this social and ecological movement of the 1970s was formed into a Green Party in 1980 by Petra Kelly and Jurgen Maier. Kelly was impressed by the Green Bans in NSW. The German Green Party, founded on anti-centralist and pacifist values, was the first such party to gain national prominence. Unfortunately, in government, the German Green Party traded off it pacifist goals by supporting the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the Afghan war for environmental gains such as a reduction of reliance on nuclear power.

Petra Kelly

Imperialist wars had spread from Europe and the Americas to the Middle East and Asia. Soon after the Vietnam War there were civil wars in Yugoslavia and Lebanon and military dictatorships in Latin America (in Chile ). Green parties were set up in many parts of the world. In Australia they were strong in Tasmania and Western Australia. They were largely middle class parties strong in inner cities but had grown with the help of working class action like that of the BLF.

After the fall of communism there were imperialist wars in the Gulf, in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. On the back of popular resentment at the continuance of these wars and because of environmental disasters like the Exxon Valdez and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, these parties have formed  alliances with social democratic parties [called Red-Green alliances, although there is doubt how red these alliances are [ALP-Greens alliance (sic)].

Having anti-capitalist origins the Greens are to the left of capitalist parties like the Australian Labor Party. Their anti-capitalist nature is ambiguous as they support local small capitalists  so they will not embrace socialism.

Unlike the Australian Democrats that had their origin from the Liberal party, the Greens are to the left of the Australian Labor Party.

The Australian Greens want to put a price on carbon to make sure renewal energy grows in Australia. They have a mandate from the Australian people to do that so long as it does not cost too much. People tend to support renewables until it costs them personally. But they are for social justice wanting to permit the entry of asylum seekers into Australia and support free hospitals and education from pre-school to university. They support aborignal land rights.

Sell off or sell out

In the current debate about privatisation the Queensland government is trying to sell off assets like water, electricity, ports and rail. Only the unions have been able to build any meaningful opposition on the ground outside the capitalist institutions. Nevertheless Unions like the Electrical Trades Union (ETU)* are capable of running independent labour candidates in the state election. This could provide resources for real opposition to the sell off.

Putting people before profits may become real again as it was in the 1970s. Out of this we may be able to rebuild workers political organisation and once again build the movement against capitalism.

Ian Curr
August 2010

* In Brisbane the ETU have formed the Communications Workers Union  Qld (CWU) together with the Plumbers, Australia Post and Telecommunications workers (the old ATEA). This was formerly called the Communications Electrical and Plumbers Union (CEPU).


The Town That Was Murdered (1939), By Ellen Wilkinson, an account of the Jarrow March.

Alliance ’90/The Greens

5 thoughts on “The town that was murdered

  1. Election outcome says:

    Even though predictions of a coalition government were premature, people are right to say there is little difference between the two major parties.

    Each major party received 50% of two-party-preferred vote so the people could not separate them.

    Neither Labor nor Coalition has a mandate.

    The only party with a mandate was the Greens and that was to put a price on carbon.

    Unfortunately for the environment there are enough sceptics out there that it is unlikely much will be achieved to resolve climate change because people seem to be in favour of the environment so long as it does not affect them.

    For mine, most people vote on how they are affected economically — other issues of climate change, war in Afghanistan & Iraq, refugees, education and national broadband i.e. the social issues are secondary.

    And why should people be blamed for worrying about their financial position? Especially ordinary people who don’t have much?

    This does limit the impact of the Greens, at least until they address a class system that makes the gap between rich and poor increase year by year.

    You can’t tax people to equality and you can’t legislate for socialism.

    My prediction is that a 76 (ALP)/74 (Coalition) parliament is inherently unstable and unlikely to last.

    Take out the speaker and only one person needs to get sick for the government to be unable to pass motions.

    Also the coalition controls the senate till July 2011 and can refuse to pass budget bills as Fraser did in 1975.

    Also we don’t know what the three country independents (Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter) discussed and agreed to among themselves.

    They may have some unpublished understanding about how to keep government to its promises.

    They may even have rigged their vote to wring more out of Labor for their regional seats.

    Ian Curr
    September 2010

  2. Tony Reeves says:

    Where now, the ALP?

    Notes for 17-Group discussion, September 1, 2010.

    The Australian Labor Party has lost its way, lost its soul, lost its history and lost its long-standing obligation to ensure that looking after the interests the people at the “lower end” is its highest priority.

    And that is NOT a reaction simply on this Federal election.
    When the price of wool was falling in 1891, the shearers started a movement that grew into a great and generally good political force. At its heart it had the interest of workers and their families, and while it supported some bad moves in the early years (e.g. White Australia policy) it maintained for more than eighty years the socially important platform on which it was founded.

    Then it floundered, was deliberately taken off course, and has remained lost, undecided about how far to the Right it can go without alienating even the most “rusted on” Labor voters. What has gone wrong — and more importantly, what should happen now — is a subject that requires debate.

    Potted history
    The Whitlam Government (with all its faults) was the last federal Labor government to maintain by-and-large an adherence to the policies established through the ALP’s democratic processes.
    Whitlam, never a left-winger, also respected the authority of Caucus, even when it delivered leftish demands of the administration.

    After the 1975 dismissal, G. Richardson, R.J. Hawke, P. Keating and others convened a series of private meetings to discuss the “way forward” for the party. Basically the small Right-wing group resolved:

    • to never make the “mistakes” of the Whitlam administration, and most particularly to never do anything that would “upset the Americans” as they believed Whitlam had done;

    • to plunder any policies the Liberals adopted, to drive the conservatives so far to the Right that they would become “un-electable”;

    • to rely on the loyalty of the “rusted on” ALP supporters to ensure re-election, and to win over Liberal “lefties” deserting the move of their party to the Right.

    This agenda, they believed, would keep Labor in government “for ever”! The Hawke-Keating era saw many of those objectives realised.

    The ALP Platform was ignored as those governments pushed the national political agenda further and further to the Right. National conferences were then stacked with a majority of pliable delegates who would endorse the actions already taken.

    So we got a prices and wages “accord” that had the effect of reducing wages and increasing corporate profit; we saw the birth of the concept of the “safety net”, aimed at protecting people who would suffer from the conservative policies being adopted — surely a concept no socially-concerned government would ever have to contemplate; we saw privatisation on a grand scale: the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, and many others. And the conservative opposition played along, shifting ever further to the Right.

    Eventually, of course, even the most “rusted on” ALP supporters were sick of it, and elected a Lib/Nat government which had been driven to the far Right by the ALP. Predictably, that lot brought in some of the most repressive legislation seen in this so-called “free and fair democracy”.

    There was WorkChoices, of course, but let’s not overlook the so-called anti-terrorism laws, still in force, under which a person can be locked away simply for refusing to answer questions. It doesn’t get much more un-democratic than that.

    But there was worse: similarly repressive laws were introduced aimed at damaging the unions, particularly those representing workers in the building trades. The worst of those laws still exist.

    Then John Howard played the Pauline Hanson race card, making a “national security” issue out of refugees heading towards Australia in leaky boats as they tried to escape repression and bloodshed in their homelands.

    Kids on the leaky boat rescued by the Tampa had been thrown overboard, lied Howard. Within minutes, Labor’s Kim Beazley — without seeking any verification — agreed, and Labor became locked into a racist strategy which demonises people in great need of our help.

    The term “boat people” is now always linked by both major parties to “border protection policy”, as though these “armies” of asylum seekers are about to invade us and overthrow our governments.

    “People smugglers” are the new terrorist threat: the current ALP National platform says:

    Labor recognises that people smuggling remains a threat to Australia’s border security. Labor will take a zero tolerance approach towards people smugglers engaged in organised transnational criminal activity. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, Labor will focus on tackling people smugglers, rather than vilifying their exploited clients.

    Strong stuff, except, like the rhetorical bile that emanates from the Libs, this overlooks the facts: a couple of thousand asylum seekers have arrived in leaky boats; tens of thousands of people arriving by plane overstay their visas, remaining here illegally, but are virtually ignored in the so-called public debate on the issue.
    As author Frank Hardy once said to me: “Scratch an Aussie and you find a racist.”

    But the ALP Platform is now an irrelevance: policies are made up on the run. In the 2009 Platform, the word “indigenous” gets 148 mentions, but so little is happening in terms of government delivery to that section of the community greatly in need of government support. Of interest, asylum seekers get one mention, the cliché “Australian families” pops up five times, “Working families” = 20 and workers, 83. It’s indicative also that one of the most popular activities of recent Labor governments: “privatisation” gets not a single mention.

    The last national conference also resolved that Howard’s neo-Fascist Australian Building and Construction Commission would be abolished from 1 February 2010. Ho-Hum. It treats construction workers like suspected terrorists, and it remains in force today. Unions continue to fight for its abolition. And Labor undoubtedly expects unions to continue to make major contributions towards its campaign costs.

    The Rudd debacle
    Kevin Rudd was Chief of Staff in the office of Queensland Premier Wayne Goss. In that position he was a total control freak. Ministers would be called in by him, handed a speech they were to make that day on a new piece of legislation they had never been consulted on, had never discussed.

    The concept of democracy within the ALP was, by then, in that place, “dead, buried and cremated” (if I may borrow that ridiculous verbal amorphism). Not only was the concept of Caucus oversight of the government’s direction abandoned, so too was the tried and true Westminster system of Cabinet responsibility.

    Rudd goes to Canberra, and the ALP members there eventually voted this unpleasant control freak into the leadership role. Rudd immediately abandoned the age-old democratic process of having Caucus elect Cabinet members.

    True to form, Cabinet in the Rudd Government was not the controlling force, determining the legislative program. Rudd ruled supreme, tried to strut the world stage (“Today Australia, tomorrow the World”!) Watch out, United Nations!.

    The people who anointed him to the party leadership knew of his track record, were aware of his “quirky” personality traits. Was he the only one available at the time? The lack of talent tells another sad story of Labor’s demise.

    The Bligh factor
    And so inevitably to Anna Bligh. Her continuing membership of the ALP’s Left faction demonstrates just how irrelevant that group has become in any push for change.

    There’s much to say about Bligh’s initial pre-selection, her elevation to the ministry with the blessing of the AWU troglodytes, her selection to replace Beattie as Premier.

    I’ll focus on just one issue, the debacle that goes under the heading of the Assets Sales Program. There have been numerous wise studies by economists who say the sales are not necessary, the figures are phony, etc.
    I’ll leave the economic arguments to them, and focus on other — and in my mind, equally important — issues.

    1. The assets sales are in direct conflict with the ALP Queensland Platform. The unambiguous anti-privatisation policy was re-affirmed in June last year.

    2. The assets sales are in direct contradiction of the rules of the Party, the most relevant of which requires policies of the Parliamentary Labor Party to be “consistent with the policy of the Australian Labor Party”.

    I took a charge against Bligh within the ALP Disputes Tribunal process, and the mighty AWU-powered machine went into high gear to find ways to throw my case out. They did so on the most spurious grounds, but in the process certainly did NOT — indeed, COULD not — declare the Premier to be innocent of the charges. So basically the machine ruled that it is OK for elected members to ignore Party rules and policy.

    Bligh and the state parliamentary ALP are blatantly in breach of rules and platform, so where does that leave the Party?
    A person joins the ALP, moves a motion at a branch, wins support, argues it at a regional conference, gets it to State Conference where it is adopted as policy and written in to the Platform.

    Then our elected MPs do exactly the opposite. So what’s the point of having that whole democratic process, at the state and national levels, which is trampled into the dirt by the elected politicians? The Party, as we “rusted on” old troopers know it, no longer has any relevance IF the politicians are allowed to continue on this path.

    And neither the politicians nor the party machine appear ready to recognise the problem or do anything to change their perfidious ways.

    The Way Forward
    More than eighty per cent of polled Queenslanders are opposed to the assets sales. That just about the same percentage of all eligible people who actually voted in the last state election. Fiddle the figure and you have around 100 per cent of the people who voted last time opposed to the program. And the arrogant leaders push ahead.

    The very minimum that could be done to save the ALP State Government is for the party to dump Bligh, Fraser and Lucas and elect a new leadership team which unambiguously drops the asset sale program FOR GOOD. But who is there? The gene pool is fairly shallow, but there’s one or two who could make the grade.

    But even if that urgently needed repair job was carried out, the underlying malaise of the Party (at both levels) would remain unresolved.

    At the core of the problem is, in my view, the probably irreparable breakdown of the raison d’être of the party. Its humanity has gone missing, its very soul sent wandering in purgatory. Young people — apparatchiks with little life experience — take up work with a local MP or in the party office, line up a winnable seat and move into parliament. The diminishing rank-and-file membership does its best to keep the policy and platform in good shape, but that — as I’ve said — is now an irrelevance, largely ignored by the elected MPs.

    Even if the ALP is out of office federally — or at the state level — for a long stint, it is most likely that it will not heal itself: the bureaucratic-minded surviving participants and the power players — the so-called “faceless numbers men” — do not now and are unlikely in the future to see that they are the major part of the problem.

    In the present climate the ALP simply lacks the courage to move back to the relatively inoffensive position it occupied on the Left of the spectrum, for fear of offending the money-men at the big end of town, or the biggest, most feared ogre, American citizen Rupert Murdoch.

    Setting up a replacement party — “Real Labor”, “True Labor” or whatever — would merely create yet another splinter political group, and do nothing to destroy the perception of Labor being one of the essential planks of our discreditable “two-party system” of democracy.

    The existing minor parties play an important role in providing an outlet for the many people dissatisfied with the major groups, but the reality is none of them will muster the numbers to form a government.

    The Greens, obviously, are shaping up as a notable third force in politics and will undoubtedly influence many of the policies implemented by the new federal government — if an when one is formed. But the Greens will not be governing, the party will not be able to initiate legislation without the agreement of the majority in the House of Reps.

    We could sit here all night and argue about the need for fairer, more representative voting systems, for abolition of the Senate or the States, but it will all be wasted breath and time if one or both of the major parties is not prepared to accept the need for major reform.

    Maybe we should spend some of our time re-writing our Constitution. I’d suggest we start the document with the words “We the people …” and an acknowledgement to the white invasion of a peaceful country.

    Or maybe we should just bring on the revolution and be done with all this rubbish.

    Tony Reeves
    Paper presented to the 17 Group,
    August 2010

  3. This is a convincing history of the ALP. What I do not understand is why, despite an obviously clear understanding of this history, people such as Tony remain “rusted on”?

    Privatisation in Qld is not a new turning point in ALP history, Beattie privatised electricity, it is just more of the same in a consistent pattern since, according to Tony, the demise of Whitlam – 35 years ago.

    The bleatings of disillusioned ALP members, unionist and left wing voters is now a constant background hum in the political soundscape.

    This hum of disillusionment is a comforting noise for the machine people of the ALP, it lets them know that the situation is stable and the rusted ons are still rusted on with, as indicated in Tony’s paper, no alternative to turn to.

    This is not just about people like Tony who for some strange reason persist within the machine, but also voters like Ian who are still emotionally attatched to the ALP in that they consider the Greens (and probably Noel Pearson’s recent comments) as class traitors because they have at times recommended voting or preferencing against the ALP.

    Until the rusted on people in the machine and in the electorate abandon their emotional attachment to the ALP then there is nothing at all that can threaten it.

    And for all those ALP people that we anarchists argued with in the 70s, 80s and 90s about the corruption of the ALP and its incapacity to progress a socialist agenda – We told you so!

  4. Re: ‘but also voters like Ian who are still emotionally attatched to the ALP’

    Ah yes John, Labor is back in … and with a Green coalition.

    The nation is saved.


  5. The Vanguard: Election analysis says:

    Election analysis
    September 5th, 2010 by Critical Times
    Source: Vanguard

    At the centre of the nationally strong vote against the two main parliamentary parties is the people’s backlash against the effects of the economic rationalist (neo-liberal) policies of multinational corporations, implemented by both the ALP and Liberal/National Coalition governments.

    The election result has brought out into the open the widespread disillusionment with the policies of the two main parliamentary parties and shone the spotlight on the common demands and aspirations of the people on climate change and the environment, workers’ rights, better public education and health, infrastructure and services for the people in cities and rural communities.

    The main thread that unites the diverse national protest vote against the two main parties is the reaction to the burden of imperialist, economic rationalist deregulation of the economy and the shift to market forces…

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