Call for Change

It’s time for the Left to work out how to co-operate during this period of austerity and financial crisis.  

I think that we should discuss Left co-operation – how do people from campaign and educational groups work together – groups like tent embassy (BASE), Cuba Friendship, Brisbane Anarchist Summer School (BASS), Radical Education Forum, Brisbane Free University (BFU), the May Day Group currently organising a forum on working conditions and expectations.

WERC - May 1st Club

There are others that I have missed like Turnstyle, Foco Nuevo, 4ZZZ media collectives, Talisman Sabre, Palm Sunday Peace Group, Friends of the Earth, Lock-the-Gate, International Women’s Day,  anti-uranium groups and Justice for Palestine (JFP).  

On the industrial side there are rank-and-file unions currently involved in industrial struggles e.g. building unions – builders labourers  (blf), electrical trades union (etu), construction forestry engineering and mining (cfmeu) plus national tertiary education union (NTEU), nurses and teachers, QLD Uncut …   Is my proposal an impossible dream given Left sectarianism?

I am not proposing an an alliance as has recently happened between Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance and Revolutionary Socialist Party. At this stage, all I want is a discussion about how we can co-operate and work more effectively together.   The Labor Party is lost to the left … grass roots organisation needs to replace it.    

Attempts for change
In the early 1980s three groups FOE, LeftPress and the Learning Exchange established WERC and May 1st club in West End. This lasted for some time. In the late 1980s, the Communist Party (CPA) formed the New Left Party. This was to be the last hurrah for the CPA, because its intellectual elite liquidated the party a couple of years later selling its printery, bookshop, concert hall and party HQ to 4ZZZ for a song.   In the 2000s various parties formed another broad based party – the Socialist Alliance. In the end it was too broad and split lacking organising and focus – another failed attempt at electoral-ism ending in tears.  

In the 1970s and 80s some anarchist groups tried the syndicalist route in the unions (transport) but without any broad support from workers, because of repression and unrealistic expectations,  these attempts collapsed.   Post 9/11 and the failed anti-globalistion movement,  others tried to start a community house in West End (AHIMSA house) but two of the protagonists stole all the funds and AHIMSA was sold by the bank with its benefactor penniless.   Libertarians experimented with bookshops that now reside in dust under peoples houses. And now the Marxist left are up to the same corrupt misuse of old comrades assets in an effort to inject funds into a new alliance. No way to build a party – on personal assets bequeathed to children!   The unions fought a rear-guard action during the 1998  MUA here to stay dispute/ they ended up losing half their members and we got WorkChoices. The ALP has destroyed the unions.    

Current attempts
Earlier this year a Brisbane Solidarity Network organised the Brisbane Anarchist Summer School. This was successful bringing together many perspectives for the first time in years but was too thin – and it lacked depth; there was a sense of denial about our libertarian past in Brisbane – a refusal to name names of those who ripped off  AHIMSA house and who created celebrity for themselves.  

A recent radical education forum similarly suffered from lack of depth. But it was a good initiative and next time there will be more content and less form (hopefully:).   The May Day group organised a forum on the May Day weekend and proposes another May Day Workshop in November focusing on workplace experience. Some found the format alienating and walked out, others stayed but did not participate. In the end the workers forum uncovered the contrast between workers who have engaged with their unions and those that have not. The latter were short on experience of struggle, alienated from their union without realising that they were the union.  

A broad group (but not broad enough to include the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy) has established anti-GAG to protest against G20 in November 2014, it is only on in Brisbane for a day – this comes at the end of the anti-globalization protests and if it ends up  being another line-up in front of the cops anti-GAg will be a spectacular waste of scarce resources for the Left.   Meanwhile the Word From Struggle Street is that:

“… the lack of vision of the anti-capitalist or radical left (to use a term that few will be happy about) to do anything to change the situation, to contribute to a real mobilisation of the class, or lay the foundations for emancipatory politics. What was on display was the double poverty: the poverty of the left-over machinery of social democracy and the poverty of those who want to do something about it. This needs to be addressed and discussed and ways out planned – ways out based not on ideological purity but reality.”

British revolutionary groups formed Independent labour, RESPECT etc in this way – I think our discussion should include the current re-groupment of SocAlt, DSP, RSP and Workers Liberty. Left Wing parties/anarchist groups may send one representative. Practical things like resources and property that is to be amalgamated.    

Misuse of Left Resources
Recently I hired out the LeftPress PA system to one group. They did not return it on time and another group had booked it that evening. They misplaced two mics, they did not turn up on time expecting me to wait or to leave expensive equipment out. They did not pay for the hire of the pa making juvenile excuses that they did not use it that day or that the pa did not work.   Faced with this, I wrote a letter outlining my grievances to the group about their repeated infringements of the ground rules for borrowing the PA and that members of their group had repeatedly abused these rules. I told them to pay up front and to text me 3 days beforehand so that i could charge the pa and make sure it was working.   As many are aware the PA is a valuable resource for the Left in Brisbane made available by Leftpress.  


I asked them to please remember that the $25 we charge is to ensure the PA’s continuing operation and that it can readily be replaced should it be damaged or confiscated. So I laid down ground rules for hire of the PA again. Neither the group nor its members who had borrowed the PA bothered to acknowledge or reply to my letter.   Please Note: Most groups/individuals who hire the LeftPress PA are very good. They are not ‘users’ like the group above, they are not interested in abusing this resource at the expense of others.   Qld Uncut Brisbane Sq 22 Sept 2012 Rick Ng – pete and boe

Time for change
I have been contacted independently by three people this week about how we can get together and work out a strategy for co-operation.   Hence I raise it here.   Once again the word from struggle street: By this I don’t mean reverting to the out-of-the-box answers of the Left (the Party! Anarcho-syndicalist unions!) rather we need to construct some forms of a collective body the details of which are yet unknown. The last few years of experimentation globally, centred around the encampment in the squares, give us some starting places perhaps. But even before this, more elementarily is revising the idea of the meeting. Please contact me at the number below if you are interested so that we can discuss this proposal further.  

Ian Curr
7 October 2013
mob 0407 687 016

28 thoughts on “Call for Change

  1. adrian skerritt says:

    Hello Ian   What do I need to do to read the post?   Regards Adrian.


  2. withsobersenses says:

    Hi All,
    Just a few brief comments:
    1) I am not sure what the relationship between the Left and working-class self activity is. I am not sure that the functioning of the former necessarily improves the latter.
    2) I think our orientation must start from the current real composition of the working class. I don’t think the Left Unity processes of Salt/SA/RSP do this
    3) I am all for people cooperating but I don’t think formal organisation discussions are necessary.
    4) I would rather see the Left groups break apart into multiple new experiments and activities aimed at solving some of the issues of the day than coagulate into a new rigid formation
    5) The party-to-come can only arise from the struggles of the class

  3. ian, i think you need to start from the start and make a decent argument for why the left should “co-operate”, (assuming that we don’t already) like, what is lacking from not “co-operating” and what might be gained by “cooperating”. i’m not convinced of either of these things, and this is before we even start to think about what “co-operation” might look like/mean!

  4. Solidarity says:

    Why does the Left need to co-operate?

    Socialist parties and anarchist groupings are far too dogmatic.

    At the Brisbane Anarchist Summer School (BASS) SocAlt gatecrashed the forums trying to sell their magazine. There was a fight in the kitchen of the Queen Alexandra Home between young anarchists and older SocAlt members. None of this would have happened if SocAlt understood that they would be better off co-operating with the organisers and following the protocols laid down by Brisbane Solidarity Network. There is a surprising lack of discipline in these groups. They were allowed to attend, they could sell their magazine but only outside, they could participate. Yet they chose the road of non-cooperation and reaped failure as a result. All they wanted was for people to attend the Marxist Conference a few weeks later in Melbourne.

    Did they seriously think people would buy their magazines or attend their conference? Were they trying to recruit new members? Did they succeed?

    In my essay Call for Change, I described a short history of attempts for change.

    I am not saying that we have to agree (false unity) but that when we do we should co-operate and when we don’t we should still co-operate.

    A comrade said this:

    “We will work with them when we agree, but we will work around them when we do not”

    This not real co-operation. It is not solidarity, but she has captured the current state of affairs.

    It is this that must change. Stop parroting the line! Have a genuine discussion, built around mutual respect.

    At least enough so that we at least take our differences into account when we are planning for real change. It is a practical matter.

    Co-operation makes change possible, it means that we think on a collective level and not just for ourselves and our group.

    I don’t mean the difference between a rally of 200 or a rally of 2,000, I mean real engagement with people, reaching out so that we are not that group of radical students marching out of the University, isolated, embattled, surrounded by police, once again confronted by bitter divisions from within – leading to defeat that affected the lives of so many in times ahead – workers losing their jobs, women losing control of their bodies, uranium being mined and exported, blackfellas losing their land, their lives and their culture and the prospect of a future where ordinary people are not able to breathe the air or drink the water.

    What I am talking about is solidarity – it is a class thing.

    We have to co-operate because this is the root of change, the ruling class is for the individual … we are for equality.

    Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”
    From each according to ability, to each according to need!

    To achieve this takes a lot of co-operation!

    Ian Curr
    8 Oct 2013
    0407 687 016

  5. it seems to me it would make more sense for groups in the left to focus their efforts outwards from the ghetto. to try to really figure out how to engage with and co-operate with people outside the “left” rather than to figure out how to make the ghetto itself more cohesive.

  6. Ian, I agree with your goal or attempting to construct a real class movement. I don’t think the road to this is centred on the organisations or getting them all in one room to have a chat

  7. 'Leaving the ghetto...' says:

    My early involvement in the Left was in mass movements, so it was not always like it is now. I am not trying to glorify the past (you’ll see why), the street marches against Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland (1977-1979) were like Turkey is now … and I am not foolish enough to think that what is going on in Turkey now is all about revolutionary change … there are many forces at work there and the Left is only a small part of it. Anyway we did finally make it out of the University, or some of us did, and this is reflected in the arrest records, where after the first couple of marches most of the arrests were of workers and unemployed not students.

    The Socialist Workers Party (later to become the Democratic Socialist Party) argued against marching and expelled those who did. The main organisation, Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee imploded in on itself after 418 were arrested on 22 Oct 1977. The SWP argued for rallies instead of marches, the anarchists argued for creativity and formed affinity groups to reduce violence. In the the end they achieved the opposite people linked arms and would not let go when arrested out of fear thus causing more injury.

    The International Socialists(IS)(a forerunner of the Socialist Alternative) recruited marchers and became the largest grouping outside the Communist Party. Back then, the IS were the infantile disorder and after some serious mistakes in the street march campaign were outmaneuvered by George Georges and the Socialist Left of the ALP. Georges took over the Right-to-March campaign as the Civil Liberties Campaign Group in 1978. The infantile disorder stacked a meeting and in a lead up to a march on 21 August 1978 deciding to turn a ‘Joh Must Go’ rally into opposition to the Federal Government’s austerity budget of the same year (Frasers’s razor gang). The Chairperson (Maris) took the vote, and from where I sat (near the front) the IS proposal was soundly defeated. There was a call for a re-count from the back of the room and Maris relented. The IS proposal for a march on the budget cuts rally got up and JOH MUST GO was shelved. I turned around to see about 20 IS members had just walked in to stack the vote. The meeting was in uproar, and that was the beginning of the end. The comic-book marxists had won the day. The CLCC was dissolved … and Georges (Socialist Left of the ALP) took over. Later during the Free Speech campaign in the Brisbane City Mall the Libertarian Socialist Organisation (LSO) did a similar thing, only this time they lost the vote and Drew Hutton stood up and directed them all to leave which they did dutifully. Neither Drew Hutton nor his cohorts ever returned to the Democratic Rights Organisation.

    At the time, unemployment was high in Qld so some hardy souls formed the Unemployed Workers Union. The Labor Party sold Trades Hall and so we were even kicked out of there. Hughie Hamilton (ex-CPA, then ALP), state secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union, argued that repairs to the building were too costly for the unions to bear. They had the best Tradies in Brisbane at their disposal for free and yet they insisted on selling!

    The ‘anarchists’ found refuge in drugs at the Pink Palace up the top of Whickham Terrace listening to punk music day and night and occasionally making the trip to a 4ZZZ ‘joint effort’. At least Patti Smith was political, but when they got into Nick Cave you knew it was all about drugs. There was nothing political about the IS recruiting most of the punks in Brisbane into their organisation – it just meant that they were bigger than Socialist Alternative is now or will ever be. It didn’t make me any less afraid if they were to be in charge of the revolution and we actually won.

    The opportunist ‘Marxists’ got jobs in the unions and the ALP and refined their branch stacking in Kurilpa and Fairfield branches of the ALP. Some were so paranoid to find themselves rubbing Ministerial leather that they shredded all the files from the Hiner inquiry. Bermingham (former anarchist, member of IS and the CPA) was prosecuted and found guilty of electoral fraud as was the state secretary of the ALP, Mike Kaiser. Kaiser returned many years later to help Anna Bligh win her first state election as leader.

    Some lefties were sincere and simply joined the unions and the ALP out of their view of necessity, having nowhere else to go because the Communist Party had been liquidated by the Stalinists in the South. I am oversimplifying here, though my account is more accurate than most because I saw it all from within the movement, I was in the both the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) and the Civil Liberties Campaign Group (CLCG) – attending more meetings than anyone and fought the opportunists throughout; right up till the SEQEB dispute in 1985. And I am still fightin’ and i’m not the only one. If you want a fuller version of what it was like back then read Trifecta at 608 Brunswick Street So much for the ghetto … eventually we won back the right-to-march but at what cost?

    To answer Eliza’s question, the people I want to reach out to are the 30% of the population who are basically socialist because they believe in working class values. 30% of the people believe in equality, a fair go, education for all, access to medical services, workers’ rights, and looking after the environment. You know, the ones thrown away by Rudd, Gillard, Shorten, and the rest of the ALP hacks.

    These people used to be in the union, but the Labor Party destroyed the unions and so many people can no longer join the union because they have casual jobs where there are no unions left. So we have to build them ourselves, starting from scratch, from the bottom up. In the early 1980s we started out in West End and tried to move from there, with organisations like the West End Resource Centre and social functions like May 1st Club. But it is hard. Turnstyle at Laura Street reminds me of those days.

    We have to face up to it – 40% of the population are capitalist – well not really ‘cos many of them are workers or small business people who only believe in what capitalism gives them : – consumption;

    The rest just vacillate in the middle, it’s these people that the Rudd and Abbott show were after in the 2013 election. Abbott won them over ‘cos our society is superficial and sick.
    How disaffected the 30% who believe in equality must feel after the Rudd show put out the light on the hill! Yet the unions still would not run their own show. They don’t have a choice now and their lies the difference. Our only hope lies in the organised working class, not in some social ‘ghetto’.

    So mine is not a discussion with the groups (Socialist Alternative, Revolutionary Socialist Party) who are they and how many are capable of reaching out? – the groups you speak of lack organisation and discipline – I wish to build organisation and for that we need co-operation. If what you mean is to reach out to the ‘not (already) politicised people participating’ well I think conditions will help us achieve that. For example, the BASE food program is helping us speak with aboriginal people in Acacia Ridge, Inala, Stafford, Ipswich and Logan City. We have not spoken to these people before ‘cos we have been in the ghetto, but now we are reaching out. Don’t tink the food is only going to Blackfellas, the blackfellas are giving the food to poor whitefellas and are they grateful! But this takes organisation and people. We need more people! We need more blackfellas! We need more whitefellas! There is real hunger for change out there – beyond West End – if only we could see it – our screens prevent us from seeing the real world. The poor houses I visit all have huge flat screen TVs. They have social dislocation, drugs, alcohol, little respect for elders, we need the social democracy that Rudd gave up. But we need more than that … better organisation for real change.

    Abbott and the barbarians are at the gates; they are ready to privatise our classrooms, our hospitals and they wish to pave the country with roads; roads that lead to the coalfields where our children are supposed to earn a living.

    It’s time get off fb (or whatever it is that we are doing 🙂 and try to change the future.

    Ian Curr
    9 October 2013

  8. my ian… what long replies you leave! so… now i’m confused. it seems to me the left is cooperating! if base is reaching out beyond the ghetto isn’t that the left cooperating and getting outside of the ghetto? and you certainly haven’t given me any reason, with your historical account, to strive for cooperation with the aforementioned socialist groups! oh, and i just wanted to clarify one thing. you mentioned the radical/popular education initiative and suggested that it was missing content… the point of radical/popular education is that the content comes from the participants, not vice versa, the role of the teachers is to draw out that content and make it meaningful…

  9. Ian that’s a really interesting historical narrative. But I don’t get how you go from there to a strategy of left co-operation. Rather it seems more evidence for the argument of attempting to start from the real conditions and concerns of work and life. Something we are attempting to do with the May Day Group and why the most successful session at our meeting was the one on workers’ inquiry ( check out Viewpoint for more on this idea Sure our process is flawed and sure it is slow. I just don’t think there is any other road but the class itself

    1. Dave,
      The main thing to come out of the workers’ inquiry was the need for a political movement outside of the union movement and outside the Labor party to provide both leadership and support for workers.

      Do you remember the office worker in a rural council who described:
      • an exploitative National party mayor
      • a Group of workers pledged to support each other
      • a strike that was initially successful, but council amalgamations was opportunity for bosses to defeat the group
      • The union delegate was himself punished with two other key unionists => ‘voluntary’ redundancy
      • Supporters punished eg now scattered round Qld – the delgate broke down telling the story and feels very deeply responsibile for this
      • Union lost interest once once WorkChoices campaign over and Federal Labor in government.

      The Union Officials said they just don’t have resources for struggles at small sites.

      I think the trots are crazy politically and always have been, some have gained individual respect and received professorships at Uni. But don’t let that fool you, they are still mad. Tell me one Trot group that has won the respect of workers or their unions.


  10. Eliza,

    Where is the analysis of how to leave the ghetto at?

    I prefer any version, short or long. This is a welcome to those who have an opinion. I won’t bite.

    BTW Ernie Lane wrote a longer version of the ghetto than mine Dawn till Dusk – reminiscences of a rebel which was reprinted by LeftPress (Social Hstory of Australia Project Enterprise (SHAPE). Ernie Lane was a wobbly.

    All the groups I have mentioned in ‘Leaving the ghetto…’ are now defunct or moribund – all except Socialist Alternative.

    Part of the reason for their demise is that the groups I refer to in ‘A call for change’ (IS, Libertarian Socialist Organisation (LSO), CPA, SWP, New Left Party, Socialist Alliance) never got out of the ghetto (Eliza’s term). I prefer the term ‘infantile disorder’. Speaking of which, I am still waiting for the Socialist Alternative (there is no alternative to socialism) to reply to my letter about the use of the LeftPress PA. My criticism is entirely political; they are no better or worse than anyone else on a personal level.

    Repression had a big hand in the demise of the groups, many Lefties departed Queensland during the Joh years. None could get jobs in the State Public Service because of their special branch files, many ended up doing the Commonwealth Public Service exam. Goss, Beattie and Bligh did appoint some public servants who had started with us on the long march through the existing institutions, but the march was too much for them – some ending up as Director Generals of Transport and Education and others as high officials in Industrial Relations.

    And does anyone else have something to say? Either publicly on this forum or to me in private

  11. HI Ian, I think the main thing that came out of the workers’ inquiry was the option for workers to real start talking about the reality of their conditions. Whilst I think we need forms of mass political collectivity
    I guess it is a question of where you think this forms can come from. I think only from people’s self activity. I don’t see how your original argument to get all the left groups together aids that, nor more specifically relating to the May Day Group why we should change direction so quickly

    1. Dave,
      Re: ”I don’t see how your original argument to get all the left groups together aids that…”
      My original argument was for Left co-operation – how do people from the Left working in campaign and educational groups work together – groups like tent embassy (BASE), Cuba Friendship, Brisbane Anarchist Summer School (BASS), Radical Education Forum, Brisbane Free University (BFU), the May Day Group currently organising a forum on working conditions and expectations. There are others that I have missed like Turnstyle, Foco Nuevo, 4ZZZ media collectives, Talisman Sabre, Palm Sunday Peace Group, Friends of the Earth, Lock-the-Gate, International Women’s Day, anti-uranium groups and Justice for Palestine (JFP) or anti-GAG. Most of these groups do co-operate to some extent, all except the infantile disorder. For example I don’t have any problem hiring the LeftPress PA to most of them, they look after it, they return it on time, they pay the hire fee and understand that it is so that the PA can be available to other groups and if it is damaged, lost or cofiscated by police it can be replaced.

      Dave, you have clearly reject my proposal to try to organise better co-operation between the political groups. You also reject my proposal to make it a topic of the next May Day forum.

      It seems Eliza has rejected my proposal to work with the groups for better co-operation as well, but for different reasons.

      No one from the political groups I mention (I left out Solidarity) who support single issue campaigns have bothered to put forward their reasons for persisting with that kind of single issue focus. Am I surprised? No, however WordPress does report that this discussion is the most read of any in recent weeks [93 views and counting … yes, it is all about numbers (irony)].

      I would like to take you back to the Workers Inquiry at the May Day Forum. Before the union delegate from the rural council spoke we heard from a number of panelists who told of their direct experience of work

      These are the people who spoke and what they said:
      – Chef of ~10 years who had never had paid holidays.
      – Worker at Target whose hours were cut if he argued with boss or spoke back to customers.
      – The support worker with NGO who expected to finish shift at 11pm and start again at 6am.
      – Office/platform worker with Qld rail whose entry to work usually as casual and had 10 days on, 1 day off.
      – Another Support worker with NGO where the churches who ran it and NGO management tend to use arguments like “you do the work because you love it”, “we are all in it together”, “all need to tighten belt” – to undermine worker struggles to maintain or for better conditions.

      None of these people spoke of any real experience of unionism, they may not even be members of a union.

      The first NGO worker shunned the idea of engaging with the official union despite the isolation of workers from each other due to 3 shifts and small worksites (homes). So he started organising worker barbeques every three weeks thus slowly developing solidarity but still did not see this as a union where change might come. This was despite the NGO changing from emphasis on outcomes for client to outputs (workers requested even to make stuff up) – and more pressure from contracting out of security where these new workers took over some of the work of social workers. Ironically while he was speaking a young woman from the housing project where he worked turned up at the forum with a black eye and bruising. She had been assaulted by police when the NGO’s security had reported her behaviour to the police.

      All of these workers stories reflected the same perspective, an inability to discover the power of the union.

      Then came the story from the rural council worker who made a pledge with three others to refuse contracting out of their work, to refuse to sign the employer’s contract, even with the treat of the sack. Only these four joined together in a union in the sense of the todpuddle martyrs who made a blood pledge to each other.

      I ask you why did they do this? It was not because their fellow workers were already unionised, they were not. The officer worker made sure that the outside workers (the road gang and the gabbage workers) were included in the struggle. They built unity between the indoor and outdoor workers. Eventually they held a secret meeting outside the workplace at a local park and challenged management. Union membership went up from 20% to 90% during the struggle against WorkChoices contracts; the union became involved and supported the workers as best it could.

      Remember the rural office workers did not blame the union when the four delegates were finally made redundant by Labor’s amalgamation of the councils and the workers were defeated.

      I know why they were defeated, it was because they lacked workers political organisation – a political formation outside the union and the labor party that could support the workers. The Communist party played that role in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. But never the Labor Party. The modern Labor party destroyed the unions during the Accord and by Privatising Telecom, the Commonwealth Bank, and Qld Rail to name but a few. So it is little wonder that workers have deserted the Labor party.

      What is missing is a political formation outside the Labor party … it wont come from the Trots because once they finally hit the workforce, having been recruited inside the student movement, and they try to sell the Green Left Weekly, Battler, or Direct Action, or Militant or the Red Flag they are so shunned by their fellow workers that they usually leave the party. Confronted by the contradictions of following the line of the party and the reality of the workplace, some end up in the union fighting the party they were once part of – a constant state of complicated despair. This same people may even find themselves in with the Labor Party (social democracy) refuting the revolutionary politics they once subscribed to. Show me a former member of Resistance who looks favourably on her former comrades. She may find herself unable to endorse social democracy and weary of the discipline of the Party, rejecting its endless pursuit of new recruits through demos as the older ones fall by the wayside as she once did herself, disillusioned, no embarrassed by swallowing a simplistic line founded in opportunism, a regret, no a distaste of her youth, her own purity – sent from place to place by the party as an organiser without ever truly understanding the struggles local people had been engaged in for years.

      No – what is needed is some form of workers political organisation that comes from the struggles in the workplace itself, from the people themselves, grassroots at the local level but linked with others in other towns and different situations.

      That’s enough from me… it is up to others now.

      I thank you both for ÿr comments.


  12. Ian, I agree with everything under ‘An alternative would be workers’ political organisations’ which is why I disagree with what is above it.

  13. Hi Eliza, in the lead up to the Forum it was pretty clear that the majority if not all of attendants were going to be people we as a group already knew. This is the reality of where things stand. I don’t see how we were creating a vanguard as that implies a relationship of leadership to the class. We are in no position to even imagine we could do this even if we wanted to.
    We had joked ( half-joked) that if 10 people turned up we would be happy.
    There were elements of day I was very happy about and elements that I was very unhappy about. But in relation to the criteria that you set out we did achieve more than what we expect to achieve for that day
    There are real difference in our little group about question of relating to unions and the influence we can have. These reflect a substantial difference in underlying political perspectives. I think these difference relate to real trying to work out what is useful activity and what is not and that we are pretty realistic about out tiny size and limited appeal.
    This conversations have continued in all our subsequent meetings….which is one of the reasons it takes us so long to do anything.

    I wanted to be sharper here. If you want to criticise a project for not reaching its goals perhaps you should ask the organisers what those goals where first and what expectations that had – specially since different comrades in the group have different goals and expectations.

    There is a broader question here about the relationship between the material nature of capitalism in Australia and the historical moment we exist in and how this shapes and limits the possibilities for activity. I personally have spent a great deal of this year trying to map the former on my blog – as I believe such work is not commonly done. How can we develop strategy ( to use you language) if we don’t have good maps of the terrain?

  14. Correction: the joke was we would be happy if we had more than 9 people as this was the amount of people at the first meeting of the CCP. ( I think reference reflects comrades’ political backgrounds rather than anyone’s desire to be the next Great Helmsman)

  15. hi folks,
    there’s far too much to comment on all of it but here is my response to ian’s invitation to my reference to the “left ghetto” and getting out of it.

    i think “we” need to start doing some serious reflection on ourselves and our actions.
    i think we need to have some OBJECTIVES to our actions, and if/when these objectives do not succeed we need to think about what we can do DIFFERENTLY. i have certainly not seen this in socialist/trot circles, or those that work in a similar way. there is very little reflection on action and most often actions are just knee-jerk (a rally) with no reflection at the end: what was the purpose of that rally? how did it go? did we fulfill our (non existent) objectives? did we “free the refugees”? the only thought seems to be on how many people showed up… as if numbers are an end in themselves… and the poor people who do show up are often more alienated than they are in their everyday lives: no one says hi, no one engages with them in an honest way… at best they might be harassed by S.Alt for half an hour… great! sign me up for that shit!
    i don’t want to bash the may day forum, i appreciate the work that folks put into it, but let’s be honest… it wasn’t a “worker’s” inquiry, it was a people-who-are-already-signed-up-to-the-left-worker’s-inquiry. is that who the may day group wanted to talk to/hear from? if yes why not be honest and say you’re organising a vanguard? if no why not recognise that it didn’t go according to plan, try to (really) understand why workers didn’t come and then try something different next time?
    i was hoping for the former (non-engaged workers)…
    i’m not saying i could have done any better,
    i’m not saying i have the answer as how to engage with “workers”
    i’m just saying let’s figure out what exactly we are trying to do (have some objectives) and when those objectives fall through, let’s try another tack.

  16. Hi All – I do also want to add that I am in complete agreement with Eliza about the need to think strategically both about specific struggles and also the larger picture of how these struggles relate to processes of communisation ( to perhaps use language that Ian and Elize wouldn’t). However I do think that in the greater scheme of things the actions of pro-revolutionaries are only marginal to the movement of the class

  17. “If you want to criticise a project for not reaching its goals perhaps you should ask the organisers what those goals where first and what expectations that had – specially since different comrades in the group have different goals and expectations.”
    yes dave. i agree with you on this, which was the reason why i asked ian not to post my comments after i initially submitted them. anyway, he got the message too late and they went up as they were. my comments in general are a result of frustrations with working in various groups in australia over the past 10 years or so… they are certainly not limited to any particular group or event. i plan to write something more on this. having said that i do feel disappointed that the discussions that went on on facebook about the processes of the worker’s inquiry session in particular were basically ignored, and i think this is another area where groups need to change i.e. listening to and taking on board outside voices/ideas. my proposal to do the session popular education style was as a result of my conviction that we really need to start listening to folks rather than talking at them. your suggestion in response was that i propose this different method at the forum itself which was obviously impossible given there was no space made for any suggestions for any different anything. anyway, i couldn’t stick around for it. i just couldn’t. so i acknowledge that i only know how it went second hand… anyway, it’s history… and this started as a conversation about left unity right ian? ian?

  18. Hi Eliza, it certainly wasn’t ignored. I was serious that if you wanted the meeting to be run differently then I think you should have put that forward at the meeting. Perhaps you could have attended a previous organising meetings and argued for it.
    Personally your suggestion is not a meeting form I support ( I think I disagree with most of its foundations) and I think if we had broken into smaller groups then many of the amazing parts of the day would have been lost. But if people had decided on the day to do things differently then that’s what they would have decided.
    Obviously there is the need to discuss all these things. To do so though, to really listen to other voices, I think it is important for proponents of any mode of acting or organising to drop a priori moralisms. When you write ‘we really need to start listening to folks rather than talking at them’ its hard not to hear an accusation that you believe the method of the day was simply talking at people. I think that would mischaracterised much of the day – and probably accurately characterised sections of it. But by not attending meetings, not asking what the discussion had been about in the months leading up to it, what we might have wanted to achieve and why and then via social media requesting a radical change in how we had planned to go about the day wasn’t this talking and not listening?
    Just because we came to different conclusions didn’t mean we hadn’t been asking similar questions…and continue to do so.
    Now in the past discussion over organisational questions that I have been involved in often collapse into bitter disputes where people’s different understands of power, speech, space and democracy prevent communication. I hope this isn’t another case of this and that you can see I am serious about the concerns of such debates but have a different conclusion….though my thinking isn’t concluded.

  19. hi dave,

    i’m ready to move on from this conversation and concentrate on working together in the future, however i do feel there are some things below that i need to respond to, (as well as some things where i can definitely see your point).

    you proposed that i (and others) could come to the forum to suggest an alternate way of doing things, and that participants there could decide then what they wanted. i think this is problematic in many ways but most obviously there was no opportunity given at the meeting to propose any different way of doing anything. was your suggestion then that we should have interrupted the organisers and the event generally to propose an alternate process? this seems ludicrous. if there had been some space for participants to discuss and propose changes to process we would have put our points forward, but there was no space. as things panned out i would have preferred a response of “sorry, but we’ve already decided on the process, maybe next time”.

    i acknowledge that i was not involved in the organising meetings and so the value of my contribution is mitigated. (having said that though i’m not sure people’s non attendance at meetings means their contribution is (necessarily) of no value. this is NOT something you have argued but i think it’s an easy conclusion that people can come to. of course people bitching about something that they had no role in organising is a bit hard to stomach but, also, sometimes contributions that come from outside the meeting are worthwhile to listen to and take on board. obviously i hope mine is the latter!

    i suggested a small group format for the worker’s inquiry and i did this, for the most part, out of a concern for participation. participation is not a simple issue. at every facilitator workshop i have gone to the issue of participation has come up, mostly, how to ensure people participate and how to ensure people don’t over-participate. there are many ways to approach participation, small groups is one. it’s not enough to simply say “we want everyone to participate”, some people speak a lot in certain contexts, some people don’t speak at all and the extent to which people speak is certainly not necessarily parallel to the value of their contribution! i’d suggest that, all else being equal (i.e. no consideration made by organisers to participation) those who generally hold more speaking power in society carry that speaking power over into a forum like the may day forum. actually i don’t even think this is a contentious thing to argue, would you disagree?

    so, i guess my question of organisers is:

    what discussions did the may day group have around participation?

    what strategies did the may day group use to ensure participation of those who might be less willing to contribute in the forum setting?

    this was also a question that was asked during the fb discussion and i (and others) don’t believe it was adequately answered.

    well, i just got to this bit:

    “in the past discussion over organisational questions that I have been involved in often collapse into bitter disputes where people’s different understands of power, speech, space and democracy prevent communication.”

    well i’m not sure it’s bitter yet but i am yet to hear your thoughts on your understanding of: power, speech, space and democracy.

    I look forward to it…

  20. hello eliza and dave,

    I too wish to move on but can’t.

    At the outset of the May Day forum, I felt that I should have intervened and suggested a discussion of the day’s format.

    I did not do so because I arrived late and too exhausted having picked up one of the participants a long way from where the meeting was held and at an early hour. I had to wait and this meant I was late to the forum and did not have the opportunity to discuss the possibility of changes to the format with the participants especially those who had asked that we break into small groups on fb.

    At the commencement I noticed that the ‘Welcome to Country’ by two invited aboriginal participants was not performed. Only one, the traditional owner of Jagera land, was invited to speak. This was because of an oversight that I should have immediately remedied. I’m not just saying this, it was I who organised the ‘Welcome to Country’ and that it should comprise of a traditional owner giving the welcome and a representative from the tent embassy having his say as well before the discussions start. This is respect, at least as i understand it.

    I should have intervened but did not do so because I hoped it could be addressed later without embarrassment for the moderator or the Tent Embassy member. The moderator did make the correction himself with an apology for the oversight, but the speech by the embassy representative I had driven to the forum was not performed because he had already left.

    I did read the criticism on fb about the meeting format but hoped that this could be resolved during discussion at the forum; however the fb critics also left immediately after the first speaker, Howard Guile, from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) stopped speaking. Howard did speak for too long. If you can’t say what you think in 6 minutes there is something wrong. And his reason, when asked why he still supported the Labor Party was not good enough. The reason he gave was ‘tribalism’ – he has always been part of the Labor tribe. Anyway, who am I to criticise, it wld probably take more than six minutes to read this commentary on my own failings. I simply carry too much baggage, but am not ‘bitter’ least of all to the critics. I say this because both of you (Dave and Eliza) are ‘switched on’ to the issues that beset us.

    I took this (the departures) to mean that the organisers had failed, at least in the eyes of some, to organise the day properly. Seeing that, I went over to ask the fb critics to ask why they were leaving, and both declined to give a reason. Why I did not know. Was the criticism political? Was it personal? It could have been for any reason but as none was given, I feared the worse that at least in the eyes of some, we as organisers had failed. Would others follow the already departed?

    I felt this most strongly in the session after lunch, when I was forced to curtail the discussion on laws that governed the workplace. This session which I moderated was simply too long for a drowsy audience after lunch. It was my fault because I had not made the speaker fully aware of the emphasis organisers of the forum placed on discussion and full participation.

    Nevertheless, all was not lost, the workers inquiry was a genuine discussion on issues that affect us all (the 30% that believe in equality anyway). And every person in the room contributed. In my mind, there was a strong contrast between workers who engaged with their union and those who did not.

    A union delegate and friend of many years broke down relating a story of how people who had pledged themselves to fight WorkChoices had been defeated by Labor’s amalgamation of shire councils.

    He blamed himself for leading other workers to defeat. It was not till then I realised the full extent of the complicated state of despair my union delegate friend had fallen into.

    Are we ready for another round of attack on our unions? Well frankly no. The ETU claims to be rank-and-file yet still remains affiliated with the ALP. The BLF-CFMEU merger was due to go ahead but they have their union offices in different buildings in different parts of town. We don’t have monthly delegates meetings at Trades Hall anymore. Trades Hall operates as the HQ of the ALP, all the unions except the MEAA have de-camped. The QCU is dysfunctional.

    Recently there were ‘protected action’ ballots taken by the NTEU at Griffith University, the workplace of one of the participants of the May Day forum; a ballot to determine if there can be a vote on industrial action over an EBA. In her workplace the NTEU was unable to get even 50% of its members to even participate in the ballot; yes, more than 50% refused to even participate! No wonder work conditions at Universities are like meatworks or ford factories with low pay, limited tenure, and short-term contracts. Academics don’t have proper jobs anymore, they used to have tenure, they used to be well paid, they used to do meaningful work! What has hapened. Management laughs in the face of the union trying its best to hold things together and to support progressive causes like the environment, democratic rights, tent embassy, Brisbane Blacks and refugees. But to what effect? Things do need to change ‘cos this can only get worse. Right, Dave? Eliza?

    Added to all this is we have lost May Day. Last year’s attempt was Gillard’s last hurrah for the labor party faithful with SocAlt doing what they do best, chanting from the sidelines about the sellouts. Too little, too late.

    So a lot needs to be done, and without better discussion and better organisation, defeat awaits us all. I wish to work with the critics within and without the May Day Group to ensure this happens but I am beginning to think I am not up to the task … one friend actually emailed me yesterday to say “you life is out of control, Ian”. How do we survive in this climate? Well through friendship, solidarity and caring for each other.

    One suggestion at the meeting tonight was that we should discuss how time and management’s monitoring of our work makes slaves of us all. This is not a new thing, it goes back to Ford factory hence the name Fordism.

    The minutes from tonight’s May Day meeting do say what we hope to get out of another forum:

    What can we actually achieve out of this small group of people? If we can increase the sense of power and understanding of those who attend is probably the best we can do? If it is going to do that it can’t focus on the very advanced and militant section of the struggle because most people are outside of it

    We can try to build the links and understandings amongst workers (unionised and non-unionised) to improve their understanding and confidence.

    Its about trying to build a consciousness of resistance and self-awareness of workers. Any examples we can draw on and stand with would be fantastic.


  21. Hi Ian and Eliza, I want to contribute more to this discussion but it may tale a few days. Thank you both for your thoughts and efforts so far.

  22. withsobersenses says:

    I’ll start generally and then move specifically.
    I think the last major thing I wrote to express organisation questions in general is floating around in the reader for the 2008 conference around the question of an Anarchist Federation…its called ‘The Politics of Hope’. I can’t find it now

    The core political question for me, the main axis of which I try to engage with is the ‘becoming-prince of the multitude’ that is how move from being a class in ourselves ( labour) to a class for itself ( the proletariat) which can abolish capital and class and establish forms of emancipated society.
    I really think this is more of a question rather than an answer but my more general thought is that is a process will involve a vast constellation or archipelago of different efforts and projects spread throughout the body of capitalist society. Each will be distinct and different depending on their context and will involve countless different forms of internal dynamics, practices and decision making mechanisms. In a general sense I do think that the more democratic and horizontal these are the more that they will facilitate the movement of the class; but equally I suspect the more the class moves the more its bodies of coordination will become democratic and horizontal. And the rhythm of this movement constantly changes
    Two caveats: we are all of us split or contradictory. We are split and contradictory as a class. The working class is not a class of angels. But rather is produced in the context of capital and the mesh of power relations and internal divisions that sustain it and the ideological world that names the parts of it. Thus even in struggle there is a constant tug of war between what holds us back and what moves us forward.
    The role revolutionaries can play in this is small – participate in specific efforts, try to clarify and share our understandings and work to thicken the ties between all the moments of struggle in the archipelago.
    This means I don’t think there is a particular form of organisation, or organising meetings or the like that is a priori better than another.
    In my personal experience I have participated in good meetings and bad, good groups and bad, and groups and meetings that are both good and bad. None of this seems to have been determined by the form they took – big mass meetings can be great and democratic or shit and hierarchical, spokes councils can be liberating or authoritarian . What seems to matter is the attitudes and relations of the participants what ever the model or form of the meeting.
    I do, and this is often a mistake, bend the stick back when ‘breaking into small groups’ is suggested. This is mainly a knee-jerk reaction against some partisans of this approach that believe that this form of meeting can solve the difference in power of the class and is somehow superior to any other form of meeting.
    In my personal experience in the dying days of alterglobalisation struggles breaking into small groups worked as a way of isolating dissenting voices and cementing the dominance of eco-bureaucrats who used an ideology of inclusion to silence opposition. Ice-breaking games, heavy facilitation and an enforced attitude of being positive worked to keep everyone in line
    When I lived in social housing I once attended a forum organised by KPMG ( I think) that used exactly the same approach as that of these activists. It was a day of being broken into small groups, lots and lots of facilitation and everyone putting forward their ideas which were collated and collected on reams and reams of butchers paper….. Yet at the end of the day the ‘consensus’ that had been created was to support the government’s approach of private/public partnerships to fund social housing. This was something that at the start of the forum the majority of people had opposed!
    This is not to say such an approach is worse than another…its just not better.
    Part of this is because in the name of levelling differences of power ( in terms of confidence, speech etc related to gender, eduction etc) a new form of organisational power can be created that in the name of the silenced Other can work to shape and manipulate the meeting too. Of course this doesn’t have to happen.
    As it goes, out of necessity, most things I am involved in are small groups that hold small group discussions. The May Day Group takes so long to do anything because we spend so much time raking over the coals of the last 40 years. Something I find a very educational and interesting thing.
    As for our specific meeting my memory is that we had a number of concerns. Since only one of us was presenting we wanted to make sure that those we invited to speak had enough time to present their thoughts since they had worked on them. We also had a speaking list and commitment to it being ‘progressive’. This worked and didn’t worked at different times of the day and we have taken away some lessons. We need to be much clearer when we invite speakers to communicate with them what we are looking for. But in truth we are also in the process of making something up that we don’t have a full vision of. In our meetings we often talk of holding a forum ‘of a different type’ – something that appears only in the corners of our eyes….
    Was there more we could have done? Probably and I think we will do things different next time (out of our last meeting we have decided to canvas people externally to generate the list of questions for our workers inquiry for example). This discussion here has been very good for me in clarify some thoughts and forcing me to confront new questions


  23. Teachers on strike? says:

    It looks like the teachers are going on strike. They vote tomorrow (23 October 2013) to take unprotected action against education legislation introduced by the Coalition Government. Members be aware that this is a traditional union vote, the Australian Electoral Commission is not involved, it is a ballot of members by the union itself … See

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