Towards an independent working-class Agenda
Surely, the way we live now is not the best of which our species is capable. We don’t have to turn on the ‘news’ to hear of wars and rumours of wars. Accumulations of wealth deliver impoverishment. Daily life imposes immiserisation, for example, time-poverty among the well-off. Corporations are intensifying their plunder of nature. In the process, they are fouling our nest with pollution and garbage. Surveillance by governments and corporations threatens our ability to fight back on every issue.
Every one of us has some awareness of these facts. After all, we endure their effects everyday.
The political tasks are threefold: 1. bring the local and the global together; 2. link awareness into action; 3. understand how and why the entire system can and should be replaced. An independent working-class agenda is but one contribution towards an action programme.
Let’s start by thinking from scratch about where most of our lives are much of the time: what are the issues that we have to grapple with throughout every day? The remnant Left has lost contact with the needs of the people we claim to represent. Indeed, some grouplets look down on these needs as proof of a materialist selfishness – the so-called ‘affluenza’. Consumption is given as the main driver in the destruction of nature – not capitals’ need to over-produce to sustain profit for further expansion.
Most grouplets confine their activities to a couple of the following: Aborigines, refugees, gay marriage, the Middle-East, East Timor, Latin America, trade treaties, climate change, or US bases.
When ‘the masses’ don’t respond as the grouplets tell them, the grouplets blame the workers. The good thing is that few workers are even aware of the grouplets. If the two happen happen to come into contact, thy workers soon see that the grouplets don’t much care for the needs of the vast majority. Like the corporates, the grouplets want to sell them something: their publications.
The task is to rebuild those connections on a bsse of human needs.
First, we have to accept that the loss has taken place and that it isas much our fault as anybody’s. Without organisational links throughout workplaces and communities around the immediate issues of life, socialists can’t expect to have much effect on the other questions.
Instead, we make ourselves more and more irrelevant.
So, let’s explore what happens if we go back to five basics: housing, transport, work, health and education. We can then focus on the issues that impact every day and every night.
No place like home
Pollies blather about ‘battlers’ and ‘working families’. The reality in Australia today is that there is no single definition of a household. Instead there is mum, dad and one or more children; single-parent; individual – now a third living alone; group and shared houses; institutions – hospitals, aged-care, prisons.
No time like the present
For a start, work is no longer arranged by set hours, five days a week. Even for permanent employees, schedules are casual at all hours and over weekends. Overtime, whether paid or unpaid, is the order of every day.
The problems of place are interlocked with those of time. In addition to class distinctions, both are split along lines of location, gender and ethnicity. For a start there are the distances between where we live (housing) and where we work (employment) and how to bridge the two (transport). On top of that monkey-pussle, there is how to get between places of residence and of work to places of education? Dropping off and picking up kids from school, sport and arts practice, or from their part-time jobs. No surprise that two-cars (second-hand?) are the normal need for two parents with kids.
Our experience of the personal is tied to some recognition that the bits somehow fit together. Farmers need access to services and to transport for their produce. Mine-workers fly-in and fly-out with an impact on communities, including unionism. The sense of how the social and the personal interlock provides a foundation on which to develop an agenda for action.
Less widespread is an understanding of how the bits fit together and why they control our lives.
Three responses are prime tasks for socialists:
First, we must engage with people to frame policies that deal with the nitty-gritty of interest rates and cycle paths, bulk-billing and school lunches.
Secondly, we must relearn how to set the hourly grind within the larger questions of pollution or corporate clout.
Thirdly, only then can socialists hope to show how changes in everyday living can point towards a different way of living, one which enriches our humanity.
An agenda Independent of what?
To start with we need an approach that does not trail behind the ALP or the ACTU. Some of the Left remnants explain their neglect of bread-and-marge issues by saying that they are dealt with by the ALP and the ACTU. Wrong on two counts. One, they are ignored. Two, they are taken up in ways that never challenge the power of capital. Athe very most it is possible to put pressure on the ALP and ACTU through developing the policies and practices that they sideline.
Also an agenda independent of corporations and their governments. We can’t win even on particular issues if we are just reacting to their next assault, eg., the Medicare co-payment.
In that case, we were cornered into defending a failed experiment in flat-rate taxes that has never offered a national health service like the one in the UK or Cuba. Therefore, we need to advocate a system for the provision of wellness and not one which enriches corporations that thrive on sickness. We have all become neo-liberals by opposing its worst excesses. Time to reassert socialist credentials by weaving that strategy into the tactics of everyday existence.
In 2014, we are so far from this agenda that its development will take all year to get airborne. The train-wreck has been decades in the making. It is never possible to leap over the hard slog of research, re-thinking and testing in practice. The current position is that we need to send around this very rough outline – this spaghetti and meatballs version.
But we also need to get some focus by working towards a leaflet in time for May Day. See separate document – ‘a Peoples’ Budget’ – for initial thoughts on its contents, layout and purpose.
Am independent agenda does not exist as a blueprint waiting to be written out, still less is anything ready to be put into practice. An alternative can emerge only through our efforts to know the present. We have to learn how to move ahead through taking action around where the shoe pinches in 2014.
20 March 2014