Workers Political Organisation


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A menace is stalking our workplaces – the menace of global capital.

All the Powers of the old Market remain intact but new, global, forms of oppression are emerging: the unprecedented and worldwide explosion in credit which traps and enslaves not only individual families but also entire nations stripping them of their sovereignty and forcing them to adjust budgets and social policies to the dictates of international financiers; the cannibalising of one nation’s essential industries and services by the business interests of another; the almost total dependence of some nations on natural resources found only in the lands occupied by other nations; the massive militaries seen world wide with their equally massive expenditures which drain national budgets; all have forced an un-holy alliance so overwhelming that the political class no longer makes even a pretence of governing for the common good but have abandoned all our destinies to ideologies of ‘free trade’, ‘the invisible hand’ and ‘de-regulation’ in the vain hope that the ‘market’ will achieve what they cannot: social cohesion.

The main stream political class have long since decided that Australia’s future will be subjected to the demands of a globalised economy and to that effect will reduce the role of government as near as possible to none at all. In Margaret Thatcher’s words ‘It’s government’s job to get the finances right and to provide a framework of law in which free enterprise can operate’. That much and no more, she might have added.

That section of the political class who are the natural inheritors of this philosophy, flushed with the seeming invincibility of their ideology and noting the degree to which some in the working class have adopted their beliefs and granted them political support, triumphantly declare: ‘we are all conservatives now.’

On the other side, those who have traditionally opposed market forces, always lukewarm and piecemeal in their opposition, have crumpled before the onslaught of global capital and now themselves look to ‘free enterprise’ to arrange society’s affairs and to solve society’s problems.

Where once their ranks were full of workers with experience in industrial struggle, workers who knew that their power lay in solidarity and collective action and were willing to use that power in defence of their rights, workers who understood that they were a distinct class whose interests and destiny were antagonistic to the interests and fortunes of employers and property owners, now they are careerists who share the dominant view of our times which holds that discord is not to be found in different class interests but in the corruption of individuals.

Discord follows misguided regulation by a government, failed interference in the market or corruption. Modern problems are the problems of individuals — problems of corruption or collusion by individuals to benefit themselves through either state intervention on their behalf or by monopoly activity of government owned corporations. The solution is to end worker collusion of unions, privatise government enterprises and limit the public sector.

A clear example of ‘individual’ failure in modern economics is unemployment. The cause is seen as either corrupt business management or, more likely, failure of the individual unemployed person. The unemployed are failed individuals. They do not seize the opportunities offered by the market.

“Get your lawnmower, go out and mow lawns.”

Peter Costello, Australian Treasurer,
Words of advice to the unemployed,
said in the Australian parliament

When it is difficult to pin societal problems down to individuals they are attributed to races, religions or failed nations. These groups interfere with the market in the same way as individuals. They fail to seize opportunities offered by the market because they are limited by old or primitive cultural practices, eg tribalism.

It is ‘outdated practices’ that limits human progress not the expropriation and accumulation of wealth by the few. The European imperialist plunder of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries and its modern U.S. equivalent did not create discord but harmony. Some call it ‘liberation’, the coming of ‘freedom’. This conquest smashes the barriers to human progress by the expansion of global markets.

So also with workers in their industries, they should not collude or be allowed to form common cause with their comrades. They should ignore them. If necessary they should compete with them. The workers will advance as individuals.

These views currently dominate our society. Few question this logic. It is logic sharply distinct from class analysis. Class analysis holds that the market, supported by state power, acts in the interest of one class, the owners of property, to the detriment of the working class.

Should those who live by their labours accept the dominant view?

This question caused the collective of LeftPress to write a book centred on an example of workers ‘resisting progress’ – the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). On the surface a battle over the number of shipping containers that can be moved every hour through an Australian port may not appear momentous but it was more than this. It was an issue embroiled in the rights of workers to have a say over their employment conditions and this right to be expressed by an organised union.

Was the MUA dispute of 1998 a continuation of the workers’ right to challenge, by collusion in unions, a system of exploitation or was it a misguided challenge to human progress?

The MUA and its predecessors the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) and the Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA) were among the most powerful and militant unions in Australia during the period 1950 to 1998. Their members had achieved better wages than most other labourers. By 1998 its membership, reflecting increasing mechanisation of work on the waterfront, had become relatively small. It retained, by dominant membership among waterfront workers, considerable influence over the work practices in the maritime industries. Maritime companies, recognising a prevailing decline of workers’ union power in the late nineties, in collusion with government, sought to change union influence and increase their profits.

The dispute was triggered by an employer lockout. It was viewed by other Australian workers as symbolic. Some saw it as a last stand of strong unionism. For this reason they gave waterfront workers significant support but for many reasons active participation in the dispute was low. Underlying this were onerous legislative secondary boycott provisions. Few unions mustered strike action in support, even though the employer action was recognised as a challenge to the right of all unions to organise. Preference was given to public protests. In the state of Victoria these made an impact. Overall industrial and political action by unions were a public focus to a reliance on legal challenges through the courts.

This reflected an acceptance by union leaders that workers’ class consciousness was limited or at low ebb.

As a result the dispute, though highly focussed, was small. It did not expand into generalised action or even to other firms in the Maritime industry. Major terminal operators, other than the main protagonist, Patricks, continued operations throughout the dispute.

This containment meant that the dispute did not revive unionism as many had hoped. It did not provide any momentum for political success for the Australian Labor Party.

It could be said the workers shouted but later became quiet. Today in Australia this is how they remain.

‘The workers are quiet.’

LeftPress Collective

12 November 2007

5 thoughts on “Workers Political Organisation

  1. One of these is not like the other:

    Direct action is:

    (a) putting a whole lot of cutlery away because your housemates are not doing the dishes often enough; or

    (b) blocking coal trains to an export terminal; or

    (c) brewing your own beer instead of complaining about the price of a pint at the pub; or

    (d) planting a guerrilla garden; or

    (e) “As a small Marxist propaganda party facing the difficult task of rebuilding in a period of protracted downturn in working class struggle, we need to return to Lenin’s conception of building the party around the paper. Direct Action is our primary outreach, campaigning, recruitment and educational tool.”

    this is in response to the RSP split from DSP calling their paper “Direct Action” !
    As well as dropping using the IWW paper title they could perhaps rename themselves the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) or the
    Revolutionary Socialist Venezuela Party (RSVP) which may prove popular with the masses maaaate!

  2. CSR Protest: Why Union Solidarity organises assemblies

    Friday 25th July 2008 saw 100 Union Solidarity activists from the Western suburbs shut down the CSR Construction site, Lyell St Yarraville.

    Workers and their unions on this site have a range of longstanding issues.

    However Union Solidarity, as friends know, is less concerned with the issues than we are with the use of undemocratic laws against workers and their unions in the righteous pursuit of their interests.

    It is this central point around which Union Solidarity was formed and continues to protest: union activities are not criminal as current industrial law paints them, but are simply designed to insure that workers have the same rights as employer organisations in the pursuit of their interests.

    read more:

  3. Campesina “International day of Peasant’s Struggles”. This day commemorates the slaughter by the Brazilian police of 19 peasants of the “landless” movement while they mobilized to get access to some land. 13 years later, the struggle for recognition of peasant rights remains a priority of La via Campesina.

    The current crises (of finance, climate, energy, food and biodiversity) have highlighted the responsibility, fragility and absurdity of the liberal economic system.

    From MST(Brazil Landless Workers Movement)

    …“The 17th of April is already considered by Via Campesina as the International Day of the Peasant Struggle. In recent years, we saw in the whole world and especially here in Brazil, an offensive against the campesinos/as, a wave of the criminalisation of their organisations and their militants. Sectors of the judicial power, allied with the conservative State governments, have taken various initiatives with these objectives. Happily, there was an immediate reaction in Brazilian society and at the international level which inhibited their continuation. However, these conservative segments, using the apparatus of the State, continue to be active and disposed to criminalising the social movements in the rural areas.
    So, we (MST) are suggesting that there should be realised demonstrations at the Brazilian Embassies, Central Places and others, with as many participants as possible, and always related to the 25 years of the MST.”…

    Some Background:
    Why April 17?
    The massacre of Eldorado de Carajás
    Because they had been evicted from their land more than two years earlier and because all their attempts to get the right to settle down on an unproductive land had failed, around 1,500 landless peasants and their families, members of MST, the Brazil’s Landless Peasants Movement, decided to march to the state capital of Pará, to present their demands.
    The march stopped on the highway at Eldorado de Carajás, as pregnant women and children were tired and needed to rest.

    At about 4pm on 17 April 1996, 68 military police from the Paraupebas Platoon arrived and at 4.30pm 87 police arrived from the other direction of Marabá. The peasants were then caught between two platoons of police. After firing tear-gas, the police raised their machine guns to body level and began firing into the crowd. The crowd dispersed as people began to realise they were being shot at with live ammunition.

    The first to fall and die was Amâncio Dos Santos Silva, known as “Surdo-Mudo” (“deaf-mute”). Unable to hear the shots, he took longer than the others to understand what was happening.

    In total, 19 peasants were killed, 69 were severely injured. Among the victims, at least 10 of the peasants were extrajudicially executed after they had been overpowered. Others, although killed from a distance, were shot in the head or thorax.

    More information:

    ¡Únete al Día Internacional de la Lucha Campesina!
    17 de Abril de 2009
    Y Apoya la Declaración de los Derechos de las Campesinas y de los Campesinos!

  4. Viola Wilkins says:

    “The only difference is that you are hired slaves instead of block slaves”
    Emma Goldman denouncing wage slavery.

    Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person is dependent for a livelihood on the wages earned, especially if the dependency is total and immediate.
    The term is used to draw an analogy between slavery and some or all forms of wage labor. Some uses of the term refer to various forms of unfree labour, such as peonage.

    More controversially, others point to the similarities between owning and employing a person, and extend the term to cover a wide range of employment relationships in a hierarchical social environment with limited aspects of wage job-related choices (e.g. working for a boss under threat of starvation, poverty or social stigma). The term is often used by anti-capitalists (socialists, anarchists, and other groups), to express disapproval of a condition where a person feels compelled to work for a wage.

    Similarities between wage labor and slavery were articulated at least as early as Cicero. These comparisons were elaborated by subsequent thinkers, such as Proudhon and Marx, particularly with the advent of the industrial revolution. Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of Negro slavery also invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.

    The use of the term wage slave by labor organizations, perhaps originates from the labor protests of the Lowell Mill Girls in 1836. The imagery of wage slavery was widely used by labor organizations during the mid-19th century, but was gradually replaced by the more pragmatic term “wage work” towards the end of the 19th century.

    “When you sell your product, you retain your person. But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress. Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism [i.e. corporate capitalism] source:

    QUESTION: Which organisation still educates & organises for working class emancipation: to “abolish wage-slavery” ?

    ANSWER: The Industrial Workers of the World

    Let oppression shrug her shoulders,
    And a haughty tyrant frown,
    And little upstart Ignorance,
    In mockery look down.
    Yet I value not the feeble threats
    Of Tories in disguise,
    While the flag of Independence
    O’er our noble nation flies.

    In the 1836 strike, this theme returned in a protest song:

    Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I
    Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?
    Oh! I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave,
    For I’m so fond of liberty,
    That I cannot be a slave.


  5. Viola Wilkins says:

    Statement of Iranian Workers on Occasion of May Day Event in Tehran

    Ali Moazzami Location: iran, tehran Contact email:

    May 1st is workers’ international day of solidarity, during which workers across the world mobilize to emancipate from hardships of capitalist system, and express their desire to establish a world free of oppression and exploitation.

    This year we celebrate May 1st while the capitalist order is engulfed in an immense quagmire of economic crisis, and struggling very hard to preserve itself.

    The unfolding of this great economic crisis, and the capitalist states’ helplessness in controlling of it and unloading of the burden of crisis onto back of workers all over the world, more than ever demonstrates the utter rottenness of this system following the collapse of the Eastern Block and any claims of “the end of history”; this crisis once again proves the necessity of establishing a new world free of capitalist inhumane relations, as the only path out of crisis for workers and civilized humanity.

    Contrary to management excuses and capitalist press’ propaganda, as far as Iran is concerned, this crisis and its destructive effects, still has not cast its disastrous shadow over daily lives of workers in Iran. In our opinion most hardships and sufferings which we face on a daily basis, more than any other factor, is a result of the economic and social dominance and operations of the ruling capitalist system in Iran.

    Severely low wages, mass lay-offs and expulsions, non-payment of wages for millions of workers, enforcement of temporary work contracts, control of workers’ lives by sub-contracting firms and imposing a new form of slavery through blank-signed contracts, arrest and incarceration of workers, repression of workers’ protests and organizations, carrying out of medieval sentences such as flogging workers, these miseries and violations of workers’ rights did not begin in Iran by the current global economic crisis. Such oppressive conditions have gone on for years and every year their extent and depth has increased.

    We workers in confronting these extremely inhumane conditions shall not remain silent, and will not allow our lives to be destroyed any further. We are the original producers of all wealth and riches in the society, and consider it our most basic right to live in peace and comfort according to the highest standard of today’s humanity.

    Having a decent human life is one of our most basic rights, and in order to fulfill this goal we shall remove all obstacles through creation of autonomous organizations independent of government and employers, and by relying on our own power of solidarity.

    Therefore, today, we, workers united as one, put forth the resolution below as our minimum demands and seek their immediate implementation.

    1- Guaranteed job security for all workers and abolition of temporary-contracts, blank-signed contracts and all new application forms for employment contracts.

    2- In our opinion the minimum wages legislated by the Supreme Labour Council is nothing but imposition of gradual death on working class families. We adamantly demand an immediate increase in minimum wages, based on workers’ own estimates expressed through workers’ real representatives and their independent workers’ organizations.

    3- The right to form independent workers’ organizations, strike, protest, assembly, and freedom of speech are all part of our inalienable rights. They should be recognized unconditionally as such.

    4- Workers unpaid wages shall be immediately paid. Any non-payment of wages shall constitute a criminal act and litigated. Workers shall be compensated for any damages due to non-payment of wages.

    5- The expulsion or lay-off of workers under any pretext must be stopped, and all who have been unemployed or have reached the minimum age of employment and are prepared to work, shall receive unemployment insurance benefits, – compatible with decent living standards, until the time of employment.

    6- We demand full equality of women and men in all spheres of social and economic life. All discriminatory laws shall be abolished.

    7- All retirees should enjoy a comfortable life free of economic worries. We strongly condemn any bias or prejudice in paying the retirees pensions and benefits.

    8- We strongly support all demands of teachers, as intellectual workers, nurses and other toiling sectors of society. We consider them as are our allies, and call for the fulfillment of their demands. We demand annulment of Mr.Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence.

    9- Since seasonal and construction workers are denied any and all social benefits, we fully support all their demands to obtain such benefits.

    10- The capitalist system is the source of child labour. All children regardless of their parent’s social and economic standing: their gender, national, ethnic or religious background shall enjoy all educational, welfare and medical benefits.

    11- We demand release of all incarcerated workers, including Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, and an end to persecution of labour activists and withdrawal of all sentences against them.

    12- We fully support all freedom and equality seeking movements, such as students’ and women’s movements. Their arrests, trials and incarcerations are strongly condemned.

    13- We are part of the global working class, and as such condemn any expulsion and exploitation of Afghan or other migrant workers in Iran .

    14- We appreciate the international support towards workers’ struggles in Iran and express our adamant support for all protests and struggles of workers throughout the world; we consider ourselves their allies. We more than ever before emphasize on international solidarity of working class as the path to liberation from the hardships of the capitalist system.

    15- May 1st shall be recognized as an official holiday and instituted in the official national calendar as such. All limitations and restrictions for the commemoration of The May Day shall be abolished.



    May 1st, 2009 (Ordibehest 11, 1388)

    The May Day Organizing Committee

    – The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company
    – The Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company
    – The Free Union of Workers in Iran
    – The Founding Committee of the Syndicate of Building ‘s Painters and Decoration’s Workers
    – The Center for Workers’ Rights in Iran
    – The Collaborative Council of Labour Organizations and Activists
    – The Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations
    – The Committee to Pursue the Establishment of Free Workers’ Organizations
    – The Women’s Council
    -A Group of Worker Activists

    * Translated by the IASWI. (see the original statement in Farsi

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