Exchange with Tom O'Lincoln on The prestige of the Working class
g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Tue May 8 17:21:15 MDT 2001
Tom O'Lincoln and I have had an exchange of lists on this topic. He has
agreed that I should post it.
>Date: Wed, 09 May 2001 09:00:26 +1000
>From: "O'Lincoln, Tom"
>Subject: RE: further
>To: "'Gary Maclennan'" <g.maclennan at qut.edu.au>
> >I consider us reconciled.
>This is wonderful news.
> >my work load has exploded.
>Funny... the same thing's happening to me. Couldn't be the dynamic of
>capitalism at work, could it? :-)
> >Why not post this to the list?
>A slightly edited version of my two messages is pasted in below. You'll need
>to post it (I'm not subscribed) -- and that will also tell everyone we're
>not enemies any more. - Tom
>A few thoughts in response to your reply to Greg:
> >my posts are born of an honest despair.
>Don't blame you. I think the mismatch between what we're up against, and
>what we've got going for us, is gigantic. One reason the left groups engage
>in so much "official optimism" is that this is very scary to face up to.
>Then again, we have to keep going somehow...
> >look at them. In the name of jesus yesterday they marched through Brisbane
>behind some of the greatest shonks to ever disgrace the streets of any
>Yes the union leaders are a disgrace. But then other social classes rally
>behind even worse leaders, eg John Howard, Meg Lees, Pauline Hanson. At
>least workers maintain large organisations that resist the encroachments of
>capitalism, and periodically they go on strike.
> >You seem to think that the working class are too shrewd to
>follow bad leaders. But Greg this is simply wrong. They have followed them
>and have been following them for a good few decades.
>Absolutely. But have we really offered them a convincing alternative?
>Historically speaking, the left told them Russia was a workers' paradise,
>then served up the Gulag. Another section of the left told them they could
>get socialism through parliament, then kicked them in the teeth. Those of us
>who avoided these errors only succeeded in building little sects that were
>at best too ingrown and boring to be attractive to workers, and at worst ...
>Speaking of offering alternatives:
> >A group of us sat down and blocked the entrance
>to the power station. Around us were a large number of workers. They
>stood watching us dumbly.
>I don't know all the circumstances of course. But sitting down is a symbolic
>protest action. (They can drive right over us if they want to -- and they
>did it at S11.) So is the conventional form of union picketing. It's not
>automatically clear why rank and file workers should switch to your kind of
>symbolism. Also in my experience, workers are legitimately wary of outsiders
>trying to set the pace in tactics, given those outsiders don't have to live
>with the consequences. OK you got arrested, but for you that's part of life
>on the left. For them it is a huge psychological thing. But anyway what I
>mean is, they have to live with the outcome of the strike and we don't, not
> >a trade union official called out, "That's it. we are out of here." and
>class turned round and shuffled off after him.
>Well, he was elected, and you weren't. Why shouldn't they follow him and not
>you? To us it seems self-evident, but I think we on the left have to learn
>to see things through the eyes of other people.
> >Inspired by the demonstrations in
>Melbourne we old Lefties rallied once more.
>But the Melbourne action was carried out by workers, led by trade union
>officials. From all accounts it was frightening facing all those cops, but
>everyone held their ground. Not cowardly at all.
> >most of the workers I spoke to agreed with the tactics of their leaders.
>It is simply
>wishful nonsense to portray them as the giant being held back by their evil
>Yes I agree. Union officials reflect the consciousness of the working class
>as a whole. The problem though is that between 1975 and 1983, almost every
>time groups of militants tried to break through, they were defeated
>(Australian examples: 1975 constitutional crisis, 1976 Medicare strikes,
>1977 Latrobe Valley, Queensland general strike). This cumulative experience
>broke the militant rank and file networks. Militants today are far more
>isolated, and often feel as bitter as you. Since then workers have been hit
>by waves of downsizing in key industries. This is hard to withstand.
> >The point is where does the appalling leadership of the class come from? I
>say from the class and they reflect the actual political consciousness of
>the class. Dialectics would teach us that this could change. The class
>could further degenerate or could eventually turn and fight.
>I agree entirely, both are possible.
> >Carroll's solution is to call everyone working class and in one way he is
>But he overstates it. I'd say the working class is about 65-70% (*), which
>leaves a big middle class. Students are "future workers" but their current
>conditions are not proletarian; and students are the left's main recruiting
> >The organised working class are led by appalling people
>and the organised working class show little or no interest in doing
>anything about this.
>Not really true. Like the general electorate, they are quite able to vote
>out bad leaders. They did it down here in the metal trades -- but then the
>new fake-left leaders were the same as the old. The interest is there.
>What's missing is the confidence to act on the ground.
> >We need an honest appraisal of where the class is.
>Yes. It has suffered historic defeats in the west since the seventies, and
>historic defeats have huge consquences for consciousness and confidence. On
>the other hand the working class is international, and there are major
>things stirring in newly industrialising countries. Indonesian labour has
>huge weaknesses, but there's no shortage of courage.
>Down here at M1 the workers came out in force, and eventually mixed well
>with the young anarchist types. I still think (as someone said) if there is
>hope, it lies with the proles.
>(* This is our estimate for Australia, made in Diane Fieldes chapter in the
>book "Class and Class Conflict in Australia").
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