Workers Liberty's assessment of Australian Socialist Alliance
peterb at dsp.org.au
Mon Dec 16 16:31:40 MST 2002
Socialist Alliance in review
The long and winding road
Workers Liberty No. 28 Summer 2002/03
Riki Lane, Socialist Alliance Co-Convenor
>From tentative beginnings, Socialist Alliance is finding its
feet and developing a clear sense of purpose and of its
future. This may seem a surprising statement given recent
ructions. However, if you look beyond the surface, it is
clear how far we have come. Elections
In Victoria, many more comrades were actively involved in
the recent State election campaign than in previous ones.
This is true both for the members of affiliated groups and
for independent members. Meetings and functions are
increasingly well attended. There were forty participants at
the Trade Union Solidarity Committee meeting. Thirty
attended a Brunswick campaign launch.
Our vote of between 1.1% and 2.6% showed improvement from
the vote we got in the federal election. It was a
particularly difficult election to get votes, given the
landslides to Labor and the Greens. SA is now on the map as
a recognised, but minor, electoral party. Steve Jolly for
the Socialist Party in Richmond saw his vote collapse from
12% to 2%.
The Greens' impressive vote, over 20% in four electorates,
indicates a major shift to the left. Labor's huge win, and
its unprecedented control of the Upper House, mean that it
has no excuses. The unions and the whole labour movement
will put major demands on the government for serious reform
- firstly, for legislation knocked back by the Liberals,
such as on industrial manslaughter (Premier Bracks has
already announced that he will not proceed with this) and
for proportional representation in the upper house.
The Greens are cementing their position as both the
realistic electoral left alternative to the ALP and as the
"middle party" between the ALP and the Liberals. They have
taken over that latter role from the Democrats, while having
much more credibility in campaigns and on rallies than the
Democrats ever did.
Workers' Liberty gives union work first priority, because we
see Marxism as about working-class power and the unions as
the basic organisations of the workers. Unions may not be
the best places to recruit quickly, although SA has vastly
more potential than any of its affiliates to attract
unionists. However, unions are where we have to build strong
roots if we are to build a working-class party. Independent
SA union activists like Chris Cain and Simon Millar have
given a huge boost to SA's profile, activity and morale.
union work more attention than they have for a long time.
This is a very positive development - but it has to be kept
up as an ongoing orientation, not a passing phase. Simon
Millar's paper on the TU Solidarity Committee in Melbourne
(reprinted elsewhere in this issue) outlines some of the
possibilities. This work will involve both practical
questions of how to intervene in particular unions and
discussion of theoretical issues in a concrete context.
Recent anti-war rallies have seen much better coordination
and intervention by SA. Stalls, joint contingents, banners,
posters - SA has a large and visible presence in Melbourne
and Sydney and many other cities. SA branches have taken the
lead in establishing local anti-war committees and
organising local actions.
There is a lot of unevenness. Some branches are quite
inactive, while others are lively. This also relates to the
attitudes of local affiliates' branches. Where they are less
developed - e.g. the DSP in Adelaide, or unenthusiastic
about SA, e.g. the ISO in Brisbane - the local SA branches
>From the start there have been different conceptions - the
ISO's minimalist electoral approach of a "united front of a
special type", the DSP's hope to have a multi-tendency
socialist party in which they would be the dominant force.
These conceptions still have to be debated through, but
there has been a lot of movement.
WL welcomed the DSP's proposal to restructure itself as a
tendency in SA and commit its resources to building SA.
However, we knew that proposal was putting the
organisational cart before the political horse and would not
be acceptable to most other affiliates - especially the ISO.
The ISO's subsequent ultimatum, and the DSP's backing off,
actually gives us a good base from which to really develop
joint work and debate out a proper basis for unity.
The National Executive of the Socialist Alliance recently
unanimously adopted the following points, based on an ISO
proposal, as the basis for joint work:
"· An open-ended discussion about the nature of the
Alliance, and around key political questions like the nature
of reformism, the nature of the trade union bureaucracy,
etc. This process should lead up to the annual conference in
May, but not end there."
Strengthening union collaboration
What has been achieved to date in the NTEU could be
replicated in the CPSU, another union where the Alliance has
a relatively large membership. We should investigate in
which other unions, from state to state, caucuses would be
useful. We should also encourage cross-union committees like
the Alliance Solidarity Committee in Melbourne. We should
organise another round of union seminars across the country.
We should strengthen our collaboration in campaign work, in
particular, anti-war and refugee rights' campaigns.
Raising the Alliance profile by campaigning under its banner
where we can - for instance, the Alliance is an excellent
vehicle for initiating or building protests against the
recent ASIO raids on Muslim families. Raising the Alliance
profile more regularly and thoroughly on all rallies and at
other public events, using placards, leaflets, etc. The ISO
understands that this would involve making greater resources
available than at present. Holding Alliance public meetings
on key topics as broad platforms of the left, and organising
debate across the left on contentious issues.
This represents a major step forward from the ISO's initial
conceptions - the SA can act as a major vehicle for
discussion and debate amongst the left, and also be an
activist party where union and campaign work can be
Towards the May National Conference
In the lead up to the May 2003 Socialist Alliance National
Conference, we can strengthen our joint work and start to
debate out some of the big issues. The conference itself
should set out a path towards a united multi-tendency party,
setting out markers that need to be achieved. Some of these
could include: reaching agreement on some central issues of
how to approach the labour movement; properly functioning
branches that actively involve the affiliates and
independents; attracting new layers of activists; organised
and regular interventions in a number of unions;
establishing a regular publication that SA can actually
Both before and after May, we should aim to draw in other
activists such as militant unionists, solidarity activists,
and community activists. We should also seek to attract new
affiliates such as ethnic left groups, Left Press in
Brisbane, other independent groups of leftists etc and,
despite their hostility, Socialist Alternative and the
In a sense, it is a bit like the European Union - we need to
both deepen and broaden the Alliance through increasing our
joint work and programmatic agreement and through attracting
SA has established an important body of common experience.
If we can show the labour movement that the revolutionary
left can work together and start to attract a wider range of
forces, we can make a serious contribution to building a
mass class struggle workers' party.
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