Re Green Left Weekly on WA union elections

Peter Boyle peterb at
Wed Aug 13 18:35:48 MDT 2003

A few points in response to Bob Gould's post about the Green
Left article on the elections in the WA Electrical Trade
Union (part of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing
Union - CEPU) :

1. DSP member Anthony Benbow is part of the ETU Recharge
ticket in the WA CEPU/ETU elections (he stood unopposed as a
member of the state council, which elects the state
executive). The DSP decided to join this ticket (which
comprises some officials and organisers who were part of
Bill Game's team in the previous election) because we think
it offers a better leadership for that union, not because of
any alliance with Kevin Reynolds or the WA CFMEU. Benbow has
spent his entire working life in the electronics industry,
has been active in the union for years and has won the
respect of other militants in the union. Bob may not agree
with this judgement but we made it and will take
responsibility for it.

2. Socialist Alliance leader Chris Cain and the MUA Rank &
File team which recently won two out of three positions in
the WA MUA leadership are not taking sides in this WA CEPU
election. Bob Gould "joining the dots" here is mistaken, and
Bob Gould should not spread this misinformation as it will
used by the anti-militant forces.

3. Both Bill Game and Les McLaughlin (ETU Recharge leader)
are left trade unionists, and the article in Green Left
Weekly should have made this clear. I think this was a
mistake that ought to be addressed in Green Left Weekly.
Both Game and Mc Laughlin have good positions on a range of
political and social issues but we believe that the ETU
Recharge ticket offers the better leadership for the union.

4. The DSP does not support various militant union
leaderships just because they are "a bit kinder to the DSP
and the Socialist Alliance" but because we think they are
part of a real, if minority, militant current in the
Australian trade union movement. I totally disagree that the
differences between the Victorian and NSW leadership of the
CFMEU are "not that great". Most militant unionists would
find this assessment of Gould’s laughable.

5. Contrary to Gould’s post, Green Left Weekly registered
unconditional support for Sutton in the recent attack by the
bourgeois press for his alleged "thuggishness" on the Morris
McMahon picketline. See:


6. At the same time, the DSP (along with militants in the
CFMEU and other unions) don’t resile from political
criticism of Sutton and other leaders of the CFMEU in NSW.
Sutton bears some responsibility for an even more serious
attack on the CFMEU militants, in the form of the
union-bashing Cole Royal Commission that was established by
the Howard Liberal-National federal government to attack the
CFMEU, which is one of the strongest unions in Australia
today, and to generate support for the next round of
anti-union legislation. Sutton, in trying to defeat his
political opponents in the union, had for police inquiries
into alleged corruption and thuggery in the union. The
Howard government said thank you for this opening, and
obliged with the Cole Royal Commission.  The Comission first
went for the more militant Victorian and WA building
divisions but then Sutton and the NSW crew also came under
attack. The recent media campaign to brand Sutton a “thug”
is just the latest sorry development in this saga.


Bob Gould wrote later in his post:

>>Over the last year, a rather protracted discussion has
proceeded between me and Peter Boyle and other DSPers, on
the issue of whether the concept of the predominance of an
aristocracy of labor in advanced capitalist countries, is a
useful and valid current political concept. I argued that it
isn't. Boyle et al argued that it is.


>> The methodological question arises: are the membership of
the ETU and EEPTU in Western Australia, electricians and
plumbers, in any meaningful way, significant parts of a
labor aristocracy, and if they are, how does this affect
industrial and union strategy in the ETU? >>

I'd urge readers to re-read those references. I think it is
clear that the DSP agrees with Lenin that there was a social
base for the persistent opportunism in the working class
movement in the imperialist countries in the better paid and
more secure sections of the working class, the "labour
aristocracy". Perhaps more sophisticated analysis can be
made about the material basis for sustained and entrenched
opportunism in the labour movements in the imperialist
countries, but as Marxists we should acknowldege that any
sustained political phenomenon has a social base. It is
idealistic nonsense to look at the politics of the labour
movements in the exploiter countries purely in terms of the

But does this mean that all better off workers are
opportunist and class collaborationist in outlook? Obviously

What we have here from Bob Gould is a very old - and tired -
argument against Lenin’s theory of labour aristocracy. First
it the idea is reduced to a deterministic formula, then it
is rebutted by proving that some of the better off and more
secure workers have been organised in militant unions.
That's weak.

As Bob Gould has pointed out before DSP and the Socialist
Alliance members work with and include militants in the MUA
(though while wharfies pay rates are relatively high, more
and more wharfies are casualised and sometimes only get a
day or two of work a week). In the ETU, you also have a
range of conditions in terms of pay and security (the
boundaries of the labour aristocracy are shifting especially
in the decades of neo-liberal attacks, and this has some
bearing on which sections of the MUA the militants rely on
for support, for instance). Anyway, the point is that DSP
and Socialist Alliance members are active in these unions
which have won better conditions through years of struggle.
Bob thinks there is some contradiction for us (or Lenin)
here but there is none.

Peter Boyle

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