[Marxism] Re: Phil Ferguson and free trade

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Wed Feb 4 01:06:28 MST 2004

A few comments and questions on protectionism

1. Listers outside Australia won't know much if anything about Michelle
O'Neil. I only know her slightly, but she did help me build a solidarity
effort linking up Australian and Indonesian trade unionists, and there is
no doubt she is one of the most impressive left union officials around. No
way she's a racist. That said, she is still a union official, and therefore
subject to certain pressures. More specifically, she represents the Textile
Clothing and Footwear union. This union's survival is threatened by the
decline of the TCF industry, and in real life as we know it today, it would
be very surprising if anyone leading such a union didn't fight to stop
tariff cuts. Which is not to say I support the motion she moved - see

2. I agree with Nick that both imposing and also removing tarriffs are
capitalist strategies, and that we are not FOR tarriff cuts per se.
(Ironically, I once made this point in print and was attacked for it by the
DSP. Isn't life funny.) But of  course, that's in the abstract. When the
issue is posed concretely, our responses can be quite different. If workers
in a plant are threatened with the sack due to a plant closure, and they
strike against the boss and raise the demand for tariffs, I would support
the strike - but argue with the workers about the virtues of tariffs.

3. On the other hand, typically union calls for protectionism don't connect
to strikes, and for very good reason: they usually want to form some kind
of united front with the bosses. I remember very well how the TCF unions
held a mass rally about this in the 1990s, and invited Victorian Premier
Jeff Kennett to address the crowd. Kennett was a notorious union-basher.

3. The current situation is different again; it's hot air at a Labor Party
conference. Still, if a left union official uses her limited opportunities
to speak at a Labor Party conference to agitate for protectionism, I think
that's a bad mistake. Whatever the specific features of her stand as
compared to other union officials, the impact will be similar in practice -
it presses all the usual nationalist (and potentially racist) buttons.
That's my instinctive reaction.

4. But I don't know what is specific to Michelle's stand, because Bob
didn't actually tell us, and when I clicked on Nick's link I couldn't get
to his article. Could you please tell us what is different about Michelle
O'Neil's position? 

5. And by the way, I can't work out what aspects of Lenin on imperialism
Bob thinks I agree with him on, so Bob perhaps you could explain.

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