Bob Gould, 2006

One case of innumeracy, another of selective amnesia

Source: Ozleft, March 6, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

The new leadership of the DSP is having real problems trying to make reality fit its arbitrary schemas. Last Thursday night there was a successful and vocal official union demonstration against Howard’s industrial policies, focussed on the Howard 10th anniversary hoopla at the Westin Hotel.

On Friday night there was a much smaller but rather militant demonstration against Howard organised mainly by the Socialist Party in Melbourne. I wrote a short piece describing the Sydney demonstration for Ozleft when I got back from the demonstration on Thursday night, and this account went up on the web that evening.

There was an immediate response from the new DSP general scretary Peter Boyle, attacking my figures for the demonstration as dodgy and asserting, from who knows where, that there were at most 400 and probably only 300 at the event. Pretty strange that Boyle’s only apparent interest in the event is to attack my counting, and downplay its size.

The Boyleites’ visceral sectarianism towards the official trade union movement in NSW is obviously the issue here.

Well, just so Boyle can understand how I arrived at my figure, I will describe my procedure. I worked my way through the rally in Martin Place dividing it into small sections, and counting them, at about 6.30pm, at the height of the rally, and got a figure of between 700 and 800. As people were still arriving even at that stage (although others were leaving as well), I added a couple of hundred for the latecomers.

When the rally marched around the corner into Pitt Street, quite a few left, partly because it was too crowded on the pavement (DSP supremo Boyle himself was one of the very latecomers who I saw at the very end of the demonstration. It appears to me that Boyle is substituting his very limited perceptions at the end of the rally for the whole event, for the narrowest sectarian purposes.)

Unfortunately for Boyle’s slanted angle, even the reactionary News Limited tabloid, The Telegraph, which is hardly likely to overstate the size of demonstrations, estimated the attendance at 750 in its Friday edition.

Out of interest in how Green Left Weekly would report the demonstration, and the one in Melbourne, I clicked on the report of the demonstration on the Green Left website on Sunday night. Curiously, this particular article isn’t accessible because a photograph of the event is superimposed over the article. It’s not entirely clear to me whether this is a technical screw-up resulting from turnover among DSP fulltimers precipitated by Boyle’s coup, or whether it’s a short-term solution to some last-minute need to change the text of the written article. I await the paper copy of Green Left with a certain curiosity.

The latest issue of Green Left has an article by Dave Holmes from Melbourne, making the correct point that the so-called renewal push by the ALP right wing in preselection ballots is an attempted shift to the right. This article, however, is shot through with the DSP’s dead-end sectarianism in these matters. It doesn’t call for any solidarity with the bulk of the Victorian Labor left in resisting this push. It merely repeats the Boyleites’ moralising mantra to the effect that this development further proves that Laborism is no good. Who this moralising is directed at isn’t entirely clear. In practice it can only be to the people around the DSP.

When I was a young bloke coming into left wing politics I used to read the Stalinist Tribune, Jack Lang’s newspaper The Century, and the Groupers’ newspaper News Weekly. All of these papers from their various points of view used to cover in considerable detail the ebb and flow of factional battles in the whole of the labour movement, the trade unions and the ALP.

The striking thing about treatment of labour movement matters in Green Left Weekly is that Holmes’s article tells almost nothing of what is actually happening in the labour movement. The article, ostensibly about the vexed ALP preselections in Victoria doesn’t mention, for instance, that the “militant trade union current”, the existence of which in the Boyleite cosmology is a precursor to a break from Labor, is in fact divided in all directions in these preselections.

The construction, metalworkers and textile unions are solidly entrenched on the left, but the electricians and plumbers union, led by Dean Mighell who a couple of years ago briefly left the ALP to join the Greens, is a left sub-faction in a bloc with the right in this round of preselections.

The deal is that Mighell’s sub-group gets a federal seat and a couple of state seats. It’s yet to be tested whether the Mighell group’s part of the deal will actually stand up. The Victorian right has a certain history of double-crossing bloc partners in this kind of situation.

As part of this arrangement, Dean Mighell has been making very public statements in support of Bill Shorten personally, as part of a “process of renewal”. The supporters of the DSP, who are rather removed from all this chop-chop in the labour movement, get no information at all about any of these contradictions, in Dave Holmes’s bland, ultra-sectarian, ridiculously DSP-centric article.

The problem with the DSP’s approach isn’t that a broad militant union current doesn’t exist. In a sense it certainly does exist. It is however, much broader than the DSP’s schema, which confines the militant union current to Victoria and Western Australia. It also includes militant unions in other states.

The fact that Unions NSW called a demonstration against Howard, and the Victorian Unions didn’t, doesn’t fit the Boyleites’ schema either. One reason could be that the assorted trade union official players in the machinations in the Victorian ALP are too focussed on this chop-chop to organise and keep control of an official demonstration against Howard.

All of this underlines the general point that the Boyleites’ schema about the heterogeneous militant trade union current being a kind of precursor to a mass break from Laborism towards a new formation led essentially led by the DSP is a total fantasy.

This fantasy exists only in the minds of the Boyleites. Or to put it another way, it is a triumph of hope over empirical investigation. The small and divided forces of revolutionary socialism need at this point in Australia to be finding a way into the existing mass movement, which at this stage is focussed almost entirely on the Labor Party, the trade unions and the Greens. It’s these objective circumstances that dictate the necessity of the whole of the far left giving top priority to the strategy of the united front.