Bob Gould, 2008

Pseudo-leftists join the anti-union chorus

Source: Ozleft, February 29, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Michael Berrell keeps asking his idiot question, on the Green Left discussion list, demanding some kind statement from me as to whether members of the Labor Party should campaign for the expulsion of Treasurer Mick Costa and Premier Morris Iemma if they don’t carry out policy.

This is humbug and pure demagogy from Berrell, who makes no secret of his sympathy for the right-wing, twilight zone, ex-Trotskyists of the World Socialist Web Site. The WSWS says people in the trade unions and the Labor Party campaigning to defeat the electricity privatisation are in some secret way fighting to defend it.

Berrell’s oh-so-leftist contribution to the struggle against electricity privatisation is to demand that we move more or less immediately to demand the expulsion of Costa and the premier. At this stage of the battle, that pseudo-demand from Berrell is a diversion and a disruption, insofar as anyone takes any notice of a chameleon who support the twilight zone ex-Trotskyists at the same time as distancing himself from them a bit.

The struggle at this stage is to build a campaign involving the labour movement, the trade union movement, the Labor Party and the community with the aim of defeating the privatisation proposals at the coming Labor Party conference. If we defeat the proposals, which we possibly will, the question of how to enforce the will of conference then arises. At that point there may be some relevance to the Queensland example that Berrell cites.

To overload the current battle with some flamboyant proposal for the expulsion of the premier and treasurer would be helping to do the bidding of Costa and Iemma for them. They would use loose talk of that sort to distract attention from the issue of the electricity privatisation and try to paint the ranks of the labour movement who are fighting the proposal as crazy disrupters. To that extent, the high-school debater and political dilettante Berrell is helping Costa and the other forces supporting the privatisation.

Why should Berrell care anyway? The cyberspace socialist renegades he touts say that workers should leave the trade unions and they imply in their nasty leaflets that the struggle against privatisation will inevitably be defeated.

Berrell and twilight zone mates might consider this: Mark Aarons, who has worked as an adviser to Bob Debus in complex industrial negotiations and conflicts with the Fire Brigades Union, and who is held in rather low esteem by that union, to say the least, has suddenly come to light with a magical proposition in a new book edited by Robert Manne, which purports to be a left platform but is really a right platform in the main. Aarons’ proposal is the eternal proposition of all forces of reaction, that trade union influence should be eliminated from the Labor Party, in this instance so that the Rudd government shouldn’t be trammeled by undue influence from what he calls “the trade union secretaries’ club”.

This build-up of reactionary attacks on the unions is directly related to the battle over electricity privatisation in NSW and to the increasing pressure from the unions on the Rudd government to quickly and fully honour its electoral pledges to dismantle Work Choices.

This clamour against trade unions and their officials is strikingly similar to the defeated Howard government’s attacks on “trade union bosses”, etc.

Tonight on ABC television’s Lateline, Aarons touted his reactionary proposals and despite the usual camera tricks of presenting John Robertson side-on to make him look sly, Robertson gave an excellent account of himself defending the influence of unions in the Labor Party as a major defence of workers’ rights.

The rather pompous Mark Aarons is clearly going to become the darling of the bourgeoisie for a while in the battle to break union influence on the Labor Party.

Berrell’s twilight zone pseudo-socialist mates are part of the anti-union, anti-labour continuum, offering their little peashooter, alongside Aarons and the rest, saying workers should leave the unions and electricity privatisation is inevitable.

For all his voluminous meanderings about Labor electoral history, Berrell is either quite cynical or he really hasn’t got a clue about how struggles proceed in the broad labour movement.


A number of important questions

February 29, 2008

Brother Berrell, now that we’ve got each other’s attention, I would raise a number of important questions with you.

You say it’s unfair of me to lump you with the twilight zoners of the WSWS despite the fact that you constantly tout their website on the Green Left discussion list. You say you have some serious differences with the WSWS and you cite a disagreement about Fretilin.

What I attacked the WSWS about wasn’t Fretilin, as you well know. I discussed at length the WSWS’s increasingly right-wing standpoint on the organised workers movement.

In particular, do you disagree with the WSWS’s now longstanding proposition that workers should leave the trade unions and that the unions are now reactionary institutions?

Do you disagree with the WSWS’s proposition that Labor, the Liberals and the Greens are all equal instruments of the bourgeoisie and therefore it is appropriate to advocate an equal distribution of preferences to these parties? In my view that involves crossing the class line to support the Liberals.

Do you disagree with the WSWS’s proposition, in the right-wing leaflet that they distributed at the mass protest against privatisation, that privatisation will inevitably be victorious on this occasion?

Do you disagree with the WSWS’s constant, and unexplained, proposition that all the forces struggling against the privatisation are in some mysterious way actually doing Costa’s work to sell the privatisation?

Do you agree that the union officials who mobilised their members and organised buses to bring them to the protest actually doing that to support the privatisation, as the twilight zone right-wing cranks say?

To put it another way, do you agree with the twilight zone website that everyone in the labour movement, including union officials who oppose the privatisation, the ranks of the Labor Party, socialist independents like myself, and the whole of the far left (including both factions of the DSP), are all really in a conspiracy to sell the privatisation?

You would clarify a lot if you would indicate your standpoint on these questions. Failing an explanation, it’s difficult to avoid regarding your learned demagogy about labour movement affairs as anything other than a rather mischievous diversion.

You also object to me making an amalgam between you and Mr Aarons, who in an essay in Robert Manne’s book and on television last night, peddled a central plank of the program of the Rudd-era right wing in the workers movement, which is to push the unions out of the Labor Party or at least dramatically reduce their influence.

I made this amalgam between you and Mr Aarons deliberately, because your longstanding touting of the twilight zone website suggests that basically you agree with Mr Aarons on this point. If you don’t and this is also one of your disagreements with the twilight zoners, you should say so.

The above are burning tactical questions of the day in the workers movement and you could clear up a lot of things by explaining your point of view on these matters, rather than giving us your learned dissertations about labour movement history, which in my view are often inaccurate, like your other learned dissertations on Fretilin.

As an aside, Norm Dixon’s, waspish little response to my mate’s post on the Green Left list drawing attention to the Sydney Morning Herald article this morning doesn’t seem to bode well for positions he might take on these current battles, which I’ve just raised with Brother Berrell.

He should careful about using “Green” Laborite as a form of abuse in the current context, in which the Greens, the bulk of the trade union movement, the ranks of the Labor Party, and some Labor parliamentarians, are playing a very creditable role in the struggle against electricity privatisation.

Concerning your use of the word troll, are we now to conclude that anyone who disagrees with you on the Green Left list or Marxmail is a troll? That seems to be an extravagantly narrow view of working class politics, even for you.