Published here is an edited version of a speech given by E.F Hill to the National Left Fightback Conference held in Melbourne in April 1987. The conference was organised jointly by a number of left and progressive organisations and individuals. The speech introduced the conference’s draft political statement. The text of the speech was first published in the weekly newspaper “Vanguard”, April 29, 1987.
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Over recent years there have been wide, friendly exchanges of views amongst left and progressive organisations and individuals. This very conference is an example of what can be achieved.
I should like to offer some remarks in the spirit of promoting free exchange of views around the draft political statement which is before you.
Already this represents progress in Australian working class politics and the politics of all Australian people except for a handful of monopolists. Conferences like this are not things or ends in themselves. They are not subjects for self-satisfaction or complacency. They are a means to help in assisting unity amongst all Australian working and democratic people, in struggle for social progress. The people are common victims, in one way or another, of a social system that has outlived its usefulness. They are rising in a great diversity of struggle. Without struggle, the people are at the mercy of a handful who place private profit above everything else.
Australia is witnessing the emergence of a new and more powerful grouping of key monopolists who have no loyalty to the people and country – who are tied to international finance circles and to the very big capitalist countries. The classic illustration is Murdoch who, for the sake of personal profit, gave away his Australian nationality and embraced that of the United States. We might say good riddance to him, he is in his right place. But he retains his exploitation and oppression in Australia. Imagine any single Australian here, or in the community at large, saying “I am abandoning my Australian citizenship. I want to become a US citizen or Japanese citizen”. Imagine it!
Or we might take the case of Bjelke-Petersen who is hell-bent on selling Australia to the Japanese monopoly capitalists. There are others of the same mould. When we think of people like this, maybe we are entitled to question our common reluctance to exhibit publicly our devotion to Australia – Australia in the sense of a country that rightfully belongs to its ordinary working people. It is a powerful reminder that the cause of Australia’s independence and sovereignty must be taken up by the people – how can it be left to the Murdochs and their hirelings? With enemies like Murdoch and Bjelke-Petersen and others of their ilk, it is vitally necessary for all progressive forces to unite. An unfortunate history of division, fragmentation, placing personal interest above common interest, abuse and counter-abuse, has plagued Australia’s left. Getting together should be welcomed. Differences exist but people are learning to concentrate on the overall common interest and discussing differences amicably. The old dismissal of him or her who differed as a “bastard”, is disappearing. Terms of abuse should be left to denounce the real bastards, such as the two prize traitors I have just mentioned and their fellow bastards.
Without principled unity and agreement on the maximum number of issues, there is certain to be weakening of the people as a whole All historical experience shows that when the core is united and strong, the people as a whole unite and gather strength.
A spirit of optimism for people’s struggle has permeated discussions in preparation for this conference. That must permeate this conference and act as an inspiration, not only to the participants, but reach out into broad sections of the people.
Australians have only themselves and their own struggle on which to rely. Parliamentary politicians, and parliament itself, have severe limitations, the top Labor leaders have disappointed many of the people who had hope in them. We certainly include among the progressive forces Labor Party members and supporters who already stand out clearly from their top leaders. Some Labor parliamentarians and Labor Party activists have participated in the preparations for this conference and more are participating in the conference. The top Labor leaders ought to take serious warning that alienation from their own rank and file, and particularly from the more left of it is depriving the Labor Party of its main activists.
The emergence of single issue groups because the Labor leaders have abandoned those issues, has great significance for those Labor leaders. I do not advocate the destruction of Labor governments, but I certainly believe that people’s own struggle – activity – is far more important than concentrating on parliamentary politics. While the Labor leaders occupy the government benches, the need to struggle is great indeed; nothing can be left to the “good offices” of Prime Minister or Premiers or Ministers. Inevitably, whatever their motives, even if they were good motives – they are sucked into administering the social system dominated by great monopolies.
During times of elections, people’s political interest rises – it is appropriate to participate in that rising interest and point out that action is so important. Who can doubt that Victorian nurses would have achieved little or nothing, if they relied on promises or parliamentary politicians? Nor is action to be abandoned or confidence dimmed if a struggle is seemingly lost.
The struggle of the BLF awakened many, many people and that struggle continues. In one way or another, it has had its own victories and will have more Indeed, one complaint of those Labor and union leaders who attempted to destroy the BLF, is that the BLF will not die Mudginberri, SEQEB, the plumbers, food preservers, Dollar Sweets, are other cases in point. Despite the dead hand of a couple of ACTU leaders and their misuse of the trade union structure, resistance is growing. The attempted destruction of unions and attempted imposition of individual contracts with workers is certain to be wrecked on the rock of developing action by the working class and those around it. It is a central issue of democratic rights as is finding alternatives to the prison structures built by the ACTU and top Labor Party leaders.
The struggle for peace grows. More and more people join it and support it. The merchants of death now must take account of it. The black people provide inspiration to us all. Much indeed remains to the done. In all struggle, there are victories and seeming defeats. Even in seeming defeat, there is victory, and even in victory, there can be no resting on laurels. The outstanding feature is that all around Australia, people’s action grows.
Unleashing imagination, enriching struggle, should be our answer. All ideas should be heeded. However, no single all-embracing one blow solution exists anywhere or on any issue. Nor is any group or individual, the exclusive repository of all wisdom. The fact is that people’s discontent and people’s action, arise from the very conditions of Australia and give rise to rich ideas about solution of problems. All of us are compelled to search for correct ways to act. The correct path is not going to emerge, as it were, by magic, nor is it going to be the product of some single brilliant idea. It is being developed in actual struggle as the crisis of our existing social system deepens and provokes more and more opposition among the people. In that very process, deeper and wider unity and action will be forged.
Exchange of views among the participants here will further the movement of all the people. Imposition of one’s own views on other participants and attempts to ram views down the throats of other participants, rather than common search for solutions, will hinder our work. Acceptance of one’s own particular political views or solutions cannot be made a condition of participation in discussion and activity around the problems that affect the people.
The draft statement directs attention to central issues. Those include the struggle for peace and disarmament, a struggle based on an independent, non-aligned Australia. Peace is a question in a real world in which there is a real danger of war. There is conflict between the superpowers. There are nuclear arms, there are many local wars. There should be no difficulty in seeing that Australia’s people’s own stand for their nation’s independence and refusal to participate in any military bloc is essentially rational and of wide appeal. The Murdochs, Petersens, Copemans, Bonds, etc, would deny Australia’s independence and harness the country to reactionary military adventures from which this handful would profit. We think of the common interest with the peoples of the Philippines or New Caledonia who are in active struggle, some with arms in hand, for independence. Their independence and our independence form an essential unity. The erosion of Australia’s already limited independence is insidious. Big foreign monopoly interests are particularly active and they have their Australian agents.
Intimately connected with all people’s activity is democratic rights. Democratic rights are vital. Every attack on democratic rights, even if partially successful, is followed by another attack. The trade unions, to which I have referred, are most important organisations. They are under constant attack. Drastic action has been taken against several. This action is part of an overall attack. Civil actions for damages threaten unions and their members. Use of the Trade Practices Act, bans clauses, injunctions, laws of contempt, trespass, and our old friends “offensive behaviour”, “insulting words” “resisting arrest”, are all invoked. The target is all working class and people’s rights. The freedom to organise must be defended to the end and the coterie of top leaders who stand in the way must be swept aside.
Trial by jury, thought to be guaranteed in federal offences under Section 80 of the Constitution, is denied by an old High Court decision – a decision which was concerned with a trade union boycott. The voices which include some judges, are raised in favour of jury trial. The workers are vitally concerned with democratic liberty – hardly won and hardly held. Workers and very wide sections of people will fight to defend and extend democratic liberty.
Let me say a word about equal rights for women. I often think that this matter is well illustrated by the common law of England. It went that in law a man and woman were one person and that person was the man. This represented the atmosphere of feudalism. It permeated that atmosphere and it still has an enormous and dangerous hold. Progress has been made. But that progress is in the teeth of immense opposition. Important advances have been made but they are far from decisive. It is the responsibility of men and women to fight to replace the reactionary atmosphere of discrimination with an atmosphere of unqualified equality of the sexes and that equality being realised in fact.
Most of the main fields of struggle can be found in the outline for this conference. I have singled out a few. But all are of importance. Each calls for still more struggle.
Struggle takes many forms. The most common is strike struggle Now it is hemmed in with all sorts of restrictions and so too, other action by the people. “Freedom of contract”, they cry. Let the individual worker enter into his own contract with Murdoch or BHP. It is ridiculous. Certainly we support strike struggle, stop work, mass meetings, wherever they are used to defend or extend the workers’ and people’s cause No one should stand in the way of the movement for peace to protect the environment, black people, youth, women, unemployment and so on.
A whole Australian literature and art have developed around particular issues. They should be further developed. Leaflets, resolutions, slogans, meetings, demonstrations, posters, paint-ups, are people’s weapons. There can be supreme confidence in the Australian people’s capacity to struggle.
This conference will assist in developing still more and higher forms of struggle.
Its various workshops and deliberations should serve to help to bring all the people closer together to uphold giant people’s banners of an independent Australia for all Australian inhabitants, whatever their racial origin, for thorough-going democratic rights, for decent real living standards in an environmentally protected and peaceful Australia.