Manual Change the Rules of Politics

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Not an unfounded concern. For decades many union leaders have found it difficult to resist the seemingly irresistible momentum and urgency of ALP electoral cycles.

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The electoral fate of the party and the personal trajectory of many leaders is tightly entwined. The practice of appointing promising, young Labor activists into union jobs then doing the numbers to get them elected into leadership positions commonplace. This weight of history is constantly reproducing itself. There is no direct line to be drawn between this unavoidable reality and the failure of union leaderships to really invest in — and take risks to achieve — reinvigorating thriving workplace democracy. That this is a major factor in the current constitution of a failing labour movement is certain.

A sense of urgency and a realpolitik analysis about what is achievable now are often powerful factors constituting the centrifugal electoral force. These are real, material considerations. Think the choice between the strengthening or weakening of the Australian Building and Construction Commission ABCC , or the state funding pay increases for childcare workers or not.


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If the question is the immediate, narrow material threats, or partial alleviations, then the answer comfortably overlaps with an institutional machinery geared for an electoral battlefield. What is often left unchallenged is the assumption that small regulatory victories secured through electoral machinery necessarily contribute to building working-class power. Often it does not. History would suggest that the opposite is just as likely true.

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The legislation CtR is now fighting to dismantle. It is the only activity beyond narrow industrial struggles that the unions have collectively agreed to prioritise and resource to scale. Its substance and the way in which she has launched it have already re-set the discourse and the realm of possibility for working-class struggle in Australia. The CtR campaign however, has been conceived, gestated and birthed in the context of an upcoming federal election.

Winning marginal seats for the ALP will be the actual primary activity around which broad mobilisation in support for this new agenda will be expressed in the immediate term. This is what the leaders of the affiliate unions have agreed to pay for. The tension between an election campaign and a re-birthed social movement is palpable in its every iteration.

On the one hand, the CtR mass delegates meeting held in Melbourne on 17 April was huge, energised and inspiring. On the other, the meeting refused to accept a motion from the floor. Motions were predetermined and issued from the upper-echelons as part of a careful and top-down curation of proceedings.

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To build collective power through movements, rather than to mobilise short-term upswings, there must be structures in place to allow for people to have meaningful investment in direction and strategy. To have some skin in the game. It is not a secret that in most unions, most of the time, there are simply not the structures, processes and membership-engagement to enable this kind of union democracy. A decision has been made that building a movement-wide structure that allows for cross-class struggle beyond narrowly defined workplaces is outside the bounds of what CtR is going to do.

The ad is horrible, appealing to fear and anxiety. She knows better than most that this ad does not build union. Workers in struggle build union. My guess is that this ad has been focus-grouped to within an inch of its life so as to hit exactly the buttons most likely to make a swinging voter in a marginal seat vote ALP. For those of us who break out into hives at the thought of another election-cycle disappointment, there is a live concern that these electoral tactics are an indication that CtR will fall victim to the same fate as Your Rights at Work.

How do we participate in this momentum in such a way that builds collectives that are capable of organising on a national platform, through and beyond an election? If the ACTU is unwilling or incapable of facilitating or fostering the creation of these collectives, then who or what is? The ACTU campaign is not — and by definition cannot — create this transformation. Rather, the activity around CtR is an opportunity to deepen and to intensify existing struggles, and to launch new ones.

Nothing in the ACTU strategy inhibits organising new workplaces, launching new union networks, or developing a new political consciousness with your friends, comrades and colleagues. The profile, momentum and openness of CtR makes this the best time in decades to launch these projects. Why is this so important? Imagine if we were successful in forcing the state to regulate to vastly improve the conditions under which we can organise.

Imagine that the unions were on an internal footing to be able to use these conditions to facilitate massive membership growth. Imagine that rates of worker militancy exploded, and we saw wages rise in the way that we did in the s, creating a commensurate crisis of accumulation for capital invested in Australia.

What would we do then? Respond in the same way we did in ? Or would there be a political subjectivity amongst the working class with a consciousness capable of dealing with it differently? Of pushing beyond the capitalist state, instead of retreating into it? Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. Great work on the fine tuning the movement needs to enable real progressive change within the Change the Rules campaigning.

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Politics 002 B - Change the rules

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