A Turning Point

May 1st – Labour Day – means a lot to the organised working class in Brisbane.  In a way not seen in any other capital city of Australia, thousands of grass roots members of trade unions march together to celebrate and assert our collective power.

This May 1st marks a real turning point for us all.

Over the past twelve months, the ACTU led an unprecedented campaign to oppose Australian laws regulating labour.  Partly as a result of this campaign, and partly as a result of recent economic hardships faced by a growing section of the people, a large majority of Australians opposed the laws.  Slightly more than 50% of Australians voted in a government committed to lessening some of the harsher aspects of the laws.

There was over this past year open and widespread questioning of the fundamental relationship between capital and labour. What is reasonable for bosses to ask of workers?  How much should workers trust their employers?  How much control should government have over the way in which bosses hire and contract workers?  Questions such as these have come up in a thousand different ways, as discussion centred on AWAs, unfair dismissal, disallowed matters, union rights of entry to workplaces, and so on. 

This discussion and questioning has up till now been unorganised, anarchic and spontaneous.  A hundred flowers have bloomed!  Nevertheless this collective national discussion has focussed not on a particular industrial dispute, such as national discussions did during the SEQEB or waterfront disputes.  Rather the discussion has been directly about class relations under present day capitalism.  Not since the 1960s struggles against the penal powers of the arbitration system have we experienced such a social and political situation.

With the election of a new social democratic government, we are at a turning point in the development of our collective political consciousness.
On the one hand, there is a real possibility that this discussion about class relationships will be dampened out of existence during the next twelve months.  There are many voices arguing not to rock the boat, to give our new government a go, to “hasten slowly”, and etc.

There is some truth to these arguments in that it would indeed be a tragedy for many insecure working people if the real gains were to be reversed by election of a reinvigorated and hostile liberal government in two years time.

Yet on the other hand there is some possibility that the current heightened consciousness of class and class relations – a consciousness grown out of the real struggles of the past year in a thousand different workplaces and union offices – that this consciousness will continue to develop into an organised and focussed discussion.

For those of us with an aim of developing a greater collective awareness of class and its importance in political strategy, current times are an opportunity not to be missed.

We have nothing to lose but the shackles of our minds.

Ross Gwyther, May 2008