Editorial in Surplus Value Issue No.1- The Winds of Change

The winds of change are blowing.  The spectre of a working people’s power is resonating in the backrooms of capital, and there is movement amongst their chief executive officers.  In this time of change, we see some unlikely, but not altogether unexpected happenings.  Leader of the Federal Labour Party sups with the most powerful media baron in the world – and gains his endorsement.   Leaders of the Business Council of Australia decline to fund a campaign in support of their industrial laws.   Trade Union leaders who have previously talked long and hard about the struggle against the bosses  - and some who have led struggles as well - quietly acquiesce to a policy designed to appease these same bosses.

A heralded Labor victory will see great outpourings of joy from a thousand hearts and a thousand heads.  Yet hanging over that victory will be a looming storm-cloud.   For the victory will come only at a price.  The captains of capital will call in their chips.

The vast mass of people in the 1800s saw slavery as a normal and acceptable part of life.  The few do-gooders and left-wing ratbags who opposed slavery seemed somehow to be out of touch with reality.   Yet within less than a hundred years, the everyday person in the street regards slavery as an abhorrent and inconceivable blot on a civilised world.   Such was the complete victory of a campaign taken up by the few and completed by the many. That struggle was based both on human rights as well as on the need for capital to profit from free rather than slave labour.

That story has a lesson for us today.  The ideological assumptions of one era become the lost and quaint beliefs of another.  What might those assumptions be today?

First and foremost amongst our firm and un-stated confidences today is that most oft-stated saying in the labour movement – “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”.   Will this maxim be thrown out as a dated and unnecessary belief?  It is based on a simple proposition – that the owners of business have a fundamental and unshakeable right to make their living from those they employ.  In other words, that capital has an inherent right to exploit our labour power and discipline our labour time.

Will this assumption go the way of a host of abandoned assumptions like the rightness and propriety of slavery?  Such a course will happen only when a thousand – tens of thousands – workers question the right of our employers to exploit our creative capacities.
In the current turmoil over parliamentary power, is it really time for a new start for collective working class politics?
Proletarians unite!  We have more to gain than enterprise bargaining!

Ross Gwyther
May 2007