The National Executive of the Democratic Socialist Party discussed this issue at its July 9 meeting and wishes to submit the following resolution to the Founding Conference of the Socialist Alliance Conference resolves that the Socialist Alliance will:
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By Melanie Sjoberg, national industrial coordinator (Democratic Socialist Party)
An increasing number of workers and unionists are disillusioned with the ALP and this is often accompanied by a growing frustration with their unions’ affiliation and uncritical support for the ALP. The most immediate example has been in NSW where union activists are questioning the role of the ALP in slashing workers’ compensation and the limited nature of the Labor Council fight because of its reliance on ALP parliamentarians. The disaffiliation of the Fire Brigade Employees Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union printing division is the sharpest expression of this sentiment. A meeting of MUA members at White Bay have passed a motion for ALP disaffiliation. Calls for ALP disaffiliation have also been raised at regional meetings of union activists in Newcastle, Wollongong and Lismore.
Many public sector unions on the other hand are not affiliated to the ALP. However, their political support for the ALP is demonstrated by providing support and funding to the ALP at election time and by promoting ALP policies and candidates. The ACTU’s planned marginal seats campaign for the coming federal election is by default a campaign for the ALP.
Questioning the allegiance of formally non-aligned unions, their political practice and allocation of political funding is also important. The 2000 National Tertiary Education Union national conference endorsed an election strategy that included the option of political support and funding for progressive candidates who have policies compatible with NTEU policies on higher education and workers rights. This is a model that we should attempt to extend to other unions.
There is a similar political trend in England and Scotland where the Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist party are at the forefront of building an alternative to Blair's British Labour. The Firefighters Union has conducted extensive discussion and one third of delegates at a recent conference voted to disaffiliate from British Labour. Unison, the largest union and biggest provider of funds to British Labour received overwhelming endorsement at its national conference for a review of its political funding and support for Labour. The communication workers and rail unions are raising similar debates.
This is a healthy dynamic as it opens the space for a genuine discussion about what kind of political alternative is necessary to advance working class interests. This discussion can encompass, not only the formal question of union affiliation to the ALP, but also support for alternative progressive candidates, alliances and parties, along with a radical strategy of mass action to defend and extend social and democratic rights.
The concept of the Socialist Alliance as an alternative to the ALP must be more than a formal platform or statement. We need to offer some direction at the union and workplace level that opens up the political debate about the strategic path for unions as well as providing practical assistance to workers’ struggles.