Movement independence and united fronts


By Maurice Sibelle

MELBOURNE — At the end of National Day of Action for a Living Income on March 26, the organising committee of the Coalition for a Living Income decided to put a motion that the rally march to the ALP headquarters.

The proposed action was designed to show that the ALP was complicit in the federal government's cutbacks to education and in its plans to cut the incomes of young people. The ALP had supported the federal government's "work for the dole scheme" and, while in government, began the process of dismantling the free education system.

In arguing against this proposal, ALP students claimed that the march would split the rally and alienate ALP students and supporters. They argued that the campaign should focus on the federal coalition government because it is implementing the attacks. They argued that ALP students had been involved in all the campaigns against education cuts even when Labor was in government. "This is a coalition", they said, and the coalition should not alienate any of its constituents.

While we should try to build a united front against the attacks of the federal government, the Coalition for a Living Income is not united by the political organisation we support; we are united on the issues, by our support for a living income for all young people.

We are also opposed to any political decision that would threaten that living income, including decisions made by the ALP, Democrats or any other parliamentarian. A united front has to be independent of any political party and must remain loyal to the issues.

Of course we do want ALP students to be involved. However, they cannot expect the united front to subordinate its aims to the needs of their political party.

This is a crucial issue for the Coalition for a Living Income and the student movement, which is the central part of that coalition. We risk the channelling of all our efforts into a campaign to get Labor re-elected, regardless of its policies and actions.

This would be a fatal error for the movement. We will not have achieved anything if we allow the federal coalition government to be replaced by a Labor government which carries out the same policy direction, with only a few minor differences.

We risk further demoralising the student movement by fostering illusions in the ALP. It would be easy for students and the community then to draw the conclusion that there is no alternative but to follow the path taken by both the ALP and the federal coalition. As one ALP student exclaimed, "What's the alternative?"

This question reveals the bankruptcy of the ALP's parliamentary perspective. There is no conception that the campaign is part of building an alternative. The ALP students believe that the we should channel our energies into the re-election of Labor rather than promote the active participation of thousands of students in the campaign to defend their incomes and education system. This will create the basis for a genuine alternative that will remain loyal to the issues and not compromise young people's incomes and our education system in order to get elected to parliament.