South Australian Labor left splits


By Chris Spindler

ADELAIDE— A new left faction of the Labor Party, the Progressive Labour Alliance, has formed in South Australia following the walkout of a section from the existing left faction. The walkout includes 14 unions and state parliamentarian Peter Duncan.

Unions involved include the Communication Workers Union, the Public Transport Union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Maritime Union.

Presently there are no new aims or policies for the faction, other than attempting to get back to grassroots discussions and campaigns and attempting to get the Labor Party re-elected.

In an interview with Green Left Weekly, leaders of the group attributed the split to long-term political differences which have continually surfaced within the left caucus.

Particular dissatisfaction was expressed at career building within the ALP and the running of left caucus meetings. The meeting where the walkout occurred was a preselection caucus for the seat of Adelaide at which one of the unions had been disallowed its full vote.

Asked about the value of remaining in the Labor Party, Russel Wortley, a leader of the new faction and of the Gas Employees Union, replied, "I've had this debate with individuals for many years. Views expressed that the Labor Party has lost direction, that they've gone to the right and that to maintain government they'll keep going to the right, and they would prefer to organise outside of the Labor Party.

"I respect that point of view, and at times I'm quite ashamed of the direction that the Labor Party has taken. But sometimes the fight has to be fought inside the Labor Party. There is no point in deserting the Labor Party; otherwise there would nothing to restrain the Labor Party from drifting off into the right. At least we have some influence to stop some of the direction.

"It would be the easiest thing in the world to get out of the Labor Party and fight from outside. You have to remember it's not easy inside the party."

Ray Roe, from the Communication Workers Union, added, "Coming from our position in this union, where communications and Telecom are under threat from deregulation and privatisation, you've got more chance of going to a minister and lobbying your position if the Labor Party is in government and you're within the party."

Despite this access to government and ministers, the reality of the last 12 years of Labor government has been increased privatisation and deregulation and enormous shifts of wealth from the working class to the rich. How does this affect their view?

Ray Roe commented, "Not only a shift of wealth but of politics in general: what was the left to the centre and the centre to the right; sometimes I wonder what's going on. This is what has happened with amalgamations — strong left-wing unions which are not strong unions any more."

Wortley added, "There have been tremendous shifts of wealth, but many of us have made a conscious decision to work within the Labor Party because we think we can have more influence within the party.

"There's always talk of splitting, but where do you go? Until the day when another party would have an influence on what is going on, it won't happen. Whatever happens, whether outside or inside the party, we all should work together."

Roe also discussed the issue of being outside the ALP. "There isn't that push in South Australia at the moment, and it's not in our policy and platform. Our aim is to get the Labor Party elected. It's better to have a bad Labor government than a good Liberal government."