Lessons from Latham

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - 10:00

Sue Bull

As we watch the ALP implode and explode through the revelations of its former federal leader, Mark Latham, I can't help but think that it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of bastards. I loathe and detest John Howard and his reactionary cronies and I hate to see Labor giving them such a free kick in politics but, frankly, the ALP has barely supplied any serious opposition for many years now.

Where has been the outrage from Labor over the treatment of refugees, or disgust at our growing loss of civil liberties, the attacks on workers' rights, loss of welfare rights and a hundred other issues? We've either been deafened by Labor's silence or sickened by their support for the Coalition government's policies. Who could forget Kim Beazley's recent treacherous support for the return of Australian troops to Afghanistan?

I have to admit, if I hear one more union leader call for us all to vote Labor at the next elections so that we can stop the rot in terms of industrial relations, I think I'll scream. I mean, the last time the ALP did anything serious to defend workers and our unions was... well actually I can't remember when it was.

As for those who call for us all to rejoin the ALP to clean out the dead wood and right-wingers — Latham's expose should put paid to that. What's left to join? Just a bunch of power-crazed self-seeking hypocrites who don't give a rat's arse about the lives and needs of ordinary working people.

But what are we going to do? It's not as if the world is becoming a nicer place to live. Indeed, the failure of social-democratic parties worldwide just highlights how desperately conservative the capitalist ruling class and those who have most of the wealth really are.

The only really good thing about Latham's technicolour yawn over the ALP is that it strips Labor even further of credibility. This careerist cesspool is not a workers' party, prepared to defend the interests of the poor and the weak.

There is no point in building illusions that we can influence the ALP into doing what is best for us. When have they recently done anything beyond stab each other in the back and destroy the hopes of good, honest people?

It's time to build a real opposition. It won't fall from the sky, perfectly formed and ready for action. And it can't rise like a phoenix out of the stinking carcass of the ALP. It has to be built, patiently and democratically by workers, unionists, environmentalists, Aborigines, migrants and refugees, students, unemployed workers and pensioners — indeed everyone who has been hurt by reactionary governments and their defence of big business in its drive for bigger and bigger profits.

The longer we put this project off, the more we drive ordinary people into cynical, anti-political isolation and paralysis. The more alienated from politics they become, the less capable they are of defending their rights effectively.

Working people didn't just vote for Howard in the last election because they thought he was a great bloke or because they're all selfish. There was no well-known credible alternative, they were scared about the future and the Coalition parties' criticisms of Labor's elitism had a ring of truth about them.

Latham's revelations pose a tantalising question for us. Do we learn the lessons and build a powerful new party for working people or do we descend into growing despair and demoralisation?

[Sue Bull is a member of the Geelong branch of the Socialist Alliance.]

From Green Left Weekly, September 21, 2005.

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From GLW issue 643