West begins by stating the obvious, that "it’s been a long time since the Australian Labor Party was the Party of Australian labour.With the solitary exception of WorkChoices, the interests of major corporations have increasingly prevailed in Labor’s collective thinking over the interests of ordinary working stiffs — whether they wear blue, white or pink collars; whether they’re paid $30,000 or $60,000 per annum."
But then West gets to the nitty gritty:
So why keep up the pretense? Why maintain a formal relationship between the ALP and the unions, which is just as damaging for both of them?...But unions are ill-served by a formal affiliation with Labor. Put simply, the Party takes advantage of union members, while sticking a thumb in their eyes when it suits the ALP politically.West then goes on to refer to examples of Labor's cynical and careless attitude to workers. He then proposes what may seem to many New Matilda readers to be anathema:
Rather than forking over vast sums in annual affiliation fees and unconditional campaign donations to the ALP machine, unions would be better off endorsing specific candidates, including progressive Independents, who support a pro-working families agenda. Union members could study a candidate’s record of support for employee rights, and their position on outrageous executive perks and tax lurks — then decide who truly deserves union endorsement. Corporate Labor flunkies need not apply.Oops! That's a cat out of the bag.
Of today's core relationship between unions and the ALP, West bemoans its comfy coziness for a few:
The current system of union affiliation works well for certain compliant union officials who hanker for seats in Parliament or well-paid, part-time sinecures on government boards. But it compromises the unions’ ability to defend the interests of working Australians by, for example, opposing free trade deals that Labor MPs embrace but which destroy entire industries.In order to bat both sides of the divide he has tabbed, West goes on to advocate the advantages the ALP could harvest if it was free of the trade union yoke:"A Labor Party with cordial, but informal, relations with the union movement could market itself as a broader social democratic coalition, attracting talent from outside the current narrow gene pool of former paid union officials (as opposed to workplace delegates) and ex-political staffers."
Nonetheless, after returning to the separation prospect from a trade union POV, West then sharply insists: with a touch of stridency:
If Labor wants to be a Party of no fixed values or ideology, ingratiating itself with big business while populating itself with careerists from the union hierarchy, let it do so without taking advantage of the resources of rank and file union members.West's argument has been published on the same day that Dean Mighell is "officially assisted" out of the ALP. And while it may seem tempting to see the piece as a mere musing, what Andrew West doesn't remind us of in so many words is that supporting the ALP unconditionally has been imposed as the core and singular strategy embraced by the Australian Council of Trade Unions to defend "Our Rights at Work" from the Work Choices assault.
If I were to say what West is saying (and I have)ALP stalwarts are just as likely to start calling me a Howard supporter. But I'm not saying it am I? (Not today anyway). Andrew West is.
The way I see it, it's a long way for Kevin Rudd between now and the next election -- and arguments like this don't augur well for the party the ACTU keeps reminding us is the workers' only hope.