After the miss timed leadership challenge came to a head on Monday, we now have a renewed unified Labor Government.
There has been a lot of talk about reform, and in light of the fact that the Caucus vote went 71:31 in mirror reverse of popular opinion the question arises asking how democratic is the Labor Party?
Each of the States has an effectively independent branch, and there is an Annual Conference, and the National Body has a conference every three years. The branches of the party at the electorate level have members, and the affiliated Trade Unions pay a fee based on their membership which is the major source of Labor Revenue. The Unions therefore have a significant say in the decisions that the party makes. The various unions form the basis of the alliances or factions within the party. The challenge that constantly confronts the Party has to be the competing interests of the fee paying Party Members and the interests of the Union Membership (as expressed through the union machinery), and the balance that is so constantly a struggle.
This is subtly different from the make-up of the conservative parties where the Party Membership makes the policy and then the contributors, assuming they like the policy back it financially. So to, to an even greater extent the Greens and the Australian Democrats. Kater’s Australia Party differs slightly in that they just do what the man in the white hat says!
Labor does not survive without the Unions and the Unions do not kick in without having a say. In reality that is not unfair. The Union Officials function is to represent the interests of their members. Their alignment with the Labor Party is to further their members interests. The members of the Party who throw their allegiance to this cause can effectively choose not to do so, should they choose not to like the direction the Party is taking.
Both the Union Movement and the Australian Labor Party are on membership drives to try and arrest falling membership. Many questions are increasingly raised about the relevance on unions in the current labour market. Increasingly we have seen clothing and manufacturing jobs washed from our shores to the cheaper labour markets of South East Asia. There has been an increasing rise in the practice of outsourcing, and employing people as contractors rather than as employees, making more and more people one man band, of very small companies where union membership is less relevant. Ultimately if this trend continues one imagines that the Union Movements capacity to Fund the Labor Party contracts as well.
The performance of a long term Labor Government in NSW has left many doubtful of the Labor Brand, after years of scandal, mismanagement and what at time one was left to imagine could only be corruption they were thrown out in a landslide. The promised long hard look at themselves seems to have involved the conclusion that it was time and that they were robbed. The appointment of Bob Carr to the Senate vacancy, and an instant rise to the Foreign Ministers Position will have some concerned. Firstly the person who is representing Australia’s interests is an appointed, not an elected representative. Perhaps more importantly will be the concern on the part of some that the smelly NSW Labor Brand may be have undue influence in Canberra.
In general terms the crushing of Kevin Rudd shows that the Unions still have the upper hand. The factions are still in control, and they are not about to let go.
The bruising reality is that the Labor Party is not a Democracy, it is the Political Servant of the Union Movement. Equally true is the notion that they appear often to have wandered from the light on the hill, and the further they wander the more problematic is their support base, until they return to their roots. Change will come to the Labor Party. Change will come either in the form of decay or reform. The choice belongs to the ALP, the elected representatives, the Union Power Brokers, and all the other stakeholders.
Note to Kevin Rudd:
“There is no speech or language, nor are their voices heard, yet their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their words tot he end of the world”