22-02-2017 – It would have seemed implausible even just a few years ago. One Nation, spitting vile racism, logic defying Islamophobia and ugly ultra-nationalism, is fast becoming a “normal” part of the Australian political system. One Nation was effectively ushered out of the political system around 15 years ago by both left-wing anti-racist protests and the political establishment itself seeking to eliminate a potential rival. In 2003, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson spent 11 weeks in jail for fraudulently obtaining electoral funding. Now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s indication that the Federal Liberals will not follow former Liberal PM John Howards policy of preferencing One Nation last, is an indication of the re-emergence of One Nation – at least in terms of capitalist electoral politics.
In state elections, the Liberal Party is falling over themselves to either join, or work with, One Nation. With a Queensland election looming later this year, four former Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) Members of Parliament (MP) have crossed over to sign up with One Nation. This reflects a large degree of opportunism, with One Nation now apparently polling at a staggering 23% support amongst the Queensland electorate. In Western Australia, with a state election due in March, the Liberal Party is now preferencing One Nation above their traditional conservative coalition partners, the Nationals. It is possible that by the end of the year, there could potentially be Liberal and One Nation coalition governments in two of Australia’s states.
Some commentators have noted that 15 years ago, people would generally not admit publically that they support One Nation, but they would just vote for One Nation in the privacy of the ballot box. Now, more people are no longer embarrassed about it, as One Nation more and more becomes noted as a “regular” parliamentary party. How did this come about? Firstly, it should be noted that developments in Australian politics do not occur in a bubble sealed off from the rest of the world. Political developments here are inextricably linked to the world political and economic situation. The issues which caused the serious economic crash in the West, which began in 2008, have not been resolved, and to some extent have even become worse. This has driven a further deepening of assaults on the living and working conditions of working people, in tandem with reckless and lawless imperialist wars being waged overseas. At this late stage, capitalism can only save itself by turning against those who produce its life giving surplus value.
In Australia there has been relentless job cuts from all industries, as well as the public sector. The cost of living continues to climb, resulting in a homelessness crisis. Housing itself is now virtually unaffordable for young people and most graduates. The ongoing privatisation of essential public services has pushed electricity, gas, water and sewerage services to prices which reduce the spending power of large swathes of workers. Those still in employment are often working at a breakneck pace, enduring oppressive bullying and harassment from managers. The future for young people, let alone older workers, looks bleak. This is part of the war at home, which both reflects, and is an extension, of the wars being waged by the US – with the support of Canberra – in the Middle East and North Africa, and potential wars with Russia and China.
Rise of ISIS produces Reclaim Australia – and One Nation
Such attacks on working people had been ongoing for around 35 years, with varying degrees of intensity. Yet it was Washington’s war on Syria – backed by Canberra – which provided the pretext for the fantastic invocation of “ISIS” (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). In reality, ISIS were, and are, barbarous mercenaries hired by the governments of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, Qatar and Turkey (although Turkey has come to accept that the war of regime change in Syria has failed), with the assistance of Israel. The gruesome brutality of ISIS in Syria, especially the beheading of innocents, spurred the formation here of “Reclaim Australia”, which was under the massive illusion that ISIS was primarily a part of the Islamic religion. The fact that some ISIS mercenaries were a part of the Wahabist sect of Islam, which remains basically at war with all other strands of Islam, was ignored or not understood.
It was at this time that Pauline Hanson and One Nation re-emerged, chiming in with the less than worldly understanding of Reclaim Australia. Proclaiming “No Mosques, No Halal” and more, One Nation rocketed back into popularity, at least in the electoral sphere. Reclaim Australia, comprised at its core of Neo-Nazi groups, split into groups such as the United Patriots Front. Counter-demonstrations against Reclaim Australia were largely successful, especially in Melbourne, where the racists were outnumbered, often at least by a ratio of 5 to 1. Yet the counter-demonstrations were often led by some left parties – such as Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance, as well as some anarchists – which were some of the strongest backers of what they termed the “Syrian Revolution”. Given the context that the only forces attempting to overthrow the Syrian state were ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Western armed mercenaries, it appeared to Reclaim Australia – and those who would go on to back One Nation – that the “left” actually supported ISIS and Al Qaeda in the name of “defending Muslims”. With some justification, these elements were repulsed by the “left” appearing to back ISIS, and thus steered themselves sharply to the right – into the arms of One Nation.
There were sections of the left, and other anti-war and anti-imperialist activists, which defended Syria against the US-led war for regime change. These elements, some of whom were involved in the Hands Off Syria group, almost led a lone hand against a predatory war of the great powers. Yet with all of the corporate media, the federal government and most of the “left” baying for the blood of President Assad, these activists could not spur a desperately needed anti-war movement. Such a movement would need to overcome not only the fraudulent “left”, but also the top echelons of the Union bureaucracy.
The support, electoral or otherwise, for One Nation is unfortunately broader than those who are prepared to mobilise under the ultra-nationalism of Reclaim Australia or the United Patriots Front. Tragically, some sections of the working class are turning to One Nation, often out of a desperate lack of political options. In the absence of a Union movement which is prepared to fight for workers needs, and a corresponding workers party, some workers feel they have no option but to turn to demagogues such as Pauline Hanson even if they personally disagree with racist discrimination against “foreigners” or against those professing the Islamic faith. It is not that they necessarily “don’t care” about humane treatment for those of “difference”. However, they can be easily led into extreme xenophobia if they believe that the protagonists are also, in some way, “fighting the system” which exploits them.
Careerist Union officials refuse to fight
Perhaps the prime reason why some workers are turning to the far-right One Nation is that they have seen, and experienced, an almost total lack of response from Union leaders to the plight of their ever-worsening living and working conditions. There are some exceptions where Unions have organised some resistance, in some workplaces, and managed to hold off the most savage reproaches of capital. Overall, however, there is total silence from top Union secretaries even after the most egregious broadside against working people in their workplaces, and/or in society in general. For example, recently it was revealed that Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour is paid 5.6 million dollars per year. This is on the backs of job cuts, and over-inflated prices that people now have to pay for a postal service. Not one Union official spoke out against this indefensible public theft. In fact, even conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull politely suggested the CEO was being paid too much.
Again, in January the story broke of the unbelievable collection of thousands of dollars of fake debt from Centrelink welfare recipients – some of the most vulnerable people in the country. This time, there were some statements from the Union representing Centrelink workers – the Community and Public Sector Union. CPSU Assistant National Secretary Michael Tull mentioned that thousands of jobs had been cut from the Department of Human Services over the last five years, and that 36 million phone calls to that department had gone unanswered last year. Yet, as far as we can tell, there was little or no attempt to help organise staff to resist management attempts to ram through the virtually illegal collection of unowed “debts”, let alone an attempt to organise workers in other departments to take action. Major attacks are raining down on working people repeatedly, with little or no response from Union leaders. It is such inaction which contributes to some workers concluding that Unions and the workers movement, and by extension, the left in general, does not exist or does not do anything. These factors drive some workers to what they see as the only option – One Nation.
It is not that Union officials themselves back One Nation – many of them oppose it. The problem is that Union officials and top ranking secretaries have a material interest in maintaining the system which produces the likes of One Nation – the rule of capital over labour. They may offer words in defence of workers at the hands of unscrupulous employers, and may even spend their working hours defending some workers against some of the worst excesses of some employers. Nevertheless, most Union officials, and certainly the top leaders, pay themselves very handsomely – using members’ money – for their “service”. Some officials are paid many times more than the workers they represent. These comfortable salaries, while not comparable to CEO pay, provide them generally comfortable lifestyles, generous superannuation, ability to invest in property, and more. To speak out against the faltering profit system, not to speak of helping to organise workers to fight back, potentially jeopardises their careers and their retirement nest eggs. So they opt to protect themselves, while workers suffer.
For struggle based leadership of the Unions
One Nation’s re-emergence is the product of several interlocking factors, but perhaps the most prominent is the fact that it is the product of the lack of leadership of the workers’ movement, principally by over-remunerated Union big-wigs, whose loyalty to Australian capitalism prevents them from speaking out, let alone helping to organise a mass workers’ fightback against the onslaught of a faltering system. Yet Union members, and working people in general, are not powerless victims. On the contrary, faced with the obstruction of well-heeled officials, it is by no means beyond workers to rise against do-nothing officials, sweeping them aside and forging a leadership willing to fight on all fronts for the re-establishment of basic rights and decent living standards. Chief amongst the demands that workers should raise throughout the Union movement is the demand for: a 30 hour week with no loss in pay! The struggle for such a demand has the potential to re-ignite a long dormant Union movement, which will directly undermine working class backing of the likes of One Nation.
The workers striving towards a class struggle leadership of the Unions is at the same time an effort to form a workers’ party. Such a party will seek to mobilise all workers in their own interests, which coincide with the interests of society at large. Paraphrasing Marx, the working class cannot raise itself up, cannot liberate itself from its condition without at the same time shaking the entire foundations of capitalist exploitation to the core. The socialist objective – working people’s ownership of the major means of production, communication and exchange – must remain as the strategic goal. A workers’ government will soon demonstrate to millions of workers that their interests lie in the collective welfare of all working people. Don’t fall for One Nation! For struggle based leadership of the Unions!
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