For Greens-union-Labor unity in the fight against Turnbull

  • Escalate the fight against ABCC and anti-union laws on the streets and in workplaces
  • Greens-Labor cross-preferencing in every seat
  • Unity in struggle not electoral games

The debate over Senate voting reform and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation is seriously undermining the united left we need to kick out Turnbull and defeat the Liberals’ anti-union agenda.

Tragically, in the last week, the ACTU on behalf of Labor, and The Greens, put their sectional electoral interests ahead of the principled struggles needed to take us all forward.

The Greens are at critical juncture. Richard Di Natale is pioneering a path towards electoral respectability and pragmatism. The agreement with Turnbull over Senate voting reforms embodies this. In order to get reforms that increase the chance of the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate they have helped give Turnbull a gun he is now holding against the heads of the current cross-benchers.1

While The Greens are formally right to support the voting reforms, this tiny democratic advance pales into insignificance compared with the consequences of the reintroduction of the ABCC. Even though The Greens have always opposed the ABCC, the decision to prioritise the Senate voting reforms over blocking the ABCC is already alienating union support and will continue to have massive consequences for the party. It comes on top of Di Natale’s much-quoted “never say never” comment about forming government with the Liberals, and media reports of Victorian Liberals preferencing The Greens. The combination is bleeding the support the Greens have won among union members and working class people.

The Greens should be prepared to sacrifice Senate reform in this term to head off the ABCC. This would illustrate that the rights of the working class comes before their concern to hold the balance of power in the Senate. It’s not enough to have the right position on the laws. The ABCC is literally a life and death issue for construction workers and the Greens need to show these class interests come before what a re-elected Senate might look like.

The Greens should be leading rallies to pressure the cross-benchers to hold the line and oppose the ABCC. They should be pledging to support industrial action that has the real power to stop anti-union laws. The Greens are the most consistent opponents of the Liberals’ agenda in parliament, but this isn’t enough. They need to make it unequivocally clear that a Greens vote is anti-Liberal. That means a national policy of swapping preferences with Labor in every seat.

For all the problems with The Greens’ stance, the ACTU’s campaign to vilify The Greens has been destructive and misleading. It flows from the obsession with Senate machinations over struggle. Rather than leading a fight like Your Rights at Work that can weaken the Liberals and build real pressure on the cross-benchers, the ACTU has relied on a Senate-lobbying strategy. As a result awareness and activism around the ABCC is low, and will need to be immediately rebuilt if Turnbull fights the election on these powers, or if they pass.

The dead-end of cross-bench lobbying led to a new low this week with the robo-call the ACTU funded to attack The Greens. While union leaders say their only interest is stopping the ABCC, in fact their campaign does nothing to raise awareness about the laws or mobilise members over the issue. Instead the ACTU campaign claims that the Greens have done a deal over Senate voting reforms that will hand control of the Senate to the Liberals – which is not true. The effect will be to discredit the union movement among members who are well informed, and to deeply damage The Greens’ relationship with the unions, which until now has been more reliable than Labor and growing stronger. This division will weaken all the struggles (Medicare, union rights etc) we need to beat the Turnbull agenda.

The Turnbull government is weak and risk-averse. A unified left can destroy the government’s agenda and could even see Turnbull thrown out in the 2016 election. This will not be won by electoral shenanigans and growing the divisions between The Greens, Labor and the unions. Preferences need to flow from principles. That means The Greens should ensure that all their preferences go to Labor over the Liberals. All unionists too, should pressure Labor to swap preferences with The Greens. Instead of in-fighting we need to unite to shift politics back to the left. The ACTU and The Greens both hold responsibility for leading the fights we need.

To contact Solidarity email: solidarity@solidarity.net.au

1. The tactical machinations over the election date has generated far too much competing and largely impenetrable analysis. It seems, however, that Turnbull would only want a double dissolution election (which threatens to sack the six cross-benchers 3 years early) if he had already passed the Senate voting reform. Otherwise the lower quota needed for a double dissolution under the current system would make for an even more unpredictable senate. This is the kernel of truth in the ACTU campaign – if the reforms go through and the three cross-benchers who oppose they ABCC are prepared to save their skins at the cost of their political credibility, they might vote for the ABCC.

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