The ALP facing extinction?

The ALP supposedly faces extinction.

But can we believe the good news?

Once proud to claim to represent the interest of white Australian workers, the contemporary ALP — a largely middle class institution — now claims to represent the interests of ‘working families’; a mantra repeated endlessly during the last Federal election campaign by KRudd & Co.

Despite a declining membership, however, the ALP still retains a stranglehold over the trades union movement, and the labour movement more generally. (See : Union Control of the ALP, Presentations given on 26 March 2008 by [former] trade union leader and Senator Elect for NSW, Doug Cameron, and former union official [and Communist] Mark Aarons.) The ALP, in turn, is dominated by the right.

September 2008:

Future ALP politicians and current trade union officials are reportedly “furious” at former trade union officials and current ALP politicians for doing what pundits have expected: introducing “business-friendly” industrial relations laws. “Furious” trade union leaders are widely tipped to remain furious for some time, before becoming “angry”, “upset”, “bitter”, and then merely “resigned”.

The broad structure of the coal-powered fluorescent bulb on the hill was explained by Gillard in her speech to The National Press Club on Wednesday titled ‘Introducing Australia’s New Workplace Relations System’. Gillard also took this opportunity to burn her bra black armband, declaring in her opening remarks that “The signature values of nations are often defined by the circumstances of their birth… And for us there’s one value above all others that we identify with as truly our own. It’s the value that emerged out of the circumstances of Federation, which coincided with the industrial turbulence of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That value is fairness. Or as we like to put it: ‘the fair go’.”

Which is all rather odd, especially given that — as angry White men across the country know — one of the first Acts of Federal Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act. This Act (together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901) formed the legal cornerstone of the White Australia policy; the Conciliation and Arbitration Act — which in Labor Party mythology has ensured a ‘fair go’ for ‘working families’ for the bulk of the country’s history — was only assented to by Edward VII in 1904. Further, while 100 years ago the Gub’mint couldn’t get rid of the Pacific Islanders quick enough, they now wanna import them — albeit if only for a coupla years…

Aside from a plummeting membership (a dilemma also faced by the Tories and their country counterparts the Nationals), the average age of an ALP member is now around 50. Yoof, in other words, find little of appeal in the ALP. Or at least, yoof in general: the party still manages to recruit ambitious young apparatchiks, principally students, Darren Ray being perhaps the example par excellence of this tendency.

Despite its hostility to socialism — formally abandoned some years ago — the Australian Labor Party “maintains formal links with fraternal parties overseas through ongoing membership of the Socialist International. This supplements the close, bilateral ties the ALP maintains with counterparts around the world”.

There’s also the Fabian Society, but nobody really pays them much attention. This may be because they have next to no influence.

See also : ARE FACTIONS KILLING THE LABOR PARTY?, Senator Robert Ray, Address to The Fabian Society Sydney, 20 September 2006 (“Thirty years ago I was doing research on the First International – an international socialist organisation formed by Marx and Engels [sic] to unify the working class movement. It quickly became the battleground between the Marxists and the Anarchists, who were to have their showdown at the Hague Conference of 1872. While not yet a nation, Australia was nevertheless represented at this Congress by a Ballarat miner whose task was to argue for an extra shilling a day for Australian miners. As the colossal ideological firestorm engulfed the Hague Conference, as Karl Marx and Michael Bakunin fought it out, the Australian delegate was reported to have intervened on only one occasion, and that was to say “Monsieur le President, I do not understand what is happening”.)

May 2008:

Union Power and the New Mandarins

The decline in the labour movement has proven to be the wave upon which a number of its representatives have surfed into state power. This decline is evidenced in the declining number of industrial disputes (the result of an exercise of industrial power by the unions) and the even steeper decline in union membership. Australian Social Trends, 1996, Industrial Relations: Industrial disputes: “In the period 1969-83, the number of industrial disputes recorded annually fluctuated considerably but was consistently higher than the number of disputes in the period 1983-94. Since 1984, there has been a steady downward trend in the number of industrial disputes. While this is part of a world-wide trend, the decline in Australia has been much greater than in other parts of the world. In 1994, there were 560 industrial disputes — the lowest number since 1940.”

Prices and incomes policy 1983-96

The Statement of Accord between the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was endorsed in February 1983/4. Shortly after the ALP won the federal election the Accord became government policy. In September 1983 the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission agreed to establish a centralised wage fixing system based on productivity and price movements as outlined in the Statement of Accord. The ACTU agreed to exercise restraint in wage claims in exchange for social programs.

During the first three years of the Accord wages were indexed, but at the end of 1985-86 the government and the ACTU agreed to partially index wages. Subsequently, indexation was abandoned and wage adjustments were significantly below the inflation rate. In 1987 the Industrial Relations Commission recommended a two tier system. The first tier was an automatic flat increase for everyone. The second tier was related to identifiable improvement in productivity. In the following years the two tier system remained with increasing flexibility occurring. For example in 1991 the first wage increase was replaced by a tax cut. The Accord was abandoned in March 1996 following the change of government.

Number of Industrial Disputes, 1996–2007, Australia:

1996: 543
1997: 447
1998: 518
1999: 729
2000: 700
2001: 675
2002: 767
2003: 643
2004: 692
2005: 472
2006: 202
2007: 135

See also : Industrial Disputes, Australia, December 2007, ABS, March 13, 2008. Note that the number of disputes is one indicator of industrial unrest; the number of participants, and longevity of the dispute, are others. Some of the key disputes which the ALP effectively neutralised towards the beginning of its last period of Federal rule include the Australian Pilots’ dispute of 1989 and, prior to that, the successful de-construction of the Victorian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. On the BLF, see Liz Ross, Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! Builders Labourers Fight Deregistration 1981-1994, Vulgar Books, 2004. Finally, John Stone of the HR Nicholls Society tips his hat to the Drover’s Dog:

By way of illustration, I remind you of the airline pilots’ dispute in August-September, 1989. In that dispute, we saw a Prime Minister actively facilitating:

o Use of ‘the troops’ (RAAF) to help defeat the walkout by a key body of airline employees;
o The bringing of common law actions for breach of contract against individual pilots to the same end;
o Use of Sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act for the same purpose;
o The import of foreign pilots to take the place of Australian pilots who had withdrawn their labour;
o The import of charter aircraft (and associated foreign crews) to supply services being withheld by the Australian pilots; and even
o The provision of some kind of financial assistance designed to assist a major employer (Ansett Airlines) and thus help ‘keep it in the field’ until the Australian Federation of Air Pilots had been crushed.

Mr Hawke’s zeal in all these matters thus went even further than our own. The H.R. Nicholls Society had never argued that a body of employees should not have the right to be represented by a union (or Association) of their own free choosing—a basic right which Mr Hawke and Sir Peter [Abeles] were determined to deny to the pilots.

Trade Union Membership as Proportion of Employees, 1912–2001:

See also : Social Democracy: No Future? Introduction to Articles on the Retreat of Social Democracy, Aufheben, 7, Autumn 1998: “Social democracy is in retreat. That its institutions continue to be the focus of struggles raises the question of what we want and how we should fight. But to answer such questions requires a proper understanding of the nature of social democracy. In this, the Introduction to a series of articles on the current retreat of social democracy, we unravel the essence of this dominant form of political mediation of working class needs.”

The Retreat of Social Democracy… Re-imposition of Work in Britain and the ‘Social Europe’, Aufheben, 8, Autumn 1999: “In this, the latest exciting instalment of our analysis of social democracy in retreat, we show how the left-of-centre governments now dominating the European political arena are attempting to re-impose work through common neo-reformist policies. We argue that reports of social democracy’s rebirth have been greatly exaggerated: and we never lamented its passing anyway.”

Faction-hit ALP ‘faces extinction’
Paul Austin
The Age
January 26, 2009

THE ALP faces extinction because of an ageing and declining membership and a destructive culture of personal and factional advancement, one of the party’s elder statesmen has warned.

In a letter to leaders of Premier John Brumby’s dominant Right faction, former cabinet minister Race Mathews reveals the party’s national membership has plummeted to about 50,000 — down from about 370,000 immediately after World War II — and the average age is about 50.

Dr Mathews’ letter, dated last Thursday and obtained by The Age, says there are fewer than 13,000 ALP members in Victoria and most are inactive.

He says this is “a recipe for extinction, and places the party in the category of an endangered species”.

“Sooner or later we will again find ourselves in opposition at the state or federal levels and maybe both, and our predicament at that point in the absence of a numerous and active rank and file will be truly pitiful,” he says.

Dr Mathews’ reform-or-die call to arms has been prompted by splits in both the Right and Left factions over Labor preselections for next year’s federal and Victorian elections.

He says the party is in “crisis” and accuses Mr Brumby’s Right faction of spending too much time and energy on “who gets what, at the expense of ensuring that we have an effective party”.

“Nobody — and least of all the people whose needs and interests we are meant to represent — will get anything if the deterioration of the party remains unchecked,” he warns in the letter.

“Too much squabbling over spoils ends up ensuring there are no spoils to divide.”

His warning comes as Mr Brumby returns from holidays today with Victorian Labor in turmoil after a damaging month for the Government.

Veteran minister Theo Theophanous resigned from cabinet on Christmas Eve to fight a rape charge that is likely to be before the courts for much of this year.

Mr Brumby was then embarrassed when his choice to fill the cabinet vacancy, former internet entrepreneur and “star” Labor recruit Evan Thornley, decided to quit Parliament for a lucrative private-sector job.

One of the Premier’s main tasks at a two-day state caucus retreat in Ballarat starting tomorrow will be to calm the nerves of ministers and backbenchers who fear the internal factional brawling and the global economic crisis will undermine the prospects of Mr Brumby and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd retaining office at next year’s elections.

Dr Mathews was chief of staff to former prime minister Gough Whitlam before becoming a federal MP, a minister in John Cain’s state government, and a long-time head of Australia’s oldest left-leaning political think tank, the Fabian Society.

His letter was distributed to key Labor figures on Friday by one of Mr Brumby’s strongest supporters, former ALP state president and high-profile union leader Bill Shorten, who is head of the Victorian Right and a rising star in the federal Labor caucus.

Dr Mathews writes that while it may be true that Victorian Labor is in no worse shape than the state Liberal Party, at least the Liberals are taking their problems seriously and have done a comprehensive review of the way their party runs itself and connects with the community.

A special meeting of about 1000 Victorian Liberals last October endorsed a radical reform package after a report from party president David Kemp warned that Liberal membership in Victoria had slumped to fewer than 14,000 — down from more than 45,000 when Robert Menzies won government in 1949 — and that more than a quarter of the members were over 75.

In his letter, Dr Mathews calls on Labor leaders to begin work urgently on a “party renewal charter” to try to ensure the ALP retains its rank-and-file members, attracts new ones and forges closer links to its affiliated unions.

“To paraphrase an old saying, all that is necessary for the party to die is that good members do nothing,” he writes.

Dr Mathews, who joined the ALP in 1956 and the Victorian Right in 1976, declined to comment last night.

ALP faces extinction, expert warns
January 26, 2009
Australian Associated Press

AN ageing and declining membership and a culture of personal advancement and factional fighting could spell the end of the ALP, a former party heavyweight has warned.

In a letter to leaders of the Right faction that dominates the party, former Victorian cabinet minister Race Mathews said Labor’s national membership has dropped from about 370,000 at the end of World War II to 50,000 today, The Age newspaper said.

Dr Mathews’ letter, distributed on Friday, said most of the less than 13,000 party members in Victoria are inactive and said the situation is “a recipe for extinction, and places the party in the category of an endangered species”.

“Sooner or later we will again find ourselves in opposition at the state or federal levels and maybe both, and our predicament at that point in the absence of a numerous and active rank and file will be truly pitiful,” he said.

Dr Mathews’ said Premier John Brumby’s Right faction concentrates on “who gets what, at the expense of ensuring that we have an effective party”.

“Nobody – and least of all the people whose needs and interests we are meant to represent – will get anything if the deterioration of the party remains unchecked,” he said.

Dr Mathews joined the ALP in 1956.

He was chief of staff to former prime minister Gough Whitlam before becoming a federal MP.

He joined the Right faction in 1976 and was a minister in the Cain government in the 1980s.

He declined to comment to The Age.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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10 Responses to The ALP facing extinction?

  1. Bron says:

    Interesting stuff, @ndy. Thanks, from a former ALP member.

  2. @ndy says:

    Cheers Bron. Robert Ray writes: “The churn rate for new members is at least 40% in a year.”


    Tonight the right toasts its Young Labor might
    December 13, 2007

    Tonight, the NSW Right of the Labor Party will do what it does best: revel in a night of backslapping and self-congratulation at the LeMontage restaurant in Sydney.

    The event is to commemorate and to celebrate the Young Labor right’s victory over the Left in Young Labor 15 years ago.

    Bob Carr and John McCarthy were the last Young Labor Presidents from the Right in the mid-1970s before Joe Tripodi and Reba Meagher led a campaign to win it back, culminating in their narrow conference victory in 1992. Since then, Young Labor has proved a fertile breeding ground for Labor. Not only does it deliver bus loads of people to work on campaigns, organize conscripts to do the grunt work of mail outs and letterboxing, it also provides an opportunity for valuable networking and to learn the trade of politics.

    Years later, after a suitable apprenticeship, these people who end up running all things politics. In the 1960s and 1970s NSW Young Labor produced Paul Keating, Ron Dyer, Leo McLeay, Laurie Brereton, Bob Carr and scores of others. The Left produced Anthony Albanese, Pam Allen, Carmel Tebbutt, Luke Foley during the Right’s wilderness years.

    Today, it is interesting to see where the leaders from the Young Right who followed them have ended up – almost all are safely employed in the party that nurtured them.

    Of course, Young Labor President Reba Meagher is now a Minister in NSW, so is Joe Tripodi, who was the Right’s first Secretary of Young Labor. Consider the other Presidents. Mario Falchoni has been in and out of the party and is now in the private sector. Mark Arbib is the NSW Party’s Secretary and was elected to the Senate last month. Elias Hallaj is in Labor’s National Secretariat. Liz McNamara is a senior public servant in NSW, having been Carl Scully’s Chief of Staff and an employee of the Millionaire’s Factory (Macquarie Bank). Matthew Thistlethwaite is at UnionsNSW, and will succeed John Robertson as Secretary. David Bradbury is now the Federal Member for Lindsay. Troy Bramston is Kevin Rudd’s speechwriter. Sam Moreton is Chief of Staff to Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal. Sam Dastyari is back in the Sussex Street Party office, after a stint with HawkerBritton.

    And other Young Labor graduates like new NSW Party Secretary Karl Bitar, State MPs Matt Brown and Paul McLeay, Federal Ministers Tony Burke and Chris Bowen, and Former NSW Minister Cherie Burton, will all be there tonight.

    While some may say this lot is a far cry from Keating, Carr et al, they are the ones that matter now. And the machine will keep on churning them out. The Libs, who struggle to field a footy team with the same sort of talent, should take notice.

  3. @ndy says:

    Inertia rules at the peak of the party
    Alan Ramsey
    June 11, 2005

    [Quoting Luke Foley]

    “Five years ago, in 2000, the NSW branch of the ALP commissioned a detailed study of the party’s membership. The study analysed our membership by age, gender, electorate, branch, category (employed, affiliated trade unionist, concession), payment method and length of membership.

    “A report containing the findings was presented to the then general-secretary [Eric Roozendaal, now a member of the NSW upper house] and, in turn, to the [Right-wing-controlled] Administrative Committee. Accompanying the analysis were recommendations to ‘open up the party to a wider group of people’. The Administrative Committee, at the behest of [Roozendaal], adopted a formal goal of increasing [NSW] membership to 50,000 by 2005.

    “Financial membership at the time – in late 2000 – was 21,585. By 31 March, 2005, the financial membership of the NSW ALP stood at 16,300. The target in 2000 was to increase membership 15 per cent to 20 per cent each year to 2005. In reality it is ageing and diminishing.

    “Today there are less than 8000 ALP members in this state who work for a living. There are 3,240,000 people in the NSW workforce. Only one-quarter of 1 per cent have joined the Labor Party. Members of affiliated unions who are themselves members of the ALP [number] around 3000. That is less than 1 per cent of the 393,000 trade union members affiliated to the party through their trade union.

    “In turn, understand that the NSW ALP’s trade union affiliates represent just 12 per cent of the NSW workforce and the figure is declining. The party of the workers has hardly any workers as members.

    “The situation is even bleaker when the detail behind the figures is considered. Recent research for the [NSW trade union] Labor Council demonstrated how poorly unionists regard the ALP. This research was decisive in the council’s change of name to Unions NSW. And, as John Howard has demonstrated, many workers – affiliated unionists or not – have decided not to support Labor at the ballot box.

    “The ALP needs to renew its democratic legitimacy or face collapse as a membership-based political party.”

    Even Foley’s figure of 16,300 ALP members in NSW can be seen as dubious. Labor likes to pretend its national membership is 45,000. If NSW, easily the most populous state, has only 16,300 financial members, it is absurd to think the rest of Australia contributes almost 30,000 members.

    Labor nationally is unlikely to have any more than 35,000 members at most and, possibly, as few as 20,000 to 25,000. Two years ago, when, for the first time, Labor opened the ballot for federal party president to its rank-and-file members, 39,000 ballot papers were distributed but only 19,000 votes were returned. That likely says far more about genuine ALP membership than it does about lack of grassroots interest in the ballot.

    While Foley concedes membership of mainstream political parties everywhere is in decline, he asserts: “What is distinctive about the NSW ALP is the absence of any strategic response. Since 1999, 45 NSW branches have collapsed. Scores of others exist on paper only. The result of a weakened and degraded branch structure is the party is more and more vulnerable to the worst and most opportunistic of outside influences”…

  4. @ndy says:

    And on the other hand…

    Union membership’s great leap backwards
    Andrew West and Mark Davis
    April 15, 2008

    UNION membership has plunged in the past 12 months despite the central role that organised labour played in defeating the Howard government at last year’s election.

    The ACTU’s $25 million television and publicity campaign may have helped Labor into office but the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show it did not win dues-paying converts for the movement.

    The bureau found that membership fell by 5 per cent, or 89,000, in the year to last August, meaning just 19 per cent of the workforce – or 1.7 million workers – were signed up to unions. It accelerates a trend in which membership has halved since 1990…

  5. @ndy says:

    One more thing…!

    There’s been a profound decline in unionisation rates over the last few decades. There’s a number of reasons for this, both economic and political. According to statistics compiled in May 2006,
    “Electricity, gas and water supply (43%),
    Education (40%),
    Government administration and defence (34%),
    and Transport and storage (29%)
    industries [are] the most unionised… The least unionised industries were
    Property and business services (5%),
    Agriculture, forestry and fishing (6%),
    Wholesale trade and Accommodation, cafes and restaurants (both 8%).”

    Beyond this, there’s been a massive shift in employee status, from full- to part-time and casual, and from primary and secondary industry to tertiary (service) sectors. In combination with the impact of the Accord (1983–1996), and the subsequently even more hostile Tory Gub’mint (1996–2007), it’s little wonder that rates have declined, and so too industrial disputes. Rates of overall membership have also experienced a steep decline:

    8.62 TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP – August 2006 %


    Public 45.7 Private 17.0


    Public 40.3 Private 12.9


    Public (Male and Female) 42.6
    Private (Male and Female) 15.2
    Persons across all sectors 20.3 (Males 21.3 Females 19.3)[email protected]/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/118F11C774D4D492CA2573D20010F38E?opendocument

  6. Monkey Chops says:

    Extinction? Good news?

    Perhaps, but what are our resident hammer and sickle waving anarchists going to replace our party with?

    A mass movement taking to the streets which will garner the support of the locals? Don’t make me laugh…

    People want change, methodical reform which will not result in too much social upheaval. The impatient little boys and girls will just have to learn things take time. Hard work and social evolution…

  7. @ndy says:

    “…hammer and sickle waving anarchists…” do not exist. The hammer and sickle is a Communist symbol.

    Btw, where did you learn to channel The Will of The People?

  8. Monkey Chops says:

    The Will of the People is expressed in a peaceful way every 3 years at the Polling Booth.

    If you don’t like what is being offered, join a party and enact change through offering policy direction and lobbying within your party organisation.

    I think our method of “channelling the Will of the People” is far more effective than your efforts seem to have been so far.

    No offence…

  9. @ndy says:

    Your opinion has been duly noted.

  10. Pingback: The Mad Monk and direct action, The ALP and direct democracy | slackbastard

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