Abolish the... constitution?

Phil Sandford questions the relevance of Labor Tribune's republican strategy

Mike Newman makes a number of interesting points in his analysis of the June 28 day of protest (‘Wouldn’t be bad if we did…’).

He starts off by pointing out that the rallies nationwide were a powerful response by the working class and that there is a growing confidence that Howard’s Workchoices can be defeated.

He’s correct to criticise the abstract calls for strike action coming from some sections of the left and the opposed view of simply calling for a vote for Labor. He’s also correct to call for rebuilding workplace delegate structures and building local Your Rights at Work committees.

However, I’m not so sure about his call ‘to abolish the current constitution and replace it with a radical republican settlement with the working class at the centre of political life’.

If there is no strong feeling for industrial action in the working class at present it’s also true that there is no strong feeling to abolish the constitution. While it is correct not to pin any great faith on the states’ constitutional challenge to Workchoices there is no sign of any opposition to this step in the working class. I’m not sure how you can call to abolish the constitution at the same time as trying to use it against Howard.

I think that every measure possible should be taken to defeat Howard’s laws, including the constitutional challenge, because they represent a massive blow against wages and conditions and will make organising in the workplace much more difficult.

I think the conditions exist now for some serious recruitment to the unions, a crucial step in the campaign against Workchoices. I think it will also be possible to build local Your Rights at Work committees all over the country and to have a broad-ranging discussion about the next steps in the campaign involving delegates, rank-and-file unionists, community members and members of various political parties such as the ALP and Greens.

I supported the proposal in NSW for a single rally in the West – I favoured Parramatta as the location – against some in the left who wanted an additional rally in Sydney. Unfortunately the debate about the venue was held by Unions NSW behind closed doors and delegates were presented with a fait accompli that the venue would be Blacktown.

It would have been easier logistically to have a rally in Sydney and there may have been more people, but the rally gave an enormous boost to workers in Western Sydney. This is an area that has been systematically discriminated against over the years and there was enormous pride that the rally was being held there, a fact that was not fully appreciated by some on the left.

In the event disputes over location faded into the background when the numbers vastly exceeded anybody’s expectations and we all took part in a powerful working class mobilisation.