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On The Left - Corrections, and Sydney, NSW

I have to correct a mistake from the last column, on May Day, with respect to ILO conventions and their recognition in our labour law. Then, something about the Australian Labor Party, whose NSW Branch I visited last weekend in Sydney. Apologies all round if you missed the lack of On The Left which resulted.

The correction relates to an apparent misunderstanding on my part of the ILO conventions 87 and 98. I stated two weeks that New Zealand’s old IR regime was outside those conventions because it included compulsory unionism and that the ECA was outside because it worked against collective action.

It turns out that this isn’t quite right. According to a correspondent, the reason the old framework wouldn’t meet the requirements of the ILO is that we had monopoly union bargaining rights. The issue was not that people had to join a union; it was simply that they couldn’t choose which union to join which was the problem. Indeed, the ILO doesn’t see freedom of association in the way that most people here do. ILO definitions emphasise the right TO associate they do not include the right NOT to associate. So compulsory membership wasn’t an issue for the ILO.

It was also brought to my attention that aspects of the compulsory arbitration system may not have been inside ILO conventions either. Not being an industrial lawyer or having read the actual conventions themselves, I’m going to go with my source’s advice.

I’m not entirely sure of the extent to which the new Act will meet the conventions either. Margaret Wilson has spoken much of the Principles underlying ILO 87 and 98, and the bill itself says that it aims to reflect the principles. I am told that restrictions on sympathy strike action may leave us still in breach of the letter of the conventions, if not the spirit. Certainly the ERA will be a major improvement on the ECA. One has to wonder why business is apparently so opposed to sensible labour law.

But on to what is, for me anyhow, a more interesting topic. Last weekend I went to Sydney to observe the mid-year Conference of Young Labor’s NSW branch. What I found there was absolutely fascinating.

Labor in New South Wales is split in two by factionalism. Centre Unity and Socialist Left are the two factions, and the tension between them was to my mind quite extraordinary. My understanding is that factional activity is less intense in the senior party, but Young Labor is certainly riven.

After an afternoon flight over on Thai Airways, I was whisked off to factional drinks at the conference venue, the Bankstown Sports Club in Western Sydney. Sydney is a damn big city, with approximately four million inhabitants. It seemed to me to stretch endlessly, and that feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that the conference was in Bankstown, out West, and I was staying with a Young Labor executive member in Manly. It literally took an hour to drive from home to the conference.

If you haven’t been to something like it before, then the Bankstown Sports Club would come as a bit of a shock. It is basically a casino type setup (though only with poker machines, not tables) and lounges and restaurants and bars around it, as well as a conference room. It looked like a piece of Las Vegas dumped into a relatively poor part of what is a very wealthy looking city.

The Saturday night started off with faction drinks. The right dominates the NSW Labor Party and this has been the case in Young Labor since 1992. I was thrown in the deep end, and heard some fascinating speeches throughout the weekend from the right and left respectively, both wings in the youth sector getting support from leading lights in the parliamentary wing of the Party.

Conference itself was a bunfight. To my uneducated eye, it simply seemed to be a ferocious factional tangle. In Young Labour here, conferences are relatively productive, with policy being developed in a consensus way most of the time. In Sydney, every speech was a faction fight. The procedural rules were abused in favour of the majority faction. Scandal sheets were regularly distributed attacking both sides, though the Left did use nastier techniques.

Overall, what was interesting wasn’t the factionalism so much. It was the pride all of the people involved had in being Labor, and the passion they pursue their politics with. Coming from here, where politics is very very laid back, my feeling was that we really are a bunch of amateurs when it comes to political organisation. And that isn’t a comment on the Labour Party here; it is a comment on all politics. Here it isn’t done to be highly partisan, and to show real passion in your politics is almost frowned upon.

Having established contact with Australian Young Labor, it is my intention to carry it on. So in future you will no doubt read more from me on them in the future. It’s silly, really, to not learn as much as one can from overseas organisations similar to one’s own. And transferring some of the enjoyment and energy they obtain from their politics is a priority.

Next week, a look at the utter rubbish coming from some people on the West Coast.

Till then,

Jordan Carter carters@ihug.co.nz

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