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The Public Servants’ Union and ALP affiliation

By Passy - 7 March 2009 28

This article first appeared in En Passant.

Here in Canberra there is a lot of media talk about the Community and Public Sector Union affiliating to the ALP.

Not surprisingly, since about one third of all Commonwealth Public servants work in Canberra, The Canberra Times has been echoing membership disquiet with the affiliation move.

For example in today’s Canberra Times James Massola (in PS union has two dividends in view) quotes the national CPSU president Stephen Jones as arguing ‘…that a seat at the Labor table is the best means available to influence decision-making and defend his constituency.’

This is crap, of course.  As I have said elsewhere on this site, the ALP host will take over the CPSU parasite. 

It is not as if the timid leadership of the CPSU currently challenges the Government or defends the interests of it members in any meaningful way.  This after all is the union whose idea of fighting the Government is launching ads calling on Rudd and Tanner not to cut public service staff or the services they provide. 

That should have the tough love men and women of the Labor Government shaking in their boots (with laughter.)

This whole strategy of influence (ads and affiliation) is born of weakness and the failure to undertake industrial action to defend jobs and conditions.  It comes out of the deliberate strategy of concentrating power in the hands of the leadership.

The CPSU, like most other unions in Australia, has destroyed any semblance of rank and file participation in, let alone control of, the union. Power is in the hands of a small clique for whom the membership and industrial action are a bigger threat than the Government. 

But to give the impression of defending members and opposing Rudd, the union runs ads and wants to affiliate. Such strength. Such power.

Two letters in today’s Canberra Times criticise the affiliation.  In one, CPSU National Council/Governing Council member Terry Costello calls for a plebiscite of members after arguing that ‘…the CPSU, like many unions today, is run in a top-down fashion..’

I agree but would suggest further action. It’s time for unions members to reclaim their union and organise strikes against Rudd and Tanner. 

The threat to public service jobs and working conditions is real.  As the economy slides into deep recession, the Labor Party will attack its own staff. 

The present CPSU leadership has no effective strategy for stopping this.  Affiliation is a sideshow and would be swept aside in any real industrial campaign.

Only union members can defeat Labor’s planned attacks on the public service by preparing and organising for strikes now and forcing that strategy on their reluctant and timid leadership. 

If rank and file members were to do this, (and to be frank, there is no  indication that they are planning anything along these line just yet), other workers could draw lessons from their actions and move on the offensive against their own job and wage cutting bosses. 

Or if other workers take successful action to defend jobs and conditions, CPSU members could learn from that.

Either way, the message is clear.  Ads and affiliation won’t save jobs.  Strikes have a chance of doing that. 

If you don’t fight you lose.


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28 Responses to
The Public Servants’ Union and ALP affiliation
Donewrong 10:56 am 08 Mar 09

As a long-time ACT ALP member, I am quite worried about this whole business. In between the fantasy world-nutty left stuff, passy hit on one of the main reasons why.

The affiliation of the CPSU has NOTHING to do with what rank and file ACT Labor members want.

The affiliation of the CPSU has NOTHING to do with what rank and file CPSU members want.

The CPSU have neither the interests of their members or the future wellbeing of the ALP in mind with this affiliation.

Then why are they doing it?

1. Because Stephen Jones (CPSU national boss) and co are hungry for power. To their credit, they’re being upfront about this. They’re being less upfront about controlling future preselections though.

2. The machinations of an ambitious young lefty in natsec who can’t wait a few years for his turn at Lundy’s senate spot, and must have it now. Selling out his own faction and letting the party tear itself apart over this is a price worth paying, apparently.

Since the Great War of 1995, ACT Labor has been a relatively friendly and happy place. People got on with each other, most problems were resolved amicably, people in different factions by and large coexisted peacefully. And genuine local candidates stood a reasonable chance of getting preselected, without having to spend years as a party hack. Now, prepare yourselves for all ALP future candidates to be square-glasses wearing, sbs watching, former democrats voting rejects from public service upper middle management that have channeled their career frustrations into a useless but sycophantically loyal stint as a CPSU organiser somewhere.

Passy 10:35 am 08 Mar 09

Thanks harley.

I am not advertising my blog – but you are. Thanks again.

The Todd Carney faction really likes to indulge in mindless abuse. But a little in response and they go over the top.

Oh well.At least I am not inciting people to violence by calling on them to kick me in the nuts.

Meanwhile the CPSU gets off the hook with its disgusting affiliation proposal.

harley 9:52 am 08 Mar 09

WTF? Todd Carney as my role model. Seriously, Passy, who’s letting fly the abuse and invective now?

You’ve got a blog, stop cross posting your crap here. JB *didn’t* reprint it as you claim, you cross posted it, and the mods here let it through. I agree they may have felt that there was some valid content here, but your piece is nothing but an opinion piece, and serves no purpose here other than to point people at your self-serving En Passant so you can say to all your SA buddies “look at me, I have a blog”.

The opening line “This article first appeared in En Passant.” might be valid if, and only if, someone else thought your content worthy of cross posting. When you do it yourself it just looks patheticly like “I’ve got no readers, I’ll troll for some…” I haven’t been around long enough to say this with any certainty, but you sound like the lefty version of SGS…

Tempestas said :

Sorry my mistake ” … not the People’s Front for Judea, the Judean Peoples Front.”*

It’s quite obvious that Passy is the Popular People’s Front.

Passy 8:40 am 08 Mar 09


When I was active the left didn’t argue to trade off conditions for wage increases; we opposed any trade offs. So I am not sure your stereotype is correct, unless you are talking about the Labor left – a different grouping altogether.

Thanks harley. I too agree with you and WMC that inciting Ralph to violence against me is totally appropriate and very educational and refutes my arguments.

By the way is Todd Carney your role model? Certainly the Todd Carney faction on RA does seem to dominate the comments section.

I suspect that as the economic crisis worsens and its impacts really begin to hit home the abuse and invective on RA will increase as an outlet for the repressed anger people have with the system.

In fact this abuse and invective (including physical attacks) is likely to increase across society in the absence of any working class response aimed at the real cause of the crisis – the bosses and their system.

harley 1:12 am 08 Mar 09

+1 to Tempestas & WMC…

skimitar 9:18 pm 07 Mar 09

As a former CPSU organiser (back when we had an office in Braddon and paid a bit more attention to the members) I want to say that this move is probably the final straw for me. I will always support my fellow workers when they need me, but I will pick and choose who my money goes to if the CPSU becomes just another ALP ‘bottom’.

There are plenty of other ways to support my colleagues that are much more appealing to the newer generations of workers than the same old arguing over whether the CPSU should support cutting 7 days of leave to fund a pay rise in a CA or really stick it to management and draw the line at only cutting 6 (that’ll show ’em Comrades – followed by a rousing chorus of the ‘Red Flag’).

(disclaimer: yes, speaking from bitter memories!)

Passy 4:45 pm 07 Mar 09

Thanks Woody. FFS. I have as much right to post here as you do. It’s called democracy. I have a suggestiuon. Don’t read my articles on RA or my responses.

That way you can stick to the diet of macdonalds for the mind you normally get here on RA.

Passy 4:41 pm 07 Mar 09

Thanks tempestas.

I wasn’t advertising my website. Given the Canberra Times opinion pieces, letters and reporting, and previous RA coverage, I thought people might be genuinely interested in the issue. JB seems to agree, having re-printed my piece.

(As an aside I have been doing a little research on environmental issues and the ACT and hope to publish that on RA after putting it on my website. What’s the problem? After all RA often refers to CT articles for example and the environment seems important enough to consider alongside which band or event is getting free advertising on RA.)

My website is as popular as Julie Bishop’s when she was shadow treasurer. That’s OK for me starting out, pretty bad for her.

Crikey has reprinted two of my articles – on tax. These are the really almost apolitical ones – hardly radical stuff. Just bagging out my former employer’s management and its attacks on its own staff, driven by the logic of funding cuts to do so. (in fact I find this whole Crikey approach of bagging out Bolt, Akerman etc tedious and only occasional funny. In fact I have asked Poison Pen(Crikey’s new ‘get stuck into the Right, oh and the Left,’ site) to criticise me for some of my more ‘interesting’ formulations.

Minority views can become majority views. In the present global economic crisis when “all that is solid melts into air” this argument has more credibility, but is true even of ‘normal’ times. It is almost as if the eternal conflict is between change and continuity.

I wasn’t invoking Stalin – I was accusing you of using tactics that may have had their origins in Stalin’s police state.

I doubt your analysis of what union members want is correct. The decline in union membership since 1983 may well be because unions have abandoned any idea of using industrial action to defend theri members interests. Certainly a tracking graph of industrial action and union membership shows a close relationship – the more strikes etc the more members.

I am not vying for leadership of the CPSU or any other union. I am suggesting it is time for the do nothings to get out of the way or perhaps be driven aside. I believe that among some sections of the trade union movement there is a greater questioning of the failed strategies of the past.

I am one among those voices. The present leaders may retain leadership and preside over the complete destruction of unionism and devastating increases in unemployment in Australia. They may not.

the present crisis may drive some workers to fight back industrially. I stress may because the threat of unemployment pulls workers int eh opposite direction – don’t rock the boat to keep jobs, accept less paid hours, do more unpaid hours, accept wage cuts, work even harder.

I can’t predict the future, but I can say that there is fear and anger out there and it is growing. (In other countries this has gone further with general strikes in Greece, France,(and another to come), possibly Ireland, the fall of the Iceland and Latvian Governments, unrest across Europe, etc.) The European trade union group (hardly a bastion of radicalism) has called mass demos for 16 to 18 May in major European cities.

it may be that as Australia’s recession catches up with the rest of the world(and possibly surpasses it) that workers catch up to workers around the world. Maybe, maybe not. Let’s see what happens.

But to argue that because workers in Australia have been quiet for the last 26 years they will be quiet today is to mistake the past for the future, something the global economic crisis shows us is a mistake.

My thanks to Gungahlin Al for expressing his disgust with the CPSU affiliation proposal and the union leadership’s seeming lack of consultation and openness with its members.

Woody Mann-Caruso 4:10 pm 07 Mar 09

FFS. You have a blog. What’s the matter – nobody reading it? If I’m ever the slightest bit interested in anything you have to say (and can get past your apparent need to make every single f.cking post longer than War and Peace), I’ll go visit.

Where’s Ralph when you need somebody to kick a commie in the nuts?

Tempestas 3:21 pm 07 Mar 09

Sorry my mistake ” … not the People’s Front for Judea, the Judean Peoples Front.”*

Apologies to Monty Python. Although whilst I am there

“There you go bringing class into again….” &

“Government ultimately derives from a mandate from the masses not some farcical aquatic ceremony”

Passy you are free to post with all the earnestness you want here, but given you are just trying to find an audience for your blog to help you feel less lost in the world, you might go hang out on Crikey and pick on Andrew Bolt. That would at least allow you to run with the level of argument that you aspire too.

You may not have noticed but 1/2 of the comments here, take the piss or are abusive or both. It’s what this playpen is like.

On topic the problem is that most of the public servants are not interested in being active, want to have insurance and want the union to do stuff for them, they don’t really want a union they want a service. Its not pretty.

Previously most unions worked against each other by being little fiefdoms all having an executive officer of the week and playing internecine games with many of your ilk. You might not of have noticed but apparently church attendance is down as well, maybe the religious leaders are not encouraging their faithful to get more burnings at the stake happening every week and fighting for their faith.

As I said before if you got control of the leadership of this or any union, I’d be betting bankruptcy in under two years. Don’t you think that if you had a point, someone else might of noticed by now.

BTW doesn’t invoking Stalin get you to Goodwins law or do we need to mention his Austrian contemporary.

Passy 1:15 pm 07 Mar 09

Thanks for the comments.

Tempestas says I should expose my socialist alliance leanings. I have no connection to socialist alliance. As I have made perfectly clear here before I am a member of Socialist Alternative. We meet every Thursday at 6 pm in room G 039 of the Copland Building at the ANU.

tempestas also says I am ideologically deranged. As I have also pointed out before such language has its roots in the Stalinist attempts to destroy all opposition to it by labelling its opponents as mad.

Also it appears tempestas thinks that I should not post on RA, because my ideas differ from his. This is authoritarian.

Why can’t I put my views on RA? Or is this a place for the socially and politically conservative only, say a Melbourne Club for morons? Obviously it is not, but that is what Tempestas appears to be arguing for.

I am shocked by the level of vitriol and authoritarianism that some posters to RA display in the face of views they disagree with. Why not address the issues rather than spew forth bile? Or is democracy only about reading views you agree with?

Let’s be clear. I didn’t argue for a general strike so I don’t see how that is relevant to the discussion. It is a non sequitur introduced to divert attention away for the real discussion which is that taking industrial action has the best chance of defending PS jobs.

And I make clear in the article itself that there are few people in the CPSU who will adopt my industrial ideas at the moment. But surely putting those ideas in the public arena is legitimate? Apparently not, according to some posters.

People’s views change over time. If the Rudd Labor Government does intensify its ongoing attacks on public servants (which I think it will, starting in the May Budget)then some may come to view my suggestion – industrial action to defend jobs – as worth considering.

NickD says it all the fault of us militant old men. OK, but I don’t really see how or where or when. When was the last time any union took militant action in Australia to defend jobs or for better wages and conditions? And PM, although he starts off well, blames militant wackos (again if you can’t argue against someone’s ideas, call them mad)for the problems of the union. I doubt the present leadership are militant wackos – and they have controlled the union since Adam was a boy.

The problem might be too little militancy, not too much.

I am not criticising the unpaid representatives of the CPSU. They do a great job in trying to keep the union alive. The leadership have presided over a period of class collaboration in which membership has dropped and Public Servants are facing attacks on their jobs and conditions.

But the paid leadership of the CPSU and almost all other unions for that matter abandoned class struggle 26 years ago as a strategy for defending workers’ interests. That approach of the ACTU and CPSU has destroyed rank and file participation let alone control of unions. And it has destroyed the memory in the class of struggle.

Look, if I am so mad, explain to me how ads and affiliation will stop the efficiency dividend and industrial action won’t? This ‘policy’ has been in place for over twenty years in some form.

And why hasn’t the CPSU fought it in the past? Why now, in the form of ads and affiliation only?

If strikes don’t have a chance of defending jobs, explain to me why, and what will? Or do we all lie down and die?

As to NickD and his point about legality. Many agencies are in bargaining negotiations right now. Tax is an example. Striking there to keep jobs, making people permanent and for real wage increases (say 10 per cent per annum) would cut the flow of revenue to government and could force them to negotiate.

Tax workers, let alone CPSU members in other agencies, are a long way from there just yet. Will they always be? I don’t know, but we should explore alternatives even as part of the process of deciding to remain in stasis. Hence the article.

In any event, bad laws should be broken. if the choice is between not striking and losing jobs, or striking and thus having a chance of keeping jobs (but with the outside possibility the ALP would make a martyr of a CPSU member) then I choose the latter course.

Gungahlin Al 12:58 pm 07 Mar 09

Well this CPSU member is pretty cheesed off about the affiliation move, and have told local reps as much.

And disappointingly, it didn’t rate a mention from either camp during the recent CPSU elections. I had to chase down opinions as they weren’t given, and got mush for a response – people obviously well practiced in writing ministerials…

Tempestas 12:19 pm 07 Mar 09

If only the weak green lefty types would form their own club, or have they, Hey Passy.

Why don’t you come out and declare your personal socialist alliance leanings and put all your comments on this issue into the context that they deserve.

Everyone knows that most of you wanting a general strike are hard pressed to rise above APS5 without the help and support of the union you like pillorying so much.

Lets also be clear that if your lot could ever fluke to organise enough votes to take over the leadership of any union it would haemorrhage money and members faster than Carney can knock over a beer.

I’ve said it before, ALP affiliation is probably a necessary evil, but any member can OPT out by ticking the box, no other union would bend over so much to meet its members wishes.

If you and your lot of fellow trots believe you represent the vast or even a slight majority of union membership anywhere but in your dreams you are more deluded than you can imagine. As NickD points out its your lot that push people away.

Please take up your ideologically deranged fight with a more militant union, I’m sure the old BLF would love you, our aren’t you tough enough to stick it out.

You have your own blog where all your fellow “real believers” and assorted hangers on can mutually pat you on the back. Keep it there.

PM 11:52 am 07 Mar 09

But NickD – it sounds like the evil capitalists have got to you 🙂

I’m a former CPSU delegate, too. It’s a rubbish union. Many of the people involved are honest, hardworking volunteers, but there are too many militant wackos putting others off joining.

NickD 10:44 am 07 Mar 09

I’m an active union member in the APS and have been a CPSU delegate, and in my experience the only people who ever want to strike are a tiny minority of militant old men. Few rank and file union members are keen on striking for any reason and non-members are obviously even less likely to strike, so its pointless to threaten to do as the result would be an embarrassment.

Moreover, it’s only legal to strike during bargaining periods (eg, when CAs are up for renewal) and a general strike to protest against the Government (whom, its safe to say, most public servants voted for) would led to legal action against the CPSU and a very low turnout. What would the point of that be?

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