Monday, July 25, 2011

James Macken life membership speech

The speech to the ALP NSW Conference by Dr James Macken on receipt of his life membership was highlighted to me by a delegate as "the best speech of the conference".

It is a ripper and for ease I've transcribed it below (also embedded the video below).

Mr Chairman and delegates, if you think because of my voice that I'm trying to copy Neville Wran you're wrong, he's copying me.

It's a great honour to become a life member of the Labor Party, and on behalf of my fellow life members and myself I want to thank the delegates very much.  

There are big disadvantages of being a life member. One of them is that you are very old to start with.  But the big advantage of being very old is that you have a long memory.  And in the Labor Movement I've found that a long memory is indispensable to political survival. 

My memory, my first campaign, was the Chifley campaign on bank nationalisation in 1949; a very bitter campaign.  

Now I know it is politically incorrect to say this, but I only get one chance to stand on this platform and it is today.  I still believe in bank nationalisation.

Apart from the public control of credit, which was always at the core of Labor, the other thing we had to do in the $0s and 50S, we had to sign a solemn pledge which we meant to support the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.  Well I still believe in that too.

Well, policies change, but the essential focus of the party doesn't change.  The Greens are the party of trees.  The Libs are the party of big business corporations and big institutions and foreign governments.  

But we are the party of the people.  We're a humanist party.  We are the party of the poor, the marginalised, the refugees, the unemployed, the workers, all of the poor people who've got no one else to represent them.  Essentially a party of the people, a true humanist party, and the only one in Australia.  

When we turn our back on the people and start becoming a party of developers, a party of big business and institutions, we get the train wreck we suffered at the last State election.

Well comrades, from this weekend on it's all up. New reforms are in place, tentative steps - but steps none the less - and we can look forward to the future now as the party of the people with some confidence.  

I want to thank you delegates for the great honour bestowed on me today.  I particularly want to thank the Trade Union delegates that are here today, because as a unionist they are my home and always will be my home.  My first union ticket is dated the 26th of January 1947, that was the date of the first pay I got after leaving school, and I've been union ever since.

In the Trade Union movement as you know we have some bloodthirsty fights.  They are good clean fun but they're pretty bloodthirsty fights.  But nonetheless when the pressure goes on, when the employers attack, when the living standards of the workers are under seige, there are no divisions, there are no factions, there is only a united front of the workers against those oppressors.  

Comrades, don't ever forget the unity of Labor is the hope of the world, and there are no factions on picket lines.  

Thank you all very much.

The sentiment about the pledge is fine - but it is worth remembering that the socialisation objective is still there. I've written before that the challenge for the party is to give meaning to that objective.

Macken's comments on bank nationalisation provide an example. If the goal is "government control of the provision of credit" that can be achieved by the regulation of private sector banks rather than government ownership of the one-and-only bank. It can be argued that one of the bases for Australia's ability to weather the GFC was our greater relative regulation of credit provision. Most notably the NINJA loans (no income no job no assets) that were a feature of the US crisis are illegal in Australia.

I have no quibble with unions, I just still quibble with their control of the party. They do not represent the people as eloquently defined by Macken, but at best they represent people currently employed and at worst represent their sectional interest over others. Was the campaign against Iemma and Costa really a worker campaign or was it an ETU campaign? There are unions opposed to regulating gambling despite the victims of gambling being other workers. Let alone the position of control in some unions like the shoppies.

The future of the ALP is not assured by some tiny tinkering with its structure and processes. It needs to embrace its objective and explain it.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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