There must have been at least a little silent rejoicing in the corridors of Labor at this week’s “Fair” Work Commission ruling, cutting Sunday and holiday penalty payments. “Those poor kids, poor students, those poor poor,” they must have said. “Oh thank you. thank you. thank you Jeebis!”

What could be better for a party that has moved itself somewhat leftward than this sudden intrusion of politics into the depoliticised world of the young? By that I don’t mean they are unaware of issues or power relations by any means. But for many, politics is a just a game old people play, like bowls — they probably think that’s why there’s a lawn on top of Parliament — and the notion that any part of it might represent their interests is tenuous indeed. To most middle-aged people, Bill Shorten looks like a flock of moths that got their own suit. God knows how he appears to the young.

But of course, Labor’s ability to harvest support from the FU Commission’s rul-, sorry FW Commission’s ruling is limited by one thing. In the matter of screwing over part-time and precariously employed casual fast-food and retail workers, the FWC are pikers compared to Labor and the SDA, its single largest donor. Say what you like about the FWC, at least they stab weekend workers in the front. The SDA sold out their penalty-rate dependent members so as to keep sweet their relationship with Coles, Woolies and the other retail big guns. That sleazy deal was the latest in decades of crappy treatment by the union of part-time employees in favour of full-time ones, and of women employees in favour of men. The idea that, on the basis of the FWC ruling, anyone could go out and urge retail and fast-food workers to join the SDA is laughable. Fortunately there’s now another union, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), who are organising like gangbusters at the moment, so workers have somewhere to go (Since RAFFWU started I have been looking forward to Van Badham’s full-throated endorsement of it. What terrible bad luck for an “anarcho-syndicalist-libertarian-communist” Labor flak-catcher that an actual syndicalist union came along! Still waiting on that endorsement).

[The dirty secret of penalty rate opponents: business is booming]

So that limits Labor’s opportunity to come out of a bad week, and it has been a bad week for Labor. Forget the stuff about Turnbull landing blows on Shorten by accusing him of sucking up to billionaires. Turnbull’s attack was archaic, and the notion that people avidly follow parliamentary stoushes was doubly archaic. The coverage of “Turnbull’s triumph” even admitted that it would mean nothing to the public but that it would cheer the backbenches. Talk about postmodern politics.

No, it’s not the hobnobbing with billionaires that pisses Labor supporters and swinging voters off. People don’t expect a union/Labor leader to eat beans from a tin and smoke a corncob pipe. They’re less fazed by that than they are by the steady drip-drip-drip of stories about the smoothly running conveyor belt from Labor to business and finance, and the vast gulf opening between Labor MPs and their members and voters. What can you say about a party named Labo(u)r whose former premier — Anna Bligh –becomes the CEO of the Australian Bankers Association? There have been some sleazy crossovers before, but that appears to be the distilled essence of post-political Labor — the idea that there could be no contradiction between the two roles that, while acknowledging that bankers had a right to represent and advocate for themselves, a Labor person simply couldn’t do it. It certainly does wonders for Labor’s stern-faced campaign on a bank inquiry. Maybe Bligh’s doing one, from deep inside enemy territory.

The news about Bligh’s mutiny was followed by a story in The Age showing the dozen or so state Labor politicians who lived far from their electorates — the “far” usually involving being in an inner-city area, while the electorate somehow managed to be a bit outer. Thus Frank McGuire (Broadmeadows) lives in Fitzroy, while Tim Pallas (Werribee) lives in Williamstown. They both probably stroll down to their local cafes to pop open their laptops and write another screed about how the Greens don’t represent working people. I bet Adam Bandt’s huge eyes on his Brunswick Street billboard stare down at McGuire while he takes his morning ristretto at Mario’s and has a think about how better to represent the good burghers of Broady.

By the time it was revealed that the Victorian Speaker needed to pay back $40,000 for improperly claimed expenses, there really wasn’t any place to park it. Labor is now so compromised on every flank that one really sees little way out for it. The chance to reform the party’s selection procedures was missed years ago, and that might have started it on the path to getting into Parliament people who actually like living in Werribee and Footscray and believe that there is an inherent contradiction between big banks and a party of the workers and the ‘burbs.

[Wage growth at all-time low, so time to cut penalty rates]

The years-running Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association disaster is part of that. Labor is paid for by the SDA; the SDA pays for itself by not representing all its members equally; the mainstream unions reap the reward of direct deals with business by controlling vast super funds on the stock exchange; the mainstream centre- and right-union movement, and Labor with it, become managers of capital, with a side business in employment relations, and political spin. Bligh’s move from Labor to ABA isn’t a change of politics; it’s a change of business card.

What is really impressive about Labor is how determined they are to ensure that ever-larger numbers of people don’t care whether they win, lose or die. The party that everyone progressive would get behind as the only progressive party capable of forming government appears to have some secret committee meeting somewhere planning new ways to make “final instance” Labor supporters feel so cheated, manipulated and used, that thousands of them will just say “fuck it” and walk away. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what happened to Hillary Clinton. And Labor’s numbers, the 54-46, that they’re probably also currently whooping about, are as soft as Clinton’s, even in a compulsory voting system. If I were Turnbull, I’d wait till Kathy Jackson’s trial gets into full swing next year (presuming the charges aren’t dismissed, which, well, nothing surprises me about this mob anymore), get George Christensen to join Cory Bernardi’s party, in exchange for running dead in his electorate, and declare a quick election, which would run as Jackson’s lawyers work her way through the 68 witnesses she wants to call in her defence. Bye-bye, Bill.

The truth is that many key Labor people have given up on Labor, which is why they’re taking the sort of jobs that 10 or even five years ago would have been just too embarrassing to consider. Dunno what Anna Bligh will be getting for heading the ABA’s efforts to avoid a royal commission, a ceiling on charges, and the like, but I bet, to get by, she won’t have to work weekends

Peter Fray

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