Labor factions Anthony Albanese
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Well Labor may be rolling over in parliament about raising Newstart — it would fail in the House in any case, but even so — but the struggle continues. The factional struggle that is.

With the shock loss by a leader whose only memorable campaign image was of him jogging in a “Chloe Shorten’s husband” t-shirt, the rather bizarre factional alliances that were holding the thing together are coming apart. No great surprise. All that held them together was the prospect of success and a share of the spoils. Now there’s a realignment on.

When last you joined us, the factions had rearranged because the Victorian Right — the Short-Con alliance — had fallen apart, with both Bill Shorten and Steve Conroy trying to get the first blow in. Shorten by elevating lawyer Kimberley Kitching to the Senate, and Conroy quitting while Shorten was in the Arctic on a tour of Canada. The fallout was followed — or prompted — by former SDA suburban warlord Adem Somyurek’s formation of a new group, the Mods, and to put together a right-wing alliance between his suburban branches, the AWU, the TWU and various smaller fry.

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This new Centre Alliance was then contracted into a pact with the new Industrial Left (IL), centred on the CFMMEU, and a few smaller unions. The IL had left the Victorian Socialist Left (SL) over various matters, and this new Centre Alliance-Industrial Left pact gave Bill Shorten sufficient oomph to fight off both the SL and the Constitutes.

Somyurek had high hopes that this Centre Alliance would draw in Conroy’s scattered forces. When that didn’t happen, Somyurek and Conroyite lieutenant state MP John Eren confronted each other in the parliamentary dining room, there were rumours of butter knives being involved.

Things looked all go for the CA-IL pact, but then Shorten went and lost the election, and things started to come apart fast.

First there were ructions in the AWU about the deal locking them out of recruitment on new building sites, after the AWU had bled members in Queensland. Then there was dissent within the CFMMEU over whether being tied so closely to the ALP machine was doing the union any good. The push for a more independent stance came at the same time as Victorian head John Setka hit the headlines. Which was tricky because the CA-IL pact had been partly anchored by the longstanding personal friendship between Emma Walters (Mrs Setka) and Sharon McCrohan, Shorten’s longtime consigliere.

Others in the CFMMEU wanted the ALP link to remain, and hoped that the Setkas’ personal troubles (yes, OK Jane Gilmore, put the texta away: Setka’s guilty plea to a harassment charge) would finish him off. When it didn’t, a questionable accusation about dissing Rosie Batty was circulated.

But now the Cons are back, with kingpin Steve directing the inner party from exile in the gambling lobby. After deciding to stay out of the Centre Alliance, the Cons made a tentative deal with the NSW/National Left, headed by Albanese. The deal has seen Richard Marles, Conroy’s Stalin, make deputy leader, and a new push to regain lost branches begin. Lucien Wells, Conroy’s enforcer, has recently transferred from Conroy’s lobbying office to Marles’ staff to assist and not at all to keep an eye on Marles, the man Troy Bramston considers a thought leader.

What’s coming next is a hunting season on the right to break up the Shorts and the Mods, and grab the parts, branches and unions. A night of the long butter knives beckons. All this is dedicated to being match-fit to take on the real enemy, Kim Carr and the Socialist Left.

And it is also a prelude to the next big thing: a merger between the National Union of Workers and United Voice, for which voting begins later this month. That will create a new force, the UWU, which will displace everyone, and the process will begin again.

The Liberals? Who?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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