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Just a few links describing an obscure political philosophy and its proponents' involvement in Melbourne public transport trade unionism.
The philosophy is Anarcho-syndicalism. Its Wikipedia entry describes it as:
a political philosophy and anarchist school of thought that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.
Such a tendency would have only ever extended to a minority of unionists; most just want a job with as good pay and conditions as possible. They have no interest in overturning the existing capitalist order or even become bosses where they worked. Lenin expressed (from his revolutionary point of view) similar frustrations with the Australian Labor Party.
Passengers for their part just want a clean and frequent service that runs on time. They have little interest in whether it is public or private run (ie the means of production that the political and bureaucratic class obsess over, to the exclusion of simply providing a good service).
However revolutionary sentiments were prominent enough for articles to be written about it, especially when they were stronger during a time of economic stress and industrial action. Although they still rarely reached the mainstream press. Here are a few examples from what you might call fringe or special-interest publications:
* Background on 1990 Melbourne tram dispute https://libcom.org/library/melbourne-tram-dispute-lockout
* October 1991 issue of 'Sparks' - the magazine of the AT & MOEA. Well worth reading for coverage of transport and union issues at the time. 1989 policy was that the union would disaffiliate from the Labor Party if tram conductors were scrapped however affiliation fees were recently paid. conductors. http://libcom.org/files/Sparks%20no%2027%20Oct%2091.pdf
* Pre-election 1992 PTUA newsletter has some background https://www.ptua.org.au/files/newsletters/1990s/PTUA-News-199209.pdf
* Trammies (including AT & MOEA) reach deal with Kennett government https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/trammies-accept-deal-kennett
* Later tram strike https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/melbourne-trammies-strike-against-cuts
These internal ruptions contributed to the rapid turnover of Labor transport ministers at the time. Being transport minister appeared to decline from being a senior role to a political booby prize with little chance of emerging unscathed.
Transport was also significant enough to have wider political implications including the downfall of John Cain as Labor premier and the subsequent defeat of the Kirner-lead government at the hands of a resurgent Liberal Party led by Jeff Kennett. Things would have been easier for the Coalition as there were no internal factional politics from affiliated unions to deal with. And they could have (and did) threaten mass closures or privatisation, only to arrive at a resolution that preserved the network but enabled savings to an extent Labor couldn't achieve.
An unexpected survivor out of all this was the Upfield Line. It was under threat of closure since at least the Lonie Report. Its timetable had been cut back so that replacement buses (Route 319) ran on evenings and Sundays. Labor (through its MetPlan) had vague but locally unpopular ideas about replacing it with something else (eg light rail). The Port Melbourne and St Kilda lines had already been converted with the removal of rail from the Sandridge bridge. Labor was defeated before that happened (although B2 trams were ordered for it).
The incoming Kennett government initially proposed cutting quieter lines but ended up not only saving Upfield but modernising its infrastructure and restoring 7 day service. Hence we had a free-market privatising government with no seats in the area outperform Labor on an issue important to local Left and Upgrade Upfield transport activists. This increased disenchantment with Labor in suburbs whose gentrification would eventually see The Greens gain support and eventually lower house seats.
Today the Upfield line's future is secure. Some stations are being rebuilt as part of the Level Crossing Removal Program. And it is considered worth keeping as a potential relief for the busy Craigieburn line when traffic justifies the restoration of the connection to Somerton/Roxburgh Park.
Today the most militant unionism in the transport sector appears to be that practised by RTBU's Locomotive Division. However all activity appears to be directed to industrial rather than political ends. You can get a flavour by reading Loco Lines here: https://www.rtbuvicloco.com.au/locolines-magazines/ And no doubt it still comes up from time to time on Community Radio 3CR.
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This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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