Australian Labor

Posted By Frank McGuire February 11, 2011.

The Australian Labor Party is a progressive and democratic party consisting of individual members and affiliated trade unions who between them decide the party’s platform, elect its governing bodies and choose its candidates for public office.

Oldest Active Political Party

It is the nation’s oldest active political party. It is about 30 years older than the Country (now National) Party and more than 50 years older than the Liberal Party. It has contested state seats from 1891, federal seats following the Federation in 1901, and gained Australia’s first majority in either house at the 1910 federal election. Labor is the only party to have elected representatives in every federal parliament.

Genuine Labor Party

The ALP is one of a small group of genuine Labor parties around the world, where working people, represented by their trade unions, are included in our decision-making forums. This distinguishes Labor parties from social democratic parties (although many have common ideals and philosophies) and from other broadly-based progressive parties like the Democratic Party in the USA.

The only other parties which are strictly comparable are Britain’s New Labour and the New Zealand Labour Party, both of which the ALP predates. The labour parties of Sweden and Norway are similar, with local branches of unions affiliated with local branches of the party. Similar parties also exist in Canada, Ireland, and Israel.

The Party was largely created by trade unionists, and remains influenced by the broader labour movement. The incorporation of trade unions within the Party’s formal structures, the promotion of collective action and decision-making and the involvement of the mass membership have, since the earliest days, given the Party unprecedented strength and influence among working people and their communities.

Diversity in Representation

While influenced by the labour movement, Labor was never confined to union interests. It has always represented a broad range of social and economic interests. Diversity is the key word for the Party. The earliest platforms show it sought the support of farmers, small businessmen and non-union employees including clerical and other white-collar workers.

To illustrate, the Shearers’ Union of the 1890s contained smallholders who sheared part time and shearers who aspired to land ownership, while an early NSW caucus consisted of blue collar workers, a squatter, a medical doctor, and a mine owner. While the Party was historically committed to socialist economic policies, Labor governments have always worked towards practical social justice reforms.

From the beginning, Labor supported national wage fixing and a strong welfare system, and one of the party’s most notable early innovations was the establishment of a federal arbitration system for the resolution of industrial disputes, which formed the basis of the industrial relations system for most of the 20th century.

Today, the Party is essentially a coalition that includes reformers, radicals, progressives, social democrats and democratic socialists united by a critique of the inequalities in society, a commitment to a more just and equal society, and the achieving of this aim by democratic means. And Labor members continue to work towards a goal of better services, greater opportunity and a fair go for all Australians.

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