Sydney, September 18, 1970
On Participating in the Australian Moratorium March

If one could find a single word to convey to an outsider the sensation that prevailed over the whole march, and the thoughts that apparently ran through the minds of the majority of people taking part, it would be the word 'confusion'.


As if we weren't confused enough over our allegiances and our reasons for being there, as we all sat or stood in Wynyard Park, listening to speakers from Trade Unions and Secondary Schools, listening to folk singers and enjoying the trees and the grass we had left our workplaces to come to, the Police decided that the best way to put down the demonstration and make it a failure was to confuse us by giving conflicting orders, diverting us and splitting us up into small and vulnerable groups.

For me personally, the Moratorium movement and the protest march meant a potentially strong way of demonstrating my disapproval of Australia's and, more particularly, America's presence in South Vietnam, and their involvement in one of the cruellest and dirtiest wars history has ever seen. But however strongly I may have felt that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong presence in South Vietnam was somehow different to the presence there of American and allied forces, I can't deny that my reasons and emotions were a little cloudy. However much I may have been moved to tears by films of war casualties, or by the attitude of a workmate whom I felt was being a traitor to his better self and to the people of Vietnam when he casually decided against supporting the Moratorium because he disagreed with their methods of action though not with their aims, I cannot deny that Vietnam was still 'over there' to me, that the issue was something that was no bigger than a sincere protest against someone's foreign policy, which did not involve me or affect me personally in any real way.

The march seems to have changed everything. The issues have got bigger and I now find myself faced with the problem of protesting not only against Australia's foreign policy but against its management of internal affairs as well.

During the march a school girl behind me was asked by a passer-by who found himself squashed up with us on the pavement outside Wynyard Station, "If you like the North Vietnamese so much, why don't you go there and live with them?" Before the march, I'd have replied as she did: "I might just do that"; and though I wouldn't have giggled while saying it, as she did, I might not have taken that statement much more seriously. After all I was living in a country where I had a reasonable job, and enough money to spend on the good records, films and plays that I enjoy so much, and there was no curtailment on one's personal freedom as long as one had enough money to satisfy one's wants. If we disagreed with any government policies, well, we could protest in many ways, and we had already had a successful protest march over the same issue last May.

But it seems as if we can't be allowed to be serious about this protest any longer. Once was enough to show that our Liberal Government was really liberal and could cooperate with us to ensure a peaceful demonstration. It was really a lack of taste on our part to try to pursue the question further, and something had to be done to prevent the delusion from spreading, that traffic could be diverted and people put to inconvenience for any reason other than a Royal visit or an Anzac day parade.

One of the speakers at Wynyard Park played very amusingly and cleverly on the idea that the Moratorium was part of a Communist plot to take over Australia. He claimed to find that the Communist take-over was indeed being effected, but by Commissar Gorton-sky and his comrades, and that being a middle class bourgeois he was extremely worried by this tendency. I have no doubt that the speech had a completely facetious intention, or it was certainly accepted as such by the listeners. But I have now begun to feel that the Australian government is as insidiously totalitarian as the Russian one is overtly.

Ever since the Moratorium Secretariat began plans for the marches and rallies, they found a lack of cooperation among the State and Police authorities. Letters were ignored, officials were 'unavailable' for interview, and finally when they did receive a reply from the Police Commissioner regarding their plans of action, it was mid-day on the day of the march itself, and it was a refusal of approval or help. And so the Police had their day. They were certainly far better organised than the Moratorium marshals who, this time, were refused permission to use a truck with a public address system which could direct and control the marchers. The police tactics were simple but effective. As we moved out of Wynyard Park, they made no attempt to stop the marchers who, from pressure behind, moved out onto the road, until there was a sizeable crowd filling the road and those of us behind felt that this must have somehow been allowed. And then they began to push, four and five of them standing shoulder to shoulder against those at the edge, shoving inwards with all their brute strength. It still surprises me that the others withstood the feeling of panic that I am sure arose in all their throats as it did in mine. The smell of fear, the unimaginable pain of being crushed so small that you couldn't move or breathe normally, were the worst parts of an ordeal that I would not wish to go through again. But when I recall the smug gum-chewing faces of those pigs dressed in blue uniforms, pretending to be human, I am proud to think that I was there to stand against them.

By denying us access to the roads that we were allowed to use the previous time, we were pressed into a long narrow column, the beginning of the loss of communication we suffered more and more through the evening. At each intersection the police gave conflicting orders regarding the crossing of the streets. At one time, they would block the traffic and allow a column of marchers through, regardless of the traffic lights. Others had to wait until the pedestrians' light changed to WALK. Some of the arrests were made when marchers didn't cross when ordered to while the lights said DON"T WALK.

The ugliest incidents took place once the police had succeeded, through using plainclothesmen wearing Moratorium badges, in diverting a large section of the crowd away from George Street and the centre of the city, towards Hyde Park. This had never been part of the Moratorium arrangements, but such was the sense of confusion surrounding us that we moved off the track, straight into the police trap. For Hyde Park was certainly part of their plan. As we moved into Elizabeth Street opposite the park we saw scores of policemen coming across to us from there, where they had no doubt been waiting for us. Soon we discovered that the Police had put up barricades at the intersections with Park and Market Streets. Most of us crossed over to the Park as soon as we could, to wait there for further instructions. While waiting, we had the horror of seeing come stumbling over to us, supported by friends, a couple of boys who had been beaten and kicked in the stomach by police. They were taken away by ambulance shortly after. Most of the arrests took place at this time, after the police had got us hemmed in on all sides. Those of us who asked if we could leave the crowd (in an attempt to get to Victoria Park for the final rally and pop concert by some other route) were told that we would have to surrender our badges first. We were told that since we were part of the procession we couldn't leave it and walk any other way. The procession was a pitiful mess by this time, and according to most of the radio and press reports the next day, the march ended as a complete failure, a triumph for democracy and all right thinking people who had stayed away or tried to disrupt it.

The question of political choice now seems to me to rest not between that of a totalitarian country and a free, democratic one, but between different kinds of totalitarian governments. In Communist countries, no kind of dissent is allowed, and cultural and intellectual freedom too is greatly inhibited, but at least inequalities of wealth and the privileges that go with it are largely ironed out. In totalitarian countries like Australia, dissent and differences are tolerated only as long as they are ineffective and do not cause too much disturbance; and while there is considerable cultural and intellectual freedom, this seems to produce nothing that is sincere, that is not corrupted by the snobbery and superficial values created and fostered by advertising.

Three choices then: to exist in a society where there is little provision for imaginative creativity and independence of thought but whose opportunities for life on a practical level are shared by all; to live a life that cannot help being affected by class consciousness based on wealth, in a society that consumes and wastes more things than ever before, and that creates an art and culture that feeds on itself and sickens, producing things that are sterile and empty; or to 'opt out', leave the cities and give up one's political life, to escape into an existence that is meaningful only on a personal level. Each choice seems to negate some part of the 'total man' one has been encouraged to believe in. It is hard not to believe that the writers of absurd drama are the wisest people of their time.


Go to top


7 April 1976
The Editor National Times.


I would like to congratulate you on the publication of the article "Capitalism trapped by its own cliches" in your issue of April 5-10, 1976. Congratulate you, because I felt that the arguments put forward in the article, if taken to their logical conclusions, would finally prove subversive to the position of your company itself, as part of private enterprise in this country.

I believe that the author of the article [Geoff Allen, Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Melbourne] did not follow his initial arguments through to their rightful conclusion. He began with the statement "Capitalism ... has no inherent long-term mandate but a right to exist only if it continues to reflect the values and serve the interests of the community". He ends with "Australian capitalism will have a much better chance of survival if its ideology is clear, coherent, and coincides with the realities it describes". The latter statement shows the author's bias in favour of the preservation of the capitalist system, but he did nothing, in the body of the article, to show that it deserves to be preserved, under the terms of his own criteria.

Mr Allen certainly sees the dilemma that Australian (and all other) capitalism faces. He says that the 'old school' capitalism "misses society's mood and enshrines too many myths", while the new school (such as CSR who, he says, regards itself as a
'multiple-objective' organisation for whom profit is not the dominant aim, and who justifies its own existence "as a community institution to employ its citizens and translate its resources into useful products") has not thought out its position sufficiently and leaves too many questions unanswered.

I think that a good example of the old school's "missing society's mood" was the immense hope and euphoria that surrounded the Labor Party's election victory in 1972. Labor was clearly seen as putting forward programmes representing newer ideas, the greater community interest in spreading social justice, equality of opportunity, and awareness of 'quality of life' issues. But of course, Labor had to fail because such a spreading out of the community's wealth on the initiative of politicians and public servants is incompatible with the doctrine that only those who risk themselves (or their money only?) through owning and managing capitalist production and development should have the right to redistribute profits from labour as they please - a proportion of it to themselves and the rest of it into further growth, further production of commodities which they decide are socially useful.

The 'new school capitalism' shows an awareness of the need to respond to wider social concerns than just the economic, and it is also an attempt to satisfy the growing demand by today's better educated workers for greater autonomy and responsibility in their jobs. But as Mr Allen sees, the logic of such concepts as the 'Stakeholder' and 'consensus' approaches, as well as current management techniques like 'job enrichment', 'Organisational development' etc., "in the final analysis lends legitimacy to left-wing claims not only to worker directors but also ... to Government directors to represent community interest".

I would question Mr Allen's assumption that the need for 'Government directors' is a more extreme left-wing claim than that for 'worker directors', and even that it is a claim at all; but that is not the point I wish to stress. The contradiction between capitalist appropriation of resources and control of production, and the increasing knowledge and self-assertiveness of the rest of the population (the non-controllers) was documented well over 100 years ago by Karl Marx, and despite the much-lauded 'adaptiveness' of capitalism, Marx's claim that such a contradiction cannot be reconciled has yet to be disproved.

Messrs. Fraser, Lynch, Killen et al would like us all to believe that the Australian community cannot afford a social system that grants to every person the right to a creative and productive life. It certainly can't if the community were to believe that such a life could only be achieved through the ever greater consumption of material goods. But, to quote Mr Allen again, "What is the world really like? Individualism and private property are no longer so highly prized. The new capitalist is a corporation man; the new worker has immersed himself in another collective, the union. Individuals are increasingly seeking their satisfactions through group identification and relations, rather than in personal striving and competition".

Do I hear readers ask, What is the solution to this contradictory situation? The Marxist response is that a life of freedom, autonomy and dignity for all cannot even begin until classes are abolished, until all of a society's resources are jointly owned, controlled and exploited according to socially determined plans, until the anarchy and waste exemplified by capitalist production is rationalised.

Is this Utopian? The material basis for such a life is already within our reach, if only we were to re-examine our priorities, redirect our production towards avenues already mooted - more public transport, decentralisation, recycling of wastes etc. This can only be achieved if the present owners and controllers of industry were to give up their rights to exclusive decision-making and if a massive campaign were undertaken to redirect production into ecologically sound industries.

Is this to be achieved by forceful overthrow of the ruling class, or by the voluntary abnegation of this class's privileges? The Club of Rome and others like them certainly hope that the latter course will prevail, but the hope appears forlorn.

There are many of us who believe that a genuine understanding of the Marxist critique of Capitalism is essential if humanity is to gain control over its economic environment, which is the basis for its continued existence. Your publication of this viewpoint should help to stimulate honest debate on these vital issues.



Go to top


(Around 1978-1979)

What do public servants do?


Does that sound like a silly question? I guess we're all well aware of what faces us as we wake up every Monday morning - another week of shuffling similar bits of paper, or interviewing similar people across a counter, or typing the same kinds of correspondence or reports.

But have you ever stopped to think about what it all means? What the point of it is? Whether we are doing anything that is really useful or worthwhile?


Certainly there are many public servants whose work our present society couldn't function without - public transport workers, electricity workers, road maintenance and sewerage workers, and telecommunications and postal workers. But apart from the last two categories I mentioned, the others are all State public servants. What do we do, as Commonwealth public servants (and more specifically, the clerical workers that GREY COLLAR speaks for) that is socially desirable? In other words, are we really serving the public?

If we set aside the office workers in Postal and Telecom, over half the Commonwealth's clerical staff in NSW can be found in only 3 departments: Taxation, Social Security and Defence. And the 10 departments which have the largest numbers of clerical staff employ over 85% of them. The work these 10 departments do can be classified in the following way:




Servicing Government Departments

Public Information

Social Security (15.3%)




Administrative Services


Australian Bureau of Statistics

Employment and Youth Affairs (8.9%)

Customs Bureau (6.1%)


Construction (2.4%)


Veterans' Affairs (8.1%)

















(The figures in brackets show the numbers of permanent Clerks and Clerical Assistants (CA's) in these departments as a percentage of all Clerks and CAs in NSW in December 1977. It's a pity the Public Service Board didn't think it worthwhile to include details on Typists, Accounting Machinists, Data Processing Operators etc. The way our work is organised these days, their work is really indispensable office work. But their work is given far less status and pay than their contribution deserves.)


The largest number of clerical workers (over a third) are found in the "Welfare" departments. These (with the exception of Health) concern themselves with the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society - the people who are not allowed to work after they turn 65, the physically handicapped or chronically sick, single parent families, the people who suffered as a result of fighting Australia's wars overseas, and of course the growing numbers of unemployed workers.

What do clerical workers in these departments do to help these disadvantaged people? Most of them do either one of two things: pay them a pension or benefit which is only a small proportion of what the average Australian worker earns, and which virtually ensures that they stay disadvantaged; or else they are employed as "police" to check that the benefits paid are really "deserved".


But is that really of any help? No, because it doesn't do anything to alter our social system which is based on inequality of wealth and opportunity. For example, most Clerks and CAs in CES offices would have absolutely no power to create worthwhile jobs for all the unemployed to do, which would be the only way for them to get out of the bind of depending on other people for their livelihood and having people checking out what they do with their lives. The same thing would apply to most workers in Social Security who can do nothing creative to help their clients (i.e. to stop them from needing to be clients at all), but in fact spend a lot of time hassling them and ordering them about in a way that most of us would find unbearable if it happened to us.


The next major function for clerical workers (nearly 30% of them) is associated with collecting money for the Government: in Taxation and Customs. Apart from needing money to fund its own operations and pay its staff, the Government is supposed to use the taxation system to share out the burden of maintaining airports, hospitals, defence needs etc., and to even out the unequal distribution of income in our society. But this system falls down in two ways: first, it (again) does nothing to tackle the basic structure of our system which creates and preserves both a wealthy and a poor class; and, second, in the last few years at any rate, the taxation system has worked to take more money from the poor and redistribute it to the rich. Since 1970 PAYE tax (on workers) has increased by 425%; tax on professions, self-employed and income from wealth - 348%; and tax on company profits - only 223%. And the Fitzgerald report of 1974 showed how the Australian taxpayer actually paid (through subsidies and concessions) the foreign multinationals to mine and export our minerals. Again, most workers in these departments would have no say in trying to improve this system or propose alternatives.


Defence is the next most important function of clerical workers, and it is the largest Commonwealth department in its own right. While the function of self-defence for the country is justifiable as long as instability in the world exists, it does seem amazing that over 2000 clerical workers are needed in NSW alone just to provide administrative support to the service personnel who hang around waiting for a military threat from overseas. It can't be very satisfying or exciting work for them, I'm sure.


The next function in my list is that of "Servicing Government Departments", but the numbers are small now: only 5.6% of clerical workers. Presumably their only use is because the rest of the Commonwealth Public Service exists (and so far I haven't been able to prove, to myself at any rate, that it exists for any useful purpose).


The last function that creeps into the top 10 departments is that of providing public information through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and to me this seems really important because the distribution of information is really the distribution of power in the community. But the way the ABS has worked in the past, and has been made to work recently (i.e. the way the Government has been able to direct that only information at a national or state level is published, when it would be more useful to have figures at a regional or company level; or that information which would be politically embarrassing should stop being collected, such as statistics on the level of foreign ownership and control of Australian companies, or the numbers of job vacancies available) has reduced the worth of their work.


So, in the end, what do we do, the 85% of us clerical workers who work in these 10 departments? For most of us, our work is organised in such a way that we work long days at boring, routine and essentially useless tasks. And for most of us again, we would have no power to alter our work processes or working patterns so that they become more meaningful both to us and to the public we are supposed to serve. (In NSW nearly 90% of all Clerical/Administrative positions are under Class 7 which is where most "management" positions start.)

So why do we do it? I guess we've all got to live, and having a boring clerical job in the Public Service is better than doing a lot of other jobs or having no job at all. But really the question is, why are these jobs done at all? Why were they thought necessary in the first place?

The Commonwealth Public Service hasn't existed like this from the time Australia was conquered by the British. In fact it started in 1901 with only seven departments: Defence, Treasury, Attorney-General's, External Affairs, Home Affairs, Trade and Customs, and Postmaster-General's. It only began to grow when the Federal government gained a monopoly of income taxation powers in 1942, during World War 2.

Information is now becoming available that shows that decisions were consciously taken at that time by the people in power to use the State to intervene more in the "free enterprise" system which had made class differences so obvious and embarrassing. It was decided that the working class - who had to make the worst sacrifices during the Depression of the 1930s and World War 2 - would have to be bought off. So the State took over the functions of welfare housing, increasing access to secondary and tertiary education, subsidising health care and providing full employment. It was able to finance these increased activities out of the enormous profits earned by Australian industry through the exploitation of the masses of migrants brought in to take the worst jobs.

This system worked very well in the 50s and 60s. There were sufficient goodies to pass round most white Australian males, while the inequalities of the system were mainly confined to the migrants, the Aboriginals, and the women, who had least access to information or media to make others aware of their situation.

Since the beginning of the 70s the boom has changed to bust. As we have seen, the seemingly "generous" functions of public servants in handing out housing, education and health care are being cut back. The only staff increases are for "police-type" duties, which of course are only directed towards keeping the workers under control as they become more and more stroppy over redundancies, growing unemployment, price rises and wage cuts. Increasingly the threats of redundancies, redeployment, more control over work processes, and real wage reductions are being directed towards us as workers too, as the government tries to cut corners on the cost of public service.

The economic recession is making the function of public servants much clearer. By "policing" the working class (Social Security, CES, Industrial Relations Bureau, Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, etc.) and by redirecting more money away from workers and towards company profits through the Taxation system, we are helping to keep the present system going. The "service" we perform is not to the benefit of the public at large, the majority of working people, but to the wealthy and influential minority in Australia (and, increasingly, overseas) who make the really important decisions that affect us all: whether we'll have a job tomorrow, what we'll do in our jobs, whether we can afford decent health care or housing or a university education.

Maybe it's time we started to consider that we have a right to perform work that is socially useful, that is a real public service.

Go to top