It is interesting to read about George McGovern, the 1972 Democrat presidential candidate, who died this week, in the context of the ALP's continuing efforts at internal reform.
Although strongly pro-union, McGovern ran foul of the AFL-CIO over his opposition to the Vietnam War.
McGovern's efforts to reduce the influence of labor and open up the Democrat party to a broader range of, particularly young, activists were bitterly resisted by the AFL-CIO.
Yet a few decades later the Democrat party, and the unions, are stronger for rule changes that opened the party up, as Joan Walsh argued in Salon:
Yet the small, true-blue McGovern coalition of ’72 became the Obama coalition 36 years later. The president owed some of his primary victories to rule changes pioneered by the McGovern committee, even as he defeated a woman who got her political start in the 1972 campaign. This time around, a smaller, wiser AFL-CIO is a cornerstone of Obama’s ground game, just this week promising it would knock on 5.5 million doors in swing states over the last four days of the campaign. It would be a great tribute to McGovern if Obama sticks to his fighting, populist campaign and defeats the pro-business, plutocratic backlash against liberalism represented by Mitt Romney.
Of course, and thankfully, Australia has experienced nothing as dramatic as the turmoil that hit US politics in the late 1960s.
Yet, as I discuss in my thesis, there are similar issues; how to build a centre-left party in a society that no longer has a predominantly blue collar society? and, how do you reconcile a close relationship with unions without excluding other groups and individuals?
Two ALP national reviews in the last decade have dealt with these questions (see chapter 7 of my thesis) but progress has been slow and largely insignificant.