Joe Caputo describes the involvement of ethnic groups in wider politics
17 February 2009
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The struggles of the ‘70s if you like, the struggles of migrant workers – what was happening in the workplace. The Ford strike, the GM strike, etcetera in those years that led people within the ethnic communities movement to become aware that they needed to make an impact within the society. The need to analyse what are the tools within society that bring about changes. And whatever our political affiliation, or ideology, is about, we at least one thing we have to agree that in a democratic society political parties have the role of running the country.
You join the Liberal party, if you are conservative, if you’re progressive and you know, from working class background etcetera, then you have to naturally gravitate to the Labor side of politics. And so that’s why the majority of immigrants in Victoria tended to gravitate towards Labor politics because of the majority of immigrants coming to this country – went to work in factories, where you know, they had the sort of same interest as Australian workers. So gradually there were a lot of people moving in and joining the Labor Party and of course, it’s like everything else, sort of, once a move is in, other people then bring other people in because it’s about proselytising, it’s about encouraging, motivating people to do the same.
Because there’s strength in numbers. I mean, there’s also that – the tendency that those things can degenerate into nasties, you know, when it becomes searching for power for its own sake. But when it’s healthy, it’s good. You know, when it’s healthy it’s very good because it’s about sort of, participating, opening up, you know, changing the views of the establishment, it’s about – it’s about creating a more inclusive, if you like, parties and groups and – which in turn has an impact in the rest of society.
The ethnic branch established in Victoria in the ‘70s. It started because it was felt that the reason why immigrants were not joining the Labor Party as they should be en masses, because they found – they found the structures of the Labor Party alienating because it was only done in English, it was all bureaucratic etcetera. That if you wanted to have – if you wanted to have, sort of, people from different background immigrants, you had to join the branches and ensure that they were running in their own languages. That way, you would have lots of people joining and they did have that impact by – in the ‘70s, when that – those – you know, the Labor Party did decide to have ethnic branches.
There were a lot of people joining. That of course, created a lot of tensions as well, because, you know, I mean, if you’ve got branches within your party that only speaks one language, you know, those who – did not agree with that sort of line of directions, always have found that this was not right, because you – you know, you’re going into those branches and of course, who’s got the ear of those branches? You know – it’s no longer who spoke English but maybe the people in those branches that spoke their languages. So that created a lot of if you like, conflict and tensions. A lot of competition in terms of even within the various factions, you know, who is going to be controlling, if you like? But looking back I think that by and large it’s been very positive, the creation of ethnic branches. I think that it has ensured that even the changes that came about – came about because of the pressures from those people within – who became within the system, it has ensured that if you like, the Labor Party did respond and continues to respond to the needs of people from diverse backgrounds.