South Australia's unions have just done what Britain's unions should have done before 2003 at the latest: sacked the right-wing Labor premier.
Unions have been campaigning to oust Mike Rann as Labor leader for some time. Wayne Hanson, state secretary of the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), the most conservative of Australia's big unions, moved a motion at the South Australian Labor Party conference to demand Rann resign.
“The reason why the Labor Party was established was because the unions [knew] we needed to elect our own representatives to parliament to make the laws that cared for workers and their families...
“But in South Australia today what have we got? The complete opposite.
“Our Party... belongs to us and we’re going to take it back. The unions formed Labor to legislate for workers...
“We need to reshape Labor with a new leadership team...”
Now, with Rann's opinion-poll score slumping, the Right faction in the State Parliamentary Labor Party has conceded. According to the Adelaide Advertiser, on Friday 29 July Peter Malinauskas of the shop assistants' union and state Treasurer (finance minister) Jack Snelling approached Rann and told him to stand down in favour of Parliamentary Left faction leader Jay Weatherill within the next six weeks.
If Rann resists, and he has suggested he may, it looks likely that Weatherill will force the issue by a vote among state Labor MPs.
Rann has made himself unpopular with the unions and with the public by budget cuts.
Weatherill is from the official "Left" faction, but that doesn't mean much in Australian Labor politics. To really "reshape Labor", the unions must keep their independence from Weatherill and put sharp demands on him.
There is a lesson in what should not be done to be learned from New South Wales in 2008. The unions ran a big campaign against electricity privatisation, and in 2008 both blocked the scheme and forced the resignation of its architect, Labor premier Morris Iemma.
Once Iemma was gone, however, John Robertson, the secretary of Unions New South Wales, who had led the anti-privatisation campaign, became a Labor member of the Legislative Assembly and a minister in a Labor government carrying through modified privatisation and quickly becoming as right-wing as Iemma ever was.
Robertson is now Labor leader in NSW, and the state is ruled by Barry O'Farrell's Liberals after a crushing election defeat for Labor in March 2011. Iemma had been replaced as premier by Nathan Rees, from the Left faction; but Rees pushed through a modified version of electricity privatisation and then fell from office, to be replaced by Kristina Kenneally from the Right faction.