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This is an edited version of a talk given by Terry Irving to the Sydney branch of the Australian Society for the Study Labour History, 29 July 2008 during the debate about privatising the NSW electricity supply.
The 2007 conflict between the NSW Labor Ministry and the party’s extra-parliamentary organisation is not new. Vere Gordon Childe described the first such clashes, and the reasons they are endemic, in How Labour Governs, his 1923 book about workers’ representation.
According to Childe, there is something at the core of being ‘labour’, something in the fundamental process of organising to represent a wage-earners’ interest, that produces a fatal flaw in the labour movement, so that it ends up not knowing how to use its power in government, and failing as an organ of workers’ representation.