Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Third Way, Employment and the Workplace in Australia

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

The Third Way, Employment and the Workplace in Australia

Article excerpt


The Third Way program is potentially relevant for the political discourse in Australia since the Australian Labor Party has strong cultural and intellectual connections with British Labor, the standard bearers of third way politics in Europe. In addition, several ALP members have initiated a discourse on third way policies for Australia (Latham, 1998; Tanner, 1999). It seems opportune to examine the context, assumptions, nature and detail of a Third Way program. In particular we address issues surrounding work and employment. Despite a decade of strong growth and extensive industrial relations transformation in Australia, unemployment, employment conditions and the workplace remain important policy issues to address. However, the third way discourse in Britain and the USA, and the third way policy program of the Blair Government remains sketchy and poorly developed with respect to these issues. Although Australian adherents of the third way have provided more detail, the policy analysis remains incomplete. In this article we sketch the background of the third way, investigate the discourse on employment and work, and highlight what we see as the issues that should be addressed through policy.

The Third Way and its Discourse

Green and Wilson (1999) have claimed that the third way model was conceived by a group of policy advisers to now ex-President Bill Clinton prior to the 1992 US election. According to Green and Wilson (1999) the term 'the third way' was a reference to the Socialist International's 1951 program which established a political direction and philosophy distinct from American capitalism and Soviet communism. However, as Green and Wilson (1999) explain, the Democrats crushing defeat in the 1994 congressional elections saw Clinton move to the right by absorbing much of the Republican agenda. Dick Morris, Clinton's chief political strategist was instrumental in shifting the third way agenda to the right, especially with respect to welfare reform.

The Third Way is fundamentally about reinventing left of centre political parties to make them more electorally attractive and to force them to address the core issues of contemporary society. It is about repositioning cente-left parties towards the centre, and median voters, in order to sustain electoral success (Teixeira, 2000). In Gidden's terminology the third way is a political process that seeks to renew social democracy following the demise of communism and the limitations of a subsequent neoliberal policy agenda (Giddens, 1998). It is the middle way between the extremes of neo-liberalism and socialism. It is about new challenges, new policies and a new political discourse. It is also about reinvention and the repackaging of parties, hence "new" Democrats in the USA and "new" Labour in Britain. In itself the Third Way has been variously described as foggy, flummery, blurry, goldilocks politics and vacuous (Hyman, 1998; Lloyd and Bilefsky, 1996; The Economist, 1998). At its core the third way eschews ideology, indeed it boasts that old ideological divides are no longer relevant. What is relevant are 5 core issues or dilemmas that all left of centre parties have to address (Giddens, 1998: 27-64):

1. globalisation: the scope of policy choice and opportunities within nation states has been significantly altered;

2. individualism: there is an erosion of support for collectivism; a destruction of social solidarity in the face of new individualism with its retreat from custom and tradition;

3. left/right divide: the nature of the boundaries have become blurred but the challenge facing the left remains effectively addressing inequality; there is shifting polarity and social democrats need to reposition themselves;

4. political agency: there remain core functions for the state to perform in the light of major market failures; markets cannot replace governments; the rise of sub politics and interest groups is a consequence of declining trust in political institutions; how should government be reconstructed to meet the needs of the age? …

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