Australia: Workers need a new Party!

Political vacuum on the left will not remain unfilled

Sometime this year Australian voters are going to be faced with a choice. John Howard of the Liberal Party or Mark "I want to be like John Howard" Latham of the Alternative Liberal Party (ALP). Commonsense dictates that when you are faced with two bad choices (the horns of a dilemma) you go for a third choice, and if one is not available you make it.

The only logical possible choice for a third option already existing in Australia is the Greens. But are they really an alternative? Although the Greens are the most progressive force with parliamentary representation in Australia at present they are firmly wedded as a party with the capitalist system. They offer no alternative to the for profit system of capitalism and do not seek to fundamentally change it but only to reform it. They also mainly concentrate on an electoral politics rather than the perspective of organising workers and youth outside of parliament to fight for change.

There are some in the Greens who would have such a perspective and the Socialist Party have worked with them and the Greens in general in elections and campaigns and will continue to do so. But the Greens as a whole have not lived up to their potential.

Former ALP pollster Rod Cameron (now with ANOP) has said "There is a vacant space for a genuinely left-wing party in Australia" he also says "That party would have to espouse what the Greens espouse, but unlike the Greens, they would have to do something about it."

He further argues that they have failed to exploit the left wing position that they hold and that their is room on the left for a party that is willing to work. The minor parties traditionally take up to 15% of the vote and with One Nation and the democrats in decline the Greens are nowhere near holding 15% of the electorate.

What workers really need is a socialist mass workers’ party, which would combine energetic electoral work with mobilising working class people in schools , universities, workplaces, the unemployed and the aged. Such a party would start to mobilise the broadest amount of support from unions, community organisations student organisations, existing socialist and progressive parties and individuals by concentrating on winnable issues.

The programme of such a party would be around basic issues such defending Medicare and the PBS, free education for all, opposition to racism, support for union coverage for all workers etc. Within such a party all individuals and groups would have the right to put their point of view and people could join as individuals or political parties or organisations or unions could affiliate if they chose. Within such a party the Socialist Party would argue for socialist ideas and policies at the same time as building the new party energetically.

To ensure that such a party remains democratic and responsive to its rank and file, all officials and elected representatives would be on the average wage of a skilled worker plus genuine expenses. There would be elections for all posts with the right of immediate recall. Parliamentary representatives would be under the control of the party itself and not be able to decide issues against the wishes of the party. The best way to ensure against a bureaucracy developing is the active participation of the membership at all levels – only a campaigning party can generate this level of enthusiasm.

How would such a party come about? There is no way to be able to predict to this for sure. It is joint activity around concrete issues like defending Medicare and the PBS and the rights of workers (like in UNITE) that creates a level of trust and co-operation between different groups and people that is necessary for a new party to be built. It may be through a union initiative or an alliance of community organisations or progressive individuals. Suffice to say that there is growing dissatisfaction with the ALP and there is a political vacuum on the left that will not remain unfilled.

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