Australia: Working people yet to see full effects of economic downturn

One million unemployed forecast & anti-union legislation intact – Socialist solutions urgently needed!

As the Australian government’s cash handouts start to flow, the Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is enjoying his highest approval rating yet. A recent Nielson poll shows Rudd’s rating has risen to 74 %, statistically making him one of the most popular Prime Ministers in Australian history.

But while Rudd’s efforts to tackle the economic crisis seem to be paying off, under the surface there remain massive contradictions.

An A$42 billion stimulus plan has been welcomed by some sections of the working class. However, some of those in most need – very low-waged and some unemployed workers – have missed out. Either way, the hand out will not bring comfort to those who face job losses. The government has boasted of the 90,000 jobs they claim will be created with infrastructure funding, yet nearly 39,000 full time jobs were lost in March alone, raising unemployment to a five year high of 5.7 %.

Even some conservative economists are suggesting that one million Australians will be out of work by next year, forcing Treasurer Wayne Swan to admit unemployment will rise well above the Treasury forecasts of 7 %. In reality, the government’s stimulus measures have been designed to prop-up the profit driven system of capitalism and not for the benefit of working Australians. Little has been done to protect jobs, yet billions have been handed out to banks and car companies to maintain profits. Rudd’s other policies have been similarly designed in the interests of big business. Anti-union Fair Work legislation introduced by the previous right wing Howard government largely remains intact. The maintenance of the much despised Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) also ensures the continued undermining of worker’s rights.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme fails to seriously address climate change, but ensures the right to pollute for big business. The Northern Territory intervention continues to displace Indigenous communities in the interests of mining companies, and Australian troops remain in Afghanistan despite a majority of the population opposing involvement in the war.

Huge divide between working class and Labor policies

Despite Rudd’s current popularity there is a huge divide between the interests of working class people and youth and the policies being carried out by the Labor. Because the economic crisis has not yet hit Australia as hard as other countries this gap remains largely hidden, for the present.

At the moment, people are hoping the recession will not be as bad as expected and will perhaps pass them by. Unfortunately, the downturn is the most serious we have seen since the 1930s Great Depression and will likely be long and severe. It is only a matter of time before the full effects are felt in Australia.

As the crisis deepens and more and more people lose their jobs and homes, as has happened in Europe, the US and Japan, Rudd’s allegiance to big business and the bankers will be exposed.

The current task of the labour movement is to prepare workers for the seriousness of the crisis and to develop a strategy to protect jobs, wages and conditions. We can have no confidence in the pro-capitalist Labor Party that seeks to prop up a failing system. The only genuine alternative to this madness is to overthrow the system of capitalism and to organise society on a planned, socialist basis, where boom/bust cycles will be a thing of the past.

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May 2009