Australia: Federal election looming

How should the labour and social movements respond?

We go to press this month with a federal election looming. The polls are close and it seems likely that the two major parties will be engaged in a very tight race.

Malcolm Turnbull became Australia’s fourth prime minister in just over two years after deposing Tony Abbot as leader of the ruling Liberal Party, last year. Turnbull’s hope is that a double dissolution election (whereby both houses of Parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate are dissolved and full elections are called) will help clear out the cross bench and therefore give the parliament some more stability. But this is far from assured.

The next election could still see the cross bench holding the balance of power. The political instability that exists stems from the capitalist economic crisis and therefore all of the pro-capitalist parties are being put under pressure.

All those that support the profit-driven system are faced with a dilemma: how to win votes and support from ordinary people while ruling for the 1% that exploit them?

There is no doubt that the Liberal’s will continue to rule in the interests of their big business backers if they are returned. With uncertain economic times ahead, Turnbull suggests that ordinary people should be prepared to live more frugally. He has no such advice for the rich and powerful.

Labor may attempt some populist gestures during the election campaign though these will mostly be token. For example, their extremely limited negative gearing proposals fall far short of what is needed to address the housing crisis.

Labor’s support for the market system explains why despite the Liberal’s hated policies, Labor struggles to win support. Knowing this, pro-Labor trade union leaders are campaigning for workers to preference the Liberals last. The labour and social movements are correct to oppose the Liberals and their conservative, anti-worker agenda but we cannot dodge the question: what should they be replaced with?

Unfortunately Labor does not have an economic or political alterative to the Liberals. As a result when they win office, they rule in much the same way. Under the last Labor government the red carpet was rolled out for the profit makers while the rest of us struggled to make ends meet.

Any party of the 99% that is worth its salt would make immediate legislative changes that facilitated the transfer of wealth away from profits and towards wages and social services.

While unpopular with big business, such policies would be immensely popular with the majority of voters. The examples of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK prove this point.

The truth is that the future of Australia is not going to be determined by the outcome of the next election. Regardless of which combination of capitalist politicians holds power it will be business as usual.

Political revolution needed

The challenge is to build a new type of politics in Australia. We need a political revolution that sweeps aside all the parties that rule for the top 1%. This is what the labour and social movements should be striving for.

Using time and energy to campaign for the election of a Labor government is not only a distraction from building a new type of politics but it is counterproductive.

We will not reverse the trend towards wealth inequality by sowing illusions in one or another capitalist party. In the absence of a genuine electoral alternative, the resources of our fledgling movements would be best utilised struggling jointly for reforms in the interests of the 99% at our workplaces, schools and in our communities.

Not only would this act as a check on the cuts and austerity that both the major parties support, but it would help lay the basis for an alternative to big business rule.

For example, a successful community and union campaign to win a mass public housing building programme would not only help address social need but it would create tens of thousands of jobs. A similar approach could be taken in regards to health, education and transport.

Joint struggles involving trade unionists and the community would not only strengthen our respective movements but they would point towards the need for a party that gave political form to these struggles, and represented them in the parliament.

Built with a fighting approach, and politics based on the needs of the 99%, such a party could quickly gain support and become a real tool for transforming society. This is the alternative to the dead end of supporting Labor at the upcoming election and enduring more of the same for the foreseeable future.


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May 2016