Cost of living crisis in Australia starts to bite

Inflation is now running at 7.3% in Australia, and wages, tied to past agreements or base-level awards, are rising at just 2.6% – a cut in real terms. As elsewhere in capitalist countries, the cost of living has skyrocketed. Food, interest rates, rents, mortgages, utilities, and petrol, every family expenditure has been hit hard. Despite many union leaders holding back workers, grass root branches are starting to override them.

The Western Australian Labor Party (ALP), which has a massive majority following the recent collapse of the Liberals at the State election, has offered an insulting 3% increase to nurses! This follows the sacrifice of healthcare workers through the pandemic. The ALP is acting just like the previous Liberal Government and continues to carry out neoliberal policies.

At a recent mass meeting in Western Australia, the nurse’s leadership put forward a disgraceful 5% increase. The mass meeting overruled the leadership, forced a vote, and agreed on a 10% increase. This was a victory for the members over the union leadership. However, it remains to be seen how fiercely these demands from the membership will be taken forward and campaigned on by the union bureaucracy.

All over Australia, workers are starting to fight back and take strike action. Strikes of nurses, teachers, train drivers, and bus drivers are recent examples of Australian workers moving into action.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show a pickup in industrial action.  To put this in perspective, industrial action remains at historic lows. Union membership and industrial action have significantly declined since the 1980’s. The significance of the recent action is the sectors that have come out on strike and the context of a cost of living crisis.

Despite the conservative ALP and many union leaderships, Australian workers are overriding them. The question this poses is that of which ideas will lay the clearest path forward for material gains for the working class. It’s a question of power.

Socialists agree that we need to fight for reforms under capitalism, including improved working conditions and rates of pay. We also point out that all reforms under capitalism are temporary, and the representatives of the 1% will simply bide their time and seek to reverse or undermine those reforms over time. Today, big business and its representatives are capitalising on high inflation to repress and argue against wage rises to eat away at past gains.

As demonstrated by the actions of the ALP, not just in WA but in all States and Territories, in Australia, as well as at a Federal level, they are not a party of or for working people. The task for workers serious about fighting back against capitalism for a living wage, decent conditions, real action on climate change, for an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, is to build a socialist political party with mass support.

The socialist alternative

Only building a socialist society can solidify the gains of workers. This is through a planned economy where the resources of society are democratically planned to serve the needs of the majority. For example, the profits of the private healthcare and pharmaceutical system could be used to properly fund public healthcare and pay nurses decent wages. Productivity increases can be utilised to shorten the working week rather than line the pockets of the rich. A planned economy must also go hand in hand with a workers’ democracy. Political representatives should be paid the average wage of a skilled worker. Politicians should be subject to immediate recall by their constituents if they act against their interests. Importantly, the working week must also be reduced, with no loss of pay, to enable people the time and energy to engage in the political process and prevent the development of a political elite, as exists today.

The cost of living crisis is in its early stages in Australia. We need socialist ideas at the forefront as workers begin the task of fighting back.

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October 2022