We need a political alternative to fight cuts and austerity
Editorial comment from the May edition of ‘The Socialist’
As the Abbott government prepares to release its first budget, polls show it remains deeply unpopular. Given the budget is set to include a raft of tax rises, cuts and austerity measures that situation is unlikely to improve in the short term.
Only seven months since the federal election the Coalition trails Labor by 4 percentage points – 48% to 52% on a two-party-preferred basis. In part the government’s dip in the polls can be attributed to the scandal surrounding Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos and his links with the disgraced Obeid family.
At the same time the government’s attempt to weaken anti-discrimination laws have been shunned with 9 out of 10 people supporting the current laws which make it unlawful to racially discriminate.
A big drop in Coalition support has actually taken place in regional Australia where support has fallen by as much as 8 percentage points. Clearly an older layer outside of the cities are concerned with the direction the government is heading in.
Abbott’s trips to Japan, South Korea and China to discuss free trade have highlighted the negative impacts these deals will have on regional communities. At the same time talk about increasing the pension age to 70 and tightening eligibility requirements is not an attractive prospect for rural workers.
With the mining investment boom peaking, and commodity prices falling, government revenues are set to take a hit. As is the aim of all capitalist parties the Coalition is hell bent on making ordinary people pay via tax hikes, cuts, job losses and austerity measures. In this way they can balance the budget while maintaining low tax rates and benefits for their backers in big business.
Side by side with changes to the aged pension the government is looking at tightening the activity test for people on disability support pensions and criteria for other welfare recipients. A new co-payment of $6 for visiting a GP is also on the table. Further plans for privatisations and more cuts to the public sector can also be expected.
With the government on the nose you would think that any old opposition party would be looking attractive. Not so with the Australian Labor Party. Labor has not benefited from the deterioration in the government’s position whatsoever. In fact Labor’s primary vote continues to languish at around 34%. In the recent WA Senate rerun election Labor won a mere 22% of the vote!
These dismal results have prompted yet more talk about the crisis facing Labor and what is to be done. The bulk of the discussion is focused on relatively minor organisational changes within the party. What is ignored by most commentators is the fact that the crisis in the party stems from the fact that it has transformed into a big business party but still relies on the votes of working people to stay in office.
The profit interests of their big business backers are at odds with the interests of its voter base. This contradiction is likely to sharpen as we move into more uncertain economic times and people demand relief from cost of living increases. Regardless of what organisational changes Labor makes this problem will continue to fester.
The main reason for Labor still being ahead on a two-party-preferred basis is because of an increase in support for the Greens. In recent polls the Greens primary vote has risen sharply to an all time high of 17%. As many pollsters have pointed out this is because lots of disenchanted Coalition voters have temporarily parked their votes with the Greens.
Despite this recent bounce the Greens results have been mixed of late. While they did increase their vote significantly in the WA Senate rerun they were pummelled in the Tasmanian state election.
It is likely that the Greens become more of a regional phenomena in the coming period. In some cases, when their candidates tack left and are seen to be attached to social movements they can be an attractive option for voters looking for a progressive option. But in other cases, when their real agenda is highlighted – as in Tasmania where they were part of the government – they can be punished for carrying out what is essentially the same economic and political program as the major parties.
With unemployment rising and the budget set to negatively impact on the lives of millions of people the need for a political alternative to the mainstream parties is more pressing than ever.
In the absence of a mass party that really represents the interests of ordinary people voters have tended to indiscriminately punish the incumbents. While people may release some anger, and get some temporary relief, at the end of the day the status quo remains as the differences between all the mainstream parties are minor.
What we need is a party that stands opposed to cuts and austerity. A party that has a genuine plan to create sustainable jobs. A party that unashamedly stands opposed to making working people pay for an economic crisis that they did not create.
We need a party that stands in elections but more importantly understands that real social change takes place outside of parliament. Big business domination is best challenged by mobilising people in workplaces, communities and on the streets.
In order to use the wealth created to prioritise people’s needs we need to transform society. The Socialist Party’s vision is for a society that is based on collective ownership of big industry, democratic community control and sustainable planning. The first step towards this vision is to build a political vehicle that embodies these ideas and can take the fight up to big business and their representatives in the mainstream parties.
OECD report: A system in crisis
“Society at a Glance 2014 OECD Social Indicators” doesn’t sound like the most exciting document. However, many of the report’s conclusions point towards a deep unease about the future direction of capitalism.
The report was commissioned by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) an organisation mainly composed of the major industrialised economies.
The Great Recession, as the authors call it, since 2008, has resulted in greater economic inequality and unemployment, while social protections have been severely weakened and absolute poverty has increased.
Moreover, the so-called ‘recovery’ has benefited the super-rich at the expense of the majority – the ‘99%’.
The report indicates that a whole generation of young people will end up on the scrap heap – what an indictment of the capitalist system! It also warns of the storing up of ‘combustible materials’ within society as young people – the most, energetic and combative element in society – search for alternatives to a system that has failed them.
The report’s conclusions run counter to the austerity programmes being pursued by capitalist governments that make up the OECD.
It calls for greater protection of existing social spending in an era when such programmes are being attacked across the globe.
It calls for reform of the tax system saying governments should “work to broaden tax bases, reduce their reliance on labour taxes and adjust tax systems to account for rising inequality.”
This is a roundabout way of saying that a greater share of wealth produced in industrialised societies should go to working people rather than the super-rich.
It flies in the face of trends in capitalism since the 1970s that have only been accelerated during the Great Recession.
However, the change that’s needed will not come about from its recommendations. This can only be brought about when workers and young people build their own organisations that fight to change society.