The Victorian state election on November 24 saw voters decisively reject the right-wing Liberal-National Coalition. The Labor Party, led by Daniel Andrews, was re-elected with a significant majority in the lower house, holding 56 of 88 seats at time of writing.
While the Coalition has become politically toxic across the country, the Andrews Labor government has been able to win support by introducing some very mild reforms. However, these concessions have all been driven by pressure from below.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson summed up the attitude of Victorians toward the Liberals, describing his experience at a polling booth: “Every second person either gave me deadly silence, a very cold, deadly silence, or there was people mentioning energy, climate or the deposing of the prime minister.” Their own base abandoned them in key seats.
The Liberals were plagued by the dysfunction of the federal party, but they also ran an uninspiring and racist campaign. With their allies in the media, they tried to whip up fears about ‘African gangs’ to position themselves as the party of ‘law and order’.
However, Labor had already – disgracefully – outflanked them from the right on this issue, having given the police excessive new powers, equipment and personnel over the last four years.
Meanwhile, African-Australians have reported increasing harassment and abuse on the street over the whole course of 2018 because of this gang hysteria which has been contributed to by both the major parties.
The Liberals’ failure has rippled upwards to further destabilise the Morrison government, which has since gone into damage control, reducing the number of days federal parliament will be in session before the next election and scheduling for an early budget.
The federal government’s crisis comes from the fact that working people have faced increasing costs of living and stagnating wages for many years. Capitalism has no solution for the problems we face, and so any capitalist party in power will face similar pressures. This is the reason for the high turnover of Australian prime ministers in recent years.
In contrast, the Victorian Labor Party has benefited from the effect of the housing bubble on the Victorian economy. Flush with cash from stamp duty taxes, they have some leeway to make concessions to voters, and they are not saddled with the same crisis as the federal government.
They have also been able to make a slew of infrastructure promises that will provide jobs in construction and related areas. That will change once their revenue source dries up as the example of the West Australian state Labor government shows.
The Andrews government has a reputation as a progressive one. However, in practise they have introduced a raft of anti-worker policies. Among other things, Labor has privatised the Port of Melbourne and the Land titles office putting hundreds of union jobs at risk. They have also demonised the United Firefighters Union for fighting for better conditions and more full-time paid fire fighters.
It is crucial to understand that the progressive policies of the Andrews government are merely a veneer and the minor concessions made have been driven by ordinary people.
For example, their public transport improvements are a result of the pressure exerted by the community campaign against the East-West tunnel in 2013 and 2014. The East-West tunnel was initially a Labor Party proposal, and they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to drop their support for it. Even then, Andrews shamefully allowed capitalist ‘stakeholders’ in the tunnel to walk away with massive payouts for doing nothing.
While the East-West tunnel has been shelved for now Labor have continued to govern for the road lobby proceeding with a number of other private toll road projects that shift money from the state and the pockets of ordinary commuters into the coffers of profiteers like Transurban.
Similarly, their support for the Safe Schools anti-bullying program came in the midst of a series of enormous protests against homophobia, in response to attacks on LGTBIQ people both here and overseas.
Labor has promised to build 1000 new public housing units – but there are more than 80,000 applications for public housing on the waiting list in Victoria. This tiny concession is a minor reversal of their previous policy: Labor have spent the last four years privatising public housing properties and refusing to expand public housing to accommodate people.
They have only made this concession under public pressure – housing is a dire concern for many people, who feel the pressure in their own life and see the obvious and indefensible rise in homelessness every day. We have also seen small scale protests and campaigns developing around housing issues.
The Labor Party in Victoria are responding to what ordinary people want in a very limited way. Working people have driven them to do this, indirectly setting the agenda. We need a situation where working people set the agenda openly. Rather than a fake progressive party we need to build a party that is directly made up of working-class people, refuses money from big business, and pursues the interests of workers without shame.
Such a party should be based on trade unions and community campaigns, and raise a socialist alternative to the capitalist system. A crucial step towards this would be the disaffiliation of unions from the Labor Party.
It is dangerous to sow illusions in Labor based on the very mild left-wing concessions they have made in Victoria. Firstly, because they have continued to pursue a big business agenda this entire time – giving greater powers to the police to break up pickets and protests, selling off public assets and taking sides against workers in a number of union disputes. Secondly, because they will once again wind back the few concessions they have made when the economic situation changes.
Because they are a capitalist party, Labor prioritises big business over the interests of working people when push comes to shove. In the event of an economic downturn – which is very much on the cards – they will act to make working people pay for any crisis.
We need to prepare for this and fight for socialist solutions, making big business pay instead, and using the wealth that is currently stolen from working people in the form of profits to provide for all.
By David Elliott