As we go to print, the 2019 election campaign is in full swing. Unfortunately there is nothing inspirational on offer from either major party. Working-class people need a party that is independent of big business, but Labor does not fill this role.
The Liberal-National Coalition has had a disastrous term in office. They have trailed in polls for many years, and struggled to get key pieces of legislation through parliament. As well as ditching their prime minister last year, they have faced a number of resignations.
Labor have benefited from the sorry state of the Coalition, but have little to offer as an alternative. The Coalition’s only strength has been the lack of a serious opposition. Labor leader Bill Shorten has stayed behind in polls as preferred prime minister even while Labor has been the preferred party.
Ordinary people are facing stagnant wages and high costs of living. Young people are suffering particularly badly from the ongoing housing and rental crisis. The new generation reaching voting age is also keenly aware of the worrying future they face with regards to climate change, as shown by the large recent student strikes.
Labor has pivoted somewhat toward these issues. They have made token pledges to reduce carbon emissions, but their plans for action are focused on inadequate market measures. There is no plan for a large-scale roll-out of publicly owned clean power.
Similarly, their plan on housing involves cash handouts to rich property developers, when what we really need is to improve and expand public housing, and to cap rents and link them to people’s wages. But these ideas challenge the profit system, and Labor considers private profit far more important than the lives of ordinary people.
The big business media have hailed this as an election about ‘real choices’. Right-wing commentators are worried about Labor’s plans to remove various tax discounts for the rich. We are in favour of closing tax loopholes, but these changes do not go far enough. Taxes on big business need to be increased significantly.
Labor also has no plans to actually change the rules around workers’ rights. In 2009, Labor made sure that John Howard’s WorkChoices was kept mostly intact under the Fair Work legislation. Labor outlawed strikes except in very specific circumstances and restricted union rights of entry. Australian workers face worse restrictions on the right to strike than even workers in the US do.
Labor have no plans to return the basic workers’ rights that they have taken away. The only solution is in the power of workers to organise in defiance of unjust laws. This is how most of our rights were won in the first place.
But most trade union leaders continue to support these people. Instead of escalating the Change the Rules campaign or standing their own candidates, the Australian Council of Trade Unions is effectively running a Labor Party door-knocking campaign. They have gotten only the most minimal promises from Labor in return.
Labor have promised to restore penalty rates, lift the minimum wage, and ensure labour hire workers are paid at the same rate as direct hires. These changes would be welcome, but all they can do is restore a little bit of what working people have lost.
The fact is that most people need a substantial improvement in their situation, not a slight reset to a few years ago. People are already struggling, and a recession is looming.
The ongoing downturn in the housing market and the US-China trade war are both factors that could push the Australian economy over the line. Once that happens, Labor’s priority will be to keep big business profits protected – not working people. Many of their election spending promises would evaporate.
The dire situation facing many ordinary people is the cause of the political instability we’ve seen in recent years. Both major parties are committed to big business, and incapable of addressing people’s needs.
None of Labor’s policy proposals are enough to change this situation. If they win, it is likely they will face the same instability as the Coalition, but this time people will have bigger expectations of them.
We will need to fight for a political movement that genuinely represents us. A new mass party of working people is needed to make Labor irrelevant, win back what we have lost over the years, and push forward for a socialist society driven by people rather than profit.
Editorial comment from the May 2019 issue of The Socialist