Stop work to stop the budget! Strengthen the campaign with a 24-hour nationwide general strike! Fight for an alternative to the two-party system!
Editorial comment from the upcoming edition of The Socialist
Millions of people are angry and shocked about the measures outlined in the Abbott governments’ first budget. Far from ‘everybody sharing the burden’ this budget aims to make ordinary people pay for a crisis they didn’t create.
Understanding how we got to this situation is key to being able to change it.
In the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008 the Rudd Labor government initiated a program to stimulate the Australian economy. This spending program, coupled with the boom in the mining sector, helped put a floor under the economy and held off the sharp downturn that was seen in other parts of the world.
This stimulus program however wiped out the budget surplus and, following a trend internationally, Labor shifted away from stimulating the economy to implementing austerity measures in 2009-10. The aim was to bring the budget back to surplus.
As you would expect parties that are funded by big business interests seek to maintain low tax rates and benefits for their backers. Under Liberal and Labor austerity means cut backs and increased costs for ordinary people while big business profits are protected.
This budget continues that process. Over the next four years the government plans to slash spending by about $36 billion. The vast bulk will be cut from public health, education and welfare. At the same time increases like the rise in petrol excise and the $7 co-payment fee to see a doctor will impact the poorest layers of society the most.
While ordinary people pay more and get less, corporations will have their tax rate cut from 30% to 28.5%. Subsidies to big miners and other tax payer funded handouts to the corporate sector will also be maintained. This budget is unashamedly biased towards the super rich.
In response the polls show a spectacular drop in support for the government. If an election was held now the opposition would win in a landslide. As we predicted this government’s honeymoon would be short lived given the economic and political crisis it faced.
But it is not just in the polls that Abbott is facing problems. A mass movement is developing, first around the ‘March in March’ rallies and now around a series of anti-budget protests. If this movement is able to gather pace it could become a serious threat to the Liberals.
In Victoria the trade unions have called some limited strike and protest action. This needs to be replicated in other states. In order to give people a taste of their collective strength, and to take the movement to a higher level, a 24-hour nationwide strike should be called with mass protests in every major city.
A properly organised one day general strike would shake the government and its big business backers to the core. It is the logical next step if any of the budget measures are to be defeated.
We should remember that a budget is just pieces of paper. It requires people to comply with it in order for it to be implemented. Side by side with co-ordinated industrial action localised actions need to be organised to stop the implementation of the budget measures on the ground. Occupations, non-payment campaigns and protests can stop this government in its tracks.
The Liberals are not strong and stable. An indication of their political weaknesses can be seen in the response of the state Premiers. Even Abbott’s Liberal colleagues are furious that he is attempting to cost shift onto the states and pass the political pain down the line.
The current level of cuts are also predicated on the idea that the Australian economy will continue to grow. This is by no means assured. Against the backdrop of the slowdown in China, and the mining boom subsiding, the Australian economy will be far more vulnerable to global shocks. While the cuts entailed in this budget are significant more pain could well be on the cards which would weaken the government’s authority even further.
The question at hand is if the Liberals were brought down what would they be replaced with?
We should not forget that the last Labor government also slashed public sector jobs, cut welfare benefits for single parents, raised the retirement age and made cuts to higher education among other things. Disappointingly the budgets that contained those measures were also supported by the Greens and Independents.
Bill Shorten has indicated that he wants to block about $12 billion worth of the cuts but this is only about a third of Abbott’s proposals!
Alternating between the two big business parties is no solution. Similarly using smaller parties like the Greens or the Palmer party as an outlet for anger is inadequate. Both of these parties have indicated that they believe some cuts and increases are necessary. Just like the major parties they do not have an economic or political alternative to the profit driven system.
Without an alternative you are forced to play by the system’s rules. As we have seen with the Greens in places like Tasmania they act in much the same way as the major parties when in positions of power, regardless of their stated intentions.
We need to build a political alternative that stands opposed to lumping the burden onto ordinary people. Only a new political movement that offers an alternative to the profit driven system will be capable of really representing the interests of the 99%.
An alternative way of running society based on the public ownership of big industry, democratic control and sustainable planning would mean that the wealth that is created could be distributed more equally and living conditions could be increased rather than attacked.
By removing the profit motive billions of dollars could be freed up to be spent on creating the jobs and services that we need. People and the environment could be prioritised as opposed to the profits of the 1% as is the case now.
It is this type of alternative that the movement against Abbott needs to adopt. Anything less will only see Labor try to railroad the anger that exists into a campaign aimed at getting them re-elected. If this were to happen we would only end up facing the exact same problem, albeit with a different face and style. the Liberals can be stopped but we shouldn’t accept the idea that they should be replaced with another version of the same thing.
Regardless of which major party is in power the capitalist system does not work for the 99%. This is the case not just in Australia but the world over. The challenge ahead is to build not just a movement against Abbott, but a movement with a leadership that can get us off this two-party merri-go-round and change the profit driven system as a whole.