We go to press this month on the eve of a federal election, an election that will go down as one of the most lacklustre in Australian history. Despite some commentators attempting to portray the campaign as some sort of ‘class war’, most people saw it for what it was – a contest between two parties that do not represent their interests.
Young people in particular had very little enthusiasm for the election. Despite a push from the AEC more than 254,000 people aged 18-24 did not bother to enrol to vote.
It’s not the case however that young people are apolitical or disinterested in politics. Recent surveys have shown that compassion towards asylum seekers, equal marriage rights and action on climate change were issues that concerned young people the most. The problem is that none of the mainstream parties have any real plans to address these issues.
Young people feel disenfranchised because they lack proper political representation but they are also disenchanted with the system as a whole. Young people are more likely to experience poverty, insecurity at work, housing stress, and as a result, mental health issues. They correctly see no prospect of either major party making improvements on these fronts.
Even if there was a party to vote for that represented their interests, young people are aware that more and more decisions are being taken out of the hands of elected governments. There is no doubt that the most important decisions about what is produced, where and how, are made in corporate boardrooms and not parliaments.
The further shift towards privatisation and user-pays means big business are exercising increasing amounts of control over our lives. There are also examples of undemocratic free trade deals like the TPP that place extraordinary amounts of power in the hands of big business profiteers.
With all this being the case it is not surprising that a Lowy Institute Poll found that only 42% of 18-29 year-olds believed that “democracy” was preferable to other forms of government. While “democracy” is not specifically defined it is likely that people regard it to mean the current biased set up where you get to vote for one or another big business party once every few years.
While a long economic boom has masked the situation in Australia there is no doubt that capitalism itself has been politicising significant layers of young people. As the boom winds down the anger that currently sits under the surface will begin to come to the fore. There will be both economic and political limits to what young people can, and will, put up with.
Capitalism has been waging a one sided war against young people for at least a generation. If young people are lucky enough to find a job it will usually be low paid and casual. If they choose education they are burdened with huge debts and institutions that treat them like cash cows. Proper apprenticeships and traineeships are few and far between.
Disproportionate wealth inequality means that young people are forced to stay at home much longer than in the past. This means that parents are being forced to pay for the fact that capitalism does not offer their children a future.
While there will be attempts to blame young people themselves for the situation they face, as the economy slows more people will come to see that the problem is systemic. A viable future requires changing society so that we prioritise the interests of the many rather than the profits of the few.
When avenues open up to challenge the rule of big business young people will be some of the first to act. Exactly how their frustrations are expressed is yet to be seen but the Socialist Party has confidence that a new generation of young people will find a way to change their situation.
In the course of struggling for a bigger share of the wealth, and for the social reforms they desire, young people will also see that putting an end to big business domination requires the building of a genuine political alternative. The Socialist Party has already started this task and we urge all those who want to fight for a future to join us.
Editorial comment from the July 2016 issue of ‘The Socialist’