Workers are desperate to get rid of the Howard government at the election. However they face a terrible dilemma in that the ALP opposition offers no meaningful alternative and it fully supports the main neo-liberal policies of the Coalition.
Workers want to believe in the ALP. They ask in hope: “Kevin Rudd has to be better, doesn’t he?” Yet almost everyday we get new announcements from the ALP that knocks their unrequited love for six: the anti-democratic construction industry police force (ABCC) to stay for years; permission for bosses to ‘vary’ awards where they can get away with it; troops to stay in Iraq with only a minor reshuffling of the cards and there are many other examples.
Rudd’s policies are in tune with his ideology and personal lifestyle, for example his wife is a successful capitalist making millions in the labour hire sector – a version of paid slavery in the 21st century.
In turn, the ALP policies are not merely because of sell-outs by its leaders. The party has, especially since the 1980s, been an open party of big business, its pitch to big business being that it can sell cuts better to workers due to its historic connection to the trade union movement.
This was best seen in the real wage-cutting Accord from 1983-96, introduced by the Hawke-Keating government. The last ALP government was also not afraid to take the sword to the unions and organised the physical liquidation of the militant Builders Labourers Federation in 1986 – something the Howard government was not able to pull off in its 1998 dispute with the Maritime Union.
Many capitalist commentators criticise Howard for ‘populism’ and not pushing the neo-liberal agenda hard enough, they seek and expect Rudd to step this push up. Leading ALP figures like Lindsay Tanner (of the ‘Socialist Left’ faction!) have long argued for Labor to push neo-liberal attacks harder than the Coalition. This explains the big support for the ALP from sections of the capitalist media.
Notwithstanding our total lack of confidence in the pro-capitalist ALP opposition, the Socialist Party fully backs all efforts to get rid of the Coalition government. A defeat for Howard later this year will boost the confidence of workers and young people. A victory for Howard will have the opposite effect, at least in the short term.
Workers will put pressure on an incoming Rudd ALP government to claw back what they lost under Howard. The unwillingness of Rudd to do so – in fact he will continue and in some areas step up these counter-reforms – will lead to big conflicts between his government and the working class.
No matter who wins the election, the Socialist Party will push harder for the creation of a new mass left wing workers’ party in Australia. We need the voice of public health, education and transport and the voice of workers’ rights and opposition to the war to be on the agenda. If progressive unions, active community groups, and the hundreds of thousands of left wing voters were to unite behind such a party the level of struggle and political debate and understanding in Australia would be rapidly stepped up.
Our warning to workers if the ALP win the election is to get ready to fight!
Editorial from the October 2007 issue of ‘The Socialist’ newspaper