Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Political report from SP National Committee

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Sunday, 23rd January, the Socialist Party National Committee met to discuss the political situation in Australia and plans for building the party in 2005. Here is a summary of the main points raised in the first discussion.The fact that the ALP is a capitalist party does not mean that we are uninterested in who wins the leadership battle.
Only a year ago Latham was flavour of the month amongst the ruling class. They liked his mutual obligation policies and rabid free market stance. He was a useful possible 2nd 11 for them if opposition to the Coalition government got too hot.
Yet his bipolar utterances made without consultation (eg pledge to remove Australian troops from Iraq by Xmas) worried the more serious bourgeois thinkers. They opposed his promised to scrap the task force into the building industry and AWAs. This was too pro-union for their liking. They always seek a steady hand on the pump. He was destroyed in the election (for reasons explained in articles in our paper and web site).
Beazley is the most pro-US imperialist ALP figure and in no way marks a qualitative change. He will move away from even the limited concessions made to the trade union leaders by Latham. The only other possible challenger Julia Gillard is aimed at repackaging the ALP as more progressive, more youthful and more pro-woman – yet it is all form not content. Gillard made her name fighting “the extreme left in the student movement” (Weekend Australian 22-23/1/05). She has supported every neo-liberal policy of the ALP over the past years.
Yet it would be wrong to say that the current crisis in the ALP means they can never win an election again.
The support for the Coalition is based on funny money growth and fear of the alternative. In the absence of any real opposition to Labor, a collapse in the economy and/or Coalition support will mean the middle and working classes will take the ALP by the neck and place them into power despite themselves.
The Greens (outside Tasmania, where they are on 17.5%) have dropped in support – Queensland from 6.7% to 3% and in SA from 6% to 4%, reflecting their almost purely electoral focus. Outside election time they lose profile and drop in support. In the future, when they taste power, they will also lose power too as partially seen in Yarra City Council already.
Does the Coalition control of both houses, the crisis in the ALP, the demoralisation in the union leaderships, and the lull in the student and anti-globalisation movements mean that we are entering a period of similar to the post 1985 situation in the UK after the defeat of the miners?
We think not. The class balance of forces in Australia has not changed since the federal election. Howard has yet to win the equivilent of the victory Thatcher won over the miners or Reagan won over the air traffic controllers in 1980. He tried and failed over the MUA in 1998, although most of the workplace counter-reforms got through thanks to the ACTU and the old MUA leadership.
Even electorally speaking, the two-party preferred vote for the Coalition was less in the 2004 election compared to their first victory in 1996.
Economically, the ‘upturn’ has been extended, first in the late 1990s with the stock market and internet bubble, and then by the low interest rates, property, debt splurge. The upturn is built on funny money, a low Australian dollar (until recently), low interest rates and massive debt. All this is explained in more detail in previous SP statements in our paper and web site.
The upturn has not led to a rise in workers’ living standards across the board as it did during the long post-war boom from 1945-74. For a minority of unionised workers in strong unions there has been a rise in their real wage. But even most unionised workers have had low EBA wage rises. Westpac chief economist Bill Evans (Australian 8th December 2004) said labour shortages were not yet translating into widespread wage increases and a survey found 75% of bosses expected wages to stay the same or fall. This is a factor in boosting the profits of bosses and extended growth – even if it doesn’t mean much for workers.
More millions of workers (the majority) outside unions they rely on the minimum wage decisions of the AIRC or AWAs for rises. Worse still, 27% are casual with even fewer rights – the boom rests on their exploitation and does not improve their lot.
The lack of fightback is due to the role of the union leaders, the fear factor from casualisation, and the effect of the debt explosion on workers and middle class families. This later point, in turn, boosts petty bourgeois illusions – the Kath and Kim factor – which will shattered in the near future.
The current conjuncture will be shattered by events. Consciousness will be changed by events.
1. The US economy props up the world economy. It sucks in Chinese goods, which in turn means massive exports of Australian raw materials to China. The twin deficits in the US at some state will lead to a run on the American dollar (we are possibly already seeing this) and will force up US interest rates, slowing down the US and world economies.
2. China. For reasons explained elsewhere is not strong enough, despite the illusions of much of the capitalist media, to stop this process.
3. Iraq. A disaster on the verge of civil war. Illusions of the US (shared by some on the far left too!) that they could undertake new wars is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stuff. Oil price rising again after a brief drop.
4. Australian economy. Rising Australian dollar and limited local industrial capacity has undermined exports and led to massive imports. The trade deficit is a great concern to the ruling class and shows the structural weaknesses in the local economy despite the cockiness of Costello.
2005 will see new Coalition attacks taking advantage of their control of both houses. They will attack disability pensioners and the unemployed in general. Students will face attacks on their unions. Organised labour will be attacked – especially the CFMEU (construction) via the taskforce.
There will be defensive trade union battles. There will be a limited revival of the student movement around the issue of VSU. We must intervene with an explanation of why these attacks are occuring, a fighting programme for the movement, and linking the struggles to the need to change society. We must also be alert to the need to raise organisational initiatives such as unifying struggles, limited general strikes, fightback committees and the like. These fighting organisations can be a possible stepping stone to a new workers’ party or at least build the trust necessary to move in that direction in the future.
The fact that big layers of youth and workers see movies like Far 9/11 and The Corporation, are disgusted with the Iraqi war and US hypocrisy, means that the early stages of a mass anti-capitalist consciousness is developing.
The SP must continue to build a socialist alternative as well as intervening in the struggles of the day to bring more layers of workers and youth into the battle. We are punching above our weight on this and must continue to do so.


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