Latest figures show that Australia’s official unemployment rate has risen to 6%, the highest level since July 2003. When you take underemployment into account the problem is actually much worse than the official figures suggest. A definite feeling of concern and insecurity is beginning to grip Australia.
Editorial from the March 2014 edition of ‘The Socialist’
With Toyota following Ford and Holden last month in announcing that they will cease car production in Australia, the jobs crisis is likely to get much worse before it gets better. Some economists estimate that the collapse of the car industry could lead to more than 50,000 job losses in the components sector.
While this crisis is more pronounced on the east coast where manufacturing dominates, Western Australia will not be immune as the peak of the mining investment boom means that tens of thousands of jobs will also be lost in that sector in the coming years.
As unemployment rises the Abbott government is preparing a major assault with deep cuts to social spending in the May budget. Cuts and austerity measures side by side with rising unemployment will ultimately mean less money in people’s pockets. This reduction in demand will flow on to the retail and housing sectors and will likely make the problem worse not better.
The human cost of cuts and unemployment is not the key concern of the major party politicians. It is the profits of their big business backers that they are out to protect.
Far from just accepting that unemployment is some sort of act of god, socialists argue that there are a range of measures that can be taken to ensure that people are afforded work and a decent standard of living. One of the best ways to fight unemployment is to fight for shorter hours with no loss of pay.
Australia has some of the longest working hours in the developed world. Full-time employees are working an average of 44 hours per week while one in five workers put in more than 50 hours a week. To make matters worse many who work overtime don’t even get paid for the extra hours.
We have a situation where one section of the workforce desperately wants to reduce their hours while others don’t get enough work to get by. Some surveys have shown that nearly a third of workers want to reduce their hours.
At the same time one in five part-time workers want more hours than they currently get. With so many people working long hours, and others struggling to make ends meet, it makes sense to share out the work.
If a 35-hour week was implemented in Australia we could immediately free up millions of hours of work that could be translated into tens of thousands more jobs. This would have a big impact on reducing unemployment and lead to a better quality of life. Among other things it would also mean healthier lifestyles and safer workplaces.
Australian workers have a proud history of fighting for shorter hours. In 1856 construction workers in Melbourne were among the first in the world to win an eight hour day. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called for a 35-hour week and then even a 30-hour week.
These ideas and traditions need to be reintroduced by the labour movement today.
For years company profits have soared while workers wages have struggled to keep up with inflation. If employers claim they cannot afford to deliver shorter hours without cutting pay workers should demand to know where the profits have gone.
Companies that threaten closure should be brought into public ownership and retooled to produce things that society needs. For example the plant, equipment and human resources that already exist in the car companies could be used to build the trains, trams and buses our cities desperately require.
In a similar way a huge public works program to build public housing, hospitals and childcare centres would create thousands of jobs and help wipe out the waiting lists that currently exist.
Public investment into the development of renewable energy technology would also create sustainable jobs and speed up the transition from fossil fuel energy production to zero emissions power. If planning focused on the regions currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry, rural communities could be rejuvenated while a climate disaster is averted.
It is not a lack of knowledge or expertise that are holding initiatives like these back. It is a lack of political will. Currently the major parties and even the bulk of trade union leaders have no economic or political alternative to the profit driven system.
The challenge ahead is develop a political alternative to the major parties, one that fights for an economic system that prioritises people’s needs and the environment rather than big business profits. Side by side with campaigning against cuts and job losses this is the future the Socialist Party is fighting for.
100th edition of The Socialist
The March 2014 issue marks 100 editions of The Socialist – the Socialist Party’s main publication. Issue 1 in 2003 was published against the backdrop of the Iraq war and since then The Socialist has covered all the major political issues – local, national and international.
Prior to The Socialist we published The Voice from 2000 to 2002 and The Militant (also the former name of our organisation) from our establishment in 1985 to 1999.
Unlike the big business press The Socialist is not beholden to rich shareholders. We unashamedly publish news and analysis from the standpoint of working people, students and the unemployed.
The Socialist is proud that its production is not subject to the drive for profit but the drive to build the workers’ and social movements. We want to create a place for debate, provide working class people with a voice, and point a way forward for the struggles we are involved in. Every article produced has the aim of fulfilling one of these tasks.
If this is the first time you have read The Socialist we hope you enjoy it and that you will continue to read it. But we also invite you to support us. This paper does not rely on any advertising revenue for its production. Similarly we do not get any support from governments or big business. Instead we rely on support from our readers.
The easiest way to support us is to take out a subscription. That will ensure you never miss an issue. At the same time we are always looking for more members and supporters who can sell The Socialist and participate in our campaigns.
If you want to help, either by donating, subscribing or joining the Socialist Party, fill in the form at the back of this edition and send it in to us today. Don’t just get angry at the system, get active!
Forward to socialism and another 100 editions!