Editorial comment from the July 2014 edition of The Socialist
The harsh measures outlined in the federal government’s budget have provoked an outpouring of anger across the country. This anger has expressed itself in a number of protests and even in some limited industrial action in some states.
The protests, while not massive, have for the most part been bigger than anything seen under the previous Labor government. They have included a layer of younger people, many of whom are becoming politically engaged for the first time.
If properly directed this movement has the potential to develop into something very powerful. The government could be brought down especially given the unstable nature of the parliament and the fragile economic situation.
The question is what sort of leadership does this movement need, and what strategy should it employ to ensure success?
In the initial stages the March Australia group was behind the calling of the protests. This group’s banner is “Australians united for a better Government”. While they say they are not associated with any political party, the speakers they have promoted have consistently been connected to Labor and the Greens.
By leaving the question of an alternative to the Liberals intentionally unanswered, they are defacto promoting a government similar to the last Labor government which was propped up by the Greens.
In a nutshell the March Australia group has a similar approach to the bulk of the trade union leaders who are aligned to Labor. While late to the game, the trade union leaders are now seeking to work in an alliance with March Australia.
As they did with the ‘Your Rights At Work’ campaign in the lead up to the 2007 federal election they hope to capitalise on people’s anger at the government, mobilise people in set piece rallies every few months and then direct people to vote ‘against the government’ at the next election.
In the absence of a genuinely progressive mass alternative to the Liberals such an approach would result in Labor forming government perhaps with the Greens playing a minor role.
Even if this strategy was successful it would mean we would end up with a government that, for all intents and purposes, acts in a similar way to the Liberals.
Let us not forget that it was the previous Labor government that paved the way for Abbott by slashing public sector jobs, raising the retirement age, cutting welfare payments and education funding.
The risk is that because people see the major parties as acting in a similar way, they can easily be persuaded to vote for the devil they know.
This danger has been highlighted in some of the recent polls. While Tony Abbott’s dissatisfaction rating has risen, so has Bill Shorten’s. In fact Shorten’s popularity has dipped 6 points in the past month alone! He is actually more unpopular now than he was before the budget.
For their part the Greens have similarly failed to make gains from the anti-government mood. They have dropped 2 points in recent months.
For many, the Greens are tainted by their association with Labor in the last government and their record of cuts and privatisation in Tasmania. For their part they are opposed to blocking supply to the budget in the Senate which means they will end up voting for many of Abbott’s cuts. Clearly a layer of people understand this and are disappointed.
While anti-Abbott rhetoric can win you some quick points, the key to maintaining support in the long term is winning people to an alternative. While we may not like it, the Liberals are outlining a clear economic plan. Labor and the Greens on the other hand have not been able to offer up any alternative.
This is because they fundamentally agree with the program of cuts, privatisation and deregulation being pushed by the Liberals. In fact they implemented it while in office just last year! People understand this and that is why, despite the protest movement, Labor and the Greens have been unable to make political gains.
The danger that the trade union leaders and the March Australia group risks is that, by pinning their hopes on the unreliable Labor/Green opposition, Abbott could end up winning the argument that while his budget measures are unpopular, they are the only viable option in these difficult economic times.
This process has played out many times in the past with unpopular Liberal government’s clinging onto power despite the presence of anti-government protest movements.
The best defence against this danger is not to rely on one or another capitalist party. The anti-Abbott movement needs to fight for an alternative to cuts, privatisation and deregulation and not just accept the inadequate policies on offer from Labor and the Greens.
Rather than accepting that ordinary people need to pay for an economic crisis they didn’t create, we need to demand that big business pays for what was created by their system.
More than enough wealth exists in Australia to provide a high standard of living for all. The problem is that currently wealth is concentrated in a tiny amount of hands. If the big corporations that dominate the economy were brought into public hands ordinary people could democratically decide how the wealth created was distributed.
With the major sectors of the economy publicly owned you would be able to plan production in order to produce things for need rather than profit. Priority would be given to investing in infrastructure that we need like public housing, transport, schools and hospitals. Thousands of sustainable jobs would be created in the process. At the same time rather than making people work longer we could reduce the retirement age and cut the working week to share out available work.
By removing the profit motive billions of dollars could be freed up eliminating the need for any cuts. In fact, on the basis of a more equal distribution of wealth, people’s living standards could be substantially increased across the board.
This is the economic alternative to the profit driven capitalist system supported by all the mainstream parties. Given that none of these parties have a vision for a society along these lines we will need to create a new form of political representation to fight for it.
If the trade unions were to break with Labor and join with other anti-government forces around this alternative, a powerful movement for change could be built.
This is the strategy that the anti-Abbott movement needs to adopt. Anything less will only see us lumped with more of the same under another guise.