On the campaign trail with Victorian Socialists
On the campaign trail with Victorian Socialists)

Hundreds of Victorian Socialists volunteers have been staffing early voting polling booths since 14 November, building on the more than 150,000 doors knocked across the north and west of Melbourne during the state election campaign. They are bringing a new style of campaigning to the state election, and have found a constituency of voters fed up with the prevailing pro-corporate, mainstream politics.

“Victorian Socialists get very little media coverage, and we have no powerful backers in the big end of town to help us get our message out”, the party’s campaign coordinator for the Northern Metropolitan region, Jess Lenehan, told Red Flag. “So our campaigners try to engage people, through conversations on door steps and chats at polling booths. It can take a while to break through the sense a lot of people have that politicians don’t care about them or about what they think; that they only care about advancing their careers and looking after the wealthy.

“Once we explain that Victorian Socialists is not a traditional political party—its candidates are not professional politicians but community activists and unionists, who, if elected, will only take an average worker’s wage—we often find people are very open to hearing more of what we have to say.”

Social media is awash with stories from the campaign trail that illustrate this point. At the Preston early voting booth, Erin, a volunteer, detailed how she met a young woman who worked at a nearby gym: “As soon as I said Victorian Socialists are outraged at the rich doubling their wealth in the last two years, Tiffany yelled ‘YES!’ She’s sick of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. She hadn't wanted to vote for anyone until she met us”.

At the Greenvale booth, another volunteer reported meeting Ahmet, a long-time Turkish socialist who had been imprisoned for two years by the Turkish government before fleeing the country. He said he always voted socialist and gave the volunteer a big hug.

Esmaeil spoke to Belle Gibson, Victorian Socialists candidate for Kororoit in Melbourne’s west, at early voting. “He’s a welder at a factory in Sunshine”, Belle wrote on social media. “He manufactures the mesh that goes inside concrete structures. A couple of years ago he injured his back at work and is fighting for WorkSafe to cover his second round of surgery ...

“We spoke about the need for fighting unions to win proper compensation for people are injured at work. When I told him about the campaign to get Liz Walsh elected in Western Metro and Liz’s track record of activism, his face lit up. He said, ‘Women know how to fight, they are leading the way in Iran, where I’m from. They are fighting for Women Life and Freedom’. He spoke about the need to fight for a world for our children. A world free of inequality, violence and greed, and a world full of beauty and parks and dignity ... I’m so proud to have his vote.”

Volunteers in the north and west have met a number of workers who have had personal contact with Jerome Small, Victorian Socialists’ candidate for the Northern Metro region and long-time social justice activist and unionist. Some have been fellow construction workers familiar with Jerome’s union activism. Others are people like Ravi, met by a volunteer in the electorate of Kalkallo, who, in the word of the volunteer, “has known Jerome for years, works at Woolworths logistics and remembers Jerome's support for their strikes and pickets. During the period of lockdown at the height of the pandemic, Jerome gave assistance to Ravi in dealing with health and safety issues at work. Rasika [Ravi’s partner] has always voted Labor since she migrated but thinks they take the outer-suburbs for granted, and is supporting Jerome this time too”.

Volunteers have also taken time to visit workers at the Pampas factory in West Footscray, where nearly the entire workforce of more than 100 is on strike and picketing, demanding higher pay and better conditions for casuals. At the Sunshine booth the previous Friday, a volunteer met Asha, who works for Pampas. The volunteer detailed how Asha has worked at the factory for more than twenty years, “and her workplace is about to go strike for 48 hours for a 6 percent pay rise starting Monday. She was pretty pumped. A socialist in parliament will back striking workers and build solidarity with their struggle”.

There are innumerable stories like this, of people struggling to survive on inadequate pensions, migrants who have been part of similar struggles all over the world, young people who feel hopeless about a future of climate crisis, unattainable housing and inequality.

Victorian Socialists are trying to do more than just thrust a how-to-vote card in these people’s hands. The campaign wants to get a socialist elected to parliament, and lay the basis for greater resistance to the many inequalities and injustices that the capitalist system and those who run it expect people to accept. This is what motivates its hundreds of volunteers.

Whatever the outcome on 26 November, this in itself will be a significant achievement and step forward for the socialist left.

Help is still needed to staff the more than 290 polling booths across Melbourne’s north and west on election day. To volunteer, sign up at victoriansocialists.org.au/polling.

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