Neither the Liberals nor Labor have any solution to the key problem facing working-class families—the battle to make ends meet.
With inflation escalating sharply to 5.1 percent and wage rises lagging well behind, people are hurting. It is set to get a lot worse, the Reserve Bank forecasting a further 3 percent cut in real wages over the coming year.
Those at the bottom of the pile are hardest hit as they have to spend a much larger proportion of their already limited wages on necessities like food and transport, the costs of which are rising most rapidly. In sharp contrast, the rich and the better-off sections of the middle class, with their extensive investment portfolios, are well protected from rising supermarket bills and petrol prices.
But just to make sure that the pampered elite can afford to upgrade their Mercedes, their luxury yachts and holiday homes, the Liberals, with Labor’s support, are handing these parasites an extra $95 billion in tax cuts. As a result, workers are forced to carry more and more of the tax burden from their declining incomes.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is rightly feeling the heat over falling living standards. The Liberals have, after all, been for decades the champions of neoliberal economic policies and attacks on union rights that have resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth from workers to the super-rich. In the year to May 2021 alone, the net wealth of the richest 200 Australians increased by a mammoth $55.6 billion, to $479.6 billion.
The Liberals are besieged on all fronts. In their traditional heartland seats, polls indicate that the so-called teal independents are set to wreak havoc. Even Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is in real trouble in Bob Menzies’ old seat of Kooyong.
These wealthy independents, who have been championed by sections of the capitalist media, may make a few vaguely progressive noises on climate change, corruption and women’s rights, but they are no friends of workers. On the core economic issues, they are firmly in the conservative camp, and if they hold the balance of power, they will vigorously defend the interests of their affluent backers.
Labor offers no alternative. Labor has no proposals to reverse declining living standards. Labor is not prepared to legislate to increase the minimum wage, to raise the level of Newstart, to introduce rent controls, to massively expand public housing, to reverse the tax cuts on the rich, to make health care genuinely free or to bring core public services back into public ownership.
Most significantly, it is not prepared to roll back the harsh industrial relations laws that severely constrain workers’ ability to take effective industrial action to improve their wages and working conditions.
Why is Labor so pathetic? Because it is just as committed to successfully managing Australian capitalism on behalf of the bosses as are the Liberals.
That means that the interests of the mass of workers and the oppressed are a tenth-rate concern for Labor compared to the need to safeguard and expand the profits and investments of the banks, the mining companies and the rest of the corporate elite. Inflation could be reduced overnight, but that would mean taking measures that sharply cut into the gigantic profits of all the major corporations.
None of the major parties are prepared to contemplate making the bosses pay even a fraction of the cost of the crisis of their profit-driven system. As always, it is the workers who are forced to pay the bill when capitalism yet again goes into crisis.
One of the few promising signs during this election period has been the beginning of an uptick of workers taking industrial action, including nurses and teachers in New South Wales and council workers and bus drivers in Melbourne. Particularly encouragingly, the bus drivers mounted a lively mass picket. Whoever wins the election, we are going to need a lot more of this sort of action if workers are to have any hope of defending, let alone improving, their living standards.
But we also need to build a socialist political alternative that champions every struggle by workers and the oppressed and takes on the major parties. Backing the Victorian Socialists in this election is one important step in laying the basis for such a fighting alternative.
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.
The Australian Nursing Federation will proceed with a ballot of its West Australian members in defiance of an order by the Industrial Relations Commission. If nurses reject the McGowan state Labor government’s below inflation pay offer, they will resume a campaign of industrial action, which was suspended last week.
The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirm that real wages are falling at the fastest rate since the Great Depression, possibly even the 1890s, both period of massive unemployment.
“The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be”, Marxist geographer David Harvey writes in his book Rebel Cities. “What kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of life we desire, what aesthetic values we hold”.
Victorian Socialists—recognised by Beat magazine as “the most left-wing option Victorians have this election”, and by PEDESTRIAN.TV as “Fierce door knockers and grassroots campaigners”—is making a mammoth effort to push against the grain of history in the state election. The party has a chance of getting Jerome Small elected to the upper house in Northern Metro and Liz Walsh in Western Metro. If successful, it will be only the third time a socialist independent of the ALP has been elected to any Australian parliament.
The UN COP27 climate conference is taking place in Egypt, which is an apt choice for a climate conference—a military dictatorship propped up by oil money from Saudi Arabia. And it’s reflected in the outcome.