The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities, exposed the failings of neoliberal economics and laid bare the bankruptcy of capitalist politics. Amid the worst crisis in generations, the Victorian Socialists are campaigning to put people before profit.
We will contest local council elections across Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs next month. We’re focusing on the failures of privatisation, the neglect of working-class communities suffering from high unemployment, the crisis of public housing and the need to challenge racism and take urgent action on climate change.
This will be the third election the Victorian Socialists have contested. We have already garnered tens of thousands of votes from left-wing and working-class people around Melbourne in the last state and federal elections. In the council elections, Victorian Socialists are standing nineteen candidates across five council areas—the most serious socialist campaign in a local election for decades.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have been made jobless in this crisis, but the federal government plants to slash JobKeeper and JobSeeker from late September. Meanwhile, bosses are pushing to reopen the economy as quickly as possible, putting all of our lives at risk. Unemployment and workers’ rights are matters of life and death. Our campaign will be a voice of the people, demanding that we protect lives, but also protect workers’ livelihoods.
After decades of privatisations, many carried out by local councils, wealthy capitalists are getting richer from under-resourced private aged care facilities, where the elderly have been left to suffer during the pandemic. The outsourcing and privatisation of Victoria’s health services led directly to the second outbreak. We’re campaigning to reverse the privatisations—to make sure that our parents’ and grandparents’ lives are always put before profits.
Residents of underfunded public housing towers have been among those who have suffered the most during this pandemic. Victorian Socialists want to see more money put into public housing—so we can both tackle the city’s housing crisis and make sure that everyone is living in a safe and clean environment.
Refugees are still locked up indefinitely, including in the Mantra hotel in Preston. The pandemic has made their situation more dangerous and crueller. Victorian Socialists are demanding that the refugees be released and granted protection visas so that they can live the rest of their lives as free people.
Climate change has not gone away, and the Victorian Labor government has quietly lifted bans on gas drilling. Victorian Socialists are campaigning to shift to 100 percent renewable energy and a zero-carbon economy.
Local councils are often nests of political cronyism that put the interests of property developers above those of residents. But activist councillors can organise communities to resist attacks from big business, to stand up to developers, to amplify the voices of the oppressed and to challenge policies of state and federal governments. That’s exactly what we will do if elected.
This year’s Victorian Socialists campaign is about electing councillors to build campaigns to challenge every form of inequality and injustice, while cutting through the lies of mainstream politics. Our candidates are activists, who can use council positions to take up important questions like Black Lives Matter and LGBTI rights.
We have a chance of getting a socialist elected. But this might be our last opportunity in the realm of local councils. In past elections, Victorian Socialists received up to 10 percent of the vote in working-class areas. But under a biased system introduced by the Labor Party, the rules will change after this election—all councils will transfer to a “single member ward” system designed to benefit the major parties and keep smaller parties out of council.
The lockdown means we can’t have the meetings, the rallies and the mass events that Victorian Socialists usually excel at. That means the elections are even more biased than usual: the restrictions are good for candidates with connections to the mainstream media.
So we’re campaigning as hard as we can because we believe that these local elections could have a huge impact. If socialists are elected through Melbourne’s north and west, there will be more voices disrupting the status quo of official politics as the health and economic crises continues to unfold.
We pride ourselves on our people powered campaigns, which rely on hundreds of volunteers. Despite all the COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve found every opportunity to campaign safely. We’re calling local residents, letterboxing when we can, fundraising and putting up yard signs. Every single volunteer is crucial to making the most of this opportunity to get socialists elected to council.
Melbourne City Council
Our campaign in Melbourne has a simple premise: the next lord mayor should be a front-line worker. Victorian Socialists will campaign to end the dominance of big business in Melbourne and be a voice for the workers who make the city run. In the Melbourne City Council elections, business owners and landlords get extra votes—so they’re officially rigged for the rich. But the council should represent working-class people. So we’re putting up Kath Larkin, a unionist at Metro Trains, as the Victorian Socialists candidate for lord mayor. Kath’s team includes social worker Daniel Dadich and teacher Chris di Pasquale.
Moreland Council includes Brunswick, Glenroy and Pascoe Vale—neighbourhoods with some of Melbourne’s highest levels of unemployment, rental and mortgage stress and casualisation. One of Moreland’s privatised aged care facilities, St. Basil’s in Fawkner, has been the site of one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks.
Public housing in Brunswick West has been destroyed under the Labor government’s “renewal” program. And property developers are still driving local politics— Moreland’s council is considering planning reforms that would give property developers a rubber-stamp approval process, removing democratic oversight of new developments.
Moreland is also known for its diverse population, with residents from many different migrant backgrounds. That’s why far-right racists tried to stage a march through Coburg several years ago. Victorian Socialists candidates for Moreland Council were among those who organised a community protest to challenge them. Our candidates are Nahui Jimenez, an Indigenous Mexican-Australian socialist and organiser of many anti-racist protests, and Daniel Taylor, an editor of Red Flag.
“We need to stop selling off our public housing and build more”, Nahui says. “We need public housing, not ‘social’ housing. We need to stop investing in prisons and giving handouts to private developers. We need to fight for affordable rent. We need to be prepared to stop evictions. All Victorian Socialists councillors will fight evictions both on the ground and in any council we are in. We need to end this housing crisis now.”
Maribyrnong Council represents some of Melbourne’s western suburbs, known for their working-class and migrant heritage. The council has supported privatisation, and local residents have endured attacks on green spaces like Footscray Park, and suffered from toxic fires and from unlawful chemical dumps. But communities are also known for collective resistance.
Victorian Socialists candidates in Maribyrnong include Jorge Jorquera, an educator and long-term community activist, Andrew Charles, a climate scientist, and Liz Walsh, a hospitality worker and member of Socialist Alternative. They're campaigning to overturn the privatisation of aged care services, which was pushed through by both Labor and Greens councillors, to massively expand public housing and make sure that planning decisions put working-class residents first, and to defend the green spaces and cultural heritage of the west.
“I have spent my whole life in the west fighting for the rights of migrant communities, children, young people and ordinary working-class families”, Jorge says. “I hope to keep fighting for working-class families in the west as part of the Maribyrnong Council.”
Darebin, in Melbourne’s north, is the site of the Mantra Hotel, where refugees are imprisoned in dangerous conditions under a mandatory detention policy that no major party will challenge. The Greens-dominated council has been happy to privatise services and ignore the needs of working-class residents.
Victorian Socialists candidates in Darebin include LGBTI activists Roz Ward, founder of the Safe Schools coalition, and Ali Hogg, one of the best-known leaders of the campaign for marriage equality. The Darebin ticket also includes activists who’ve led rank-and-file resistance to job losses in universities—like Steven Chang, a library worker at La Trobe University. Voting for union militants and activists will be a way to send a strong message to a council that has defended the status quo of pro-business, neoliberal politics.
Hume covers some of the outer-northern suburbs plagued by dodgy companies that are to blame for regular chemical and waste fires that spew toxic smoke across our suburbs and put workers’ lives in danger.
I’m our candidate in Hume. I’m a front-line healthcare worker, and I’ve seen how these polluting companies profit off the back of the ordinary people that live in suburbs where the air often isn’t safe to breathe. As far as these criminal companies are concerned, the people who living in working-class and migrant communities like Hume are disposable if it helps boost their bottom line.
Victorian Socialists have been on the side of local activists in the No Toxic Incinerator for Hume campaign that recently defeated a proposal for a dangerous waste-to-energy incinerator after months of tireless campaigning.
Vote Victorian Socialists
On 14 September, some of the campaign restrictions were lifted and our volunteers hit the streets to distribute fliers via letterboxes. There are only a few more weeks until ballots start arriving. Every single volunteer, yard sign, donation and vote will matter in this campaign. If we can get even one socialist candidate elected, it will be a step forward for progressive causes in Melbourne.
This crisis has made the longstanding problems of inequality and privatisation into urgent questions. Let’s make sure that socialist voices are represented in the debates about how we build a better world, and that activists and fighters are shaking things up in the councils that will be making decisions. If you want to help, check out Victorian Socialists, volunteer, donate, share our stuff around—and vote for us!