“Socialist Alliance members are campaigning not only for our own candidates but also for the Greens and other progressive candidates.”
The Socialist Alliance, which is running in 22 seats in the current Australian General Election, is urging voters to give their preferential votes to socialist candidates followed by candidates of the Green Party. Interviewed for a coming issue of Green left Weekly, SA national convener Peter Boyle explains the Alliance’s election policy.
Green Left: Many progressive people are feeling depressed about the federal election. How do you see it?
Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition are in a “race to the bottom”, as Socialist Alliance lead Queensland Senate candidate and Murri community leader Sam Watson aptly put it. Julia Gillard’s leadership coup against Kevin Rudd has clearly accelerated this ugly race. But it is also a race that Labor cannot win. Every step to the right by the Gillard government is matched by a further step to the right by the Abbott opposition.
On top of this, the major parties have converged or are converging on other issues. And the convergence is even greater if you consider their real policies and not just the manipulative spins they have contrived to win the elections. Fundamentally, both the ALP and the Coalition are committed to the corporate neoliberal agenda and they have found ways to signal this to the big end of town.
Even on the hot issue of population, behind all the dog-whistling and crude manipulation of racist and xenophobic fears of immigrants, either a Coalition or an ALP government will deliver what big business demands: more workers, under wage restraint, and more consumers.
On climate change, though Labor says it may introduce an emissions trading scheme sometime after 2012, basically both parties stand for doing nothing. In practical terms, under either Labor or Coalition, it is business as usual for the coal, oil and gas corporations in Australia, which already has the eighth biggest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world.
For example, on industrial relations, opposition leader Tony Abbott says WorkChoices is “dead, buried and cremated” and he promises it won’t be resurrected for 100 years. I don’t think anyone believes him.
However, a large part of the former Howard government’s WorkChoices is alive and kicking under the Labor government. Ark Tribe, the Adelaide construction worker facing a possible jail sentence simply for refusing to be interrogated by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) industrial police.
Thousands of workers marched last week in solidarity with Tribe. But unfortunately most trade union leaderships are muffling any public criticism of the Labor government for this.
There are some exceptions – notably the Victorian Electrical Trade Union leadership which has just ended its affiliation to the ALP after 86% of its members voted for making the break.
This might seem like a small motion against the mainly rightward flow of politics but it is a very important one. It is a ground-breaking step to liberate the still powerful trade union movement in this country from the ALP which has consistently served the interests of big business whenever in government.
The Victorian ETU members vote is not exceptional. We’ve seen the mood of workers at many mass rallies, especially over the last few months, those in solidarity with Ark Tribe. We’ve seen them cheer union leaders announcing support for the Greens.
These rallies were attended mainly by the militant construction and manufacturing workers unions. I have no doubt that if the ranks of other unions were given the choice to vote on disaffiliating and breaking free from the ALP they would vote the same way as the Victorian ETU members.
Green Left: Would more trade union disaffiliations from the ALP help Tony Abbott’s Coalition?
They won’t. In fact by freeing themselves from the dead hand of the dominant ALP right (which now runs the government), the union movement can win its political independence and the means to rebuild and strengthen itself.
Unions can express themselves in the elections by supporting the Socialist Alliance, the Greens and other progressive candidates. Or they can field their own candidates on progressive platforms. This way they won’t be silenced by conservative Gillard Labor.
Our slogan “Vote Socialist and Greens – Put Abbott last” sums up the best fighting stance for the labour movement and progressives. The alternative stance, still backed by most trade union leaderships, is “Vote Labor because we cannot let Abbott win.” However, a consequence of this stance is that Abbott wins anyway – either by having his policies implemented by a conservation ALP government or worst still by large numbers of workers voting for the Coalition because their leaders are not prepared to lead an independent fightback.
A strong and politically independent working class movement is an essential step to breaking the swing to the right. It is also the only way the urgently needed but currently stalemated climate change movement can go forward.
If there is one thing events have demonstrated in recent months it is the reality of class in our society. We saw the power of big business used to smash down any attempt to even begin to address the climate change emergency. We saw the big mining companies smash down any attempt to make them pay a bigger share of the monster profits they are ripping off.
But we’ve also seen the potential of the majority class. Abbott’s nervous and desperate attempts to assure voters that WorkChoices was “dead, buried and cremated” for “100 years” – small print conditions applying, of course – revealed the Coalition’s real fear of the mass mobilisations against WorkChoices which ultimately brought down the hated Howard Coalition government.
Read Abbott’s nervous fumbling on IR correctly: he is terrified of the working class being remobilised.
This should be a lesson for the critical climate change movement as well. No amount of persuading well-meaning professionals and less-shortsighted corporate CEOs is ever going to break the determination of Big Coal and Big Oil to make the most profits they can and to ruthlessly use they class power to get their selfish way. The movement needs to turn to the working class.
If the climate change movement is to go forward there needs to be a massive change of mindset and tactics both in its activists and in the leadership of the progressive trade unions in this country.
This very clear to us in the Socialist Alliance and it shapes our election campaign and the follow up to it that we have planned around the Climate Change Social Change conference in Melbourne this November 5-7. Our objective in that conference is to try and bring the progressive leaders from both these movements together to address this critical challenge to the survival of humanity and the other species that live on this planet.
Green Left: Do you support the Greens’ push to win the balance of power in the Senate?
I hope the Socialist Alliance, the Greens and other progressive candidates get the biggest vote possible and that the Greens win as many Senate seats as possible and hopefully their first House or Representatives seat in Melbourne. Socialist Alliance members are campaigning not only for our own candidates but also for the Greens and other progressive candidates.
The Greens have made major electoral gains. The polls suggest they now have between 13-16% of the vote and this has forced the ALP to deal with the Greens on preferences. If ALP preferences don’t give us another Stephen Fielding in this election that would be progress!
Such a progressive vote will be more than sending a protest to the major parties. If the Greens have greater numbers in the Senate they may be able to slow down some of the bad laws the next government, Labor or Coalition, will introduce.
But any real step forward for the progressive sides of politics has to be made beyond such gains in Parliament. We have to build an ongoing people’s power movement in the streets, in the trade unions and in the communities and not just cast a vote once in three years and leave it to the professional politicians.
Building such a movement requires the Greens, the socialists, the progressive trade unionists and community activists to commit to building greater political unity on many levels.
The Socialist Alliance was born out of the difficult – and still unfinished – struggle to unite the left in this country. We know how hard building unity is but we are committed to its pursuit and further we are committed to building more than left unity. The struggle for survival and justice requires us to build a broad left-green unity, one that will one day transcend the existing political organisations and alliances.