Much has been said already about the record 6% swing against the Australian Labor Party in the October 3 Victorian state elections, resulting in the election of Kennett and his band of small business barbarians. There is no doubt that working people in Victoria are faced with an onslaught, the like of which we haven’t seen in decades.
The electoral commission ran a campaign under the slogan “Your vote is your vote.” Sort of says it all doesn’t it? Democracy in Australia means putting numbers on a ballot paper once every few years, then letting some band of unqualified, unrepresentative megalomaniacs run rampant.
The business of parliamentary democracy means, as Karl Marx wrote, deciding who is to repress and oppress us for the next few years.
As radicals have said innumerable times, the working class has no responsibility whatsoever for the bosses’ government. Indeed, workers have the responsibility to fight the government every step of the way.
We say this, because already there is talk of the Kennett government having some mandate to kick the crap out of us. The government has no such mandate, not only because the Tories gave no detailed policies in their campaign, but because it is a dictatorship of the rich over the poor.
What the election of Kennett et al means is that the capitalists have decided to dispense with consensus in favour of class warfare. The economy is in a depression and the ALP/ACTU accord has weakened the unions at the grassroots level. Wages, conditions and services — conceded in boom times and when unions were stronger — are to be ripped off as the ruling class thrashes around in its attempts to bolster collapsing profits. Victoria is to be the trailblazer for the whole country, and at stake are the gains of a century of struggle.
The Liberal/National Coalition is starting to show its hand. Just days after the election, it announced a plan to abolish by-elections, claiming they are a costly waste of time!
First to be targeted are public servants. Kennett aims to strip these workers of their elementary rights and to re-impose a master-servant relationship. The Tories’ posturing about the “bad behaviour” of State Public Services Federation Vice President, Bill Deller, is a transparent attempt to weaken the public servants’ union by fostering disunity.
The specific details of many of Kennett’s policies were kept quiet during the election campaign, yet the general thrust is clear. The state government plans to continue with and speed up the former ALP government’s privatisation of the public sector.
Injured workers are to be attacked as the Workcare scheme is destroyed. Implementation of the government’s education policy will devastate education workers’ conditions and lead to state schools being forced to compete with each other for funding, staff and students. Education Minister Haywood has already ordered changes to the Victorian Certificate of Education, which benefit the clients of élite private schools.
Inspired by their conservative co-thinkers in New Zealand, where the exploitation of workers has plumbed new depths, the new government plans to immediately enact its Employee Relations Bill — which will bring in individual contracts, cut wages, destroy conditions and attack the right to organise — all in one stroke of a governor’s pen. We need a general strike to prevent this disaster, and we need it now!
Outrageously, Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) Secretary, John Halfpenny, is bleating about “extending olive branches” to the new government! Halfpenny’s conciliatory noises can lead only to defeat. The VTHC is planning a so-called campaign to “resist” the Tories’ industrial relations plans by fostering the illusion that workers will be protected by throwing themselves on the mercy of the Federal Industrial Relations Commission!
This tactic is intended to maintain passivity amongst trade unionists and exacerbate the decay caused by a decade of consensus, the better for the union bureaucrats to find an accommodation with the Kennett government which will preserve jobs — their own, that is.
So many people in this country have fallen for the lie that the class war is over. They have been absorbed into the middle caste — that layer of brokers who attempt to mediate between working people and the ruling class.
Otherwise they gained a post-graduate degree in post-structuralism, post-feminism or some other academic fantasy, which holds that the historic battle between capital and labour is over.
But the bosses have just declared that the war is not over, that the truce was broken down, and hostilities are imminent. So we have to organise to fight back.
How do we do this? Firstly, we must shrug off the myth-makers who will point to the good old days of the ALP government and to the second coming of St. Joan in four years’ time. The real difference between the ALP and the Tories is the same as between a knife and a machete — that is, there is none. The Liberals’ plan to cut 30,000 public sector jobs, which was revealed by the far-right theoretician Des Moore, follows upon a decade of cuts by Labor. The extent of these cuts? Around 30,000 government jobs gone.
Secondly, those of us who are unionists and rank-and-file delegates must demand of union leaders that they will fight. Those that won’t — the architects of the Accord — must be either thrown out or marginalised.
Thirdly, we must form strategic alliances across industries, across unions and with the community. We must build urgently for a general strike to defend ourselves and stop the Tories in their tracks. Mutual support is the key to defeating their attacks.
Fourthly, it is time to proclaim socialism as the solution to the current crisis. In our pre-election broadsheet we called for a vote for anti-capitalist independent and socialist candidates. Except for a fairly coy campaign by the Democratic Socialist Party, which sort of got around to mentioning socialism, most “left” candidates stuck to an uninspired slate of so-called “democratic” and reformist demands. None of them attempted to make the connection between the real needs of the working people and the real fulfilment of these needs, for example tackling unemployment by reducing workers’ hours without cutting wages.
The next few months and years will be a testing time for the people of this state and this country. Yes, the election of the Tories is an event to be concerned about. But now is not the time for the wringing of hands. The task at hand is, as it has been all this century, to educate, agitate and organise for the coming fight. If you agree, then it is time to join a revolutionary organisation and help build the political leadership these times demand. The glass of resistance and struggle is half full. The Freedom Socialist Party is optimistic the glass can be filled to overflowing. We can liberate ourselves from the Kennett/Keating shackles. It’s the workers, not the capitalists, who run this country’s industries and services and can build a revolutionary party to seize control of all that our labour has created.