Workers Demand More, Not Less

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What capitalism concedes to workers in boom times it wrenches away in recessions. A major arena of this ruthless cutting back is government budgets. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen the capitalist state change its parliamentary persona from Liberal to Labor — each tinkering with budgetary levers to contain capital’s escalating crisis.

Through government budgetary policy, the capitalist state either masquerades as the workers’ benefactor, like the Whitlam era of the early 1970s, or bares its fangs like now. So the sharpest scalpel since 1930s is waved around by Labor governments, both state and federal. And worse cuts loom. It’s consistent with the ALP’s origins and history — namely, of managing labor for capital’s requirements.

The More, Not Less funding campaign, launched in June 1991, originated in Victoria’s community sector, which has been savaged by systematic budget cutbacks. Prior to the state budget announcement, community service workers and users recognised the urgency to mobilise a united front of working people against it.

In class struggle, the front line of assault has to be the first to battle. Workers and users of community sector services — the most marginalised, industrially and socially — have given a lead in a working class fightback.

The 1991 Victorian branch election of the Australian Social Welfare Union (ASWU), which covers community workers, resulted in a landslide victory for a militant ticket with a platform for rank-and-file control and solidarity. The state branch of the ASWU is the first union to endorse the More, Not Less campaign, and both provide important analysis and leadership for this workplace/community alliance.

The connection between workers and users of public and community sector services is a natural alliance. Community sector workers have lagged behind other workers in industrial gains. Isolated by the fragmented structure of the industry, they have historically been acutely exploited — an exploitation which has mirrored the oppression of working people most dependent on community services: women, migrants, Kooris, people with disabilities, young and older people, lesbians and gay man.

The industrial and social marginalisation of this industry has enabled governments to under-resource them, cynically using them as a cheap replacement for fully funded government services. Workers misguidedly deliver services on under-award wages and conditions or work unpaid volunteer time because of chronic under-funding and the reactionary ideology of charity, which pervades the community sector in particular. Government departments are now openly punishing workplaces that resist cuts and the imposition of harsh punitive guidelines for “clients.” Services and working conditions therefore suffer interdependently.

The organic relationship between community (and public) sector workers and users also stems from workers being consumers of these services. Both have been sold out treacherously by the ALP/ACTU Accord and the tight relationship of the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) with the state ALP government. 

VTHC Secretary John Halfpenny and cohorts have concertedly demobilised worker/community outrage over ever-deepening budget cuts. The tired lie dragged out to douse each flare-up of worker/community militancy has been double barrelled: (1) it’s futile to demand more money, because the government has none and (2) mobilisng around increased funding is irresponsible and disloyal, because it allows the Coalition to take over government and give us real (as opposed to pretend?) hardship. Anyways, the baddie is the federal government, which has been withholding funds from the states. The bureaucracy of the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS), the community sector’s self-proclaimed mouthpiece, has joined this firefighting team.

It’s in this context that the More, Not Less funding campaign has developed and attracted growing support among workers/users of community and public sector services. More, Not Less exposes these lies and identifies capitalism as workers’ real enemy. It explains that government collaborates with corporate capital, transferring  public monies to private purses to bail out failed ventures, such as Pyramid and Tricontinental. More, Not Less shows up the role of government in a capitalist state and highlights the interconnection of industrial and social struggle. It debunks the prevailing “wisdom” that workers are either powerless or wrong to demand jobs, wages, conditions and services.

More, Not Less argues the interdependence of struggles, showing that under capitalism, women’s demands for reproductive freedom or the struggle for anti-discrimination law to cover sexual preference, for instance, are tied to industrial fights for jobs and unionists’ right to organise. It ties together these struggles and the fight to defeat the Active Employment Strategy. It points to significant struggles being waged on all of these fronts, but which can win only if they’re united:

“The actions of the working class community — of workers and service users — will escalate. These campaigns are impressive in the strength we get from them and the lessons we learn. One lesson is that campaigns disconnected from their economic context, end up at best with limited wins, but more often in defeat. Such campaigns also set us up in conflict against each other, as government funding bodies pit us in competition. The unity of our interests in fighting for more, not less make broad, sustained and united action the only logical, and winnable, strategy.”

The demands of the More, Not Less campaign, adopted at its public meeting in August 1991, reflects the diversity of support and the unity of our struggles:

In general, we demand:

  • Massive increases in government funding for all community and public sector services. This includes guaranteed and improved award wages and conditions for all community and public sector workers as well as adequate resources for all other servicing requirements.
  • Priority accountability of funded services to workers and users, not to government provider bureaucrats
  • The abolition of the Active Employment Strategy (Jobstart/Newstart/Disability and Sickness Support), which is business interests’ latest assult on all workers, employed and unemployed.

Specifically, we demand:

  • The right and opportunities to work without exploitation
  • Full recovery of wages lost over the past 15 years
  • A shorter working week, without wage reduction
  • A living income for all unwaged people, and a guarantee that no one’s civil liberties will be violated
  • Pay equity for all workers
  • CPI increases for all funding
  • Guaranteed Medicare funding for abortions
  • Guaranteed and increased state funding to ensure access to legal aid
  • Full financial support and rehabilitation for injured workers
  • Free, quality, 24-hour childcare
  • Increased and adequate public housing with real community input and control
  • Fair rents and security of tenure for all; no evictions
  • Increased and adequate funding for women’s refuges
  • Increased and adequate funding for services autonomously organised by oppressed people, such as services for women, Kooris, lesbians and gay men and people with disabilities

These demands — which are expected to extend as the campaign expands — reflect the prominence of women’s organisations and services in the campaign from its beginning. They demonstrate how the struggle of women against the double bondage of patriarchy and capitalism unites all workers.

Equally significant, these demands are transitional: that is, they identify what workers must have in order to survive, but what capitalism can’t deliver. In fighting for these necessities, we learn that we cannot continue to live under capitalism. Our struggle around these imperatives brings us into head-on conflict with capitalism and inevitably leads us to the ultimate struggle to demolish it.

The More, Not Less funding campaign gives political clarity and direction. With other social and industrial campaigns grounded in the same class politics, it can be a conduit to this bigger theatre of revolutionary struggle. In its fledgling stage, More, Not Less is working to break through sectoralist and bureaucratic barriers to move beyond the community sector into the public sector and wider trade union movement. 

It has already begun to do so. It’s a formidable challenge to existing capitalist ideology and its apologists. It’s a significant campaign for all workers to endorse and actively build.