Surprise victory for the right in Australia

Submitted by martin on 21 May, 2019 - 1:56 Author: Gerry Bates
Labor supporters after the results

The ruling conservative coalition won a surprise victory in Australia's federal election on 18 May.

People are asking: how could Labor lose on a platform with a bigger offer of reforms than any other in recent times?

Labor promised to turn government policy towards meeting some of the concerns of trade unions on workers rights, of climate activists on the need to reduce carbon emissions, and of the left more broadly on inequality.

But the underlying theme of class was not addressed by anyone other than the three Victorian Socialists candidates.

The conservatives gained especially in Queensland, with Liberal leader Scott Morrison playing on fears of a lack of jobs in Queensland if the huge new Adani coal mine did not go through.

Labor pussy-footed around the issue. There are parallels with previous Coalition scare campaigns around refugees taking jobs and services.

When fear of loss of livelihoods is channelled into dependence on profitable capital investment, that is a straitjacket for the labour movement that can only undermine solidarity and produce subservience to capital.

The giant Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union may have accepted on paper the need for a Just Transition for workers in jobs related to coal-fired power, but offered no alternative on coal-mining for export (the Adani project).

Indeed, Queensland MUA (maritime union) leader Bob Carnegie and ETU (electricians') leaders copped flak from other union leaders for coming out against Adani.

A socialist approach to both climate change and social justice needs to include employment guarantees and public ownership, a bigger sort of Green New Deal, developed via direct democracy in the affected unions and communities, and led by socialists advocating social and climate justice.

The unions' campaign to "Change the Rules" was not persuasive enough, because unions have not been practically demonstrating the value of union rights in actual struggles and victories rather than just in general explanations.

Labor's redistributive policies were sometimes seen as targeting higher income workers rather than capital.

There are positive things to build on.

The young climate change activists mobilised in the school students' strikes are not going away. Labour movement activists are calling for Change the Rules to continue. The left in the Greens (who lost votes) may learn that cannot bypass working within the labour movement and working class communities

Meanwhile, though, the right wing of the labour movement will be blaming the defeat on Labor's slightly more leftish presentation, and calling for a more conservative policy.

Activists need to turn to organising and mobilising for strikes, demonstrations, and other action needed. We can't wait three years on union rights or climate change.

The left must formulate a platform to deal with climate change from a class perspective - a Green New Deal or Just Transition formula.

Socialists should pressure left labour movement activists to commit to a program and platform, and to co-ordinate politically rather than bureaucratically.

The Victorian Socialists, an alliance mostly driven by Socialist Alternative and the Socialist Alliance, stood in three electorates in Melbourne and did relatively well.

In Wills the Vic Socs got 4.8% (where a Socialist Alliance candidate at the previous election had got 0.7%); in Cooper, 4.7%; and in Calwell, 5.2%.

These were all Labor seats: Labor's vote went up sharply in Cooper and a bit in Wills, and declined marginally in the very safe seat of Calwell.

Especially in Wills and Cooper, the Vic Socs seems to have gained first preferences from the Greens, who did worse in all three electorates.

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