Australasian Spartacist No. 223
For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Bosses' Onslaught!
Federal Budget Targets Workers, Oppressed
Break With Laborism—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
On the evening of 13 May, before handing down a federal budget that takes the axe to social welfare and aims to rip $80 billion out of schools and hospitals, Liberal/National Coalition Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey danced with his millionaire wife to the tune “Best Day of My Life.” Indeed should it go through the Senate, this budget will mean very good days for Hockey and his ilk, including the tiny minority of capitalist rulers who rake in fabulous profits from the exploitation of workers’ labour power. The budget is hardly surprising when one considers the government’s pre-budget “Commission of Audit” was conducted by Tony Shepherd, the former president of the Business Council of Australia, which represents the 100 largest corporations in the country.
As for the working class, minorities and poor, they are being made to pay for the destructive irrationality of the exploitative capitalist system. Using the debt accrued by the previous Labor government’s bail-out of the bosses during the global economic crisis, the government has concocted a lie that there is a national fiscal “crisis.” This “emergency” is now being used to justify the barbaric measures unveiled by Hockey. While this is a particularly nasty and reactionary government, the reality is that they are simply carrying out the agenda of the bourgeoisie. With the minerals resources boom slowing down, the Australian capitalist rulers are seeking to cut overheads so that they can be more competitive in Asia and beyond. Thus alongside the capitalist rulers’ push for greater productivity (rate of exploitation), and lower wages, the budget delivers a new round of company tax cuts while savaging the social welfare system.
However, things will not necessarily go the way of the bourgeoisie. The bosses have been taken aback by the widespread and palpable anger that has erupted against this latest round of savage attacks as students and thousands of others have joined demonstrations and protest meetings across the country. Now with the government’s popularity in the polls plummeting, much of the bourgeois media are in overdrive helping them resell their draconian measures. There is a burning need for class-struggle opposition. With its hands on the levers of production the working class uniquely has the social power and interest to turn the Abbott/ Hockey budget into a dead letter.
To wage the necessary class-struggle fight workers need a clear program of struggle independent of the capitalist rulers. Such a program would stand in political opposition to the pro-capitalist trade-union misleaders who have helped prepare the ground for the government’s attacks by peddling to workers the lie that they have common interests with the bosses and must “sacrifice” in the “national interest.” Hundreds of thousands of workers would relish the opportunity to beat back these attacks. But thus far the hidebound ACTU misleaders have not lifted a finger to mobilise workers. Under pressure from their base, Unions NSW and the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) have called union/community “bust the budget” rallies in June. While the rallies in NSW have been deliberately called outside work hours, some unions in Victoria, such as the manufacturing union, are calling members out on strike for the VTHC-sponsored rally on 12 June. That’s a good thing. However, committed to “working within the system,” the union tops will doubtless seek to use these rallies to channel working-class anger into a campaign to pressure the ALP and the Greens to block the budget in the Senate.
If workers’ hostility to the budget is kept within the parliamentary framework this will be a recipe for defeat. Almost every gain of the working class, including the right of unions to exist, has been won through class struggle against the capitalist rulers. Whether or not there will be a successful fight against the current onslaught by the bosses will be no different. There should be massive strikes and proletarian-led protests drawing in oppressed layers—Aborigines, the unemployed, the disabled and homeless—to oppose the government’s attacks. The proletariat needs to inscribe on its banner: Not the bosses’ parliament but a workers government—the dictatorship of the proletariat—where those who produce the wealth run the society.
Abbott/Hockey Taking the Whip to Welfare Recipients
Railing that the “age of entitlement is over” and that Australia is “a nation of lifters not leaners,” Hockey demagogically targets welfare recipients as lazy bludgers who need to be whipped into activity. If the government has its way pensions will be slashed and Australia will become the first country in the world with a retirement age of 70. The disabled will find it even harder to access benefits. Meagre tax concessions to working-class families will be stripped away. A twice yearly index on fuel will see prices increase. A levy of $7 will be placed on all visits to the doctor, pathology and screening services. Medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will increase by $5. These measures will kill the sick and poor, not least those within already desperately poor Aboriginal communities. More than half a billion dollars will be cut from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, including $121.8 million from Indigenous health over the next four years. As National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair, Kirstie Parker, commented, “our people will be lucky to make it to retirement age, let alone collect superannuation” (Koori Mail, 21 May). Meanwhile $18 million is to be spent on a small army of truancy officers to dragoon Aboriginal youth into attending “school” and a further $54 million will be pumped into policing remote Aboriginal communities. This will lead to an increase in incarceration rates and more killings by cops and screws on the streets and in the lockups.
Accompanying the slashing of welfare, 16,500 federal public service jobs are slated to be cut. Tertiary students are to be smacked with increased loan repayments and the deregulation of university fees will lead to increased course costs, further excluding women, minorities and working-class youth from a decent education. With official youth unemployment already more than 12 percent, the government aims to vindictively punish unemployed people under 30. Under the mantra “earn or learn,” they intend to deny youth benefits for six months before starving them into work-for-the-dole schemes. By forcing people off welfare the government seeks to generate a larger pool of desperate people for the bosses to exploit and to use as a “reserve army” to drive down the pay and conditions of all workers. Already hundreds die and many more are injured or maimed on worksites every year. Nevertheless the capitalist rulers’ relentless search for profits will result in more people being expected to work harder, for less, in increasingly unsafe conditions. Meanwhile, through its Royal Commission witchhunt into the unions and its ever more draconian laws circumscribing workers’ rights, the government is preparing to stymie any opposition by the organised working class.
For the Love of Family, Church and State
The budget unashamedly boosts the coffers of the ruling class while reinforcing this particular government’s deeply reactionary social agenda. To recall prime minister and self-appointed minister for women, Tony Abbott’s 2010 comment, “What the housewives of Australia need to understand, as they do the ironing
” is to know the subservient role that he and his cabinet believe women should play in society. Abbott is a fierce opponent of women’s right to abortion. In 2006, when as health minister he attempted to block legislation giving women in Australia access to RU486—a safe alternative to surgical abortion—Abbott commented that abortion was “this generation’s legacy of unutterable shame.” Today, one in four Australian children in single parent families (predominantly headed by women) live in poverty. The government’s measures against welfare will force impoverished youth and women into an even deeper dependence on the family. A key prop for the maintenance of capitalist rule and source of women’s oppression, the institution of the family, backed by church and state, is upheld to instil adherence to bourgeois morality and docile acceptance of capitalist rule.
The current government front-bench is populated by white, male, right-wing Christian zealots. More than a decade ago, Tony Abbott opined “poverty is in part a function of individual behaviour.” Defending indifference towards the plight of the homeless, in 2010 he quoted from the Bible, declaring “the poor will always be with us.” Abbott’s spiritual hero, the late and unlamented clerical reactionary anti-Communist B. A. Santamaria, viewed the secularism that animated the 18th century European Enlightenment with hostility. As freelance writer Lyn Bender wrote in “Abbott ends Australian Age of Enlightenment,” the Abbott government “is signalling that, in order to survive, the lowly plebeian masses must be prepared to return to the ‘dark ages’ and live a Hobbesian life—‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short’” (Independent Australia website, 11 February 2014).
Little wonder then, that the avowed monarchist Abbott has restored the titles of knights and dames for “pre-eminent” Australians and that the current government has no science minister. Indeed this budget slashes already inadequate science and research funding by $140 million while directing a further $245 million to a secondary school chaplaincy program where working-class youth can sit in crumbling under-funded schools and “learn” that the son of God was sent to die for their sins. The government’s message is clear: the working-class youth of today must be kept ignorant, blinkered and made malleable to become the next generation of wage slaves for capitalist industry and cannon fodder in future imperialist wars abroad. Thus the execrable education minister, Christopher Pyne, has signalled that the school curriculum should be transformed to eliminate any “black-armband” view of the past and place greater emphasis on the study of British history and Anzac Day, i.e., the celebration of bloody capitalist militarism.
Capitalism in decline is a system of exploitation, oppression and war. With broader and deeper levels of poverty and desperation the government will be able to increase military numbers when required through economic conscription. Fully embracing the U.S. Obama government’s “pivot to Asia,” which targets the Chinese deformed workers state (see article, page 6), the government showered the military with increased funding, now almost 2 percent of gross domestic product. This largesse includes the purchase from the U.S. of 58 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to the tune of $12.4 billion. We demand: not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! The military, alongside the police and prisons form the core of the capitalist state, an oppressive machinery whose role is to violently enforce the diktats of the bosses and ensure the exploitation of working people at “home” and throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia. As Lenin explained in his famous 1917 pamphlet The State and Revolution, the capitalist state cannot be reformed or wielded on behalf of the working class and oppressed; it must be broken up through workers revolution.
Parliamentary Cretinist Reformists, At It Again
Some of the broader anger in society has manifested in “March Australia” events where tens of thousands have joined cross-class “community” protests targeting the Coalition government. Declaring “no confidence in the Abbott government” and aiming to achieve “the best possible government for all of Australia,” these marches have been overlain with nationalism and the (at best) utopian idea that a capitalist government might be able to represent the interests of the working class and oppressed. Lauded by the reformist left, the none too veiled subtext of these marches has been to amnesty the Labor Party and the bourgeois Greens.
Doubtless pleased that the union tops have so far kept the lid on class struggle, the ALP has seized the opportunity to curry support from the wave of opposition to the budget. Amidst the sugary platitudes littering his budget reply speech, opposition leader Bill Shorten, who was a minister in the Rudd/Gillard governments, brazenly lied that “We [the ALP] still believe in an Australia that includes everyone, that helps everyone, that lets everyone be their best, that leaves no-one behind.” The reality is that the ALP, when in government, always rules for the bosses. In times of crisis and war, the ALP—a bourgeois workers party based on the unions but with a pro-capitalist leadership and program—has historically been the bourgeoisie’s preferred option, able to use its influence over the organised working class through the trade-union bureaucracy to divert working-class anger into safe channels. In terms of ruling for the bosses, the previous Labor government, propped up by the Greens, was certainly no exception.
Labor enforced draconian anti-union laws as the industrial and other courts imposed crippling fines against recalcitrant unions; the ALP sharply curtailed access to disability pensions; slashed the pensions of single parents (overwhelmingly women); reduced unemployment benefits for those under 21 years; raised the pension age from 65 to 67 and punished the long-term unemployed, forcing them to work for the dole or lose their payments. It was the Rudd/Gillard ALP governments that strengthened the police/military occupation of Aboriginal communities, set up the cruel mandatory detention of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru and enthusiastically approved the permanent stationing of thousands of U.S. Marines in Darwin, a dagger pointed at the oppressed masses in Asia.
Of course none of this prevented the reformist opponents of Marxism such as Socialist Alternative (SAlt), Socialist Alliance (SA), the Communist Party (CP) and others from giving electoral support (however backhanded) to Labor and the Greens in last year’s federal elections. Responding to the Abbott government attacks these groups trot out their usual array of trite reformist calls for “Money for welfare not warfare” (SAlt) or to “Tax the rich” (SA). These demands, which futilely seek to pressure the bosses to change their priorities, combine with puerile detailed advice on how the capitalist system supposedly could be made to work to the advantage of the proletariat and oppressed. Experts in this regard are SA. Calling for a “pro-people government,” SA even get down to the nitty-gritty of reforming the bosses’ taxation system declaring, “We[!] need to remove regressive taxes (especially the GST) and increase the top marginal rate and company tax” (Green Left Weekly, 21 May). SA’s fantasies aside, as former prime minister Kevin Rudd found out when he attempted to apply a piddling tax on the mining magnates’ profits, the large banks and industrialists are not going to tolerate having their profits meddled with.
The reformists have begun calling for protests and strikes in an attempt to give a militant veneer to their campaign to get the ALP and Greens to “block the budget” in the Senate. At a 20 May Victorian Trades Hall Council All Unions General Meeting, both SAlt and SA cadre spoke to push this essentially parliamentarist strategy. In his speech Secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council and SA cadre, Tim Gooden, hoped the campaign against the budget would get as big as the union bureaucracy’s “Your Rights At Work” campaign against the former Howard government’s anti-union WorkChoices laws. What Gooden covered up was that the union tops used the 2006/2007 “Your Rights at Work” campaign to pump millions of dollars in union dues into an anti-WorkChoices campaign that diverted potential class-struggle opposition, which could have trashed Howard’s anti-union laws, into the election of the Rudd Labor government. Working people voted in droves for Labor in 2007, in the hope that it would ameliorate living and working conditions. Once elected the ALP began carrying out attacks against working people and the oppressed on behalf of the ruling class as it said it would. Noting that the ALP stood openly for more anti-union attacks, strong state repression and bloody imperialist militarism abroad we said “No vote to Labor or the bourgeois Greens,” just as we did in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Meanwhile SAlt’s talk about “the need for unrelenting resistance to attacks on the working class” and the “fight for a fundamentally different society” is so much empty rhetoric. On the ground they are collecting signatures on a union petition “calling on the Greens and Labor to block the budget” (“Building rank and file resistance” Red Flag, 23 May). This is the kind of “activism” that would bring smiles to the bosses’ faces, as it neither fights for working-class action to stop production nor challenges the capitalist system. With the ALP, Greens and minor parties holding the balance of power in the Senate, the real meaning behind the campaign to “block the budget” was encapsulated by the CP’s reformist pandering in the 21 May issue of The Guardian, where they declared:
“The task now is to defeat the budget and throw out the Abbott Government. If
the Labor Party, Australian Greens and populist-sounding right-winger Clive Palmer hold to their post-budget statements, then that should be possible
“The strength and unity of the struggle outside of Parliament is critical. This includes taking to the streets such as in the March in May actions last weekend, joint community trade union actions, and lobbying hard all MPs and Senators. There are clear divisions within the ranks of the Coalition and there is nothing like an MP facing electoral loss to build pressure within government ranks.”
It is possible some of the budget measures will be blocked in the Senate. But this would simply pose the question, what next? Parliamentary manoeuvres would decide nothing and certainly wouldn’t deter the capitalist rulers from their profit-gouging rule. Rather, diverting working-class anger into the safe channels of bourgeois parliamentarism and reliance on the state only serves to maintain capitalist class rule.
It is Desperately Necessary to Fight!
For the last several years, all over the capitalist world workers have been suffering the impact of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. When the crisis hit, workers mobilised in massive defensive struggles across Europe, including strikes and protests against these attacks. At the same time the misleaders of the proletariat pushed parliamentary reformist illusions and economic protectionism. These measures only served to politically tie the working class to their own capitalist rulers while dividing workers along national lines as the capitalist rulers continued their austerity measures unhindered.
In this country, the main obstacle to struggle is the pro-capitalist ALP parliamentary and trade-union misleaders. Whatever occasional militancy the latter may be moved to (under pressure from their base) the nationalist union tops repeatedly capitulate to the bosses’ attacks, while sowing divisions amongst the proletariat such as their current chauvinist campaign against overseas 457 visa workers (see “Down With Government, Bosses’ Jobs Massacre!” ASp No. 222, Autumn 2014). The perspective of communists is to split the proletarian base of the ALP from its pro-capitalist leadership, centrally through forging a class-struggle leadership of the unions, linked to a multiracial revolutionary workers party.
Today, hard class struggle by workers under the gun, for example public sector workers who help provide the means and services by which the economy runs, would win plenty of allies amongst all those thrown on the scrapheap by the capitalist rulers. To unite the working class in anti-capitalist struggle, the proletariat needs a leadership that will unleash its immense social power against the exploiters for its own class interests and all the oppressed. Such a leadership would champion an uncompromising fight for the rights of immigrants. Opposing the bosses’ despicable war on refugees it would demand closure of the refugee detention centres and full citizenship rights for all. Recruiting new layers of immigrant workers into the unions would bring new sources of fighting strength and provide a bridge to working-class struggles overseas. A concerted fight to organise the unorganised would not only reverse the decline in union membership but also address the spiralling poverty and exploitation of the growing number of casual workers.
Against unemployment, a class-struggle opposition would put forward demands such as jobs for all through a shorter work week with no loss in pay to spread the available work around; equal pay for equal work for women and youth, and a massive program of public works to rebuild the crumbling schools, hospitals and transport systems. Linking the fight for jobs with demands for free quality healthcare and childcare, and decent affordable public transport and housing would galvanise broad layers of the oppressed and the working class against the bosses’ attacks. Such measures will not be granted by the bourgeoisie, whose only interest is maintaining its profits and privileges. It will take socialist revolution to provide jobs and a decent livelihood for all.
The grinding exploitation of the working class, the all-sided social bigotry that targets women and gays, the racist oppression of refugees and Aboriginal people, the carnage of imperialist occupations and wars—all these are part of the system of capitalist rule. That system must be overthrown through a series of workers revolutions across the planet. Our model is the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia when the workers took power in their own hands, seizing the banks, the factories, mines, mills and other means of production from the capitalists, as the first step on the road to world socialist revolution. The workers state, based on workers soviets (councils) and an internationalist program then set about collectivising industry and establishing a planned economy. Like the Bolsheviks before us we know that ultimately only international working-class rule based on the fight for a classless communist society can eliminate the poverty, oppression and misery endemic to this decaying and barbaric capitalist order.