Internationally, 2014 is expected to be a year of political convulsions. Big business think tank the Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that an amazing 65 countries are at high or very high risk of social unrest. Particularly concerning for the Abbott government is that Australia’s biggest trading partner China is on that list.
Editorial comment from the Jan/Feb 2014 edition of The Socialist
The Economist Intelligence Unit agrees that the key driver of social unrest has been the world economic crisis. While Australia has not been impacted in the same way as Europe or the US, it has suffered. Among other things, manufacturing is in crisis with Ford and Holden winding down operations and tens of thousands of jobs lost across the sector. Many more manufacturing jobs are set to go in the coming years.
An indication of the underlying political instability can be seen in the fact that in 2013 Australia had three different prime ministers. Victoria also had two different premiers and the Northern Territory had two chief ministers. As is the case worldwide, the fragile economic conditions, and the worsening social conditions, mean that no government is secure. This trend is set to continue.
While Abbott seemed to win a decisive victory last September, current polls show the government already on the ropes. The Coalition now trails Labor 52-48 on a two party preferred basis. No prime minister in living memory has fallen from grace so quickly. It indicates that people lack trust in the major parties and that attitudes are beginning to change.
The Socialist Party predicted in mid 2013 that Abbott’s honeymoon would be short lived. We said in a document agreed at our 2013 Conference that: “If Abbott comes to power in September we anticipate that it will be an unstable government from the beginning. Regardless of what majority he has in the parliament people will not see this as mandate to further undermine their living standards.”
People did not vote for Abbott with any enthusiasm. Rather in the absence of any real progressive alternative they voted for the Liberals as a way to punish the incumbents. It was Labor who they blamed at that point for overseeing the worsening economic conditions and the rising cost of living. With nothing resolved, and a new round of attacks on the agenda, blame is now shifting back towards the Liberals. As the economic situation continues to stagnate we can expect governments to be thrown in and out of office more frequently.
The mining boom and exports to China have been the only thing keeping the economy afloat. Now investment in the mining sector has peaked and some reports show that up to 77,000 mining related jobs could be lost over the next five years. With nothing on the horizon to fill that gap in the economy we are looking at much bleaker times ahead.
The official rate of unemployment is expected to rise above 6% while underemployment and insecure work are also growing. The federal budget deficit blew out further, from $30 billion to $47 billion, in the last 3 months alone. Big business is desperate to see the budget put back in the black for fear that a deeper crisis could put their low corporate tax rates at risk.
The corporate backers of the major parties are instead insisting that ordinary people pay the price and that the government focuses on opening up new markets for them to exploit. This is the purpose of the Commission of Audit – a body set up by the government to make proposals about which cuts and austerity measures should be included in the May budget.
One proposal put before the Commission is to charge people a $5 or $6 copayment fee to see a doctor. This measure would actually be fairly negligible to the budget bottom line but as a number of right-wing commentators have noted it would help to break what they call the “culture of entitlement”. What the rich elite consider a “culture of entitlement” most ordinary people consider basic human rights.
The areas of health, education and welfare are all likely to be singled out for spending cuts, alongside more public sector job losses. At the same time others are encouraging the government to sell the silverware and privatise Australia Post, Medibank Private, the ABC and what remains of the publicly owned energy companies.
All cuts and privatisations need to be opposed. They are nothing but an attempt to make working people and the poor shoulder the burden of an economic crisis that they did not create. There is another way. It just needs to be fought for.
Huge amounts of wealth exist in the coffers of Australian big businesses. In part this is due to corporate tax rates being slashed from in excess of 40% in the 1980s to 30% today. Even if the corporate tax rate was restored to 1980s levels, and a modest super profits tax was levelled on the mining and gambling sectors, tens of billions of dollars could be recouped – eliminating the argument for any cuts or sell offs.
Alongside fighting cuts and privatisations, socialists campaign for an economic alternative to capitalism. Rather than a tiny few profiting at the expense of the many, we propose a system whereby society’s wealth and resources are collectively owned and democratically planned. Human need and the protection of the environment would be guiding principles rather than maximising corporate profits.
Fighting for an economic system that provides for people on an equal basis is hardly radical but unfortunately it is a far stretch from the attitudes of most of the leaders of today’s trade unions and social movements. The bulk of these leaders are connected to either Labor or the Greens. Because these parties do not have an economic or political alternative to profit driven capitalism the leaders of the movements don’t fight for one either.
The lack of vision and the political weaknesses of these leaders, means that despite the system being in crisis, and governments being weak, they are still running roughshod over our rights and lowering our living standards. Ordinary people are not equipped with the tools they need to fight back against government and big business attacks.
Side by side with building campaigns to resist job losses, cuts, privatisations and austerity we need to develop a new political leadership for ordinary people. We need an organisation that can break the two-party duopoly in elections but more importantly we need a party to use as a vehicle of struggle. A party that can bring together the seemingly disparate struggles taking place across Australia and tie them together in a broader fight for a different type of society.
Big business has two parties that represent their interests. It’s high time we built a mass party of our own. Let’s make 2014 a year where we not only beat back Abbott’s attacks but also a year where working class people begin to develop the political leadership and organisation that they deserve.