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John Passant

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August 2010
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
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Labor’s rightwing policies opened the door for Abbott

It has to be said bluntly and clearly that the key reason that Labor has done so badly in these elections and that the reactionary ideologue Tony Abbott stands every chance of becoming Prime Minister is because Labor’s appalling right-wing policies offered nothing to its working-class supporters argues Mick Armstrong in Socialist Alternative.

The media have talked interminably about the Rudd factor and racist rednecks in Queensland and Sydney’s western suburbs being to blame. But that is all rubbish.

Labor swept into power in 2007 on the back of a concerted trade union campaign against Howard’s hated WorkChoices laws. After eleven years of Howard’s assault on working-class living standards and trade union organisation, eleven years of warmongering and racist scapegoating, millions of workers were hoping from some relief under Labor.

But Rudd just as much as Howard was committed to ruling for the big end of town. Committed to boosting profits rather than improving the lives of workers and the poor. Committed to balanced budgets and cutting company taxes rather than vitally needed increases in spending on health, education, public housing, improved public transport and other essential infrastructure.

So for all their talk of abolishing WorkChoices Labor kept the bulk of the anti-worker provisions of the Liberals’ industrial relations laws, including the Gestapo-like powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the end result of which has been even more deaths of building sites.

Labor stepped up Australia’s involvement in the dirty imperialist war in Afghanistan.

Rudd made a symbolic apology to Aboriginal people but continued to implement Howard’s racist, authoritarian Northern Territory intervention that inflicted even more misery and dispossession on Australia’s most downtrodden people – all in the interests of mining companies, tourism operators and multi-millionaire pastoralists.

Labor’s failed climate change legislation was all about outrageous handouts to polluting companies while the mass of people were forced to pay steeply rising electricity prices.

To further consolidate its conservative credentials, Labor maintained Howard’s ban on same-sex marriage and handed out tens of millions of dollars to wealthy private schools.

Then, when support for Rudd plunged in the polls, Labor’s response was to shift even further to the right. Gillard’s first action on taking over the leadership was to cut a deal that delivered billions of dollars to the super-rich mining bosses to spend on their private planes, luxury yachts and multi-million dollar mansions.

Then followed an obscene race to the bottom as Gillard tried to out-compete Abbott to become Australia’s leading refugee basher. The low point was reached when Gillard defended John Howard – declaring that the man who had championed all of Pauline Hanson’s vile racist policies was not a racist.

Gillard’s whole reactionary approach was epitomised in the televised election debate with Tony Abbott, when she proclaimed that the most courageous stand she had made in her political career was standing up to teachers fighting to defend public education. This was on par with her previous condemnation of building workers as thugs.

Gillard aped the Liberals’ mantra about balanced budgets and cutting government debt – all of which is code for vicious austerity measures to cut working-class living standards. In other words, we are to go down the road of Europe and North America, where workers are facing cutback after cutback to pay for the financial crisis, while profits soar to record levels and the banks make a killing.

Labor strategists justified this right-wing orientation on the basis that it was the only way to shore up their crumbling support amongst working class voters. But there is no evidence of a concerted swing to the right among workers.

All the evidence points to the fact that the mass of people want better services, not more cutbacks. More spending on health, especially on mental health and dental care. More spending on public education. More spending on public transport. More spending on public housing.

Labor was on the nose in NSW and Queensland because of the right-wing privatisation policies of the state Labor governments and their failure to deliver better public transport and services, especially in the outer suburbs.

It was a similar pattern on social issues. While Labor beefed up its commitment to the war in Afghanistan the polls showed increasing support for troop withdrawal.

While the unmarried atheist Julia Gillard and the open lesbian cabinet minister Penny Wong maintained their relentless opposition to same-sex marriage, there was a tremendous groundswell of support for getting rid of the homophobic marriage laws. Indeed one of the most positive aspects of the election campaign was the way in which gay marriage, the issue which neither Labor nor the Liberals wanted to talk about, kept constantly intruding into the campaign and putting both Abbott and Gillard on the back foot.

On the question of refugees, where clearly many people do hold reactionary attitudes, Labor’s appalling aping of Abbott’s mantra about stopping the boats simply served to shore up and make respectable the vilest forms of racism. Whereas if Labor had made a clear defence of the rights of refugees and migrants large numbers of Labor voters could have been won to a more progressive standpoint.

As it was there is little evidence that any significant number of working-class Labor voters were going to desert the party to vote Liberal over the issue of refugees. But Labor did lose left-wing voters, disgusted by Labor’s vile refugee bashing, to the Greens.

The voting pattern confirms that there has been no significant shift to the right. Most of the 5.5 per cent fall in Labor’s primary vote went to the left – to the Greens whose national vote rose 3.7 per cent to 11.5 per cent. The Coalition’s primary vote was only up 1.8 per cent to 44.0 per cent.

The fact that over 1.2 million people voted Green for the House of Representatives, and even more did so for the Senate, is a very positive sign. It indicates that increasing numbers of people, especially young people, are looking for a more progressive way forward.

Disillusionment with both major parties was also reflected in the informal vote, which was the highest since 1984 and as much as 10 per cent in some working-class electorates in Sydney.

So despite Labor’s appalling “me too” campaign, this election has not been a right-wing rout. Tony Abbott may well scrape into office with the support of the conservative independents, but he will have no mandate to impose savage austerity measures or attacks on workers’ rights – measures he and his backers in the Murdoch press and his other ruling class mates clearly want to push through.

This is important. It will be potentially much easier to resist the attacks of a minority government with no clear mandate than a triumphant Liberal party with a decisive majority.

So there is no basis for gloom and despair. The task for every trade union activist and left-winger will be to resist the Abbott government, all down the line.

We need to be out there defending refugee rights, demonstrating for gay marriage and fighting in our workplaces and university campuses to stop every cutback or sacking. That also means putting pressure on the trade union leaders to make a determined stand.

The reason that Labor was able to get away with its anti-worker policies was that the ACTU leaders wound up the mass campaign of strikes and demonstrations against WorkChoices a year before the 2007 elections and fell into line behind Rudd. The unions got nothing in return. Instead workers and their unions were treated with utter contempt by Labor.

If this election has proven anything, it has demonstrated that we won’t get anywhere by relying on politicians to deliver for us. We have to rely on our own actions, our own strength and organisation.

The plain fact is that even if by some miracle Labor does scrape back into office we will still be living in a system where profits come first. A system dominated by the big end of town – the super-rich mine owners, the bankers, the heads of David Jones, Coles and all the other CEOs with their multi-million dollar salary packages. Whether it’s Abbott or Gillard as PM, the bosses will still call the shots.

They only way that workers and the oppressed have got anywhere against the rich and powerful is when we have stood up and fought for our rights. But to do that effectively we need to build a socialist alternative to Labor which champions every fightback and is prepared to stand up to racism and homophobia and all that divides us.



Pingback from Tweets that mention En Passant » Labor’s rightwing policies opened the door for Abbott —
Time August 23, 2010 at 7:03 am

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Comment from Hamish Chittts
Time August 23, 2010 at 9:21 am

The ALP have not shifted, they have always supported the big end of town. The difference between now and the ALP’s ‘golden years’ is the state of capitalism. As capitalism limps along with all its contradictions piling up it can no longer afford the diversity of politics of the past. This is the reason for Labor’s “me too” campaign.

It’s illogical to believe that if it was just a matter of choice that the ALP would not have done popular things like withdraw the troops or scrap the ABCC in order to win the election. Even the ruling class (or the smarter ones at least) would prefer a more ‘left’ ALP to maintain the illusion democracy in this country. Look around the world and you’ll see exactly the same thing in other advanced capitalist countries, the intensifying of attacks on our class will continue (even if the Greens got in) because this is what capitalism requires to keep limping along.

The advantage to socialists is that it does expose the undemocratic nature of the system and increasingly exposes the class nature of governments.

Comment from billie
Time August 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm

You also need to count the 140,000 disillusioned voters in Western Sydney who followed Latham’s advice and voted informal. Labor imagines that these voters were there natural constituency. There were also a higher number of informal votes in Qld.

While I agree with your selection of policies that Labor should have supported I am not able to support Socialist Alternative, sounds like Communism.

Comment from John
Time August 24, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I think that is right billie. There is a high level of disillusionment. Yes we are socialists. Not stalinists – Stalin murdered people in my political tradition for standing against him. He had to destroy people like me to build his monstrosity, what we call state capitalism.