Is Labor gone?
The Australian Financial Review commissioned a poll of 5000 voters in the 54 most marginal seats.
It shows an average swing against Labor of 4.8%. If that were uniform across Australia Labor would lose 18 seats or thereabouts and Tony Abbott would be Prime Minister with a comfortable majority of well over 30.
It won’t be uniform. The polling shows a swing back to Labor in Queensland, possibly winning 6 seats but with a rout on the cards in New South Wales, with up to 10 seats lost. This more nuanced state by state break down suggests Labor could lose 7 seats and thus government.
Labor is gone in two senses. It will not win the election unless there is something of major proportions that sees the Liberals squander their lead.
Even if unemployment fell to 3% Labor would lose, such is the visceral hatred of the Party and its leadership, especially in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Labor would be blamed for not reducing unemployment even further.
Unemployment is increasing and is now about 5.4% with predictions it will accelerate in the second half of the year. Gillard might be tempted to go before that trend bites, say after the Budget when they can try to buy votes.
here is a second sense in which Labor is gone. It is no longer seen as the party of reform, the natural party for blue collar workers. This is not because of the changing demographic in the workplace or the creation of an aspirational working class or shifts away from manufacturing to services.
While Labor has always been a capitlaist workers’ party, today it is a CAPITALIST workers’ party. It is the party of reformism without reforms.
Its embrace of neoliberalism is consistent with its social democratic role. It has always adopted the dominant economic ideology of the time – keynesianism during the boom times of the 50s and 60s and neoliberalism after the tendency of the rate of profit to fall reasserted itself globally in the late 60s and early 70s. The rise of Thatcher and Reagan in the UK and US expressed the changed ideology of the bosses in their attempts to restore profit rates, and the election of the Hawke government in Australia in 1983 saw the introduction of neoliberalism with Labor characteristics, namely the class collaboration of the trade union leadership.
The consequences have been a destruction of rank and file organisation in unions, a collapse in union membership, a massive fall in strikes and other industrial action (to less than five percent of their halcyon days of the late 60s and 70s), and a massive shift in wealth to the rich and capital from workers and the poor.
Labor has disguised its neoliberalism to some extent with talk about equity and justice and sharing the burden but the reality has been that the share of the national income going to capital is now at its highest since records began to be kept and that to labour its lowest.
In the era of subdued austerity in Australia, the land of the long working day and increased personal debt coupled with the shift of wealth to the undeserving bosses and rich has seen workers quietly fume at Labor. With no left wing working class alternative the solution for some workers is to vote Liberal, Katter Australia Party or National.
Workers are naturally reformist, looking for change from above to better their lives. This comes out of their very existence as people forced to sell their labour power to the boss to survive. Reformism flows from the very way capitalism is organised.
But the desire for reforms to better workers’ lives conflicts with the reality that profit rates have fallen over time. In response globally the ruling class and its politicians of both left and right have launched an assault on wages, jobs, living standards and the welfare state and public education and public hospitals.
Labor’s embrace of neoliberalism and its inability to provide meaningful and progressive reforms lays the groundwork for the victory of the Liberals and National Party at the next election.
Abbott will take a meat axe to the public service as part of a strategy of cutting down the forest to let a thousand weeds blossom. This will increase unemployment to Queensland levels – over 6%.
Abbot will do to Australia what Campbell Newman is doing to Queensland – slashing and burning public services to ‘make space’ for the private sector. Unemployment in Queensland is 6.2% compared to the Australian average of 5.4%.
Real unemployment and underemployment mean the figure for under utilisation of labour is perhaps around 13%.
That is another source of disillusionment with Labor – the hidden un- and underemployed.
The contradiction between the idea of reformism and the reality of reformist neoliberlaism that is Labor today explains the underlying hatred of Labor by many workers. In New South Wales 16 years of labor and the exposure of sections of the former Labor government as seemingly corrupt only adds to the flight to the Liberals.
The fact that the Liberals will be worse doesn’t register with many workers.
The lack of a left wing working class party, a revolutionary socialist party, as a pole of attraction for dissatisfied workers, makes the Liberals or the Greens seem a voting option for large numbers of workers.
The lack of union struggles in any decent fashion to defend jobs, to fight for better pay and conditions and other matters compounds the sense of hopelessness and despair many workers feel.
It makes workers susceptible to racism, sexism and homophobia.
When the wreckers in the forthcoming Liberal Government unleash their attacks on workers, their jobs and pay and conditions, they’ll couple that with attacks on the other, the different, the outcast. Aborigines, gays and lesbians, refugees, will be at the forefront of conservative attacks.
Labor has laid the path for these attacks, having done much the same in office. With a worsening economy and the party of the bosses in power later this year, coupled with the sure surrender of the trade union leadership to Tony Abbott, the result will be a worsening economy and increased attacks on outsiders to distract attention away.
Is there an alternative to the failure that is Labor? The need now for a revolutionary socialist workers’ party is great. But we cannot hurry history. Workers will have to learn the lessons of struggle and history, with input from the revolutionary left where we can to patiently explain the way forward and our view of the world.
Labor might be gone but the class struggle continues, often hidden but sometimes breaking out into the open.