12-07-15 – Even a cursory glance at the figures show shocking stats for Australia, which are getting worse. Inequality is growing fast, with many amongst the working class “dropping off the edge”. A large factor behind the growing inequality is unemployment, which now stands at a 12 year high. The official figure of 6.4%, however, is known to be basically hogwash, and closer to triple 6.4 in reality. Anyone with one hour of work per week is regarded as “employed”. There are around 1 million unemployed, with youth unemployment (15 to 24 year olds) at 14%, but 20% in some regions. In times past, Australia’s “welfare state” would have catered for at least the basics for those without work. But those halcyon days, at least in the view of social democrats, are long gone and have been replaced by a punitive and ever increasingly repressive state towards all workers, but especially those reliant on some form of social security, either through age, disability or illness.
As many who receive the below the poverty line social security payments will tell you, Centrelink policies often result in the treating a welfare recipients as criminals, taking something which is not theirs. This is especially the case for the unemployed, but it also metes out similar treatment to single parents, who have suffered drastic cuts to their income. Demeaning “Work for the Dole” programs stigmatise and label, but almost never create desperately needed jobs. More often they create a situation of slave labour. And try calling Centrelink for assistance – you will likely be waiting on the phone for half an hour or more. Around a quarter of all phone calls made to Centrelink in the year 2014 were simply not answered, according to a report by the Australian National Audit Office. Centrelink is continually destaffed and defunded, and is thus not able to provide decent service.
The privatisation of the former Department of Social Services has led to massive corruption, as revealed by the ABC 4 Corners program on the 23rd of February this year. Unemployed citizens have become a commodity which are used by the privatised job agencies to fraudulently claim government funding for finding a job seeker a job, regardless of whether it has actually taken place. One anonymous job agency whistle-blower estimated that around 80% of claims by job agencies for government funding involve some level of falsity. What is more, job agencies are inching closer to having the power to breach welfare recipients if they, for example, do not turn up for an interview – which is unlikely to help in any case. If the private sector is able to suspend government supplied welfare payments to citizens, a new stage of corporate/government integration has been reached.
Young people in Australia today (those born after 1990), have virtually never known anything but government cuts to public and social spending, and the resultant increase in the cost of living being passed on to working people. People of previous generations often hark back to the post war and succeeding decades, when unemployment was very low, and a decent social security safety net was maintained. Public healthcare and education was generally provided, as was a measure of public transport and roads without tolls. Housing was affordable, and one wage was enough to raise a family. Many believed that this was “Australia”, where a “mixed economy” operated, which ensured a more or less egalitarian society. The virtual abolition of all these measures and more in the last thirty years has many yearning for a return to the “good old days”. Yet it should be clear now, that the high point of social democracy, or the “welfare state”, is never returning, and can’t be brought back even by those who believe in its ideals.
Global capitalism is simply at another stage to what it was during the salad days of the “welfare state”. The conditions which allowed for post-war social democracy to “shine” included: the recent destruction of physical capital and working class human beings from World War II, which opens avenues for reconstruction and hence labour shortages; the immense military victory of the Soviet Union (USSR) over fascist Germany which led to the extension of the socialist bloc, providing a counterweight to US led imperialism. The ruling classes of the West also wanted to prevent “their own” working class from looking to the socialist bloc with its guaranteed employment and provided education and healthcare. Hence it launched the vicious Cold War against the USSR on the one hand, while delivering substantial welfare for the workers over which it ruled. Without conditions such as these, the post war “welfare state”, as was experienced in Australia, could not have come to fruition.
If there is one stark example which demonstrates above all that a “welfare state” in today’s capitalist economy cannot return, we need only glance at Greece. After years of unbearable austerity imposed on Greek workers by the “Troika” ( the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission), the “left-wing” SYRIZA party – in reality a social democratic front – was elected on January 25 this year. Within hours of being elected it formed government with the ultra-right wing Independent Greeks. It has spent every day since back flipping on its bombastic claims that it was against austerity. It refused to break with the European Union, NATO, and even the Troika itself. It has been withdrawing public money from schools and pensions to pay the IMF. This is in a context where there is 25% unemployment, and yet still it implores the Greek workers to back it – while enduring more austerity. At the same time, SYRIZA fails to mobilise its members against the threat of the fascist Golden Dawn, which is now the third largest party in parliament. A “government of the left”, of which SYRIZA is the classic example, remains a capitalist government overseeing a capitalist state which runs a capitalist economy. And capitalism in 2015 is in dire economic crisis – it cannot and is not able to deliver welfare, let alone jobs, to the workers it subjugates. This is the case whether there is a right wing conservative government, such as the Abbott Liberal gang in Australia, or a “left wing” government such as the Tsipras/Varoufakis led SYRIZA in Greece.
The class betrayal of SYRIZA was typified by its pledge to raise the aged pension eligibility to 67 years, as demanded by the Troika. Believe it or not, this pension eligibility age is still less than what it has been raised to in Australia. The Labor Party raised it to 67, and the Liberal Party raised it to 70. This means that Australia now has the highest pension age in the world. By comparison, Russia has a retirement age of 60, as do the socialist states of China, Vietnam and the DPRK (and women in the DPRK can retire at 55). Australian rulers are more or less implying that workers should die before claiming the pension. This abominable situation has come into being with barely a peep from the leaders of the Union movement – a movement which 35 years ago was one of the strongest in the world. Today, Australia’s Union leaders, with barely a few exceptions, have refused to defend even basic living standards for Australian workers. In Queensland, the treachery of the leadership of the public sector Unions meant that not one minute of industrial action was organised against the then LNP government’s moves to terminate the employment of up to 25 000 workers in 2012. Workers are still paying for this through high unemployment and an ever increasing lack of services.
This inexcusable inaction, in the face of the largest assault on workers in more than 100 years, has led many workers to believe that “nothing can be done”. Yet this sentiment can be turned around IF workers and those with some experience in the left and Union movements, act to give a lead. Some left parties and other progressive organisations have links with some Union leaders, and mistakenly believe that these relationships must be maintained at all cost. On the contrary, cosy relationships with sell-out Union leaders ultimately will have to be broken if workers in this country are to overcome the current impasse. Workers and the left cannot continue to be dogsbodies for Union misleaders who in turn ultimately serve the ALP. Endless appeals to the government or to the ALP or to the Greens to “do something” have got us nowhere – we have tried this for decades with essentially no result. What is needed is for the Union movement to independently wage a struggle for demands which are in the immediate interests of working people. This requires a struggle to replace the current treasonous leadership of the Unions with a pro-working class political leadership. Current Union officials can either join with such a movement, or be removed by mobilised workers. The most class conscious and politicised workers emanating from such a struggle can then form the basis for what will be required to lead workers through a dangerous international political situation – a revolutionary vanguard party.
Workers and their supporters here should be aware that the full spectrum of open attacks by the ruling classes on living conditions are only occurring in the world’s capitalist states – particularly Greece and Spain, but all of Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia. Workers in the five remaining socialist states, on the other hand, are not facing what we know as “austerity”. Working people in China, Vietnam, the DPRK, Laos and Cuba have relatively stable working and living conditions, as a result of their respective successful workers’ revolutions having removed them from the world capitalist economy. While in some areas living and working conditions in the socialist states still have some way to go, they do not face universally hostile state repression, either in the workplace or in society generally. This is why, however distorted these socialist states are from the “ideal” – even if an “ideal” was even possible – workers here need to defend these states against threats from internal and external counterrevolution, as part of the struggle for workers’ revolution on these shores. Ultimate protection and immunity from capitalist imposed “austerity” can only be ended by the successful establishment of an Australian workers’ republic, which can then play a role in the international extension of socialism.
In the meantime, workers and their allies need to raise and fight for demands which, if achieved, can both alleviate immediate suffering AND help assemble the political leadership so desperately required. Such demands could include:
- PERMANENT JOBS FOR ALL WORKERS!
- A 35 HOUR WEEK WITH NO LOSS IN PAY!
- A MINIMUM WAGE FOR ALL THOSE UNABLE TO WORK!
- RETIREMENT AT 60 WITH FULL BENEFITS!
- FULLY PROVIDED HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION!
- A LIVABLE HOUSE FOR ALL CITIZENS!
If the rulers and their lackeys claim that the system cannot allow these demands to be met, we reply that we will move towards replacing your system with a system that will. For a workers’ republic!