21-11-2015 – In yet another attack of the living standards and dignity of those reliant on welfare benefits, the Federal Government is planning to introduce “trials” of a “cashless welfare debit card”. Such a card will contain up to 80% of a person’s welfare payments, which can be used only for prescribed items, and only at prescribed stores. The government’s stated intention is to prevent welfare recipients spending on alcohol and drugs, and guide them towards consuming “basics” such as food. Far from it. This is yet another assault on the most vulnerable people, who deserve the most amounts of assistance and protection, instead of being blamed for the economic and political failure of a system designed to enrich the elite at the expense of the overwhelming majority.
Despite Australia having one of the highest per capita incomes, unemployment benefits are notoriously low, at around $167 below the recognised poverty line. In economic circumstances where housing is extremely expensive even for those with full time work, and where the cost of living continues to climb, it is amazing that those on welfare can sustain themselves. The fact that the cashless welfare card is the brainchild of billionaire mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forest, shows just how craven to big business the Liberal and Labor parties have become while attempting to administer the for profit system. While the Greens have criticised the cashless welfare card, it was the Greens who helped pass cuts to the aged pension, and they were partners with the ALP when it drastically cut the single parent payment, driving mostly single mothers further into poverty.
The Workers League (WL) applauds the work of the Australian Unemployment Union (AUU) in organising today’s national rallies against cashless welfare and further cuts to welfare benefits. The WL pledges to work alongside the AUU in all campaigns to protect and extend the rights and entitlements of those who for whatever reason cannot work, as well as those who are without work due to the economic recession, now into its seventh year. We maintain, however, that groups such as the AUU should not be left to fight alone. In particular, the AUU and its work should have the full organisational and political backing of the entire Trade Union movement, from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to the respective state based Union peak bodies, to the individual Unions themselves. It is in the direct interests of the Union movement to actually fight against unemployment and to fight for a living wage for those unable to work. For unemployment is the key whip which the capitalist class holds against the workers, constantly threatening them with the sack if they do not accept whatever harsh or unsafe working conditions they supply. The potential of losing one’s income in economic circumstances where jobs are difficult to find, is a huge barrier both to workers joining Unions and also encouraging them to organise on the job. In the main, it is this type of workplace organisation, officially backed by the Union leaderships, which can assist in ensuring livable wages and decent working conditions. A strengthened Union movement should then also be in a position to take up the cause of ensuring decent welfare and living conditions for those unable to work. In this scenario, it is much more difficult for employers to keep winning what has been a one-sided class war for the last thirty-five years in this country.
Yet, here lies the rub. With a few exceptions, pro-capitalist Union bureaucrats around Australia have actively collaborated with the employers at the expense of their own members, to ensure the profitability of the big business class. Three examples will illustrate this. In Queensland in 2012, the Liberal National Party moved to sack 20 000 public servants, the largest attack on the right to work in Queensland history. The Together (formerly QPSU) Union leadership, in response, did not call for, or organise, one minute of industrial action! In South Australia, the SDA (Shop, Distributive and Allied Services Union) leadership agreed to a plan with Business SA to abolish Saturday penalty rates and halve Sunday penalty rates! Further, recently waterfront workers at Hutchison Ports in Sydney and Brisbane were sacked by text message and email overnight, in a planned move towards both de-Unionising and automating their workforce. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) leadership did move straight into action in setting up picket lines. However, they also set about undermining this action by pushing the dispute into the courts, when what was needed was a fight for the right not to be terminated. In the end, the MUA leadership obtained “voluntary” separation packages for its members, and claimed this was a win because they hadn’t been sacked! Combine these dire sell-outs with the fact that the Union movement has not seriously campaigned against unemployment for decades, and we can see the effect this has on the rights of those who need welfare benefits to survive. If organised workers can be pushed around by employers, in cahoots with unscrupulous Union officials, unemployed workers and those on welfare can and will be open prey for pro-corporate governments.
While the WL will contribute to whatever current campaigns for the rights of unemployed and welfare recipients ensue, we have no illusions in any capitalist state, especially “our own”. Currently, Australia, the US, Europe and Japan are all devastated by the ongoing recession, which shows little or no sign of abating. Contrast this with China, whose powerhouse socialist economy is still producing economic growth despite the dim conditions elsewhere. Similarly, permanent rights to a job, a house, healthcare, education and culture can only be secured with the overthrow of capitalism via the seizure of state power by the working class, and the founding of a socialist republic. In such conditions, unemployment will be avoided at all costs, as all available hands will be needed to build a socialist economy so as to ease the workload of all, and allow time to pursue arts, science, music, sport or whatever workers’ personality is suited to. Also, those unable to work through disability or illness will be relatively easily catered for, and will be seen as equal partners in the socialist project. In the meantime, it is necessary to mobilise workers and Unions to demand decent treatment of those without work or unable to work. No to cashless welfare! For a living wage for all citizens!
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