Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A comment on the Victorian election result

by Bill F.

The Labor Party victory in the Victorian state election will give a brief respite to the working people from the relentless attacks of the ruling class. But this is not the full story.

There may be some minor gains for working people with the defeat of the conservative Napthine Liberal-National Coalition. Nevertheless, the economic imperative of increasing the rate of profit of the corporate monopolies and big business operators will inevitably unleash further attacks, probably less frontal and more subtle, as the ruling class changes tactics.

In the regional cities, particularly Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and Morwell, there was much discontent with the loss of manufacturing and related jobs, cut-backs to TAFE and education funding, the cruel unemployment benefit conditions and other measures imposed by the federal Abbott government as part of its austerity budget.

In Melbourne, the lack of investment in new schools, hospitals and public transport for the surging population were key issues, plus the strong resentment at the federal Abbott Liberal –National Coalition. Earlier in the year vast numbers had protested at the austerity budget being rolled out by the Abbott government which slashed health and education funding to Victoria, and just recently, fierce condemnation of the decision to cut funding for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Another issue in play was the East-West Link tollway. In some panic, Napthine rushed through the contract just before the election, but refused to divulge details of the contract and its environmental cost and social impact or the economic rationale. This just aroused suspicion that another shonky deal had been done with the developers and financiers.

Further panic was demonstrated over the weeks prior to election day with Napthine making sweeping promises to build this and fix that, but little detail, no funding, no target dates.

In contrast, Labor ran a more focussed campaign targeting six marginal seats and major regional cities. They were supported by several thousand union members rallied together by the Victorian Trades Hall and drilled in the arts of door-knocking, phone messaging and the use of social media. 

Firefighters, Paramedics, Nurses and Teachers, all with good reason to oppose state and federal Liberal-National governments, were the main force, and persisted with their mobilisation throughout many weeks.

Consequently, in the targeted seats, the swing to Labor was almost double that in other ‘safer’ seats, most of which recorded slight swings to Labor anyway.

Napthine’s scare campaign that Victoria would be run by the CFMEU and that the Labor Party was hostage to militant unions was rejected by the people. If anything, the reverse now applies – many unions are banking on their connections to the Labor Party to an extent not seen since Beasley high-jacked the Rights at Work campaign.

Already it is clear that the Labor Party’s intention is to use similar union mobilisation tactics in the campaign for the next federal election, to defeat the Abbott government. The mobilisation of union members has renewed confidence in the organised power of the working class and, for some, given oxygen to hopes that Labor represents working people. However, workers will be rightly angry if substantial union resources and energy are diverted into Labor Party electioneering at the expense of fighting to improve and defend the jobs, wages and conditions of workers on the job, and building a truly independent union movement.

Interestingly, the tactics and advice for the conduct of this campaign were developed with the help of two people imported by the ALP from the Democratic Party of US President Obama. What other influences will this bring to the union movement in Australia?

Like Labor, the Greens conducted a targeted campaign. In the particular Inner Melbourne seats, the Greens boosted their vote considerably, running strongly on opposition to the East-West Link and in favour of better public transport and bicycle path networks.

With preferences, pre-poll and postal votes still being counted, and possible challenges to results, it is not clear whether the Greens will win more than the single lower house seat already conceded. Across the state, however, their percentage of the vote barely changed as Labor and other minor groupings pulled away some of their vote and cruelled their preferences.

Upper House
The incoming Legislative Council will be a headache for the Andrews Labor government which will have to rely on the votes of several Greens and one or two from a mix of minor and fringe groups to pass legislation.

After rejecting any preference deals with the Greens, Labor will be tempted to deal with the far-right and water down their more progressive policies. Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard refused to rely on the masses when confronted with campaigns by the mining monopolies against the Mining Tax and Carbon Tax. They conceded and backed away. This is the history of the Labor Party. It never fails to disappoint!

The election of a state Labor government will raise new challenges for the working class, and comrades will need to be with the people to document and objectively analyse every government action and policy as new lessons are being learned. 

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