"Labor's Right-Wing Policies Opened the Door for Abbott"
Labor's right-wing policies opened the door for Abbott .
Mick Armstrong 22 August 2010
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.
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
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
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
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.