The basic needs of the working class can only be guaranteed by socialism
In Australia’s capitalist society the working class and all working people have common needs – employment, housing, healthcare, education and reliable transport are critical issues for workers, their families and their communities.
These issues will be highlighted even more as the federal election campaign grinds on, and people digest the detail in the federal budget.
Whatever happens, beyond the parliamentary smokescreens and fireworks, there will be the usual ‘little gives” and ‘big takes’ and the transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich will continue. The lesson of the history of modern capitalism is one of the working class winning a few reforms and concessions and then seeing any gains watered down and eventually taken back.
The monopoly media will trot out their usual dumbing-down analysis, reducing all political discussion to the shallow personalities of Shorten vs Turnbull and the parliamentary numbers game, as if this is the only choice for workers to make.
Asking the hard questions
However, workers aren’t so easily distracted. They want to know how the changes will affect them. Will they be better off? Will the country be better off? Will essential services be cut? Will the super-rich get away with it yet again? Behind these questions are the constant insecurities that working people face in capitalist Australia.
The need for secure employment and reliable transport
Employment is at the top of the list. While earlier generations had ‘a job for life’, even full-time workers are haunted by insecurity as their jobs could vanish in a sudden merger or takeover, a restructure or a decision by a foreign or local bank. Globalisation (the imperialist market-place) might mean workers can buy more gadgets, but you can’t buy much without a job!
While mining jobs are disappearing as demand for resources tapers off, and manufacturing jobs are being exported to low-wage countries, part-time, casual and short-term contract work is replacing full-time positions in many sections of the economy. Trade union organisation has been slow to respond and consequently these workers have to endure lower wages and poorer conditions, forcing many into long term credit card debt. The capitalist class also uses desperate 457 visa-workers and impoverished students to pressure further attacks on working conditions and drive down the general level of wages and penalties.
And just getting to work can be a problem for people in the cities where the great majority of the population lives. People deserve better than to spend hours each working day crawling in peak-hour traffic jams. Their alternative is to rely on run-down networks of public transport with unreliable service, cancelled trains, and trams and buses caught up in traffic jams.
The need for housing
The biggest expense for workers in Australia is buying or renting a house or unit. Whereas earlier post-war generations were able to pay off a house within 25 years, it now takes 40 years or more for an average house in an outer suburb in one of the main cities. Just scraping together a deposit for a bank loan takes many years of sacrifice in the face of ever-rising living costs, to say nothing of extortionist rents charged by landlords.
For young people trying to break into the housing market, it is particularly hard. Many younger workers stay on in the parental home or move into a ‘share house’. What used to be ‘a student lifestyle’ has become common for young people in the workforce.
And even if approval for a bank loan has been granted, young people quickly learn that they have to compete at auction with well-healed speculators and ‘investors’ who feast on the negative gearing tax concession rip-off.
For older people, even if they have paid off their house, it can be forfeited if they need extended nursing care and have to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars in bond money to the privatised nursing home industry.
The need for quality healthcare and education
Sixty years ago, doctors in Australia used to make house calls and working people could get free treatment in a public hospital. Sixty years ago, parents could send their children to a public school, paying only for a simple uniform and cost-price school books. Sixty years ago, retired workers could get by on the age pension. All that has changed as progressive social services have been wound down and privatised, and society is now carved apart into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.
An independent working class agenda
These are the common issues that workers want resolved, regardless of parliamentary election promises, regardless of party factions and regardless of union membership or affiliation. They are starting point for their demands and struggles that are both economic and political, and around which the working class and trade unions can unite and mobilise, rather than just being content to letter-box every three years or so when the Labor Party whistles.
The working people should be the ones setting the agenda, not the bean-counters and lawyers. This really means the building of a powerful mass movement demanding fundamental change, independent of the parliamentary parties. In the process, workers can find out who’s really on their side and who’s out for themselves.
Socialism is the only real alternative
Currently, the biggest challenge is to take on the most powerful section of monopoly capitalism, to free Australia from the grip of US imperialism and its local agents and apologists, and to nationalise the main industries and resources. On this base, with key resources owned and controlled by the working class, the basic needs of the working class can be met, and further improved as the revolutionary process continues on to socialism.
Unlike the insecurity of capitalism, socialism guarantees decent, permanent work for all the people in a planned economy where products are made and services are provided for the benefit of working people rather than the enrichment of a greedy minority.
Under capitalism, workers just take orders, but socialism empowers the working class through union and workplace assemblies, cooperatives and industry councils where they can have input into workplace, local and national decision-making, and then can monitor the implementation of agreed policies.
Socialism guarantees decent, affordable housing and accommodation for all people, whether singles, couples, families or groups, with regulated quality standards, controlled rent and utility charges. Socialism wipes out homelessness and builds houses and units for people’s needs, not for speculation. Rather than each household being an island economically and socially, socialism actively encourages community engagement and mutual assistance within neighbourhoods, towns and regions.
Socialism guarantees well-resourced hospitals, medical centres, schools and universities where quality services are provided free of charge – with proper funding coming from the people’s ownership and control of major industries and resources, rather than being syphoned off to line the pockets of the rich.
In caring for the well-being of the people, socialism not only seeks an end to war but also takes on the responsibility of protecting the natural environment, cleaning up the centuries of pollution, waste and destruction that accompanied the growth of capitalism/imperialism. Only socialism can mobilise the political will and the technology to roll back escalating climate change that threatens all humanity.