“We Love you, Joe, but…”: Hollywood’s Advice to…

There is something to be said about ignoring actors. They assume roles,…

The Birth of the Australian Dollar: From Gold…

By Denis Hay Description Birth of the Australian Dollar. Learn how Australia can use…

Australian Koala Foundation Chair calls on Prime Minister…

Australian Koala Foundation Media Release The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has today released…

NAIDOC Week: A Celebration

By Maria Millers Naidoc Week (7th July-12th July) is an annual event dedicated…

Terminating Partnerships: The UK Ends the Rwanda Solution

The dishonour board is long. Advisors from Australia, account chasing electoral strategists,…

New solutions to keep drinking water safe as…

University of South Australia Media Release Water scientists from Australia and China have…

The IPA just exploded their argument that the…

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has just shown its links to…

Is your favourite store next? Why businesses are…

Corporate bankruptcy filings began ticking up in Australia and beyond in 2023,…

«
»
Facebook

Tristan Ewins – Tristan is a freelance writer, PhD graduate, qualified teacher, blogger, social commentator and ALP Socialist Left activist of over 20 years. He has written for The Canberra Times and several online publications – most prolifically at On Line Opinion. He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.

Website: http://alpsocialistleft.blogspot.com.au/

The ALP – Arguing for a Minimum Program

The ALP has long been characterised by internal ideological divisions between self-identifying social democrats and self-identifying socialists. This division has always problematic because there are competing definitions of social democracy and socialism. Sweden has been described both as socialist and social democratic. Democratic socialists always contested the notion that the former Eastern Bloc represented ‘real socialism’. Other socialists continued to find inspiration in one or another form of Leninism. Some self-identifying social democrats simply see their politics as ‘progressive but moderate’. In a relative sense we think here of a ‘traditional social democracy’. Other social democrats identify as ‘revolutionary social democrats’: basically a continuation in the tradition of early Marxism (before Leninism, and typified to a degree by the example of Austrian social democrats in the 1917-1934 period). This paradigm of socialism (the Austrian example specifically) is notable for adherence to revolutionary aims, even if pitched as ‘revolutionary reforms’ or ‘slow revolution’. It is not opposed to socialism (or democracy) as such – but rather is a reclamation of an old politics where ‘socialism’ and ‘social democracy’ were not opposed to each other.

The question I intend to explore here is ‘what is a reasonable minimum program for the ALP, which brings together the Party’s diverse ideological elements?’. What elements of a Party program should all members of the ALP share adherence to? This is no easy question to answer: as there must be a degree of ‘give and take’, but without compromising on certain basic issues. There’s also the question of what the modern ALP Left should stand for: and whether or not it is also ‘losing its way’.

The ALP used to adhere – in theory – to its own ‘Socialist Objective’. This was always complicated by the so-called ‘Blackburn Amendment’ which committed itself to socialisation to the extent of eliminating “exploitation and other anti-social features”. It was long considered by some as a ‘dead letter’; at odds with the practice of actual Labor policy and containing a contradiction: at least as far as Marxism is concerned. For Marxism exploitation is structurally inbuilt in capitalism (expropriation of surplus value) and socialisation must be absolute to eliminate it entirely.

Arguably the Objective was also at odds with political practice on the ALP Left; despite the Left fighting tooth and nail for many years to preserve it. When arguing for the preservation of the Objective Left leaders such as Kim Carr watered down their arguments to the point where there was a very significant loss of meaning and content – in an attempt to broaden its appeal. Guy Rundle has described Carr’s project as one of ‘national social democracy’ characterised by greater self-reliance in manufacturing. But does this meet appropriate minimum requirements as a ‘stream of socialism’? Meanwhile, Rundle portrays the rest of the party as embracing “distributionism” which aims to broaden economic ownership, including a place for co-operatives, but does not aim to negate capitalism’s core dynamics.

This means more than competition and markets; it means accumulation of capital and hence political power in the hands of a dominant capitalist class – achieved through economic relations of exploitation. Meanwhile avowed ‘Third Way’ politics water down social democracy itself – even in the traditions of ‘mixed economy and welfare state’ – to the point of meaninglessness.

For socialists in the Labor Party the reality is we cannot have it all our way. And there are questions as to what ALP Left politics are really about these days anyway. Cynics might argue that in practice the ALP Left simply stands for “a slightly bigger welfare state and social wage”; and “a slightly more progressive tax system”. Though incremental improvement of welfare, progressive tax and the social wage is desirable if the progress is sustained. The Left itself needs its own statement of beliefs: which involve a more fundamental critique of capitalism. This might include critiques of monopolism, exploitation, alienation created by physically demanding work, and work involving lack of creative fulfilment and control, as well as economic cycles and crises, and the distribution of political and economic power. But these could also include building blocks for the broader Party.

To begin it is worth considering the common ground between different schools of socialism and social democracy in terms of a minimum program. This would be inclusive of a steadily expanding social wage and welfare state – preferably to Nordic proportions (in the sense that was realised at the height of Nordic social democracy). Though Nordic Social Democracy has long been in retreat, and this means we need to take their example with a grain of salt. This means more robust pensions: comprehensive socialised health (including Medicare Dental) and appropriate subsidies for services and amenities fundamental to modern human existence. This includes power, water, socialised or co-operative housing, communications (including internet access), transport, availability of nutritious food, and so on. Ongoing Education is also crucial to modern life; and all people ought to be able to pursue personal fulfilment through education as well as skilling up to meet labour market requirements.

While the reality is that the modern labour market is characterised by exploitation (workers do not keep the full proceeds of their labour power), we do operate in a global economy where it is necessary to sell labour power in order to participate. Right now there is ‘no way out’ of capitalism, but that does not mean we cannot have a critique which informs strategies which address the anti-social, irrational and unfair features of the system. The Left should have a critique – including of the core workings of capitalist political economy and it needs a code of principles which provides this, but a minimum program for a wide range of socialists and social democrats also needs to account for an alliance of forces including elements who are not committed to negating capitalism, even far into the future.

Something needs to change in discourse more broadly – with an effective counter-hegemony – to achieve anything like a consensus on a Socialist Objective within the ALP. This means we need a mobilised Left fighting to challenge ‘common sense’ ideas both within and outside of the Party. Arguably the Communist Party of Australia used to play this role very effectively, as did other Western Communist Parties – even though they did not usually enjoy significant electoral success. (The Communist Party of Italy – the PCI – is a very important exception; having won very strong electoral success for many decades.)

That said, a minimum program could include a commitment for the foreseeable future to a democratic mixed economy, or a hybrid system. Strategic socialisation should be pursued for reasons of economic efficiency, equity, and sovereignty. In areas characterised by a lack of competition, or by collusion – government business enterprises can be a game changer. Think banking, general insurance, health insurance, postal services. In other areas it is appropriate to have natural public monopolies. Infrastructure in energy, water, communications, transport are other areas where the logic of natural public monopoly ought to apply. Public monopolies in these fields translate into reduced cost structures; with the benefits flowing on to the economy more broadly, including consumers. Governments – including Labor Governments – have systemically undermined the place of natural public monopoly in the economy.

But we need a debate on this within the Party, about a commitment to strategic public ownership and if possible, to natural public monopoly in specific fields such as water, energy, transport and communications infrastructure as well as a restoration of a public sector job network after the example of the old CES.

Still, it is hard enough already getting many self-identifying ‘moderate’ social democrats to even agree to restoring a public sector role in these fields (in competition with private enterprise), let alone restoration of natural public monopolies. Nonetheless the Left should lead a debate on natural public monopoly and strategic (including competitive) government business enterprise. Specifically, a minimum program should refer to a democratic mixed economy, and this should frame an internal debate which the Left tries to lead. Government could also invest in primary industries; and in Australia especially there is great scope to benefit from a public role in minerals exploration and mining. Billions in revenue could be directed towards social programs.

Co-operatives could also play a central role in a democratic mixed economy, and as far as they reach, they attack economic exploitation at its very roots. It’s important to observe, however, that even in Spain where the successful Mondragon Co-operative operates – that co-operative ownership is not very significant in the context of the broader economy. But particularly, in Australia government could underwrite co-operative enterprise to enable it to remain competitive on global and local markets, including by investment in Research and Development and economies of scale. Government could also provide cheap loans to facilitate the establishment of co-operatives, including smaller scale co-operatives – eg: co-op cafes – which not only attack exploitation but which also allow intimate creative control by workers.

Strong policies could secure a significant (as opposed to marginal or minimal) place for co-operatives in the Australian economy. But importantly, co-operative enterprise is not a substitute for the public sector: both play a core role in a democratic mixed economy. Commitment to promoting a greater and greater role for co-operatives in the economy needs to be integrated in a minimum program.

Other areas where an agenda of popular and workers control could be advanced include co-determination and collective capital mobilisation. In Australia superannuation funds have become powerful players in investment. Though they operate in the capitalist context; and tend to adhere therefore to capitalist imperatives (eg: share value maximisation) hence they advance a distributionist agenda, but not much which is more radical. Also, public pension funds would have been more equitable, and the superannuation system threatens the eventual marginalisation and undermining of the public Aged Pension over time.

Meanwhile, co-determination can manifest either as consultation, or in the sense of all parties having to agree on major decisions. In Australia the starting point would be workers’ representatives on company boards. Hence workers could have ‘an insiders’ view’ on the decisions affecting their productive lives. This specific strategy would not be radically transformative in the sense of workers’ control, but it would be a step forward. Again, we need to set the broad framework in a minimum program, and then for the Left to lead a debate within that framework.

There is a broad scope to reform welfare. Labor should also be committed to strengthening the Aged Pension, Disability Pension, Job Seeker’s Allowance, Sole Parents’ Pension, Austudy, and other welfare. The Disability Pension (and National Disability Insurance Scheme supports) should be for life – in the sense of not being withdrawn depending on age. Also, there should be more scope to earn additional income through casual or part-time work (or other means) without losing the Disability Support Pension. And entering into a relationship should not see a substantial portion of welfare payments withdrawn. The NDIS should be strengthened more broadly, also not undermined. University fees should be replaced by progressive tax levies which effectively relate proportionately to the actual financial advantage gained. A Garaunteed Minimum Income relating to the cost of all fundamental needs could consolidate basic universal economic rights.

In a minimum program reference could be made to all pensions; and the imperative of providing them on the basis of need (again perhaps expanded, and then indexed quarterly to inflation or cost of living – whichever is greater). The debate on a Garaunteed Minimum Income can be won, but it may take time to integrate it into a Minimum Program.

Finally, there are issues of human rights, labour market and industrial relations rights, and housing – which also need to be addressed in a Minimum Program. Labor needs to be unequivocal in a Minimum Program in its commitment to freedom of association, assembly and speech, as well as the right to basic needs such as housing, heating, cooling, nutrition, education, health services, access to transport services, and access to communications and information technology. This needs to be amended as new relative rights and needs arise with technological and economic progress. The right to engage in Pattern Bargaining and to withdraw labour in good faith (whether for industrial or political goals) needs to be promoted, and at the lower end of the labour market especially more robust minimum standards and regulation need to be provided for. This should have a substantial effect if implemented in the case of heavily exploited ‘feminised’ industries.

Again, shelter is a human right, and government policy (including provision of public housing) should seek to achieve its universal fulfilment. Government could also help facilitate co-operative housing, and affordable housing – through subsidies and regulations. The Federal Government and the States have long lagged behind here, and support from the Federal Government especially is needed – as they do not endure the same fiscal constraints as do the other tiers. Recently there has been a trend to promote ‘affordable’ housing (as an alternative to public housing) through deals with private developers, but while this strategy can provide better outcomes for some renters, it does not achieve either efficient financing or equity compared with public housing.

Labor needs a minimum program which significantly expands an ongoing policy of building enough high-quality public housing to meet the demand; while looking to the Austrian example to destigmatise public housing and establish it as an option for all Australians, including but not limited to the most disadvantaged. A minimum program needs to aspire to this, and it should not be controversial for genuine social democrats and socialists.

In conclusion Labor also needs an independent foreign policy outlook and a humane policy with regards to rights of asylum seekers. We should lead the way on defusing conflicts between China and the United States and heading off any potential war. And there is no place for Mandatory Detention in any Party of the broad Left. We should also promote ‘deep democracy’, supported through civics education ‘for active, informed and critical citizenship’ and government programs which put active citizenship at the centre of policy. This could include government funding to access public space – including, for instance shopping centres – where political and social movement organisations across most of the spectrum could promote their own ideas of ‘active citizenship’.

In short – and to summarise in conclusion – a Minimum Program should promote a progressively expanding social wage and welfare state, as well as a democratic mixed economy – with stronger public and democratic sectors which aim to improve underlying cost structures to the benefit of the broader economy and consumers – through strategic public ownership. Here, the social wage includes socialised health and education and ensuring universal access to shelter (including public housing), information and communications technology, transport services, and a minimum income where access to energy and water is also universal. And with a steadily more progressively-structured tax system – with an open commitment to just economic redistribution. And we will define the welfare state’s role as comprising social provision of income – especially the vulnerable – with cross-over between welfare state and social wage where it comes to social services.

Also, the minimum program should include reference to the progressive expansion of economic democracy on several fronts, and the provision of fundamental industrial and broader human rights. This means a regulated labour market and the right to withdraw labour in good faith for industrial or political purposes. As well as the minimisation of the anti-social complications of capitalism: including its crisis-prone nature; its tendency to concentrate wealth and promote monopolism; as well as problems of inbuilt obsolescence – and of collusion and other anti-competitive or anti-consumer practices. Also ‘the market’ does not necessarily ‘organically’ provide for human need – though there is a role for it in providing for the flexible satisfaction of individualised needs structures. The need for choice – and hence competition – means there are limits to socialisation – at least under current conditions. ‘The market’ has a place but so too does social provision which goes beyond ‘market logic’.

This article has sought to explore the issues which should inform a minimum program for the ALP. It should be possible to win broad agreement on most of this article’s broad tenets. In other areas the article has outlined areas where minimum policies could be applied, but where the Left should lead the debate in terms of achieving stronger policies.

Also importantly, there are limits to purely electoral politics – and there is a need for an organised counter-hegemony. The counter-hegemony should seek a more radical reframing of debate and issues than the minimum program, and it is necessary to build an alternative to the old Western Communist Parties who used to contest ‘political and economic common sense’. But that is beyond the broad scope of this article.

The point is that it is possible to achieve broad agreement on a minimum program which mobilises the broad Labor Party and frames its policies. The minimum program, here, attempts to frame the ALP as involving currents ranging from traditional social democratic (mixed economy, labour rights and welfare state) on the relative right, to democratic socialism and revolutionary social democracy on the Left (involving a more ambitious agenda of economic democracy and socialisation) And these various currents are considered as being capable of solidarity behind basic programmatic and policy principles and agendas. The most diluted ‘Third Way’ positions – which stand for little in terms of the traditions of social democracy or socialism – need to be seen as liquidationist – and hence are not accepted within the framework of the minimum program.

It is hoped that this article will promote debate and influence the development of the ALP’s Platform running up to the next National Conference. And also, the development of a program behind which both elements of the ALP Left and the ALP Right might be able to coalesce, as well as non-aligned elements. This goes so far is to problematise the very idea of an ‘ALP Right’ which is right-wing on the broader political spectrum. Even the most relative right-wing elements in the ALP should be relatively Left on the broader spectrum. We all need to see ourselves as part of a ‘broad Left’, and in this sense having common cause. Once we agree on this perhaps we can truly ‘move forward together’.

Note: I have been an ALP member for over 30 years.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Does ‘Radicalisation’ have to be a Problem?

Often we hear in discussions of Islamic/clerical Terrorism and the far right that the problem is ‘radicalisation’. This now has an integral place in how people view political ‘extremism’. No doubt some political extremism is bad. There is no place for right-wing ethno-nationalism or fascism in Australia. And there is no place for religious terrorism. But radicalisation used to mean more than this. When Spartacus rebelled against slavery and forced gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome he was a radical in his time. So too were the early, revolutionary social democrats who critiqued capitalism’s exploitative nature; and well as its toll in exploitation and human suffering. And the anarchists in Spain who fought against fascism; and sought to build a co-operative economy.

Discourse on ‘anti-radicalism’ has the underlying narrative that centrist, capitalist neo-liberalism is the only legitimate choice; and all other choices are ‘radical extremes’. It poses as an absolute, and hence is anti-democratic in the final instance. Some would even call this scenario as ‘verging on the totalitarian’ (locked into an absolute system with no way out; and very little scope to even discuss or propose alternatives).

But remember that before the French Revolution democracy was barely heard of. And the French Revolution itself descended into Bonapartist dictatorship, but it left a lasting impression which led eventually to the ascendance of liberal democracy. That was progress for its time; but today subtle and not-so-subtle cultural manipulation has people denying their own interests in favour of capitalist Ideology. At the same time, we can view the Russian Revolution of 1917 in a similar vein as the French Revolution. It began with high hopes of equality and liberation; but under pressure from internal and external threats descended into the personal dictatorship of Stalin.

Similarly, though, as with the idea of democracy, the idea of socialism is relevant still. And we should not give up on the prospects of its future re-emergence. It resonates in a world where people continue to suffer exploitation and deprivation; and the system delivers waste, crisis, and instability. But the ‘left intelligentsia’ has all but given up on class politics; and somehow, we need to restore an ethical and social-scientific critique of capitalism and the class system. This does not mean we turn away from modern critiques of race and gender. It does mean we re-conceive of our responsibilities on the Left to lead struggles for change. The future of struggle is in our hands. We should also remember when people point to the ‘toll’ of socialism, that capitalism delivered two World Wars with tens of millions killed; and countless ‘interventions’ – also with millions of deaths. We can also consider Western Marxism – which made its peace with democracy, as well as avowed Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg, Julius Martov and Karl Kautsky – who early on worried about the trajectory of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

So radicalisation does not need to mean senseless violence, religious intolerance and Terror without end. Radicalisation can mean questioning certain fundamentals of the socio-economic system. Critiques of gender and race were radical in that they challenged ground-in discrimination, oppression and segregation. But somewhere along the way the critique of capitalism and class was abandoned and does not even figure into the thinking of many self-styled radicals of today. Starting with the Critical Theory of Marcuse in the 1960s Leftists began to suppose the working class had been co-opted by capitalist prosperity. Hence Marcuse turned to a ‘Great Refusal’ from those at the margins to challenge capitalism. Hence race, gender and sexuality gained a new sense of importance. For a time, students were also central to this New Left. And though Marcuse retained a critique of capitalism (and remained a revolutionary), many of those who followed refused ‘Grand Narratives’ – which in practice meant it was ‘unthinkable’ to propose a large-scale alternative to the existing systems.

The socialist Left currently occupies a similar position to that suffered by democrats between Bonapartism and the end of the First World War – which saw widespread embrace of liberal democracy in an effort to blunt the challenge of socialism in the wake of unimaginable slaughter. The Great Depression also saw an ascendance of socialist ideas in response; but polarisation in the context of Cold War saw their widespread stigmatisation and abandonment. Especially in the US in the wake of 1950s McCarthyism and the decades which followed.

Today there is an opening for a ‘new radicalism’. Modern capitalism leaves millions struggling amidst a precarious existence – with inconsistent and exploitative labour. Housing is widely unattainable and many struggle to subsist amidst inflation, and the use of interest rates (as opposed to tax for instance) to contain that inflation. The wage share of the economy is at an all-time low (or at least is as low as in living memory). Many are expected ‘as a matter of course’ to commit to unpaid overtime. And many capitalist interests resist the necessary actions for neutralising climate change because it would impact on profits.

Amidst all of this, also, there is an attempt to divide middle- and higher-income workers from everyone else. Social Democratic and Labour Parties do not talk much about class inequality anymore; but governments of all stripes preside over a flattening of the tax system, the extension of user pays, and labour market bifurcation with declining labour market regulation and declining union organisation and militancy. Some very-well paid workers comprise what Marxists once called a ‘labour aristocracy’, living in relative material privilege.

It figures we cannot always take everyone with us, and we cannot stop capitalists playing ‘divide and conquer’. We need to deal with this without giving up and abandoning our values. Almost no-one points to the problems associated with all this; especially so-called ‘Third Way Centrists’. Into this scenario socialists could readily propose an alternative. Beginning with the restoration and extension of the social wage and welfare state; and leading to a democratic mixed economy where co-operative and government enterprise rise to new prominence – also providing competition which counters capitalist monopolism or collusion. Also, we could do with re-regulation of the labour market at the lower end. This would be the beginning of a long-term struggle to improve society and end waste and exploitation.

Therefore, we need to begin to question whether ‘radicalisation’ is always a bad thing. There is a liberal-capitalist hegemony; but it is one which is not afraid to abrogate its essentials (eg: freedom of assembly, association and speech) when powerful interests are threatened. And it occupies an economic space ‘that is not to be questioned’ but comprises a neo-liberalism which could itself seem ‘extreme’ if compared with the assumptions of the pre-Thatcher and pre-Reagan world.

We need to challenge the fundamentals of this social and economic order if we are to rekindle hope of a better world. Hopefully there will be a realisation that the radicalism of a revived revolutionary social democracy (and other associated movements) is not a threat to liberties, but in fact may comprise the very movements which will save them. Most importantly this ‘new radicalism’ must involve a movement which mobilises from below; and attempts to construct what Gramsci would call a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’. This means organising at all levels to challenge capitalist power and Ideology in social formations, popular culture, workplaces and even the State itself. And even where such a bloc is not mobilised or coherent enough to take State Power; the mobilisation itself will affect public and popular discourse; and this will influence policy.

But this is all predicated upon a rejection of the hegemony of neo-liberal ‘Centrism’ and the realisation that radicalisation is not always such a bad thing. We can change the world, but it all starts with a rejection of the ‘Common Sense’ that ‘There Is No Alternative’.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

State Power and the Left today

The other day I saw another post by a Conservative trashing Marxism and arguing that Marxism had never succeeded in practice. In response I argued that it depends on how you measure success. There may never have been a communist government of the sort Marx envisaged. Some regimes were a macabre parody of Marx’s principles. But Marx also helped to unleash the social forces which at the same time improved society, while perhaps preventing the kind of extreme polarisation that may have driven revolution. So in a way perhaps Marx helped mobilise forces which prevented the kind of final confrontation he envisaged. Perhaps the success of democratic socialists and social democrats in achieving reform actually prevented the polarisation which would lead to revolution. Though from the 70s onward the Left has also declined with the embrace of neo-liberalism, the collapse of the USSR, falling wages, declining unionisation, working class militancy and class identity, and so on. In response to these setbacks most alleged Leftists chose the strategy of capitulation; and the embrace of identity politics as an alternative to socialism. Not to say that identity struggles aren’t important; but they do not replace the need to have a clear critique of political economy; and an organised and conscious working class.

In response to those who argue there is nothing of value in reading Marxist texts today, I say this: Marxism is fine so long as you don’t take Marx’s or Lenin’s writings as a closed book. Lots of socialist democrats were also Marxists. Marxism influenced many Social Democratic countries in Europe who have been prosperous. China is prosperous but fails to meet Marx’s principles on creative freedom and fulfilment. Lenin worked under perhaps the worst possible circumstances and was driven to make terrible compromises. Then much of the world socialist movement applied his (Lenin’s) ideas ‘more or less straight’ into situations that demanded more nuanced and situational thinking.

Thinkers such as Gramsci, Habermas, Marcuse – remedied this to an extent. Meanwhile Chantal Mouffe mixes Marxism with robust liberal pluralism to base a strong theory of social change today that some call ‘post-Marxism’ (Mouffe refers to her outlook as ‘Agonism’). But the Marxist tradition is both deep and broad – and we shouldn’t shy away from borrowing from it today. But perhaps with more respect for liberalism than Lenin had. Because the ideology of liberalism is a kind of defence in the sense that the State’s perceived legitimacy rests upon certain liberal rights and freedoms. When those aspects of liberal ideology recede the Left typically becomes more vulnerable to brute repression. But at the same time, it causes the capitalist state to face a legitimation crisis where its perceived legitimacy was based on liberalism. It ‘cuts both ways’. That said, today many workers are increasingly exploited and impoverished in line with a decline of social resistance and class struggle. In part we’re to blame for that ourselves on the broad Left for reverting to nebulous ‘Third Way’ thinking, and abandoning class and the critique of capitalism in the rush to identity politics.

Though Marx himself knew his work wasn’t complete, and there’s still lots of value in his works we can still draw on today. And as a tradition Marxism is very diverse and broad. But indeed, his works don’t solve every problem on Earth; and with the passage of well over a century many things have changed. We do have to account for this.

One of the key factors distinguishing Marxism from mainstream liberal democracy is the Marxist critique of the State. Marx thought the working class had to seize state power. Lenin, meanwhile, argued this was only possible if the previous state was ‘smashed’; that socialists could not successfully take a hold of the ‘ready-made state machinery’ to govern on behalf of working people and those who had been oppressed. The situation which followed Revolution was referred to by Marx as ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. Many critics of Marx see this as referring to the literal Stalinist dictatorship which eventuated in the USSR.

Yet as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out dictatorship of the proletariat can be interpreted as the democratic rule of the workers as opposed to Lenin for whom it was the rule of the Communist Party. So ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ doesn’t need to mean the dictatorship of one person or party. But Lenin worked amidst a collapsing society where foreign intervention was everywhere; and the Entente powers (Britain, the Commonwealth, and France) were determined to destroy the new government as that government had pulled out of the war. (that is, World War One) The United States and Italy had also joined the Entente. Unfortunately, the logic of the crises which followed led to centralisation in the hands of fewer and fewer people; and the Bolsheviks turned in against themselves; until Stalin was the only one of the old Bolsheviks who was left. (except for Alexandra Kollontai, who became a diplomat for the ‘workers’ state’ and ended up as ambassador to Sweden) Engels pointed out that some authoritarianism was necessary in the midst of a Revolution – to protect the infant Communist government from its enemies. But Gramsci pointed out that not all revolutions are the same; and this means we should not apply the Leninist template universally. Perhaps the Bolsheviks should have maintained the Red Army; but allowed the Constituent Assembly to sit; as well as the Soviets. In other words, freedom – but with a backup plan. The problem would be if the Constituent Assembly tried to establish their own State; and hence threaten sustained working-class democracy. This kind of arrangement is called ‘Dual Power’; where all power is not centralised in one place (but control of the apparatus of force can still be a decisive factor). Also importantly, the State involves the apparatus of administration and not merely the apparatus of force. Seeking to ‘smash’ the state ‘root and branch’ – including the apparatus of administration – could prove to be self-destructive in the final analysis.

Considering the matter historically, under immense pressure, The French Revolution descended into Terror; and eventually Bonapartism (dictatorship). But this didn’t cause liberal democrats to abandon their cause. Eventually they succeeded. Neither should we on the Socialist Left abandon our cause. Most importantly we need to be outspoken about our cause; because without this we will not mobilise anyone. Without this capitalist ideology and institutions appear beyond question, and alternatives are seen as practically unthinkable. Also, we need to be principled on issues like privatisation – as hypocrisy has a demoralising and demobilising effect , and upcoming generations of activists are thoroughly detached form the values of their predecessors.

Lenin was a democratic centralist, which translated to the rule of the Party – which in turn delegated power to decide and govern between Conferences to a Central Committee. He was prepared to share power with like-minded Parties such as the Left Social Revolutionaries; but after he suffered an attempted assassination by one of their members, he abandoned this. Rosa Luxemburg was scathing of over-centralisation, pointing out that it smothered workers’ democracy, and the self-corrective dynamics of that democracy. The wisest Central Committee was no substitute for democratic practice. You could argue that over-centralisation was a crisis-management measure – but the problem is that the Crisis never ended. And we ended up with the personal dictatorship of Stalin. The comparison between socialists and liberal democrats stands; because even if Lenin was an over-centralist – he did not speak for all socialists. The aim should have been to balance crisis management with workers’ freedom and democracy.

Some liberals have a problem with forging a State which is sympathetic to the Left; and hence not likely to resort to extreme violence against the Left. They presume that the modern state is democratic and impartial, and hence all the Left has to do to change society is to win a majority in Parliament. Problem is: apply that to the Austrian instance. At the end of World War 1 the Austrian Social Democrats controlled the Army. They achieved a liberal democratic revolution. But after the war they gave up State power and allowed a new conventional army to be set up. As an insurance policy they maintained their own militia. In 1934 they achieved a majority in the Constituent Assembly. Immediately the Fascists dissolved the Parliament by force – and in doing so they were supported by the regular Army. For a time, the Social Democrats negotiated behind the scenes. While they did this the Army raided their arms caches and arrested their leaders. Finally, what was left of the workers’ militia (the Schutzbund) took up arms, fortifying the public housing estates in Vienna. But they were crushed after about a week, and many of their remaining leaders were executed. Austria was under the heel of a kind of fascism – years before the Nazis occupied the country. (The Austrian fascist regime had clerical sympathies, and did not want German dominance. Like Franco’s regime in Spain, they were repressive, but they did not have the Nazis’ racialized ideology.)

The point is that unless progressive forces control the Armed Forces – or otherwise influence it towards democracy – they have no guarantee they can peacefully achieve a majority and govern for their constituents. They can allow other parties to govern, yes. But they cannot afford to allow their enemies to control the armed apparatus of State if they actually have a choice in the matter.

In Australia the prospect of radically reforming the Armed Forces seems unlikely. Perhaps the best we can do is school the military in pluralism and democracy, and try and ensure they never intervene inappropriately. Unfortunately, constitutionalism is not necessarily enough, as Reserve Powers can be used to undermine democracy. Such intervention is currently not likely as what passes for the Left in Australia does little to challenge the status-quo. The opportunity to radically reform the armed forces in Austria only occurred after a State collapse with the defeat of Austria-Hungary; and over a million Austrian and Hungarian deaths in World War One. But with no opportunity to radically reform the State, radicals always run the risk of falling afoul of it.

Historically, though – in the instance of Revolutionary Russia – what I’m arguing for is basically that there should have been a kind of dual power. Here, again, the Bolsheviks would have controlled the Red Army and hence that would comprise ‘the last line of defense’. The Soviets would have had their sphere of influence, but the Constituent Assembly would be enabled to do its job of representing voters as well. Though without forming a state that was hostile to the Revolution.

In a recent argument I put forward this view and was accused of hypocrisy. I was accused of endorsing state repression; and hence having double standards on liberty. It was held that radically reforming the State, so the apparatus of force upheld democracy – including support for elected left-wing governments – led to actual dictatorship in the common sense of the word.

But that’s not what I’m arguing. My argument is “hold on to control of the apparatus of force if you can – AS AN INSURANCE POLICY against the violent or repressive tendencies of your enemies.” So THEY cannot use the state against you in an oppressive way. More generally, I’m glad for my rivals to have free speech. I’m not glad for them to have the option of using state power to repress me when things don’t go their way.

In the Russian context, however, things were more complex; as it was in the middle of a Civil War – and with foreign intervention, there was the spectre of hunger and social collapse and so on. Once you’ve accepted that the French Revolutionaries had to resort to crisis management under certain circumstances, then the same ought to apply to the socialist Left in its struggles. But better still to avoid the kind of crises that warrant such tactics. Hence ‘War of Position’ is better than ‘War of Movement’ (we’ll explain this shortly). It all ended badly for the Bolsheviks anyway. There was a virtual ‘repeat of history’ as the rise of Stalin shadowed the previous rise of Napoleon. So if you could achieve stability on the basis of a progressive and democratic pluralism that would be best. But it’s best if you can have that pluralism while progressives control the apparatus of force as an insurance policy. Importantly, the State is not homogenous. While I am not a structuralist, the structuralist Marxist Nicos Poulantzas described the State as a ‘contested field’ ; upon which the logic of class struggle was ‘imprinted’. The idea that the State can be contested without being left as a homogenous ‘instrument’ across its breadth and depth is a very important one.

This is why what Antonio Gramsci called ‘war of position’ is preferable to what he called ‘war of movement’. In a ‘war of movement’ – eg: the 1917 Russian Revolution – order is collapsing and competing interests and parties rush to fill the void. In the process the struggle can become very violent. In the Russia 1917 context there was foreign intervention and White Armies besieging the Revolution. And if Communist Parties do ‘whatever it takes’ there’s the potential for it to end disastrously (though in that context many feel they have no choice; it’s easy to judge when personally you live in conditions of stability). By contrast a ‘war of position’ involves a long-term struggle for hegemony, through institutions, organisations, traditions, practices, movements. Power is gained by reaching pre-eminence in civil society – potentially through democratic processes. And again, the State can be penetrated by the process of class struggle itself. But the fate of Salvador Allende – whose democratic socialist government in Chile was overthrown in 1973 by Pinochet with the assistance of the CIA – shows that if the armed forces are hostile, it can still end in slaughter (against the Left). The massacre of Leftists and labour movement activists in Indonesia in 1965-1966 is an even more horrifying example: where over half a million were slain and the rivers literally ran red with blood. The apparatus of force is perhaps the hardest part of the State to penetrate and challenge. In Australia, also, the Labor Government of Gough Whitlam was effectively overthrown in 1975 in a ‘constitutional coup’.

Of course, bourgeois regimes don’t mind wars; and there is hypocrisy when it comes to the matter of violence. Violence might become inevitable in defence of a picket line for instance. But the modern Left has an interest in not escalating violence too far; because it does not stand a chance against the violent power of the modern State if that state is hostile. Or more to the point, against the State’s apparatus of force. Perhaps the word ‘apparatus’ suggests an instrumental outlook – which is problematic – but the armed forces can be isolated from any broader class struggle. At the end of World War 1, though, the establishment of workers’ armies was possible in a context where millions of workers were mobilised in the armed forces by a horrific war which had discredited the old regimes. And the class struggle in Australia is also problematic because class consciousness is now at an all-time low following the demobilisation of the labour movement in the 1980s and thereafter. The Left has a substantial task in front of it.

So the modern struggle involves taking every opportunity to reform the State; while engaging in cultural and social struggles, as well as civil disobedience. This means always pushing the boundaries, but having the wisdom not to press them too far if there is a likely prospect of overwhelming repression. Again, escalation beyond a certain point is not usually a wise option for the Left.

A strong and mobilised civil society is also a defence against repression, so achieving this is a high priority for both revolutionaries and reformers. Perhaps the best way is a mix of reformist and revolutionary outlooks. That is: seek qualitative change, but be prepared to achieve this incrementally. While at the same time taking advantage of ‘watershed’ scenarios to achieve radical change more quickly. All this involves mobilising civil society and reforming the State to contain the threat of repression.

This may also seem distanced from the reality of day to day politics, but that current reality is one where progressive parties have limited power because of the threat of international capital strike, and the Left’s marginalisation in Civil Society. The Left has also largely abandoned struggles or – and ideologies of – radical democratisation, class liberation, and other progressive causes. In other words, large parts of the modern Left have either lost their reason for being, became irrelevant, or limited themselves to identity struggles while only contesting political economy at the margins. Again: Hypocrisy on issues like privatisation, and timidity on issues like tax reform, Industrial Relations reform, and social wage expansion – leave newer generations on the Left demobilised, disoriented and demoralised. But if the Left ever rediscovers itself, all these issues discussed here will once again burn with immediate relevance.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

The Legacy of Daniel Andrews: Recognising the Good with the Bad

Today the impending retirement of Daniel Andrews – Labor Premier of Victoria – has been announced. For many of us this came as a surprise; but it seems Andrews wants to leave on his own terms.

Andrews has led a reforming Victorian Labor Government. While championing the rights of trans women and men, Andrews also presided over a radical increase in the number of women in Cabinet. He also oversaw controlled legalisation of euthanasia and medical cannabis. What is more he oversaw the shift towards railway crossing removals as a much-more cost-effective means of reducing road congestion. The Andrews Labor Government also took something of an authoritarian turn during the Covid-19 crisis, but perhaps the unparalleled times called for this. Andrews also oversaw the beginning of negotiations for a state-based Treaty: blazing a trail ahead of his Federal colleagues.

On infrastructure and Health, Andrews made big investments in public health: most specifically in increasing the number of nurses on the ground; and providing incentives and financial support for future nursing graduates. A total of over $150 million was invested in indigenous Health (with an anticipated 100,000 extra appointments); as well as free IVF, women’s health clinics, and a mobile health clinic. Further, public Aged Care levels were maintained; and funding provided to assist in ensuring a registered nurse was provided in every aged care facility. Almost $50 million was maintained for GP Respiratory clinics: whose importance I testify to personally as a person whose mother died of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease after a long and traumatic illness before this was made available. And since 2021 the Andrews Labor Government has invested over $6 billion in mental health: largely in response to the Mental Health Royal Commission. This includes the establishment of the new ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022’ which will modernise the operation of mental health in Victora, with dialogue and inclusion of families and consumers in decision-making emphasised.

On infrastructure, in addition to investments in health infrastructure (hosptials and the like) Andrews Labor also made big investments in public transport which anticipate future need. This includes projects such as the Metro Tunnel, North East Link Program, and West Gate Tunnel – which together have created over 50,000 jobs. Failing to invest here would come with a huge social and economic cost into the future, with uncontrolled congestion and a decline in the overall quality of the public transport network.

On the other hand, though, it is against these backdrops that the Andrews Labor Government has continued a now long-held Labor government tradition of privatisation (acknowledging that 50-year leases are not ‘technically’ privatisation; though they will effectively operate as such for decades and decades to come). Amidst a strong sense of irony, the Liberals argued in November 2022 that Andrews had raised approximately $20 billion from the (effective) privatisation of the Port of Melbourne, VicRoads, and the Land Titles Office.

Consumers will pay the price for this for decades to come. Some of these are now effectively private monopolies in their fields.

But in a seeming Ideological U-turn Andrews Labor also announced the re-establishment of the SECV (State Electricity Commission Victoria). Those of us old enough to remember the old SECV may recall a time when energy was provided relatively cheaply; and natural public monopoly effectively held down cost-structures. The new SECV will be a substantially different creature – despite the nostalgia. Beginning with a $1 billion investment, the new SECV will emphasise the building of renewables infrastructure, with (according to Andrews) the creation of 59,000 jobs. The task will not be the recreation of natural public monopoly, but the re-establishment of a part-public player: which might perhaps be run on a not-for-profit basis – and inject significant competition into the sector. In this case consumers would stand to gain. Depending on what the involvement is with superannuation funds, however, there will be pressures to run ‘for-profit’.

In June the Federal Government – in an olive branch to the Greens – announced a $2 billion fund to be provided to the States for the construction of public housing.

This was enough to get the Federal Government’s $10 billion public housing fund passed with Greens support for this year. The Greens’ defence of this behaviour was that over the long term a $10 billion fund could not provide enough turn over to substantially increase and improve public housing stock. But in the future this $2 billion expenditure will have to be renewed every year – or even increased (perhaps to the vicinity of $3 billion). This is because State Governments (including State Labor Governments) are pressed for cash and rely on Federal money to get many projects over the line.

That said, the housing crisis is real, and Andrews Labor’s response has been disappointing on many fronts. Recently the demolition of 44 public-housing towers was announced – to be replaced mainly by ‘affordable’ and ‘social’ housing (alongside mainly private dwellings) in the form of ‘public private partnerships.’ Social-Housing is ‘broadly defined’; and includes so-called public-private partnerships (which can be light on the public component and deliver rivers of gold to private investors). Public land will be made available for private investors in return for a 10% ‘affordable housing component’. The alternative for developers is to pay a levy accounting for 3% of the project’s worth; then diverted into social housing.

There is a place for ‘affordable’ housing in ‘the mix’; but looking to Austria for instance, public housing can be done so much better than this. In Vienna nearly half of the city’s housing market is covered by co-operatively owned players and city-owned housing. Not only does this deliver for equity: it provides quality and flexibility.

Benita Kolovos of ‘The Guardian’ has observed that: “of the 30,000 proposed new dwellings on public land, only 11,000 will be available to public housing tenants.” This has led the Greens to brand the policy as ‘the biggest privatisation since Jeff Kennett.’ The continued ‘ghettoization’ of public housing will see it marginalised on an ongoing basis. To break out of that ‘ghetto’ – and to break prejudices and stigma – public housing needs big ongoing investments; and it seems now the only hope for that lies in bigger purpose-tied commitments from Canberra. And this requires Federal Labor to move away from overly conservative fiscal policy.

Again: State Labor Governments, and State Labor parties – need to be pressing Federal Labor to provide at least $3 billion a year for this purpose. Andrews Labor’s expansion of the market may increase supply over time, and in-so-doing do something to contain prices. But at the same time quality housing will remain out of reach for many struggling families. Perhaps if Labor had diverted the $3 billion earmarked for the Commonwealth Games into public housing this would have been more palatable.

So in conclusion, there is something of a ‘mixed report card’ for Andrews Labor. On many fronts – despite absurd jibes about ‘dictator’ Dan (Comparing him to the North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un) – Andrews Labor has proved itself ‘more socially liberal than the Liberals’. In this day and age that is not all that surprising. In-so-far as there was a streak of authoritarianism it was only under the unique circumstances posed by Covid-19. But the structural costs of a suite of privatisations will be passed on to consumers for decades to come.

Federal Labor needs to ‘step into the breach’ to remove fiscal incentives for State Labor Governments to ‘sell what’s left of the family silver’ in order to pay for big projects. A good Labor government is one which expands the social wage and welfare state, while also strategically expanding the public sector. Ideological preference for ‘Small government’ will not do (though the source of Andrews Labor’s policy was more pragmatic than Ideological). Whoever takes the helm of Victorian State Labor; and whatever else happens Federally – something needs to change. And hopefully this article is suggestive of where we could start.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Labor’s First Budget pitched as “Modest and Responsible’ – But more Ambition needed

Labor’s first Budget has been pitched as ‘modest and responsible’, with limited new spending; and the intent of not fuelling inflationary pressures. That said, there are some welcome measures. $20 billion will be invested towards upgrading the electricity grid; preparing for a low-emissions future. Promises on Aged Care will be fulfilled, with tougher regulation and an improvement in the wages and working conditions of Aged Care workers. Over $2 billion will go into Education; with free TAFE, 20,000 university places for the disadvantaged, and money for more qualified teachers and better-resourced schools. Money will be provided for ‘urgent care clinics’, and reducing the maximum co-payment for medicines from $42.50 to $30. Finally, there will be more support for parental leave and subsidised childcare; with a plan to promote an increase in housing supply (and hence affordability), as well as an increase in Defence expenditure to over 2 per cent of GDP (Herald-Sun 26/10/22). Though this housing plan appears over-dependent on private investment.

All that said, there are numerous problems as well. Jim Chalmers has flagged possible intervention into the energy market, with power prices set to rise by 40 to 50 per cent. This will crush struggling individuals and families. Also, Labor is flagging its intention to go ahead with the Stage Three Tax Cuts which will deliver a $9000 windfall for those earning $200,000 at a cost to the Budget of around $250 billion over 10 years. Nothing has been projected in the way of energy subsidies, and the price for reining in inflation seems to be falling upon those least able to pay. Wages are also flatlining, regardless of pre-election commitments to get wages moving.

So – what should Labor do? Some would oppose improvements for those on low wages and welfare as fuelling inflation. But those people should not be shouldering the burden. Already the bulk of their income is going towards non-negotiable necessities; and increases in power costs will challenge their capacity to make ends meet in the most basic sense. There will be homelessness, skipped meals, and Winters and Summers without heating or cooling. A temporary increase in tax for those on middle and higher incomes could also have an anti-inflationary effect without impacting on the most disadvantaged. Specifically, temporary tax increases for those on middle incomes could tighten demand significantly. Without such tax increases, individuals and families will be left to shoulder the burden with higher interest rates, and hence higher home loan repayments. Some of this will be passed on to renters as well. The question is: What is the most efficient way of containing inflation?; and how can this be achieved while lessening the burden on those least able to pay? Also, what other measures need to be taken to sustain an improvement in the social wage longer term? Including the preservation of a truly needs-based National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This may mean some other taxes need to increase progressively and permanently.

Over the longer term Labor needs a rethink on tax reform. Ideally the Stage Three tax cuts should be withdrawn completely. There are so many priorities which demand funding. But a compromise strategy could be to deliver the same amount of tax relief; but skewed towards those on lower and middle incomes. Median taxable income is just under $50,000/year. If tax credits are provided for those on low and middle incomes; relief could be delivered without delivering an expensive windfall for those on higher incomes. By the time the tax cuts are projected to be phased in we will likely be struggling to recover from an inflation-induced slowdown; or maybe even a recession. At this point, it makes sense to support the vulnerable and low-paid – as they spend the highest proportion of their income on ‘getting by’ compared with others. That is, they can be depended upon to spend their incomes.

Unemployment is also set to rise to 4.5% over 2023 to 2025. This begs the question of whether Labor accepts arguments around a supposed Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). Again, recession and ‘spare capacity’ are not the only means of containing inflation. Taxes can achieve this without depending on social misery and wasted human resources.

Also, record profits in the gas industry should be subjected to taxation; as has occurred in Norway for instance. Those resources properly belong to all Australians, and any windfall should be shared substantially with the Australian people. This could be redirected to energy consumers with subsidies – especially those on low incomes – while a legislated gas reserve could ensure Australian consumers don’t miss out because of exports and global demand.

Into the future Labor should be seeking to reduce poverty and inequality by boosting the social wage and driving reform of the labour market; especially for the working poor. An important improvement in the social wage would be implementation of Medicare Dental. Earlier in its first term Labor delivered an increase in the minimum wage. But others on low wages also need urgent assistance. This is especially the case in feminised industries like early childhood education. Again, any inflationary impact could be countered with strategic and temporary increases in tax. While impacting ‘the economic middle’ would be regrettable; the plight of those on low incomes is more urgent, and Labor needs to prioritise.

While Labor needs to deliver on promises to improve the Cost of Living, including energy affordability, it also needs to be looking to boost the wage share of the economy. To some extent this should be delivered as a matter of distributive justice; and not only in return for improved productivity. In 2018, Jim Stanford explained how the wage share of the economy had fallen from 58.4 per cent in 1975 to 47.1 per cent in 2018. That translated to over $16,000 a year on average per worker, and $210 billion per year in total. Not only does Labor need to agitate for improved Awards at the lower end. It also needs to improve workers’ bargaining power more broadly, and this must include support for pattern bargaining. Even Secondary Boycott should be legalised in circumstances where the ‘industrially strong’ support the ‘industrially weak’ ‘in good faith’.

Importantly, though, the wage share is lagging in areas like mining; where regardless of this wages are significantly higher than average. Profits are that high. In this case the social wage needs to be factored in, and again a windfall profits tax and a longer-term super-profits tax – could help. Welfare also needs to be reformed to respond comprehensively to the Cost-of-Living crisis; including all pensions and unemployment benefits.

Finally, the required strategic expansion of social and affordable housing demands a greater public investment. While Labor is correct to promote an increase in housing supply in geographic areas of job growth, it also needs to ‘put its money where its mouth is’.

Labor has come to government at an especially difficult time. But there is a need to deliver on its mandate, especially for those most in need. Inflation can be contained without hitting the most vulnerable overall; and this needs to be Labor’s priority during its first term.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Social Justice doesn’t need to be ‘put on hold’ to fight inflation

In Australia the Labor Government is being warned not to spend too much for fear of exacerbating inflation. At the same time workers are urged to moderate wage demands to avoid a ‘wage/price spiral’. This is the ‘common sense’ of the day. But at the same time the labour share of the economy has fallen by over 10 per cent of GDP since the 1970s.

Furthermore, income inequality is marked. ACOSS observes that:

“People in the highest 20% income group receive 42% of all national income, which is more than the share of the lowest 60% combined. People in the lowest 20% receive only 6% of all household income, while the second lowest 20% receive 12%.”

Here, those in the lowest 20% bracket earn on average $753 a week. While those in the highest 10% bracket take $5230.

Meanwhile, in terms of wealth the bottom 20% average $36,000, while the top 10% average $4,754,000.

Amidst this the Federal Labor Government’s support for an increase of the minimum wage in line with inflation is welcome. But ‘the bigger picture’ is one of increasing inequality, and an increasingly lower share of the economy going towards the needs of working Australians. At some point Labor needs to confront inequality; and rectify these imbalances. But rather than suppressing wages or implementing austerity, the ‘heat’ could be taken out of the economy by raising tax. Temporary tax increases could target those on middle incomes, while permanent tax increases could target those on high incomes with the goal on funding social wage measures – like Medicare Dental.

Because of the need to moderate demand at this time, the ‘middle’ will be affected either by interest rates, or wage suppression, or tax. Choosing ‘the tax lever’ achieves this while providing the means to fund infrastructure, welfare and social wage initiatives. At the same time wages – especially at the lower end – could rise – with the aim of furthering distributive justice. Overall wages should also rise where the wage share is lower; and where rectification is necessary. Labor should make representations to Fair Work Australia to achieve this; and to increase the share going to lower income earners overall. But in the immediate term demand would be moderated through higher tax. Over the longer term such taxes on ‘the middle’ could be removed to promote an economic recovery.

The question Labor needs to ask is: ‘can social and distributive justice be furthered while tackling inflation at the same time?’ In this context, pursuing the Stage Three tax cuts makes no sense economically, and from a social and distributive justice perspective. They will see a flat 30 per cent tax rate for all incomes from $40,000 to $200,000. This will see an increase in overall demand rather than have a dampening effect (though by then the inflation genie may be ‘back in the bottle’ so to speak). It will also minimise progressive redistribution and entrench inequality.

It means proportionately those on lower incomes will pay more for the services and infrastructure functions of government. The Stage Three Tax Cats will also cost the Budget billions: almost $250 billion over nine years. This money could fund high speed rail, and Medicare Dental, while improving pensions, and winding back user pays in Higher Education. It could also fund a massive investment in public housing, while improving the wages of Aged Care workers significantly. And probably much more besides. Some would say such investment would act as a stimulus; but again it depends on what temporary and permanent tax increases accompany said measures. Importantly, if such spending kicked in a bit later down the track, the inflation crisis might be over; and stimulus may in fact be appropriate once more.

The bottom line is that managing inflation does not have to mean social and distributive justice are put on hold. There is scope to improve welfare and social wage while dampening demand overall in the immediate term; but also rectifying the imbalance between capital’s share of the economy and labour’s share of the economy. When we have Labor Governments we need to make the most of such opportunities. We need an Albanese Government that makes the most of the possibilities of government; and makes long term structural reforms which further the goals of social and distributive justice.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Remembering Mikhail Gorbachev and his Legacy

Mikhail Gorbachev has passed away at the age of 91. In the West Gorbachev is still held in high esteem for ‘ending the Cold War’. His policies of Glasnost (‘openness’) and Perestroika (‘Restructuring’) opened the way for reform, but also perhaps sadly the disintegration that then followed, with the effective theft of peoples’ assets and industry that was later to occur under Boris Yeltsin. The world of (capitalist) ‘oligarchs’ that has followed the collapse cannot seriously be considered as in any way better than the former state of affairs; and liberties did not last long in the former USSR following Gorbachev’s fall from power. Though it’s interesting that we do not call our own billionaires ‘oligarchs’ in the West; and especially in the United States where corporate lobbyists have unmatched power.

Gorbachev understood that the USSR could not compete militarily with the West while it failed to compete economically. In the 80s military competition had accelerated and there was a widespread fear of nuclear war which we have now forgotten. Gorbachev agitated for peace at the same time as Reagan pursued his ‘Star Wars’ plan, which aimed to make a nuclear war ‘winnable’. At the same time there was repression, terror and mass murder closer to home, in countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. And yet the United States outpaced the East largely because of a ruthless exploitation of its economic periphery (eg: including Central and South America). In many ways Gorbachev heralded the kind of reform democratic socialists had long been hoping for, legitimising the USSR for many, but also helping to precipitate a collapse. In retrospect it would have been better if the USSR had not collapsed. But decades of Stalinism meant there was little in the way of a mobilised and independent civil society. The consequence was that when the collapse occurred there was little resistance. In light of all this it would have been better if Gorbachev had mobilised civil society in defence of democratic socialism from the outset.

Gorbachev’s passing reminds us of missed opportunities, and begs the question of whether there was a better way forward. Today there is war in Ukraine; and the Russian Government entertains ideas of an Imperial restoration. Russia may find a place as an important trading partner of China, but cannot really hope to restore ‘former glory’ when opposed by almost the entirety of Europe; and the US. Also the rupturing of Russia’s trade ties with Europe is harming both sides immensely. Though Russia’s still-massive nuclear arsenal deters uncontrolled escalation.

In later years Gorbachev commonly referred to himself as a Social Democrat ; and tried to establish a social-democratic party in Russia. On the other hand, arguably the USSR was still ahead of Western Social Democracy on many fronts prior to its collapse. Mainly in regard to the spread of socialised industry. Maybe Gorbachev was trying to move with the times, and promote the best possible outcome available at the time. Though his efforts to promote social democracy in the Russian Federation largely met with failure. In some ways China demonstrates how in certain respects compromise with capitalism can help an ostensibly socialist state to economically compete with the West. Though this could also lead to a crisis of legitimacy and identity.

Perhaps attempts to consolidate a democratic USSR might have failed given the influence of various nationalisms, but now we will never know. In the mid to late 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev represented the best hope for peace, détente and avoiding nuclear war. With his passing we should also consider the world that ‘might have been’; and mourn the ultimate failure of Gorbachev’s reforms; with capitalist restoration and the rise of an Imperial Russian State.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Labor in government provides opportunities that should not be wasted

In the run-up to the Federal Election, many progressives tried to justify Labor’s small target strategy by arguing that Labor would get things done once in government. But that too much detail beforehand would confuse and overwhelm people. Now the day has come. Labor has enjoyed a strong victory. And it’s time to deliver.

The Greens have argued for Medicare Dental; but Labor could make the policy its own while winning broad and ongoing Greens support for the remainder of the term. The squeeze on the cost of gas also demands subsidies in favour of those on low incomes and welfare. While an increase in the supply of public housing could improve housing affordability. Pressure on the NDIS should be lifted with additional funding; as should pressure on our hospitals. Waiting lists have exploded with Covid; and action is urgently required. Accessibility and affordability in Higher Education should also be addressed with lower fees and an increase in repayment schedules clearly above the average wage. Tied grants should be provided to the states to fund an increase in teacher numbers; while a National Curriculum should be designed which promotes active, informed and critical citizenship. This includes an understanding of political processes and opportunities for public sphere participation; as well as sophisticated ideological literacy. Finally, promises on Aged Care should be implemented. Albanese has promised an increase in care personal attention hours for residents; but to implement this we need Aged Care Worker Ratios. Winning Government is not the end of the journey; it is only the beginning.

We also need a sense of scale when talking about funding for reform. There is often a sense of panic and alarm when talking about policies which go into the billions. How often do we hear that ‘we cannot throw money at problems’ or that funding policies are dismissed as a ‘cash splash’ (and hence ‘irresponsible’). But let’s be clear; the economy is valued at some $1.7 trillion a year. That’s ONE THOUSAND AND SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION. Fear to pursue truly ambitious policy leads to stagnation. And failure to commit money translates as a failure to commit resources. Viewed thus, any public policy agenda will fail without sufficient resourcing. Labor needs to be thinking about what is reasonable in terms of short to long term plans to expand the social wage and welfare state, as well as other programs to provide infrastructure and skill development, and to improve public broadcasting. We need to develop popular understanding of concepts such as ‘collective consumption’; and how the social wage can provide better value for money for workers, consumers, taxpayers. $17 billion is one per cent of GDP. And over several terms of Government, it is a reasonable objective to aim to broaden the social wage and welfare state by 5 per cent of GDP.

This is not an arbitrary figure, but an estimate of what is necessary for ambitious reform. Again, this could fund public housing, education and health, aged care, welfare and unemployment insurance reform, infrastructure (including renewable energy, rail transport and fibre to the home National Broadband Network (NBN), and programs to secure guaranteed job placement and experience for the disabled. Disability Pensions should be reformed also, to increase the scope to supplement income with part-time or casual work, and to take away perverse incentives to avoid intimate relationships (eg: measures which radically reduce pension payments to individuals in relationships and marriages). Further, local government should be supported so that suburbs that suffer from undeveloped social infrastructure like parks and gardens, sporting and fitness infrastructure, libraries and so on – are able to deliver better quality of life to working-class families.

Meanwhile, over the long term there should be plans to re-socialise energy and water. And to reintroduce public-owned competitors in markets like financial services and insurance: to counter collusion and support consumers by providing competition from government business enterprises on a not-for-profit footing.

Finally, the labour market demands structural reform to prevent the entrenchment of a class of working poor Australians. This may have a once-off inflationary effect; but redistribution one way or another is necessary to deliver wage justice. We need to address the distribution of the economic pie between capital and labour, but also between labourers themselves as well. Other innovative policies could include financial support and financial counselling for people planning on developing co-operative enterprise (on either a large or small scale). If increases in minimum wages will not eventuate without direct intervention, then there should be direct intervention. This should be undertaken where the current framework of Fair Work Australia fails to deliver. Allowing secondary boycotts ‘in good faith’ could also enable to industrially strong to assist the ‘industrially weak’ in achieving better outcomes for historically low-paid workers.

It’s not good enough to put ambitious reforms off until a second term. Policies like Medicare took years to become entrenched; to the point where any effective frontal assault against basic socialised medicine became impossible. Here, also, once-introduced and accepted as part of the ‘socialised medicine landscape’, Medicare Dental would be very difficult to dismantle. The establishment of a Labor Government provides the opportunity to introduce life-changing reforms. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Wage Justice can be delivered while also containing inflation

Anthony Albanese stands besieged for suggesting a minimum wage increase which keeps pace with inflation. Specifically, that is 5.1%. This would raise full time wages by just $39.40 a week – less than a dollar an hour. Businesses are claiming such a move would drive them to the wall and fuel inflation. But since the 1970s labour’s share of the economy has fallen by over 10 per cent, from 58.4 per cent to 47.1 per cent: or $16,800 a year for the average worker. Especially; why is it that the Conservatives believe it is the job of the country’s lowest paid to pay the price for inflation when many businesses are experiencing spiralling profits? If wages cannot even keep pace with inflation, at what point can the structural inequities in the country’s labour market be addressed?

It is true that higher wages may have some impact on inflation. There are areas where increased costs will at least in part be passed on to consumers. But this is a false economy based on the exploitation of the poorest workers. It suggests a policy of drifting towards a US style labour market where there is a large class of working poor who can barely keep their heads above water. Fear of falling into the working poor disciplines the so-called ‘middle class’. And threat of homelessness and destitution disciplines the working poor themselves. This is the trajectory the Conservatives would take us down.

But arguably in the name of fairness there must be a ‘structural correction’ for low-paid workers at some time or another. This may have a small, temporary impact on inflation; but it is necessary if the most exploited are to survive in dignity and make ends meet. The prosperity of high- and middle-income earners cannot be based upon the exploitation of a class of working poor.

Also there are other ways of dealing with inflation. Raising taxation (for those who can afford it) could take the heat out of the economy without depending on the working poor to pay the price. This is a better, fairer way of dealing with inflation. But some inflation is inevitable on account of international factors; and we should share the burden of dealing with this across society and economy.

At the end of the day an even larger correction is justified. That is: to restore labour’s share of the economy, and the grow the social wage and welfare state to support all Australians. This is necessary as some problems are best faced collectively; and also the labour market will never deliver full distributive justice to all workers. All workers deserve support; including those who find it hard to organise; or who face structural constraints to wage increases. Because of the way the Australian economy is now structured all this is no easy task. The process could begin with claims for collective capital share in lieu of greatly increased wage levels. This is a process that could be led by unions; who could target areas that are not overly susceptible to capital flight. Also low-paid workers could be assisted by a rescission of secondary boycott bans where secondary boycotts are taken by well-organised workers in support of workers with little bargaining power; and where such action can be shown to be being taken in good faith.

Albanese has promised action on wages. But even committing to matching inflation does not compensate for falling wages over the course of the last decade and more. Though Labor’s housing policy – which involves the government taking up to 40 per cent equity in families’ houses – will put home ownership within reach for many who may otherwise have felt the situation hopeless. As interest rates increase the price of properties will probably fall – a ‘double edged sword’ that – while perhaps necessary – will leave many Australians looking poorer on paper.

One area where Albanese has been unequivocal has been his support for a 25 per cent rise in the wages of Aged Care workers. This is one of many areas requiring a ‘structural correction’; both to deliver wage justice; and also to improve care, and retain workers in the industry. Given the taxing and skilled nature of the work there should be a minimum wage of at least $30/hour here. This is more than the existing claim.

In the final analysis the economy makes so much wealth; and the question is one of distribution, as well as higher productivity; and industry policy encouraging high wage industries. Increasing the size of the cake is good – but does not solve all problems. At some point we need to confront the question of who gets what share of the cake; and this will require redistribution. Sometimes it’s possible to have ‘win-win’ – but not always. We cannot become a US style economy where workers are disciplined by fear of destitution; and where the living standards of a so-called ‘middle-class’ depend on the exploitation of the working poor.

 

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Short-term relief in Budget; but no long-term plan

If Labor delivered a Budget like we’re seeing portrayed from the Coalition Government in Australia the media would proclaim they were ‘irresponsibly’ ‘spending like drunken sailors’. But when the Conservatives are trying to revive their electoral fortunes the Melbourne Herald-Sun proclaimed “Hip Pocket Rocket” and “Millions Win”. In fact this is a Budget that effectively increases tax over the medium and long-term, however. And much of the much-mooted ‘generosity’ is illusory. More on that later.

Fuel excise will be cut with an anticipated 22c per litre drop in petrol prices. Also, interestingly the Government points to low unemployment; which is largely because of stimulus created by JobKeeper – albeit badly targeted stimulus. Does this mean they’ll admit they’re wrong on contractionary Budgets more broadly? Probably not. Wage subsidies, tax offsets and cash payments figure significantly (for instance a once-off $250 payment for pensioners); but over the longer term this will not properly compensate stagnating wages and depressed pension and JobSeeker payments. Indexation of pensions will continue, but this is merely ‘treading water’. By default pensions increase as a proportion of average wages; which means if inflation continues to grow it may continue to outstrip pension indexation.

Frydenberg believes low unemployment will drive wages. This is possible because there is reduced supply relative to demand. But there are no guarantees: Without strong labour organisation and leadership form Fair Work Australia stagnation could well continue. And wage growth will probably not keep pace with inflation. In any case the Coalition are lukewarm on wages; and are just trying to weaken Labor’s narrative. There will also be a $10 billion investment in the Australian Signals Directorate over 10 years, but there is little in the way of new initiatives in aged care, education or child care for instance (except for some subsidies for initial study in aged care). Previously announced improvements to aged care funding will continue, but this is but a fraction of what was demanded by the Royal Commission.

The Conservatives have had their chance to respond to the Aged Care Royal Commission and are doing not nearly enough. We need to know that Labor will commit the necessary resources to implement quotas – which means more time on washing and dressing, more individual attention with feeding, and more time to interact and get to know residents. Also, Labor needs to put a registered nurse in every home 24/7; improve wages and conditions for all workers (min $30/hour); and implement quality of life and happiness benchmarks that go beyond the basics to deliver happiness and quality of life as much as possible. All residents also need access to pleasant surrounds such as gardens, and more to do than be sat in front of a television in a common room all day. Also prompt at home care for all who have the need and meet requirements with minimal waiting time. And phase out the user pays model by providing for high quality public, and subsidised not-for-profit and community based care. This will require several billion in new funding.

In the Budget there will be over $350 million in subsidies for apprentices and employers will be rewarded with $120 for every $100 spent training their workforce and other incentives for investment in technology.

Encouragingly, pensioners will gain on the medicine front; with the number of scripts necessary before the ‘safety net’ kicks in reduced by twelve. While a relatively small measure this is perhaps the most progressive announcement made by the government here.

Over $800 million will address ‘telecommunications blackspots’; while there will be a $480 public investment in NBN speed and reliability. This is necessary because the NBN was never done properly by the Conservatives in the first place. $600 million will support growth in agriculture, while $3.7 billion will fund faster regional rail. Subsidies will also support regional manufacturing; including the development of export markets.

Schemes will continue which enable 50,000 first home buyers to enter the market with a 5 per cent deposit. But there is little for public, social or affordable housing – which could be crucial in any attempt to make housing more affordable by increasing affordable supply. The government’s policies do not address the fact that increasing interest rates could provide a massive shock to personal and household budgets, sending mortgage repayments skyrocketing. This could lead to another financial crisis and a recession.

Importantly many of the cash payments benefiting low and middle income Australians will be a short-term splurge; designed to win an election. Improvements for low income earners and pensions will not be sustained over the long term. Indeed, while it will be increased for its final year, the low- and middle-income earner tax offset will be phased out in the following year and onwards; hitting low and middle income earners hard over the longer term. Long after the short-term handouts fade into memory this could cost low income earners $700 a year. Somehow most of the mainstream media didn’t see fit to mention this. So in fact this is a ‘smoke and mirrors’ Budget that tries to convince us of its generosity while hitting us hard into the future. It is no accident that low and middle income earners will be hit, while tax cuts for the wealthy will be pushed through.

Overall, this budget provides a boost over the short term, but does little to address cost of living over the longer term; and leaves wages ‘to the market’. Structural improvements are necessary for JobSeeker and pensions. And the tax system needs to be adjusted to benefit low- and middle-income earners relative to high income earners and the wealthy more generally. Means tests could be eased, also, to make it more attractive for disability pensioners to enter the workforce; and more could be done to help those people gain experience to ameliorate gaps in resumés.

Again, the Budget delivers some relief over the short-term but does little long-term about poverty, wages stagnation, and cost of living pressures. Labor needs to do much better on aged care, public and social housing, progressive tax system restructure, structural increases to pensions, and initiatives to get disabled Australians into fulfilling work – with an easing of means tests for fairness. Medicare dental could also feature, and Labor could begin the process of winding back user pays in education by reducing student debts and significantly increasing debt repayment thresholds. Victoria is also significantly short-changed on infrastructure; and the government will have to find money from elsewhere to pay for transport infrastructure, especially roads. Some problems never seem to go away; such as state school class sizes and over-worked teachers. But this seems to have ‘slipped off the radar’ in recent years.

Labor needs a long-term plan, with immediate reforms that are ‘locked in’ and hard to reverse. This Budget will convince some; but over the longer term so many questions remain unanswered.

 

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Albanese needs to ‘Step up to the Plate’ and not avoid debate on Aged Care, Health and Welfare Reform

Labor Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has come under fire from the Conservative Coalition Government for suggesting on the ABC’s ‘Insiders’ program that extra funding may be made available for Aged Care, Health, and perhaps welfare reform. This in a context where billions of subsidies have been provided to businesses due to Covid, and yet many businesses who managed to remain profitable regardless of Covid have simply kept these subsidies provided for them in the form of pure profit. While the Federal Government ruthlessly pursues welfare recipients over any debts incurred (and even some that have turned out to be unreal), corporations enjoy public money without accountability.

The simple fact is that public spending commitments in social services and infrastructure are not necessarily ‘irresponsible’ or ‘wasteful’. Often Government needs to invest in the health and happiness of the people to ensure the best outcomes. What needs to be understood is that social spending is a form of ‘collective consumption’ where we gain a better deal in areas like health by purchasing crucial services more efficiently and collectively as taxpayers, rather than being isolated and fleeced as private consumers. Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are important examples of collective consumption.

Albanese has spoken of the “habitual buck passing” of the Morrison Government on Aged Care. Failure to attract new workers into the field with fair wages and conditions, and respect for workers; and failure to ensure necessary staffing levels including the presence of Registered Nurses – remain sore points even after the Conservatives’ response to the Aged Care Royal Commission. The training, wages and conditions of Personal Care workers who help many elderly remain in the community are also in need of further funding; and packages must be available to all with the need upon demand; and without cruel waiting queues.

The reality also is that Aged Care reform needs to go beyond the bare essentials to address broader quality of life issues; so that in the future Aged Australians with have access to social engagement; and where those in residential care will enjoy privacy, access to information technology, access to gardens and pleasant surrounds. They must not just be locked in their rooms or sat down in front of TVs in common rooms all day. Our vulnerable elderly need social engagement. Everything from discussing their lives to enjoying games, listening to music, or discussing the issues of the day. Dementia training is also essential to ensure the best quality of life to those affected; and those around them. Quality of food also needs to be monitored closely; and without meeting staff quota targets, Aged Care workers will remain rushed in the business of helping to dress and shower residents daily; or may not be able to respond in a timely manner to situations such as where sheets are soiled. The consequences of under-resourcing have been trauma and suffering for vulnerable aged Australians.

Yes, this will cost billions on top of those limited initiatives already announced. But most of us will grow elderly and frail one day; and even if ourselves we do not experience this, surely we will have family who are affected by a neglected Aged Care sector. Rather than backing down, Albanese needs to ‘step up to the plate’ and confidently put the case for progressive collective consumption of Aged Care; and a much better deal for both ‘consumers’ and for workers in the broader Health sector.

There will also be a significant backlog in waiting lists for supposedly ‘elective’ hospital procedures thanks to the pressure Covid has placed the health system under. This was already a crisis; but has been significantly magnified with Covid. Medicare needs to be extended into dental, optical and prosthetics; but the broader health system needs to be expanded to ensure timely care, breadth of coverage and quality of care.

Australian of the Year, tennis star Dylan Alcott has also highlighted the high unemployment levels (over 50 per cent) for disabled Australians. The focus here was mainly on those with physical disability ; but exclusion from the labour market also applies to those with psycho-social disabilities. Exclusion is a vicious circle which needs to be broken. Sometimes it goes on for years. Often it is permanent. Government needs to intervene directly to provide opportunity for all; and employment needs to be made more viable by lessening means tests for Pensioners in the workforce. Also there need to be viable career paths, and not merely ‘dead end jobs’.

Importantly, Labor needs to pitch to ‘average’ workers as well. Labor needs to pitch to the majority to enjoy electoral success; and provision for equity groups alone will not win government. Delivering wage gains and improving the bargaining position of average workers in the labour market is important here. As is a restructuring of the broader tax system: delivering distributive justice outcomes not only for the most vulnerable, but also the majority of workers. Further; improvement of the Aged Pension could act as a ‘bridge’ which enhances the case for reform of other pensions. Labor needs to build a ‘bloc’ based on solidarity and mutual recognition rather than allowing the Coalition to ‘Divide and Rule’ – which so often has been the case.

So come on, Albo, ‘step up to the plate’. A ‘small target’ can take us so far; but as the campaign progresses voters will want a clearer sense of what Labor is going to do. Labor will need to have answers. And it must not ‘back itself into a corner’ where it cannot deliver significantly to its constituents. Early signs suggest some hope.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Rejecting the Cashless Welfare Card a Good Start for Labor; but further cultural change necessary

It is now approaching a decade since Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest was approached by then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to advise on the creation of a ‘cashless welfare card’. While Forrest intended for all income to be ‘quarantined’ for use only in approved areas (like groceries), the Indue card which has emerged in trials set a floor of 80% of income to be with-held, and available for ‘approved purposes’. Aimed largely at Indigenous peoples, and the welfare-dependent more broadly, the ‘Indue’ card follows after the failed ‘Basics card’ of 2007 – which attempted something similar as part of a government ‘Intervention’ into Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. The newer ‘Indue’ cashless welfare card applies to the welfare-dependent more generally in the communities in which it is being trialled. All those affected find themselves in the position of being restricted in what they can spend their money on, including on food and second hand goods. While a relatively small proportion are affected by gambling addiction or alcoholism, the ‘card’ is a source of humiliation and control over the welfare-dependent more generally. Indue, which includes Conservative Coalition party luminaries as shareholders, stands to make a packet from the humiliation and micro-management of the every-day life of already-disadvantaged Australians.

Instead of humiliating marginalised Australians government ought instead be seeking to empower them, perhaps including through the mechanism of a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). Arguments against a GMI include the suggestion it may displace some existing pensions (some of which are less threadbare than others). But if a ‘no disadvantage’ test were applied this need not be a problem. ‘Mutual obligation’ provisions have always been worrisome; as in practice they became a source of effective labour conscription. This might also increase competition for jobs at the ‘lower end’ of the labour market; and in the process reduce the bargaining power of those workers.

A good alternative could be the establishment of a ‘Social Bill of Rights’; which would include rights to nutrition, adequate and dignified shelter, power, comprehensive health care, communications-related empowerment (eg: internet access), transport, education and social inclusion. A ‘Guaranteed Minimum Income’ could then be deployed alongside pensions and other programs intended to make this vision reality.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries the unemployed were driven into ‘Poor Houses’ where they were exploited, humiliated and robbed of their dignity. There is a long history of ‘blaming the poor’ for their own disadvantage. Centuries later some of the same assumptions remain in play beneath the surface. Labor is arguing it will end the long Conservative experiment with the ‘cashless welfare card’. The Coalition has so far not mustered the political courage (or political capital) to implement the program more broadly. But as with ‘WorkChoices’; the old agendas continue to ‘fester’ behind the scenes. The debate needs to be brought into the glare of public scrutiny and buried decisively.

Labor’s opposition to the Indue card is welcome. But Labor needs a broader, stronger vision, including reform of welfare, minimum wages and labour market regulation, industrial rights, and embedded social human rights. Its retreat on the tax debate has regrettably narrowed its options. But a program for change could re-emerge through a determined reform of the social wage and welfare state; which branched in various directions – including a Universal Aged Care Insurance Scheme, as well as improvement of pensions, with rescission of punitive mechanisms. And a bold commitment to build a million new public housing units – as suggested by the Greens. Labor really ought to be coming up with these kind of ideas on its own initiative.

There is a minimum standard of living which must apply to all citizens. This idea of a ‘floor’ beneath which none are allowed to fall is reminiscent of the more progressive variations of the ‘Third Way’ which emerged in the 1990s. But to mobilise as broad a base as possible, and provide distributive justice for all a more robust Social Democratic or Democratic Socialist agenda than Blairism is necessary.

It seems Social Democratic Parties have been on the defensive and on the back foot for decades. And indeed they have been. For some the logic of retreat has been internalised. We need to re-establish a notion of what comprises ‘progress’. That means fairer distribution, industrial rights, social rights, and the re-establishment of a robust mixed economy to help make this vision reality. The Indue ‘cashless welfare card’ is the current ‘Conservative frontier’; where it attempts to reshape public ‘common sense’ on the further rescission of the welfare state, and the re-establishment of a ‘Poor House’ mentality; which ‘gives the whip hand’ to employers through poverty, compulsion and labour conscription.

Labor needs to go back to ‘first principles’ and work out the consequences of that. Which is that being a ‘broad church’, Labor needs to be united behind ‘baseline’ social democratic and democratic socialist values and agendas. Containing inequality and ending poverty ought be non-negotiable; as should the proposal that this must be pursued through industrial rights, labour market regulation, a mixed economy, progressive taxation system, expanded social wages and welfare state provisions, and intervention into the capitalist system (ultimately to end exploitation; but also to ameliorate the impact of its crises upon workers and the vulnerable in the meantime).

The cashless welfare card needs to be defeated and exposed for the punitive mentality it embodies. But we need a progressive movement which is willing to ‘go onto the front foot as well’. A movement which has an idea what ‘progress’ entails, and which rejects a logic of endless retreat; ameliorated only by the ascendance of ‘social liberal’ agendas as applied to gender, sexuality, and so on. And in the context of the marginalisation of social conservatism, and its replacement by an ideology of neo-liberal cosmopolitanism.

A ‘change of direction’ involves accepting class struggle as a progressive phenomenon ; an ‘engine of social progress’. Only when that logic becomes entrenched does progress become undeniable. And while Hawke’s vision of “Reconciliation” appealed to many; bosses soon became tired of ‘co-determination’ with unions once they had extracted crucial concessions. And once organised labour lost its bargaining position.

‘Reformists’ and Revolutionaries were once agreed on the progressive nature of class struggle. Within Labor factions and amongst others we need, also, to combine behind such a shared notion. Bringing together Labor members behind the idea of a progressive class struggle is crucial; an idea that we are all broadly in the same fight. Reinforced by daily experience everywhere from Party branches to unions, and from student politics to the social movements. There is a fight for the heart and soul of the ALP, and the heart and soul of Australia. There is no place for a punitive cashless welfare card in a progressive Australia. May solidarity in the name of renewed class struggle relegate it to history.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Labor Retreats on the Principle of Progressive Taxation

Last month Anthony Albanese announced that not only was Labor backing away from contentious reform of Negative Gearing and Capital Gains tax; it was also prepared to back income tax cuts for the wealthy; such that Australia will drift towards a flat and regressive tax regime with Labor’s implicit consent. As Greg Jericho writes for The Guardian, Labor is supporting the entrenchment of a tax regime which will see those on below median and below average wages effectively paying the same rates of tax as income earners between $120,000 and $200,000.

Rob Harris – writing for the Sydney Morning Herald – explains that these tax ‘reforms’ will cost the Budget “an estimated $137 billion” over their first six years. Specifically, the 37 per cent tax rate will be abolished and a 30 per cent rate will apply to all income between $45,000 and $200,000. This will occur at a time where ordinary Australian workers will need to service the massive debt induced because of Covid wage subsidies and other subsidies for business. Those subsidies were (and at the time of writing still are) necessary; but the debt should not be serviced in a regressive fashion which affects those least able to pay. And because those on lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their incomes, policies which impact negatively upon them will be ‘bad for the economy’ as well.

Yes, there is a very small minority of wage labourers and others earning over $100,000 a year. Maybe ten per cent. But because of their relative privilege parts of this ‘labour aristocracy’ can be inclined to support economically liberal distributive taxation policies which minimise redistribution. The vast majority of wage labourers and vulnerable Australians will not benefit from this policy. In fact, the scope will be also reduced for improvement of social security and the social wage. Labor will be restricted in its capacity to deliver reform of Social Security, Medicare, the NDIS, public and social housing, Aged Care. In the field of social security, easing means testing of recipients with partners could also remove a perverse incentive for disabled Australians to shun relationships because ‘they cannot afford not to be alone.’ Reform of the Jobseeker Allowance (previously ‘Newstart’) is also long overdue and widely accepted.

With Aged Care, Labor is committed to staff ratios; but to provide this without regressive user pays mechanisms the funding needs to come from somewhere else. Either reform will be funded progressively or regressively; or otherwise (even after the Aged Care Royal Commission) it will not happen at all. After the Royal Commission findings, which identified gross structural neglect of Aged Australians receiving care; this would be a damning indictment of the major political parties in Australia who failed to mobilise public opinion around reform even after the shortcomings of the system were laid bare for all to see. It is not too late to embrace a progressively structured ‘National Aged Care Insurance Levy’ to fund reform of Aged Care in this country.

True, Labor is also intending to reform labour market regulation; but that in itself will not make up for the distributive consequences of this policy. It will be a case of ‘one step forwards, two steps back’ for Labor where nothing can make up for capitulation on the principles of progressive taxation and redistribution in the most basic sense. Nonetheless if reform of labour market regulation is strong enough it could still make a difference. Specifically minimum wage rates need to increase significantly; as well as Award rates for struggling workers – many of whom work in feminised professions such as Aged Care. Teachers – many of whom also already work unacceptable levels of unpaid overtime – could also do with improved wages and conditions; and this is essential to attract and maintain the most capable practitioners in the system.

Talk of ‘aspiration’ clouds the fact that Labor’s new tax policy will favour the top ten per cent at the expense of everyone else. There was a time when radicals would have seen talk of ‘aspiration’ as a kind of ‘false consciousness.’ But today Labor is so afraid of the ‘class warfare’ label that it shuns policies that impact even modestly on the top 10 per cent and in favour of everyone else. Yet ‘flat taxation’ itself is in fact a kind of ‘class warfare’ against the vast majority of working people.

The fact is that in the last election Labor had strong but reasonable tax policies; but failed to sell and explain those measures at crucial conjunctures. Chris Bowen said those who didn’t like Labor’s tax policies shouldn’t vote Labor. And when many voters failed to grasp Labor’s policies that is exactly what they did. Furthermore, in the final days of the election campaign – with Bob Hawke’s death – Bill Shorten came across as flat, unconvincing and unemotional. Despite his commendable work on the NDIS; and the credit for embracing progressive tax policies in the first place – this fact remains.

Conclusions to the effect ‘it is impossible to sell tax reform’ neglect the fact that Labor failed tactically in mobilising public opinion. Some Labor figures are reacting defensively to criticisms from the Greens to the effect that Labor is supporting a drift towards flat taxation. But while the Greens can afford to be more radical because they depend on a narrower electoral base, that does not change the fact that Labor is capitulating on the most basic social democratic principles. It does not change the fact that we are failing to sell policies that are objectively in the interests of the majority of Australians.

Again: where a bipartisan consensus on radically regressive tax restructure is conceded, even where Labor does win with such a Platform it is probably a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back.’ Progressives have to actually deliver progress if they are to be seen as credible. At the moment the best hope now is a National Aged Care Insurance Levy, and strong labour market reform. Here’s hoping Labor ‘finds its way’ between now and the election.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.

You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969

Donate Button

Disability Pensions in Australia: Where entering into a Relationship can be a Poverty Sentence

It is generally quite difficult to obtain a Disability Support Pension (DSP) in Australia. There are job capacity and impairment tests; and many who are significantly impaired miss out. But there is another problem that has been neglected in most debates: Pensioners generally are assessed differently if they have a partner. The consequence of this is that there is a perverse incentive for pensioners not to enter into a relationship or marry. With the DSP there can be a loss of income of around $200 a fortnight as a consequence of entering a relationship or getting married. If the partner has a high income that is one thing, but many such couples could both be on low incomes or welfare. Also, even if a person’s partner has a higher income, there is a problem with reinforcing dependence: with inhibiting the independence of Disability and other Pensioners. When combined with other government measures: such as running a trial of the Indue Cashless Debit Card, or attempting to claw back money from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it is clear we have a government which is trying to implement austerity aimed at the most vulnerable.

The bottom line is that these arrangements condemn hundreds of thousands of disabled Australians to probable isolation and loneliness; where they must fear the financial consequences of having relationships.

At the same time, Medicare is under attack. Labor MP in Bendigo, Victoria, Lisa Chesters has observed how recent cuts to Medicare will “radically alter the cost of hundreds of orthopaedic, cardiac and general surgery items.” As Chesters explained: “Patients now face the prospect of life-changing surgeries being cancelled at the last minute or being landed with huge bills they didn’t expect.” And yet these matters have received very little attention in the mainstream media.

We need a Labor Opposition which defends Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). But we also need a Labor opposition which goes beyond the strictly defensive; and comes up with innovative and ground-breaking measures to extend the social wage and welfare state; along with legislated wage increases for those on low incomes.

This would inevitably involve tax reform. Ideally Labor should be aiming to reform progressive tax to the tune of 5% of GDP over 10 years, or at least three terms of Federal Government. This would bring us closer to OECD average levels of tax and social expenditure. Rolling back unfair means testing of pensions – including Disability Pensions – would empower hundreds of thousands of women and men with greater independence; and if we are concerned about equity we need to reform tax in other areas for people with higher incomes. It would also empower those people to enter into relationships without fear of destitution. Eligibility tests should also be relaxed so those incapable of full time work are not threatened with exclusion.

The ‘LIFE’ (Living Incomes for Everyone) campaign is demanding a minimum $550 a week for all. This would mean a great deal for job-seekers living in poverty, especially if combined with other measures like investment in public housing. Effectively it would mean a guaranteed minimum income (GMI). Disability pensions specifically should increase further – by at least $150/fortnight in any case – rising to about $1100/fortnight.

No-one should be in the position of having to say they ‘cannot afford to enter into a relationship’. The NDIS, despite its faults, was a big step forward for disabled Australians. Instead of panicking over the cost we need to accept that providing services for these people meets what is perhaps the most defensible socialist principle: that each should contribute what they can, and receive what they need. This principle needs to become a society-wide ‘common sense’ so that they are accepted even by many Conservatives; as for instance occurred with the issue of Marriage Equality for those in the LGBTIQA communities. But ironically there is no real ‘marriage equality’ for all if some need fear being thrown into poverty should they enter a relationship.

Progressives need to agitate to make this a real issue in the upcoming Federal Election. The advocacy of Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten was crucial for the initial implementation of the NDIS. The NDIS is not perfect, but is a vast improvement on the vacuum that existed beforehand. Now we need additional policy champions within the ALP agitating to take the reform process further. The Labor Aged-Care and Welfare Movement (LAWM) has adopted this as one of its objectives. But we need more avowed Labor members to join our ALP Socialist Left Forum Facebook group; and to advocate for change. Much as has happened with Rainbow Labor, Emily’s List, Labor for Refugees, and LEAN (Labor Environmental Action Network). Currently LAWM exists at the level of Facebook; but over the long term we want to achieve much more. If you’re a Labor member and haven’t joined LAWM yet, please do so. And for Bill Shorten, Julia Gillard and others: Please take up this cause and make it an issue for the upcoming Federal Election.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

Government does not go far enough on Aged Care reform, while Labor is too-light on the details

The recent Budget announcements are a mixed bag for Aged Care. They represent a step in the right direction; but much is still left to be done. Specifically, the Budget outlines an extra $17.7 billion over five years in new funding; but with an upwards trajectory. This is intended to provide an additional 80,000 home care packages over two years, while increasing the Basic Daily Fee by $10 a day. This will provide for things such as better food. And average staffing levels will increase, with 200 minutes of personal attention allowed for, and with 40 minutes of this with a registered nurse. By comparison, the Royal Commission concluded that residents require at least 215 minutes of personalised care a day (including 44 minutes with a registered nurse). And while the Budget initiatives will see an increase in the numbers of Aged Care workers attaining a Certificate III qualification, they have stopped short of mandating this as a minimum standard.

The Conversation concludes that while the changes, including a new Aged Care act in 2023, are significant, they stop short of the ‘needs based’ model demanded by the Royal Commission. We still need minimum staffing ratios. Mandated personal time with staff needs to go further. To attract and keep the best workers we need significantly better wages and conditions for all staff. A landmark improvement in wages of at least 20 per cent, and end casualisation for those who prefer part-time or full-time work. This is also a matter of fairness in relation to the demanding nature of the work. We require more workers with a Certificate IV minimum. We need as many workers as possible with a Certificate IV, and none with less than a Certificate III. What’s more we want better standards without falling back on user pays to provide for this. In Paul Keating’s words, we don’t want people to have to ‘eat their house’ and die broke. This also requires an improvement in the Aged Pension, with an easing of means tests. And we need to provide for a waiting list of around 100,000 for at home care. We also need stringent regulation to ensure new funding goes entirely towards staff, infrastructure and services, and not profit margins.

There’s also the problem of Aged Care homes being ‘warehouses for old people’. People are just sat down in a common room in front of a television all day. Tied funding needs to be provided for facilitated interaction; outings for those interested and capable; visits, gardens and access to a variety of books and information technology; as well as interesting and engaging activities. Once everything is accounted for, we’re looking at something more like a minimum of $10 billion new funding every year indexed to account for rising costs and inflation. This is necessary just to make up for the money withdrawn from the system in the form of ‘efficiency dividends’ over the past 20 years. The public sector also needs to take more responsibility, with more public investment in aged care facilities. For profit aged care does not have the interests of residents at heart, and even not-for-profits can be prone to diverting funds for expansion.

But by comparison Labor has made little in the way of monetary commitments in its Budget Reply. Nonetheless it’s true, Albanese has hinted at ratios. He argued that; “a Labor Government will deliver that care by ensuring that every dollar spent in aged care goes to employing a guaranteed minimum level of nurses, assistants and carers and to daily needs like decent food – rather than into the pockets of the more unscrupulous providers.” This includes a registered nurse on site 24/7. And a commitment to levels of personalised care recommended by the Royal Commission. He backs the Royal Commission findings; though he does not commit in areas where there was disagreement, such as funding. Albanese also mentions issues like the wages and conditions of staff, which the Liberals did not even touch upon. The bottom line is that while Labor is saying some good things, it needs to commit on funding. And that funding mechanism should be as progressive as possible. For a start, tax cuts for the well-off need to be stopped or reversed. It needs to provide at least twice the monetary commitment made by the Conservative Government in Aged Care; or at least an additional $10 billion a year. And that funding needs to kick in as a matter of urgency, as soon as possible.

Albanese is also highlighting Labor’s ambitious childcare policy, as well as its high-tech industry policy, an emphasis on wages, and a big commitment to social housing – with 20,000 new social housing dwellings, including 4,000 places for women and families escaping domestic violence. There is no explanation how wages will be driven upwards however, or why social housing is thought preferable to public housing. After all, public housing would ultimately be more affordable for recipients. If the Fair Work Commission will not lift Aged Care workers’ wages significantly enough Labor needs to intervene more directly. And the NDIS needs support so recipients are not adversely affected by cost-cutting.

As the Federal election approaches, the issue of revenue and funding will become unavoidable. A ‘small target’ will not suffice when people are demanding details. An Aged Care Levy could be progressively structured and would probably be relatively popular if linked directly with Aged Care funding. The Coalition has been driven by the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission to go further than it is probably comfortable with. But Labor needs to go further still if it is to address the findings of that Commission, and clearly distinguish a superior policy from that of the Coalition.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button