The current economic crisis comes after 14 years of boom conditions, which delivered a profits bonanza to the bosses. Workers' share of the national income has declined from 60% in 1978 to 51% today. At the same time, the cost of living has risen significantly.
The bosses are using the global economic crisis as a cover to slash jobs. As the Australian economy heads towards recession, unemployment is rising. Roy Morgan group has predicted the official unemployment figure may rise to 9% by the end by 2010; the real level of joblessness will be far greater.
Even though companies like Pacific Brands have received millions of dollars in government subsidies over the years, they are retrenching workers and devastating entire communities, not because they are on the brink of collapse but because their profit margins are down.
While Pacific Brands cries poor, its CEO's pay packet was raised to $1.89 million, which includes "incentive payments" — a reward for her success in axing jobs.
Billions of dollars of taxpayers' money have been allocated to stimulate the economy. Most of this money has been handouts to big business without any guarantees to retain jobs. Workers are being pressured to accept wage cuts and shorter working hours to help employers retain their profits.
In rural and regional Australia, the pressure is especially acute for workers in vulnerable industries.
Fundamentally, the federal government's $42 billion stimulus package is designed to protect private profits, not create jobs.
Who is to blame and who should pay?
Employers will attempt to force working people to bear the burden of the crisis by threatening workers with unemployment or calling for wage restraint.
They argue that wages must be lowered during the downturn or else workers will price themselves out of the market. But there is no evidence that wage increases automatically lead to job losses or that a low minimum wage will reduce unemployment.
In the face of the global economic crisis, the Australian Council of Trade Union's (ACTU) response has been one of retreat. The ACTU effectively tails the Rudd government's pro-business agenda by accepting its calls for wage restraint.
Unions must not accept bosses' claims of financial hardship at face value. We need to demand that companies open their books to workers' scrutiny.
Unions should demand that the government take over firms that threaten to go offshore for cheaper labour (like Pacific Brands) and run them in the interests of the community instead.
Unions should demand that the government nationalise companies that fail and reorganise them for socially useful production on an environmentally sustainable basis.
Unions should demand a shorter working week without loss in pay, to help boost employment.
Unions need to engage in protests and industrial action, mobilising their members to fight to keep jobs, decent wages and conditions.
It is especially important that unions vigorously oppose PM Kevin Rudd's anti-worker, anti-union "Fair Work Bill" and the Australian Building and Construction Commission which seriously impede the ability of workers to fight back against employer attacks.
Above all, unions must demand that the public sector be massively expanded. Only this can create permanent, secure, well-paid jobs on the scale we need. This is the only kind of "stimulus package" working people should fight for.
Public transport networks could be massively expanded to cope with sharply growing demand.
By training thousands more teachers, class sizes could be drastically reduced and the quality of education radically improved.
Our public health system needs a massive injection of funds. Public housing likewise needs a huge shot in the arm to tackle homelessness and to put an end to the criminally overpriced housing and rental market.
By restructuring our economy to radically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions large numbers of new, green jobs can be created.
Tax the rich
The resources for building a better life for all do exist.
In the past, whenever it has been a question of improving pensions, grappling with climate change, providing free quality health care for all, or expanding public housing, the cry has always been that we can't afford it.
But when it's a question of saving the hides of Australia's richest, suddenly money is no problem at all. Billions have been thrown to those whose insatiable greed has caused this crisis.
The plan of the ruling elite is to make the working class pay for the crisis through savage cuts to our standard of living. The Socialist Alliance says: make the employers and the rich pay.
For too long the big end of town has gotten away with paying minimal taxes on its mega-profits. The current business tax rate is a paltry 30%. Restoring it to, say, its original pre-Keating government level of 49% would be a good start in freeing up the resources for the necessary large-scale, job-creating investments in public infrastructure.
The tax system favours the well-off through very low tax rates, negative gearing and other concessions. The personal tax scale should be made sharply progressive.
The highly regressive GST, the burden of which falls disproportionately on workers and the poor, should be abolished.