If a casual observer glanced at the results for the mayoral elections in Geelong, they could be forgiven for thinking that they were a victory for apolitical and conservative politics.
The winner, Keith Fagg, comes from a local business family whose name is as close as you could get to landed gentry in Geelong. The next highest pollster’s claim to fame was that she, Stephanie Asher, had worked for BHP Billiton.
All of this in a working class town.
You might continue believing that it was all a tragic shift to the right, until you analysed the vote I got — 10,288 votes. Yes, that is only about 8.1% of the vote. But when was the last time a socialist got more than 10,000 people voting for them at any level of government in recent years?
And there’s the rub. In this election there were no Green or Labor left candidates. In fact I was the only clearly progressive candidate, whose politics were put up front.
I was the only candidate who said that I was against corporate greed. As an openly socialist candidate, I said Geelong had to become more liveable in terms of public transport, sustainable housing and the development of alternative industries that create “green collar” jobs for workers sacked from local manufacturing industries. I even called for Geelong to become a refugee welcoming city, taking a stand against racism, and to support our local TAFE against cuts to education and training.
All of these ideas, if you believe the mainstream media, are unpopular and potentially unAustralian. Yet more than 10,000 people in a regional city in Australia didn’t think so.
So why did construction workers and metal workers, a middle class woman shopping in town and a young woman who works for a charity say they voted for a middle aged, socialist, health and safety teacher?
Many said it was because I would only take the wage of an average worker rather than the CEO style wages of $183,000 that were on offer. Others liked the pro-worker policies, the anti-big business policies or the proposals for environmental sustainability. Several even cheered when I acknowledged the traditional owners of the land, the Wathaurong, because nobody else remembered to previously during the campaign.
But what became overwhelmingly clear was that many of those 10,000 people just wanted something different. They didn’t want to hear any more hypocritical lies about putting the community first, while actually favouring development that destroys our town and our quality of life. They didn’t want some hogwash about caring for our future, while really supporting policies that cut services, jobs and wages. And they were sick and tired of promises about moving forward, seeking new opportunities or taking innovative approaches when the fact is that many people in this community have no work, can’t pay their rates or have been lied to for so long that my straightforward, unadulterated socialist policies sounded like a breath of fresh air.
I think this does show that the mood is changing out there. That working class people are stirring, they want to hear fighting words and challenge the Lib/Lab consensus that always seems to favour big business and exploitation.
Well maybe you’re thinking — she’s dreaming — it was only 8.1% of the vote and the conservatives got an awful lot of votes. But consider this: Socialist Alliance won twice the number of votes that the candidate for the Chamber of Commerce received, and Fagg’s promise to halve the mayoral wage happened only after I challenged him to cut the wage. Surely that counts for something.