How a socialist councillor can make a difference

Sue Bolton speaking at a refugee rights rally in September.
Friday, November 2, 2012

Since being elected to the Moreland council in Melbourne, I have been asked by several people whether I can make a difference since I will have only one vote on council.

My reply is that socialists on local council or in federal or state parliaments can achieve change only if they use the position to build and support local community and broader campaigns for people’s rights.

At the end of the day, an elected socialist won’t achieve much if they just rely on negotiations with other councillors or politicians.

Even if socialists had a majority on council or in state or federal parliament, they couldn’t make progressive change just by relying on the processes of council or parliament.

This is because the large capitalists and business interests will fight to prevent socialists implementing any progressive agenda.

The only way that a progressive agenda can be won, regardless of whether socialists are in a minority or a majority position is if the community organises to fight for progressive change.

The challenge for me and for the Socialist Alliance is to use this position to support community campaigns against attacks, and also to initiate campaigns to improve the lives of working-class people.

In the north-east ward of Moreland, there has been the example of a very successful campaign to improve conditions — the High School for Coburg campaign.

After the Jeff Kennett Liberal Victorian government shut down all the local high schools in the mid-90s, Coburg was left without a high school. This meant local kids made friends at primary school, but those friendship groups broke up when they had to leave the area to go to high school.

After several years of campaigning, the High School for Coburg campaign scored a victory when the state government caved in and agreed this year to re-establish a high school in Coburg.

This successful campaign needs to be replicated many times over.

It is important for the socialist movement to be involved in this sort of local campaigning around working-class issues.

At the moment in Australia, the socialist movement is mostly involved in campaigning around moral issues such as refugee rights, equal marriage rights and Aboriginal rights.

These are all important, but unless the left also campaigns for improving basic living conditions for working-class people, it is easier for the Labor and Liberal parties to divert attention from their poor records and blame refugees, for example, for people’s economic woes.

The Socialist Alliance is determined to try to build an activist, campaigning council in Moreland. Shortly, we will call a meeting of Moreland residents who want to take part in this project.

[The details will be published in Green Left Weekly. If you would like to take part in this project, contact the Socialist Alliance on (03) 9639 8622 or email, or Sue Bolton on 0413 377 978 or]