Looking beyond the election

August 14, 2010
Perth launch of Socialist Alliance 2010 federal election campaign. Photo: Andy Parnell.

Whichever major party wins the August 21 elections, the real job of fighting for progressive change will remain.

Not just because Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition have made this election campaign an ugly race to the right, but also because real change never comes simply through a vote.

Even an election that registered real victory, such as the defeat of the hated John Howard Coalition government in November 2007, came on the back of sustained political action by millions of ordinary people focused primarily around the campaign against Work Choices.

That powerful popular mobilisation should not be forgotten. Opposition leader Tony Abbott's effort to assure us Work Choices is “dead, buried and cremated” is a sharp reminder he understands the potential power of the working class.

But it also should not be forgotten because it will be necessary to mobilise that power again after the elections is over — no matter which major party wins government.

Real change is an urgent necessity. The clock is ticking on climate change.

The gross inequalities and insane diversion of social resources imposed by three decades of bi-partisan neoliberalism are clearly unsustainable. This was exposed so starkly by the still-unresolved global financial crisis.

Real change can only come about through huge social movements independent of the political parties that serve the powerful elite.

The Socialist Alliance is an organisation committed to real change. It does not stop campaigning after an election. Our members are back out in the streets campaigning while the major parties' focus shifts to dividing the spoils of parliamentary office.

Our candidates, running for seats and the Senate across the country, reflect this emphasis. Our candidates include Indigenous movement leaders, youth activists, climate change and anti-war, queer rights and refugee campaigners, and veteran trade union activists. (See here for the full list.)

In an election stained by racist scapegoating, refugee and Sudanese community leader Soubhi Iskander is standing for SA.

This is a team of political activists and community leaders, not professional politicians. They are people who build movements that make real change, not people who are seeking a comfortable seat in parliament.

However, the election outcome will impact significantly on the progress of the non-parliamentary movements.

There will clearly be an impact on the morale of these movements. If the Coalition wins, a shock wave of demoralisation could sweep the trade union and other social movements.

The conservative voices in the trade union movement that have urged rank-and-file unionists to go soft on the ALP government may become more insistent, even though there is now even less room for the ALP to shift to right.

But on the positive side, a progressive break from the major parties would also have its impact on the social movements.

The Greens look set to win more positions in the Senate. It is critical that those positions are used to strengthen and encourage independent, progressive social movements.

Right through the campaign against Work Choices under the former government, the still strong domination of the trade union movement by the ALP exerted a conservative drag on the struggle.

But this election consolidates the political break by a minority of militant trade unions from the ALP. Any replay of a mass political struggle after these elections will be stronger for it.

This dynamic connection between movement and party political struggle informs the Socialist Alliance's determination to play as active a role as it can in both spheres of political action.

Our approach to politics is broad and non-sectarian. We stand for a unification of the broadest possible forces willing to fight for progressive change. We stand for putting what we agree on ahead of what we disagree on.

Finally, we conceive the sort of political formation that is objectively needed: a strong, democratic, parliamentary and movement-based alliance. In this, the Greens can play a key role.

This goal remains an aspiration. But it is needed if real change is going to be won.

[Peter Boyle is the Socialist Alliance national convener.]

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