Single parents' campaign show why welfare is a right

February 8, 2013
Single parents welfare protest, Perth, February 5. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Important rallies were held across the country in defence of the single parent payment on February 5. After having the welfare safety net in Australia for some time, it seems insane there is a need to protest to protect such rights.

But protests like these made welfare a reality in the first place. These protests are defending an unprecedented attack, it's a return to the action that made social welfare possible.

To do so, it is important to understand the reason that welfare is under attack in the first place.

The government's justifications for these cuts are completely phony. Since the 1970s, Australians have enjoyed an extensive welfare state, and there has been a period of almost constant economic growth in Australia.

The big mining companies and the big banks continue to turn out bigger and bigger profits, year after year, and the economy is more efficient than it has ever been. While the government was paving the streets with gold for some, the public were being told that there isn’t enough to go around. So single mothers have to be kicked to the gutter.

In the name of “balancing the budget”, cuts to the parenting payment, health and education systems have to be accepted. Australians are told that there’s a budget shortfall, and everyone has to tighten their belts.

This is a lie.

Big banks make billions on the backs of mortgage holders, who are mostly average workers. The mining giants exploit the country's mineral wealth, a public resource that should be used to benefit the whole of society.

Throughout this, successive Labor and Liberal governments have raced each other to cut the corporate tax rate, to “increase the competitiveness” of the super-corporations already making billions.

Profit is made on the back of society and society's resources, but no one is suggesting these corporations and businesses need to pay their share.

Instead, welfare cuts are directed primarily at those who are already poor.

If the budget doesn’t add up, it is because the government refuses to take what rightfully belongs to the people and adequately tax the corporations that live off society. To avoid encroaching onto the profit margins of multibillion-dollar corporations, which have huge influence over government power, the government instead kicks those with very little or no power. In this case, it has targeted single parents, many of who are low-income women.

It's a case of taking food out of the hands of children of the poor to feed to companies of the rich.

To stop, and eventually reverse, this trend, people in Australia need to return to the actions that made welfare possible – protest.

The welfare rights that are enjoyed today were never just handed down from enlightened politicians in parliament. During the Great Depression, the unemployed workers movement fought for, and won the dole. In response to the recession of the early 80s there were protests by unions and unemployed workers, including an occupation of the invite-only Melbourne Club in 1982.

Politicians are as grubby now as they have ever been. Then, it was necessary for people to fight to win their rights. Now, they must fight to defend them.

Socialist Alliance member Liah Lazarou, who addressed the Adelaide rally for single mothers, said: “The reality is that having a weak welfare system helps the ruling class further exploit and denigrate people. Welfare has not always been a given, it was fought and won for through struggle by the poor and working class so no one would have to experience extreme poverty.

“And I say this shameful policy deserves the same fight. Collective struggle has won us our rights, they have never been given to us and mobilising together gives us the only chance to force this policy to be scrapped. We will not accept this.

“I urge everyone here to keep coming out onto the streets and to help build a movement around collective struggle, because these issues affect us all. When our rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

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