BY GRAHAM MATTHEWS & CHRIS SLEE
MELBOURNE Growing up in this area, I understand that working families are doing it tough. Too many people are worried about losing their jobs or about getting by with casual work, said Josephine Cox of the federal electorate of Aston in Melbourne's outer-eastern suburbs, the seat she will contest for the Socialist Alliance in a July 14 by-election.
The by-election is the first electoral test for the newly formed Socialist Alliance, founded in February by nine different socialist groups.
Centring on the suburb of Knox, Aston was a marginal Liberal seat at the last federal election but encompasses a considerable industrial belt, much of which is threatened by closures. The by-election is necessitated by the death of the sitting member, Peter Nugent.
Josephine Cox, a part-time student at La Trobe University and a member of the International Socialist Organisation, was unanimously preselected at a May 21 meeting of the alliance.
Cox, who lives just outside the boundaries of Aston, has first-hand experience of the problems faced by the people living in Melbourne's outer-eastern suburbs.
The main issues in the area, says Cox, are unemployment, casualisation, lack of public transport and the Scorseby Freeway.
She said she will campaign for the eastern tram line to be extended to Knox City, for more extensive bus services in the area and for the scrapping of the Scoresby Freeway, which is set to cost taxpayers $1 billion.
Cox also pledged support for public education, sorely neglected under the Howard government at the expense of the private school system.
The Socialist Alliance is further calling for the nationalisation of the Arnotts factory situated in Burwood, just outside the boundaries of the electorate. We need a shorter working week to share the work. The Socialist Alliance is calling for the nationalisation of the Arnotts biscuit factory to save 600 jobs, Cox explained.
Josephine Cox was a member of the ALP for five years. I left because the Labor Party was too right-wing, she explains. They were in office [federally] for all those years and they didn't do anything for working people.
People all over Australia are sick of economic rationalism, Cox argued. This by-election gives people a further chance to put the boot into Howard, but Labor is no alternative. All it has to offer is vague promises about rollback of the GST.
The Socialist Alliance campaign for Aston will also focus on the impact of the GST, including a rally against the tax outside Liberal Party campaign headquarters in Knox City on June 30 at 11am. Socialist Alliance will be the only party contesting the by-election to unequivocally call for the abolition of the GST.
While acknowledging that the Australian Greens were also fielding a candidate in Aston, Cox argued that they have failed to offer a strong enough alternative to the major parties.
The program of the Greens does not go far enough, Cox said. They don't prioritise involving people in politics at the grass roots.
Cox pledged to lend full support for the grassroots campaigns of the electorate from parliament, if elected. She also challenged other alternative candidates to reject the perks of parliamentary office and agree to take only a worker's wage.
The Socialist Alliance campaign for Aston will emphasise grassroots campaigning at shopping centres, as well as letterboxing of material throughout the electorate. Already Socialist Alliance has organised numerous Saturday morning campaign stalls across the electorate since May 19.
The alliance intends to staff all polling booths throughout the day of the by-election.
The Socialist Alliance is already drawing some backing in the electorate, with some pledges of support from workers living in the electorate already received. Socialists, environmentalists and progressive-minded people are encouraged to become involved with the Aston campaign. The Socialist Alliance Aston campaign committee meets each Saturday after campaigning.
This is an important beginning for Socialist Alliance, Cox said, that people know there is something else.
In an associated development, representatives of the Socialist Alliance have met with the Victorian state council of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union to explain their policies and aims. The State Council congratulated the Alliance on its formation.
The AMWU has indicated that it will be campaigning in the Aston by-election, where many of its members have lost their jobs. The union will be pressuring candidates in the by-election on their job creation stance and their attitude to workers' rights, individual contracts and a range of social questions.
A round of shop stewards meetings will be the Socialist Alliance's next opportunity to put its message to manufacturing workers.
To help in the campaign or for more information, please contact Socialist Alliance Melbourne at 9639 8622, 9388 0062 or 9386 4815. Email <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Visit the web site at <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.