Socialist councillor says people must push for change

November 16, 2012
Sue Bolton speaking at a rally for refugee rights in September. Photo by Aneleh Bulle.

In last month’s Victorian local council elections, the Socialist Alliance’s Sue Bolton was elected to Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s north. Green Left Weekly’sSusan Price asked Bolton about her immediate plans for the council and what sets her apart from other councillors.

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We are going to organise a meeting in Moreland of members of Socialist Alliance, plus other people who supported the campaign or support the victory that we’ve had, to work out a plan of action.

The meeting will work out the campaigns we want to initiate or want to be involved in supporting. We’ll work out a priority list of issues that we want to raise at council.

That’s going to be a very important meeting because the reality is that the only way in which this position, as a socialist on council, is going to be used in a productive way is if we have a very active approach.

We can only win on issues when we have strong community campaigns. So I see my role on council as someone who helps build existing campaigns, but also to help instigate campaigns, which may be defensive campaigns (such as to stop attempts to close down services) or may be campaigns to win new things in the local area.

That’s very important because in politics, whether it’s at a local council level, or the state or federal level, there are all sorts of forces lined up against any form of progressive politics or progressive change.

Even if, for instance, the majority of councillors agreed with us on a particular issue, then you still have all sorts of business interests behind the scenes trying to manipulate the situation.

At a local council level, that’s often developers who want to get their hands on big projects: those tend to be the capitalist interests that operate behind the scenes at a local government level. It’s usually different sorts of businesses at a state and federal level, such as mining companies, banks and other, much bigger, capitalists.

But at a local level it’s usually developers because local councils deal with most development decisions.

Those companies will do whatever they can to try to win public opinion in the area and poo-poo residents calls for certain actions.

Usually, when there are any limits put on developments, developers talk about how it’s all just red tape, green tape and bureaucracy. Whereas the fact is that residents want to have some sort of control, some sort of say over how urban developments are carried out.

So we will need to build active campaigns. And it is through such campaigns that people begin to get a feel for how politics works. Some of those people who get involved in those campaigns may not be all that political. They may not know anything about socialism.

But it is usually when people get involved in one of those issues they start to understand how society operates and start to realise that it is only through community action that you really achieve change.

It is not feasible for one councillor, or even several councillors, to simply put forward progressive proposals on behalf of the local community. We have to go out to the community and the community has to organise for what it wants.

In some ways — even though it may seem very far removed from what we are talking about — I see this as somewhat parallel to the process that is happening in Venezuela.

There you’ve got the state bureaucracy that has tried to block progressive reforms by the Chavez government, and so the only way the government has been able to advance has been to say to the people: “If you want this, we have to go out and organise parallel structures.”

In a sense, that’s what we have to do here, whether it be socialists in a local council, or in state or federal government. That’s the kind of thing we’d have to do if we had a majority on council.

Our view is that socialism can come about only by people taking the reins themselves. We need people self-organising, and the more self-organising that happens the better.

The challenge is up to us now — Socialist Alliance members and supporters — to try to put this into practice.

Click here for details of the Moreland socialists meeting.

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