Twelve months ago socialists from several different groups and backgrounds came together to see if they could get the first socialist elected to an Australian parliament in more 70 years.
At the time of writing, it looks like this project, Victorian Socialists, has been thwarted in its attempt to win a seat at the November 24 state elections by an undemocratic Legislative Council group ticketing process and the unprincipled preference deals that the system encourages.
Victorian Socialists candidate Steve Jolly came fourth in the Northern Metropolitan Region, with more than 4% of the vote. Under a fairer system, he would have been elected.
However, what we collectively achieved was impressive and its effects will be long lasting.
More than 1000 people joined the campaign. Some 92,000 doors were knocked on, leading to tens of thousands of conversations about socialist ideas and why we need politicians who fight for the rights of working class people.
About 750 people handed out How-to-votes on election day.
Jolly told those crammed into the Yarra Hotel on election night: “The reason that people voted for us is because of what we stood for…
“It’s unbelievable the types of people who supported us in this campaign … This is not going to go away.
“This has been a brilliant movement and we’re going to build on it.”
Meanwhile, in Geelong, another Victorian Socialists election night party was held for the Western Victorian Region campaign, where Tim Gooden was the lead candidate for the Legislative Council.
Supporters crammed into the Maritime Union of Australia offices, exhausted but elated at the thought that we had just pulled off something special.
More than 100 people handed out How-to-votes throughout the region on election day, following two weeks of pre-polling.
I was involved with the Geelong campaign in the Western Victorian Region, where active trade unionists ran for the Victorian Socialists in every Legislative Assembly seat.
Victorian Trades Hall Council encouraged us and helped with campaign advertising, as they wanted to maximise the vote for Gooden.
In Lowan, a far western electorate on the border with South Australia, we ran Trevor Grenfell, probably the first socialist to ever run in the largely hostile National Party area. Grenfell received more than 1% of the vote and local papers such as Wimmera Mail Times gave him and the campaign some good coverage.
Across every electorate in the Western Victoria Region, a new bunch of voters and activists got in touch to offer support to the Victorian Socialists, asking for campaign material and leaflets to letterbox their country town.
In Warrnambool and Ballarat, groups of socialists came together for campaign stalls, letterboxing and handing out How-to-votes.
Victorian Socialists’ Buninyong candidate and school teacher Jane McKendrick first got involved after she saw the party’s posts online and felt compelled to get involved. When asked to run as a candidate she barely hesitated, even though she had never done anything like this before.
She received 1% of the vote in Ballarat and now, along with others, wants to continue working with the Victorian Socialists.
Gooden said: “We got this campaign started a bit late in the day, and our vote reflects this.
“But look at the people who came on board. The Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union covered 5 booths with some 30 activists, while Maritime Union of Australia locals played a great role.
“Meanwhile nurses, teachers and social workers from the Australian Services Union really put in, big time.
“Our campaign was a conscious pro-worker, pro-socialist campaign. It’s much harder in country and regional Victoria to build a socialist platform, but this campaign showed it is possible.”
Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative mobilised interstate members to support the campaign.
Zeta Henderson, the mother of Victorian Socialists’ Geelong candidate Sarah Hathway, summed up how many of us felt: “Having so many comrades here from interstate was really fantastic.
“It reinforced for me how important it is for progressives and left activists and supporters to work together. It is something we should strive to maintain and continue to grow.”
From the city to the surf, from Craigieburn to Camperdown, Victorian Socialists got a hearing.
We will be back, and next time we will be bigger, more experienced and better prepared for the challenges that come with such projects.
[Sue Bull is the co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance branch in Geelong.]