“I will only accept an average worker’s wage.” This is the promise of all Victorian Socialists’ candidates contesting the November 24 state election.
This has long been the pledge of genuine socialist candidates, but this time it means even more because of the prospect that candidates Steve Jolly and Tim Gooden could each win a seat.
No other party — not even the Greens — makes this promise. Yet, it is a profound principle for socialists.
Why? In short, because it is a critical part of building a genuine peoples’ power movement for change.
Most people have some level of disdain, if not outright contempt, for politicians who are supposed to represent us. That is because big money corrupts almost every aspect of the political process. Though they disguise it with democratic forms, governments end up being corporate dictatorships that rule for the rich.
To get politicians — some of whom come from working class backgrounds — to identify with the big end of town, the parliamentary system offers numerous bribes. Some politicians might literally receive cash kickbacks in brown paper bags, but the process is generally a little more subtle.
Many politicians are content to do their time serving their corporate masters with an implicit promise that they’ll have a lucrative job waiting for them post parliament as corporate executives or industry lobbyists.
But every single MP gets a parliamentary salary significantly higher than the average wage.
In the Victorian parliament, this starts at $168,000. But that is only the beginning. Add to that “electoral expenses”, bonuses for sitting on committees and higher payments for senior positions, such as shadow minister or whip.
In 2005, a former Tasmanian Liberal leader caused a stir when he detailed the legal ways Tasmanian politicians could rip off taxpayers. The list included free booze, “equipment allowances” and overseas family holidays disguised as “study tours”.
Corporate bosses want politicians to live in luxury. They want former Speaker of the House Bronwyn Bishop to feel entitled (as she did) to take a taxpayer-funded $5000 helicopter ride from Melbourne to Geelong.
They want politicians to identify as part of the elite, above and different to an ordinary worker.
This is part of the buy-off and, as we’ve seen, it works. Identifying with the corporate class makes it easier for politicians to justify largesse for the elite and austerity for the rest of us.
Those fighting for fundamental social change want our political representatives to truly represent us and be accountable. To do that, they need to live like us, experience our hardships and act in our interests.
This is both a measure of accountability — to ensure socialist parliamentarians stay connected to the movements that got them elected — and a measure to build trust.
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