Green Left Weekly’s Alex Bainbridge caught up with Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance councilor in Moreland and Victorian Socialist candidate, to ask her about the Victorian Socialists’ campaign for the Legislative Council’s Northern Metropolitan seat in the state elections in November.
Why are you running on the Victorian Socialists’ ticket?
The Socialist Alliance thinks the Victorian Socialists is a great initiative. For a serious socialist election campaign, which can put forward a credible left alternative to Labor and the Greens, socialists need to work together.
The Greens are not anti-capitalist and Labor is just a milder version of the Coalition. What is Labor doing for those living in Broadmeadows, one of the poorest suburbs in Melbourne where one in four are out of work? Nothing. Labor has taken those people for granted for so long.
What are the critical issues?
The Victorian Socialists will have policies dealing with the lack of affordable housing, both to rent and buy. We support a rent cap on how much rent a landlord can charge.
We also support inclusionary zoning, which means forcing developers to provide affordable housing. The term “affordable housing” is often used by the big parties in a fake way; we want genuinely affordable housing.
We support an expansion of public housing across the state: 50,000 new public housing dwellings need to be built. That is achievable. For years, there has been a winding down of public housing. To achieve affordable housing, we will need a massive expansion of public housing. This would also have the effect of driving down the cost of housing, so those who are not eligible for public housing will also benefit.
Is voting for the Victorian Socailists a wasted vote?
No. We have a chance to get a socialist elected to parliament. If we’re successful, it will be the first time since 1944 when Fred Patterson was elected in Bowen in north Queensland that a communist has been elected to a parliament.
We think it’s possible to win given that the lead candidate Steve Jolly has been a socialist councilor in the City of Yarra since 2004. He received about 35% of the vote in the previous election. I’m a two-time councillor in the City of Moreland — I was re-elected with 13% of the vote — so we do have a base of support.
We have been involved in a lot of campaigns together and also with Socialist Alternative, the other organisation in the Victorian Socialists. There are a lot of left and progressive people who live in the northern suburbs.
Obviously, there are no guarantees. But our message is directed to those working class voters upset with Labor and who don’t relate to the Greens: we will campaign for working class solutions to the various social and economic crises they face daily.
We are also concerned about the far right stepping up its work in the north. In Fawkner, in my ward of Moreland City Council, the Australian Liberty Alliance has been spreading anti-Muslim hate-speech with leaflets and periodic door knocking. The Citizens Electoral Council had a stall in Fawkner recently.
The far right has been trying to stir up racial discord in Fawkner where about a quarter of the people in the area are Muslim. It hopes to stir up non-Muslims against Muslims living in the suburb. I have more in common with my Muslim sisters and brothers from working-class backgrounds than I have with racists.
The Victorian Socialists say racism will not win any rights, and that working-class people need to unite to win. Muslims, migrants and refugees are not causing electricity disconnections. They are not causing high unemployment or limiting wage growth.
Our enemies are those who have a lot to gain by limiting wages’ growth: big and small corporations that do not pay their fair share of tax, while paying their CEOs millions each year (which explains why wages don’t increase). The bosses are also taking advantage of anti-union laws that prevent workers from going on strike.
What would be the difference between electing a Green and a Victorian Socialist?
There is a big difference. We have seen from the experience of socialists councilors on the City of Yarra, the City of Moreland, and also on the City of Fremantle where Socialist Alliance councilor Sam Wainwright is now in his third term, that socialist councilors are activists.
This derives from our socialist philosophy — that people have to liberate themselves. We are not about just representing people. Communities win gains by self organising, and the more communities that can do that the more change will come.
Through self-organisation, people learn how society functions. When people are organised, it’s harder for corporations, politicians and racists to pull the wool over people’s eyes and scapegoat minorities.
Stephen Jolly, Sam Wainwright and I have shown that even though we are all only one vote on our respective councils, we can still win issues because we help communities get organised to campaign for their rights.
The same applies at the state and federal level, where an individual representative doesn’t have a lot of influence as a single vote, but we will still be able to win issues by working with campaigns outside parliament.
This is very different to the Victorian Greens’ approach. Its elected MPs and councilors don’t see themselves as having a responsibility to help communities get organised, including in areas where there is no history of such organisation.
In Melbourne’s inner suburbs, people are more gentrified and have the confidence that comes from being in control of their lives and having more resources, so they are better organised.
But, as you go further north into the poorer suburbs, people might work 12-hours a day for low pay or be shift workers and are not confident about the political system and how to organise for their rights. So there is a need for us to help out.
In my experience, elected Greens don’t play that kind of role. They see their role as representing people and trying to accumulate more MPs rather than helping communities organise.
If you don’t have a perspective of organising with communities and movements outside parliament you can fall victim to the horse-trading inside, even if you don’t start out from that point of view.
Governments are not stupid: they will put forward a nasty bill that might include a tiny carrot. That’s when some really bad policy can get passed, and sometimes the Greens can fall for that. (The federal Greens MPs who toyed with the idea of supporting the Turnbull government on the Gonski education reforms is an example.) The fact that the Greens aren’t anti-capitalist means that they are more susceptible to these sorts of government tactics.
Working with an active community makes it less likely that a progressive parliamentarian will fall for supporting a rotten bill. Socialist politicians will also come under the same sort of pressures: everyone can make mistakes. That’s why we need strong accountability measures, and mobilised communities are critical for that.
What is the Victorian Socialists’ position on climate change and the environment?
We are still developing our policy. But we don’t support fracking and the unconventional gas industry. This is important given that the Liberals are likely to campaign on reversing the fracking ban in the state elections, with a scare campaign about a supposed gas shortage.
We also support public ownership of the energy industry and for that industry to make the switch to 100% renewable energy. Part of our policy is for a solar-thermal plant because there is only so far you can go with rooftop solar. If you are serious about switching to renewable energy you need renewable energy that can power industry, not just households.
We are opposed to the marketisation of the electricity industry, which resulted in the blackouts in South Australia. Because the state government there had been attacked over those blackouts, the Premier revealed that one of the gas plants remained idle through the blackout because it was more profitable for it to not produce energy and sell it to the electricity market. That is a scandal! There didn’t need to be a blackout.
There are all sorts of other measures that socialists can advocate because they relate to how capitalism is organised.
While we don’t yet have a full range of policies on this, socialists understand that capitalism is based on an infinite expansion of the market, including expanding it artificially by forcing people to consume more and more.
The world has finite resources. So we need to develop policies that counter how capitalism is destroying the planet through the burning of fossil fuels, wastefulness, inbuilt obsolesce and more.