Workers, activists endorse steelworker candidate
By Stephen O'Brien and Alison Dellit
NEWCASTLE — The Democratic Socialists have received support from a wide range of sources in the Newcastle by-election. Green Left asked some of those who welcome Geoff Payne's campaign about the reasons for their support.
"What I like about the Democratic Socialists is that they have passion. Nowhere else do I come across people, especially young people, who have so much commitment and passion. It's extraordinary", said Yamuna Fielder, a prominent activist who plans to help the Democratic Socialists hand out on election day.
Judy Morley, a nurse in the public health system, was clear on the reasons behind her support for the campaign. "The Democratic Socialists are the only ones standing in the Newcastle election who oppose capitalism and who are putting forward realistic policy alternatives."
Newcastle University activist Tamie Meem agreed: "It's really important that in elections we raise not only demands for temporary improvements in people's lives, but also the question of who holds power and how we can win real, socialist democracy".
For Mark Wilson, the nationalisation of BHP was a key concern: "The closure of BHP would not just mean the loss of jobs but the dispersal of a highly specialised work force with great technical knowledge, expertise and capacity to train and educate others. The nationalisation of BHP, such as Geoff is proposing, is a necessity for Newcastle."
Tom Nikic, a welder and delegate for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, also felt that BHP should be nationalised. Furthermore, "The Telstra sale should not go ahead so as to avoid further downsizing and to ensure services to rural and remote areas that are not economically rational".
He also raised the Democratic Socialist stance on corruption in parliament. "The fact that Geoff is prepared to give back to the community one half of his parliamentary pay is a gesture that is unlikely to be matched. Geoff would be prepared to shake things up and ruffle a few feathers — something unusual in the number crunching games of Australian politics. His vote wouldn't be able to be bought for a non-core promise because, being a socialist, his only loyalties would be to the people of Australia."
For some others, the Democratic Socialist stance on social issues was a reason to welcome Payne's campaign.
"The Democratic Socialists take seriously the issues that matter, especially unemployment, racism and the environment. The two major parties continue to lack any commitment to just resolutions of these widespread concerns", said Leigh Jones and Chris Dole, lecturers at the Christian Institute for Social Justice.
Paul Toner, an organiser of the Asian Solidarity Network, said, "Whenever the Democratic Socialists ran in elections, they introduced social justice issues and people-centred policies which would otherwise not be get a hearing".
The campaign has been particularly welcomed by anti-racist activists. Melinda Nunn, one of the organisers of the recent high school walkouts against racism and a member of Resistance, was enthusiastic about the campaign:
"Geoff publicly defended the high school anti-racist actions organised by Resistance and has been an outstanding opponent to One Nation's racism. The Newcastle Resistance branch has endorsed Payne for his anti-racist stance, and many of us have been actively involved in the campaign."
David Murray, a high school activist in Resistance, agreed. "We need an alternative to the big parties, because they don't care about young people. We need a party like the Democratic Socialists who put forward real policies that are good for young people."
The Newcastle secretary of the Democratic Socialists, Jane Beckmann, believes the broader support comes from the respect that the Democratic Socialists have won in campaigns to defend the living conditions of the working class.
"The Democratic Socialists are not the sort of party which opens an office a few weeks before the elections, to close it down the day after the vote. Our members can be found working in support of native title, distributing Green Left Weekly, being involved in their unions, supporting social justice campaigns and opposing environmental vandalism such as woodchipping and uranium mining", Beckmann said.
"We act in solidarity with the East Timorese and Indonesian workers and students. We are involved in the women's movement and especially the high school mobilisations against racism. Democratic Socialists like Geoff Payne don't just criticise the system; we actively work to change it — all the time, not just during elections."