Defiance marks socialists' election campaign

Saturday, August 28, 2010

For John, a Socialist Alliance member in his nineties, it was “the best election result in my lifetime”. He was referring to the political impact of a hung parliament and a record vote for the Greens.

From the top of the stairs at a polling booth in inner-western Sydney’s once safe, now marginal, seat of Grayndler, John waved the Socialist Alliance’s “how to vote” card to the queued voters and campaigners.

His defiant gesture towards the numerous ALP booth workers was a metaphor for the Socialist Alliance’s campaign across the country.

Socialist Alliance averaged just over 1% across the 12 lower house seats we contested. It has, so far, polled almost 25,000 votes in the Senate; in almost every case our modest vote has increased. We involved hundreds of members and supporters in our socialist election campaign around the country.

Candidates helped organise equal marriage rallies in the lead-up to the elections, and to establish an Equal Love campaign group in Armidale, regional NSW.

Some may ask, why did SA run given that lion’s share of the protest vote goes to the Greens?

The answer is etched on the faces of people, like John, who know that a new set of politics and political engagement has to be struggled for, and that broader respect among the disenfranchised has to be won.

This isn’t easy for parties without money in a system dominated by parties with money, backed by hugely wealthy corporations. But even those with megabucks failed to win the hearts and minds of most thinking Australians.

The widespread disgust with the major parties helped the minor parties. Usually, it’s hard to get coverage in the local media, which tends to narrow down coverage to the mainstream parties.

This time, those putting forward left-wing policies and commentary more often that not got a look in.

Right across the country, Socialist Alliance candidates received more local and national media attention than in past elections.

For example, after several phone calls from Jess Moore’s campaign manager, Chris Williams, the Illawarra Mercury decided to include her movements in a daily column citing where politicians were to appear that day. In Moore’s case, it was at all the protest rallies — and there were heaps of them!

Mel Barnes, another young activist, stood in Denison in Tasmania. She had the opportunity to address 12 candidate meetings, allowing her to present our ideas to a range of people.

A long-term campaigner with Climate Action Hobart, Barnes was also asked to speak at the pre-election Walk Against Warming rally.

An interesting feature of this election campaign was the number of social movement rallies and protests — for marriage equality, refugee rights and real action on climate change, and in opposition to the Northern Territory intervention andthe war in Afghanistan — which were organised to highlight the major parties’ bipartisanship.

Along with the Greens, our candidates were invited to speak at many of these. This was largely because the candidates we fielded are seasoned campaigners; many have spent a most of their adult lives building the social movements.

Respected Queensland Murri leader Sam Watson, who stood for the Senate, attracted the support from other left groups and individuals.

Soubhi Iskander, a former refugee from Sudan, who ran for the Senate in NSW, was supported by a range of migrants, including many from the Communist Party of Sudan.

Sharon Firebrace, an Indigenous Senate candidate for SA in Victoria, addressed a Turkish gathering before Ramadan began and two community events at Sikh gurudwaras (places of worship).

Financial support also came from left-wing unions including the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria, the Construction Forestry, Mining Energy Union in NSW and Victoria, and the Maritime Workers Union in Victoria. CFMEU NSW president Peter McClelland said the union did not forget Socialist Alliance’s unwavering support for the union-led campaign against the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Growing the left into a potent political force in this country is not easy. Running in elections — with the determination to make the most of every opportunity — is just one tactic and, in this campaign at least, provided a unique opportunity for us to talk to ever-growing numbers fed up with "politics as usual".

[Pip Hinman was the Socialist Alliance candidate in Grayndler.]

From GLW issue 850