Socialist Alliance candidate elected to Fremantle City Council

By Nick Everett

Sam Wainwright, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the Fremantle City Council (FCC) ward of Hilton, was elected to the FCC on October 17 with 33.4% of the vote. Wainwright received 438 out of 1310 valid votes, 100 more than his nearest competitor, Dave Hume, a member of the Australian Labor Party. (The election was first past the post, not preferential.)

Wainwright was one of six new municipal councillors elected to the 13-member FCC. Of the other five, one is an ALP member and two are members of the Greens. However, under WA electoral law, local government candidates cannot formally run for political parties. Greens member Brad Pettitt, an associate professor at Murdoch University, was elected mayor of the city of Fremantle, with 46% of the 8266 valid votes cast. Pettitt was one of three Greens running for the position. While none were formally endorsed by the Greens, both Pettitt and fellow Greens member Jon Strachan were endorsed by the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber’s CEO, Peter Nolin, told the Fremantle Gazette that Pettitt’s win would bring “balance and open-mindedness” to the FCC. “We now have young, forward-looking people on the council who understand the balance between sustainability, development and amenity”, said Nolin. Pettitt replaces former mayor Peter Tagliaferri, who lost his bid as the ALP-endorsed candidate for the state seat of Fremantle in a by-election last May when he was defeated by Greens member Adele Carle.

‘Time to unite’

Pettitt pledged to unite the FCC following his win, telling the news media website Perth Now, “It’s time for the bitching and the back-stabbing to stop and for councillors to unite from the factions for the good of the community”. Endorsing Pettitt’s win, Wainwright’s media release, published on the Socialist Alliance website on October 18, stated: “Brad Pettitt’s win was emphatic and I extend my congratulations to him for his strong and vibrant campaign. There has been a real changing of the guard on the council and I expect there will be some passionate and intense debate about the future of Fremantle.”

Wainwright declared his own election to the FCC as “a victory for all those like me who believe that the council can and should play an active role in involving people in decision making, protecting the environment, campaigning for workers rights and making a place in the community for people who are too often left out, such as indigenous Australians or people with disabilities”.

“Most candidates for council,” said Wainwright, “try to appeal to the middle ground and keep their political affiliations quiet. I don’t believe in that approach. I think it’s better to be upfront about your beliefs. Throughout the campaign I emphasised that I was a staunch socialist, unionist and environmentalist.” He thanked the members of the Socialist Alliance, the Greens and the ALP who had “all pitched in”, as well as many unionists and community activists. He declared that the election victory belonged to “everyday residents who don’t wear a political label but want to see the sort of change that we talked about in the campaign”. Echoing Pettitt’s call for the Fremantle councillors to unite “for the good of the community”, Wainwright pledged “to work constructively with the rest of council where we can find common ground on the way forward”.

‘Community solutions’

While identifying himself as a socialist, Wainwright focused his election campaign on “community solutions” to some of the problems faced by working people residing in the Hilton ward. His election statement called for the FCC to construct an underpass or over-bridge across Stock Road to connect the suburbs of Hilton and Samson, maintain public access to Fremantle’s beaches, create Hilton community garden projects on underutilised land and redevelop the Hilton shopping area to make it more “people friendly”. He also advocated that the FCC charge rates based on ability to pay; improve environmental standards in planning applications; introduce free public transport and more bike paths; oppose outsourcing of FCC services and defend employment conditions for the FCC workforce. Describing the FCC as “an extension of the community”, Wainwright declared that it should “set an example in workplace rights and standards”.

Wainwright’s conception of the FCC as “an extension of the community”, rather than an instrument of business interests in the city of Fremantle, led him to the erroneous conclusion that such reforms can be implemented by working “constructively with the rest of council” to pass new by-laws. Measures that would advance the interests of working people in the city, such as council rates based on income and better employment conditions for FCC workers, would come into direct conflict with the interests of Fremantle’s employing class. Such reforms will be won only outside of the meeting rooms of the Fremantle Town Hall, through the mobilisation of working people on the streets and in their workplaces.

A campaign linked to building extra-parliamentary action by the working people of Fremantle could help to implement some progressive reforms. And importantly, it could also help to raise the consciousness of working-class residents of their own potential power if organised to defend their interests. As a wharfie and former workplace delegate of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Wainwright could inform people of the significant gains achieved by the MUA through the mobilisation and direct action of its membership. By fostering the illusion that the FCC is an “extension of the community” that can be reformed to give “residents … a say over how services are delivered”, Wainwright’s campaign fell into the trap of reinforcing, rather than countering, the liberal myth that capitalist parliamentary institutions can be reformed to serve the needs of the majority of people.

An October 23 “community announcement” on Wainwright’s blogsite (http://samforhilton.blogspot.com) advertised a Neighbourhood Watch “community” BBQ. It appears that even the Western Australian Police Force, the primary sponsors of the Neighbourhood Watch program, are now an “extension of the community”. Wainwright would do well to remember that when, in May 1998, thousands of Fremantle working-class residents mobilised to defend the jobs of wharfies on picket lines at the Fremantle docks, the WA police proved themselves more loyal to the maritime industry bosses than to his co-workers and the working people that his campaign sought to give voice to.