As was predicted by opinion polls, the Labor Party was routed in the March 26 NSW state elections, garnering only 34% of the popular vote on a two-party preferred basis to the Liberal-National Coalition’s 66%. Labor is likely to retain at most 21 out of the 93 seats in the NSW lower house of parliament.
The rejection of Labor by the working people of NSW was well-deserved. For 16 years, it had served as nothing but a loyal agent of the big business interests, handing over to them “public” assets via public-private partnerships to gouge out profits.
During the election campaign, Labor leader Kristina Keneally acknowledged that her government faced widespread voter disaffection because of the rising cost of living. At a February 6 election launch, she declared: “I have heard families all over NSW tell me one thing more than anything else – that they need help with rising costs of living and inflation.” Yet it was the Labor government that has presided over these rising costs of living, approving a 60% increase in public transport fares over its 16 years in office, and a 60% increase in household electricity prices in the last three years.
Labor has also left a legacy of chronically under-funded public hospitals and public schools, and over-crowded trains, while financing corporate tax breaks, particularly for property developers. The ALP is widely regarded as the party of property developers, who account for the bulk of donations to Labor – more than $14 million since 2001.
A Coalition government will continue Labor’s pro-big business agenda. Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell has pledged a judicial inquiry into Labor’s electricity sell-off, but he has not promised to reverse Labor’s partial privatisation of the electricity industry. He has provided scant detail on the Coalition’s plans for the remaining government-owned power stations and has said his preferred model is “commercial management” of government-owned assets.
Furthermore, as Heath Aston, the Sun-Herald’s NSW political editor, reported February 13: “An O’Farrell government will privatise certain assets, however. Sydney Ferries and the desalination plant top the list but ports, roads and even new rail lines may also go on the block.” The Coalition has already indicated it plans to cut at least $3.8 billion in state spending, including cutting workers’ compensation payouts.
Fraud of parliamentary ‘democracy’
That the only effective means for working people in NSW to vote out one gang of pro-big-business politicians is to vote in another demonstrates the fraudulent character of democracy under the parliamentary system. This whole system is designed to exclude working people from the actual exercise of real political power. Under the parliamentary system, working people participate as atomised and essentially passive individuals whose “power” is restricted to putting a voting paper in a ballot box every four years. Formally, decisions are made by a tiny number of elected representatives beholden to a wealthy elite who own the banks, factories and media corporations. The actual administration of government policy is concentrated in the hands of unelected officials recruited from this same wealthy elite – the bureaucracy of the capitalist state – who formulate and advise these representatives on government policy.
Secondly, capitalist parliamentary democracy is based on formal equality in the exercise of legal and political rights. As the practical exercise of these rights presupposes access to powerful material resources, only the rich can fully enjoy them. The inequality of property under capitalism – the monopolisation of the decisive means of production and communication by the capitalists – ensures that the wage-earning majority are denied the material resources necessary for the practical exercise of their democratic rights.
Finally, even the most advanced capitalist parliamentary democracy does not permit working people to have a say in the most decisive areas of their lives. There is not the slightest democracy within capitalist-owned workplaces. For the greater part of their waking lives workers are subject to the despotic power of the owners of these enterprises, their appointed managers and supervisors. Within the hierarchically structured division of labour of capitalist businesses, the bosses give orders and the workers must carry them out. A corporation has the full legal right to shut down a workplace or shift its location without consulting its workers and without regard to the adverse social effects of such decisions.
The profit-driven interests of capitalist businesses and the fluctuations of the capitalist business cycle are far more powerful than parliamentary elections in shaping the daily lives of working people. A system in which the vast majority of people have no control over the most important decisions and actions of the government, the economy, their material well-being, or the course of their lives, cannot be considered genuinely democratic. In reality, it is a dictatorship of the capitalists disguised by democratic forms.
Greens and socialist candidates
The Greens, who failed to win any seats in the NSW lower house despite opinion polls predicting they might win in Balmain and Marrrickville, campaigned against the privatisation agenda of Labor and the Coalition. However, they also peddle the same myths about the parliamentary system as Labor and the Coalition. Like the bosses’ parties, the Greens argue that working people should rely on parliaments and parliamentarians to solve their problems, rather than our own independent collective actions, such as mass protest rallies and strikes.
In their desire to be regarded by the big-business-owned media as part of the mainstream of capitalist parliamentary politics, the Greens have increasingly begun to appeal directly to big-business interests. Thus they formed a coalition government with the openly pro-capitalist Labor Party in Tasmania following the March 2010 state election. This was justified by state Greens leader Nick McKim with the argument that only the Greens could deliver “the stability the business community wants”, a stance fully endorsed by federal Greens leader Senator Bob Brown.
Among the limited number of socialist candidates standing for the Legislative Assembly in the March 26 NSW elections were five candidates for the Socialist Alliance, four candidates for the Socialist Equality Party and one candidate for the Communist League. The SA also stood a full slate of 21 candidates for the Legislative Council (forking out a deposit of $5000). None of the Legislative Assembly socialist candidates scored more than 2% of the vote, averaging less than 1.5%. The SA vote in the Legislative Council was even less, only about 0.3%.
The SA presented a platform that contained a series of progressive reforms that was not substantially different from that presented by the Greens. The SA argued that these “urgently needed changes cannot be achieved just through legislation in parliament”, but will require “the support of mobilised communities, unions and social justice activists” However, the SA leaves it unclear whether the progressive reforms it seeks can be achieved through legislation in parliament supplemented with the “support of mobilised communities, unions and social justice activists”. It never explains that real “social justice” will require the revolutionary replacement of the parliamentary system with a system of working people’s power culminating in a working people’s government that bases itself on the their collective organisation and action.
The SEP is a “super-radical” Trotskyist organisation that refuses to work with anyone else on the left, even on issues where they have immediate common objectives, and urges workers to break with their existing trade unions, claiming that all of them are inherently corrupt organisations that serve only the bosses’ interests.
Hardly any of the six hundred thousand of voters who deserted the Labor Party voted for the Greens, let alone for any of the socialist candidates.
Workers in NSW can now look forward to four years of attacks on their conditions by the O’Farrell Coalition government, so ably prepared by 16 years of attacks by corrupt and right-wing ALP governments.