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Build the vote for Socialist Alliance!

by Dick Nichols

As the 2007 federal election gets underway, an odd trend is showing up in the opinion polls. After eleven-and-a-half years of Coalition government and an ALP “opposition” that stood “shoulder to shoulder” with it in so many of its crimes, the combined vote for the two “parties of government” is back up to 90% (48% for Labor and 42% for the Coalition according to the Nielsen poll released on October 19).

This is despite the fact that surveys have consistently shown that a majority or large minority are against Australia’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favour of serious action on climate change, against federal anti-terrorism legislation, for a decent treatment of refugees, and want Work Choices abolished, not slightly diluted.

Millions of Australians continue to support policies that both major parties oppose. In the past this has been reflected in up to 20% electoral support for alternative political forces. In this election, it’s reflected in the ACTU call for a Senate vote for parties that actually stand for the abolition of the hated anti-worker law.

What’s going on? There’s no doubt that fear and hatred of Work Choices underpins the rise in Labor’s primary vote. It’s why Howard dropped the hated brand name and was forced to set up a bureaucratic “fairness test” that is now even irritating the employers.

If Howard had continued with “Work Choices” and with his original hatchet minister for industrial relations, Kevin Andrews, the election would already have been well and truly lost.

But don’t people know that the ALP’s industrial relations policy preserves most of Work Choices? How many times does Labor IR spokesperson Julia Gillard have to say that this or that strike — the latest by Victoria’s nurses — would be illegal under Labor’s IR law before the penny drops? In fact, many workers do already know this — especially electrical and construction workers who have seen Rudd and Gillard savage their leaders. However, the broad majority of working people are still being influenced by the false and bamboozling messages of mainstream political “debate”.

With Rudd saying he will introduce “fairness and balance” into industrial law at the same time as the Coalition bellows about trade union domination of the ALP front bench, it’s not surprising that hundreds of thousands of workers who voted Liberal last election are again looking to Labor to protect their rights at work.

Can the apparent narrowing of the vote to the left of Labor be reversed?

It’s very important that it is. The aggression of Victoria’s John Brumby Labor government towards the nurses is a forewarning of what industrial life under a Rudd government will be like if Labor gets a massive direct mandate on November 24.

By contrast, the greater the support for the Socialist Alliance and the Greens, the more cautious an incoming Rudd government would have to be about enforcing its anti-union approach.

Socialist Alliance members and supporters should regard the latest polls as a call to arms for the next five weeks of the election campaign. We have an important job to explain to as many people as possible that Labor will not defend or restore our rights at work and that a vote for parties really committed to tearing up Work Choices would be an important step forward (and that, under preferential voting, this can go with putting Labor before the Coalition).

The bigger the left vote, the stronger the morale of the movement to defend our rights at work. While many union officials (especially those who have won their ALP preselection!) would see a Rudd victory on November 24 as “mission accomplished” for the Your Rights at Work Campaign, in reality it will only be a change of battleground.

The movement will still face the need to re-win critical rights, among them the right to strike, the right of entry into work sites for union organisers and the right to industry-wide agreements that ensure workers in small and weaker work sites gain as much as everyone else.

A Rudd win on November 24 won’t deliver any of that. But a Rudd win accompanied by a big increase in the Socialist Alliance and Green vote will put us in better shape to go on the offensive for our rights at work once the hated Howard government is history.

[Dick Nichols is the national co-ordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]

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