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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rediscovering the Labor Heartland

The NSW Labor party was crushed in the state election held on 26 March 2011 after 16 years of leading the State.  Ten of those years were under the leadership of Bob Carr who had greatly improved New South Wales through infrastructure spending, environment and reduction of state debt.  Infrastructure expenditure included roads such as the M5 Extension, Eastern Distributor, M7 Westlink, Lanecove tunnel and the Cross City tunnel.  Carr had reduced NSW net debt from 7.4% of gross product to zero.  In terms of environment, he opened 100 new state parks in his first term, he stopped logging north of Coonabarabran and negotiated the restructure of mills which rather than kill the surrounding towns, now sees them thriving. Carr established the building sustainability index which required new housing developments to achieve targets for reduced water and energy consumption.  Every Premier, every Prime Minister can be criticised and there will always be people who didn't like them, but overall, Carr was a good Premier who achieved many benefits for the people, economy and environment of New South Wales.

Prior to this, at the federal election in 2010, the Gillard led ALP squandered the significant majority that the Rudd led ALP had won in 2007 when Liberal Prime Minister John Howard lost his own seat.  Gillard was only able to form government by entering into a deal with Greens and Independents.

So why is the electorate abandoning the Labor Party?  What has gone so wrong?

The Australian Labor Party was formed out of union movements representing the rights of workers.  Considering that the majority of the Australian electorate are workers, surely the ALP is the party to support.  One only has to see the lack of rights that the Australian worker was presented with when Howard rolled out Workchoices.  This was an industrial relations policy that was great for employers but left workers to negotiate their own agreements, ensuring the rights of the worker were firmly at the mercy of the employer. For those employers who were enlightened enough to realise the reciprocal value of their employees this was good. For those who didn't, this meant a loss of rights and a workplace without security.  If anything, Workchoices demonstrated exactly why the union movement is still relevant to modern society.

Workchoices did not happen overnight. It was, ironically, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke who revolutionised industrial relations by trying to find a balance between workers and business.  Hawke introduced Enterprise Bargaining which highlighted the importance of union membership although during this time, the compulsion to join a union was removed.  The undermining of union power was off-set by the consolidated power of a union membership in negotiating better wages and conditions.

Successive Labor governments have moved further and further to the right, ignoring their left wing origins.  For instance, the Labor government has embraced capitalist policies such as the privatisation or corporatisation of government services including rail, electricity, gas and water to the detriment of the consumer through higher costs and lower service delivery.

We live in a world where corporations have their hand in the pocket of consumers shaking them down for money even when there has been no true consideration given in the economic sense of quid pro quo.  The consumer often pays for price increases or non-existent services justified by such nebulous claims as "the fear of a mineral resources rent tax" or the "fear of a carbon tax", surcharges for using credit cards even when there is no other payment option, such as the $25 cost to book an airfare with a credit card. 

Corporations are in the business of making money - the service or product that they provide is of little consequence.  Governments are in the business of delivering services to the electorate and implementing policies to benefit the country.  Either way, the consumer pays.  In general though the consumer pays more for the service to be delivered privately than publicly.  It is a matter of priority.  For government the priority is the service or the benefit of  the community. For corporations the priority is earning money for benefit of share-holders.

When public services are privatised, the result is often higher costs and less service.  When government is responsible for the service, it is done with a priority on delivering the service, not on making money from it.   Labor has the opportunity to reduce the impact on the earnings of every person by not privatising or corporatising services.  In New South Wales, Labor privatised the electricity industry which will cost jobs and increase electricity bills whilst ignoring issues that matter more to the electorate, such as public health and public transport.

It is no surprise that the so-called Labor heartland, the grass-roots supporters, the workers have abandoned Labor.  There is a disconnect in which Labor is seen as little different to the Liberal party with their focus on strengthening big business at the expense of the Aussie battler.

Where is the Labor heartland?  It is every worker and the community to which they belong.  Globalisation and corporatisation has converted almost all of us into a worker whether we are a receptionist, carpenter, miner, CEO or doctor.  Many of us now work for a conglomerate owned by a large corporation.  Often times the corporation has bought out a number of small businesses with no concern for the rights of the small business owner or of those working there.

For Labor to again be successful and relevant, they need to value their heartland and rediscover their roots. Respect the community, respect the individual and listen to the heartbeat of the nation, not just the balance sheet of big business.

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