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The Coalition Question in Tasmania: Why Class Matters

November 19, 2011

Tim Dobson
27.03.10 6:02 am

Image for The Coalition Question in Tasmania: Why Class Matters

The election results in Tasmania have certainly been a wake-up call to many in the Australian Labor Party, who either thought they could ignore the Greens or that they could deal with them by running a smear campaign against them at election time.

The Greens are a force that both major parties have to deal with, whether they like it or not. After the Tasmanian Greens achieved their highest ever vote in any election last Saturday, Federal Labor MP Lindsay Tanner tried to explain their appeal in a Sydney Morning Herald article. He said that, “essentially the rising Green vote is a product of increasing tertiary education. Green voters are typically either tertiary educated or undergoing tertiary education. Their support is heavily concentrated amongst tertiary disciplines that are focused on much more than just making money.”

There is a kernel of truth to this statement, as can be borne out in some of the figures in the Tasmanian election. For instance, at the relatively more affluent booths of West and South Hobart (which contains a high percentage of public servants, students, small business owners etc) the Greens easily outpoll the ALP. Compare this to the poorer, almost exclusively working class suburbs of Glenorchy and Chigwell where the ALP has 4 to 5 times more votes than the Greens.

Undoubtedly, as Richard Flanagan has pointed out (Article below, and HERE), the Greens have been able to win over more Labor voters, particularly by focusing strongly on cost-of-living issues such as electricity prices and water and sewerage charges. But the ALP remains the dominant force in poorer suburbs throughout Tasmania, which can only be explained by a class instinct.

It was fairly common to see in the Hobart Mercury voters from the Northern suburbs say they would vote Labor, because they always have voted Labor. This, of course, is not a considered choice of weighing up the pros and cons of each party. They vote for the Labor Party because they believe it will best represent their interests as workers. This is supplemented by the fact that the ALP has such a stranglehold over trade union organisations throughout the state that have an influence beyond their own membership.

But is the Labor Party actually a workers party?

While quoting Vladamir Lenin on Australian politics may raise a few eyebrows, his description of the contradiction at the heart of Australian politics is bettered by no Australian commentators when he wrote that the ALP “is a liberal bourgeois party, while the so-called Liberals in Australia are really conservatives.” In other words, the Labor party is a party that represents the interests of the bosses, and always has.

This was written in 1913 and subsequent ALP governments both federal and state have only proven this assertion. Currently, the NSW and Queensland Labor governments are on a push to privatize all that they can, federally Labor continues with a policy of outlawing strikes outside of bargaining periods and continue the draconian Australian Building and Construction Commission set up under Howard. Big Business is more than willing to support this “workers party” because it knows whose interest it is ultimately looking out for, even if it is willing to make concessions to some working class demands.

Verity Bergmann, in her book In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905 describes how the ALP has always played this role of selling-out its supporters, when she wrote, “long before Labor Parties were given the opportunities, in government, to “sell out” the workers, the Labor MPs, as a body, had already grown away from the workers.”

The Greens, however, represent a force which is independent of big business. This is what allows it to stand up to companies like Gunns; in contrast the ALP does everything in its power to please Gunns and ensure they get the greatest possible deal. It is why the Greens could stand up against the Ralph Bay’s project proposed by Walker Corporation, as well as take many other socially progressive stands they have. By going into coalition with either the Labor or Liberal Parties, who represent business interests, there will be one of two outcomes. Either the Greens continue their in-principle opposition to the type of politics which puts corporate interests before people, which will mean such a coalition will collapse or the Greens will have to compromise on that type of principle politics, which will ensure that the Greens will become appendages to the major parties anti-social and anti-environment agenda.

This will have the consequence of devastating the thousands and thousands of Greens supporters, who have faith that the Greens represent a new type of political system, based on the principles of peace and non-violence, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice and ecological sustainability.

The next step for the Greens should not be to enter into a coalition government with either capitalist party but continue its opposition in parliament to the major parties pro-corporate agendas. This however needs to be supplemented by trying to reach out to voters such as those in the Northern suburbs of Hobart and convince them that the Greens represent their interests much more than the pro-corporate Labor Party.

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