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Issue #1638      May 14, 2014

Culture & Life

To kowtow or fight?

I received an email recently from GetUp! seeking to introduce me to two GetUp members in our electorate who have just had a meeting with our local member, Karen McNamara, a Lib, “on behalf of the 3,280 GetUp members who live in Dobell”.

Karen McNamara, Liberal member for Dobell. (Centre)

According to GetUp’s email, “The meeting was a chance for Errol and Anne to let Mrs McNamara know how many GetUp members she represents in Parliament and which issues GetUp members in Dobell care about most: action on climate change, a fairer deal for asylum seekers, an equitable taxation system and an independent media.”

Not a word about democratic rights or defending the workers’ legitimate organisations from Abbott’s vicious attacks. As conditions are ruthlessly destroyed and real wages relentlessly driven down, while poverty grows at an alarming rate, working people are going to have much more serious things to worry about than an equitable taxation system.

What is an equitable taxation system anyway? The CPA supports a progressive taxation system, in which those who make more, pay more. “Equitable taxation” means the burden falls equally on all: isn’t that the GST, where rich and poor pay the same?

GetUp pursues a non-class line, and as Lenin pointed out, “non-class” politics means ruling class politics.

Workers, small farmers, pensioners and other battlers will receive short shrift from the likes of Karen McNamara, or clearly from GetUp, with its naïve trust in right wing politicians. GetUp’s two representatives in Dobell reported their meeting thus: “Mrs McNamara gave us well over an hour, meaning we were able to raise all of the issues we intended to for our meeting. I believe Mrs McNamara listened to what we had to say and was being honest in her answers – she even admitted to being sceptical about climate change, which shocked us a little.” (Only a little!)

“It was good to know that Mrs McNamara does take issues on board and was adamant that she will raise those which she believes are worthwhile [my emphasis – RG] in parliament and the party room.” Oh, well, that’s all right then. I can hear the peels of scornful laughter from the Party Room already.

GetUp commented on the pair’s visit in these words: “It’s encouraging that Mrs McNamara took time out of her schedule to meet with GetUp members, especially when she wouldn’t have expected to see eye-to-eye on all the issues. (What? You only meet with people you are going to agree with?) It’s the first step to opening up the lines of communication and building a relationship we can revisit well into the future.

“Thanking Mrs McNamara for taking the time to meet with GetUp members is a great way to let her know we’re serious about building relationships across the political spectrum.” Bowing and scraping to right-wing politicians might very well build a relationship “across the political spectrum”, but it will be a master and servant relationship. Even bowing so low that our forehead touched the floor has never yet stopped the bosses and their wealthy hangers-on from exploiting working people. It just makes it easier for the rich to plant their collective foot on the necks of the poor.

GetUp’s approach – if we are deferential and polite perhaps our political masters won’t be so hard on us – has never worked in the past (and Lord knows, social democrats have tried it often enough). Any gains workers have ever made have been the result of struggle, which is why Tony Abbott is using every piece of repressive legislation he has at his command to attack the organisations of the workers. If he can crush the unions, rendering the workers defenceless, employers will be able to force workers to accept sub-standard wages (or do without a job in a climate where Joe Hockey will make it almost impossible to get unemployment benefits).

This will have two results: one will be substantially higher profits for business. The other will be the impoverishment of the bulk of the people. It is axiomatic that if the people who are expected to buy the goods and services a nation produces do not have the money to do so, that nation is going to suffer a severe economic recession – or worse. But it is also a well-known phenomenon that capitalists are so bedazzled by the lure of immediate profits that they cannot – or will not – see the economic dangers that loom before them.

The Abbott government’s single-minded devotion to servicing the wants of big business, if unchecked, will see large parts of Australian cities and towns reduced to the poverty-stricken level of much of the USA: ghetto-like slums and trailer-parks, where the absence of jobs combined with “benefits” and pensions reduced below the point where they can sustain life means that for the young in particular the only escape from penury is to turn to crime, especially the “victimless” variety: drug trafficking, vice and illicit gambling.

Capitalist society’s response to this is always repression: a generation of young men and women will be incarcerated in prisons run for profit, functioning as factories or call centres – a modern form of slave labour. No wonder Amnesty puts the number of people living in slavery today in the tens of millions!

If that is not the future we want for our country, then outfits like GetUp are going to have to get off their knees and take a stand. Asking for favours from the top-people’s table is not good enough. People have a right to work, a right to health care, a right to an education. To achieve these things, people are going to have to take to the streets in support of the workers and those unions that are prepared to fight.

And it will be a fight: Victoria already has brought in laws making it illegal to demonstrate. We can expect that sort of legislation to spread.

Soon, all over Australia, our slogan will have to be “All for the defence of democratic rights!”

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