Australia: A Trumpland in the making

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The rise of Trump in the U.S. and a firmer stronghold for parties like One Nation in Australia confirms the level of global dissatisfaction with inequitable politics, says John Passant

WELL that didn’t take long, did it?

The reactionaries in Australia are unsurprisingly drawing reactionary lessons from Trump’s victory.

First we had One Nation celebrating Trump’s election and claiming they were, like him, anti-establishment and wanting to give power back to the people.

Then former Prime Minister Tony Abbott weighed in with a warning to his Liberal colleagues to shift further to the right to win back those fleeing to One Nation and others like Reclaim Australia.

He said:

"If you don't have a strong and sensible centre-right party, people who are looking for what might broadly be described as conservative positions will find other voices to represent them."

One Nation already has copyright on its own brand of "othering", although some government backbenchers like George Christensen and Cory Bernardi have been in competition with them on racism and Islamophobia for some time. Rather than enticing voters to return to the Liberal and National Parties, more racism and Islamophobia will further legitimise One Nation. So too will more refugee bashing, something the government is already doing in response to poor polls.

Here in Australia, If the economy worsens and wages remain flat while millions want a job or more work hours and major industries continue to close down, the Government’s racism and Islamophobia, and anti-terrorist fearmongering will only increase. Similarly, in the United States, as Trump proves incapable of turning back the tide of de-industrialisation in parts of the country and real wages continue to fall, and workers realise they have been conned, the ruling class rhetoric of racism and sexism will become louder and louder there.

The election of Trump, the UK Brexit vote and the rise of One Nation in Australia (again) all indicate a tectonic shift in politics happening around the globe. In France, National Front now believes it can "trump" the other candidates and win the presidential election next year.

It is not all one way. In Greece, leftwing anti-austerity party Syriza won power but then implemented austerity. In the UK, the rise of the socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party Opposition shows that socialist ideas can get a mass audience and support. In the U.S., Bernie Sanders inspired millions with his democratic socialist talk. He would have thrashed Trump.

So what is happening?

It is all about class, reflected in growing inequality. That includes the racism, sexism and xenophobia the ruling class uses as a tool in their rule and which some Australian and American workers, especially given their history, embrace.

When quizzed recently about the state of politics in Australia, rightwing Senator Abetz, of all people, said:

"Clearly what the Australian people want are jobs, job security and a certainty for the future."

Yes Eric, they do — and Abbott and Hockey’s Budget in 2014 delivered the exact opposite of that.

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pointed out in response to Abbott’s barbs, the decision of Abbott and Hockey in the 2014 Budget to reimpose a GP co-payment – I say reimpose because the Hawke Labor Government first imposed a short lived one – meant many people felt "let down". 

The Prime Minister concentrated on that particular measure rather than the raft of other unpopular measures because he has kept many of the others. The 2016 Budget followed the Abbott pattern of attacks on the poor and workers.

The Turnbull Government is the Abbott Government with a smile. The seller might have changed but the shit sandwich remains the same.

It is Turnbull’s rotten anti-worker and anti-poor policies that make him and his Government so unpopular. The latest Newspoll shows the Shorten Opposition on 53% support, two party preferred, compared to 47% for the Turnbull Government.

In Australia, the Hawke/Keating Labor Governments introduced neoliberalism in 1983, to begin the process of shifting wealth and income from labour to capital. This, and the continuing embrace of neoliberalism by successive Labor governments, has given us the Howard and Abbott/Turnbull Governments, and the ongoing collapse in union membership.  

Class collaboration leads to disaster for workers. Australia’s union movement has been in decline in terms of membership numbers, influence and strikes since the class collaborationist Prices and Incomes Accord of 1983 by the Hawke Labor Government. The membership decline in Australia has been even more marked than that of the U.S., coming off a membership base of over 50% in the 1970s to about 18% today.

One Nation in Australia has been inspired by Trump’s victory and his racism, Islamophobia and fake outsider status. Its support across Australia has surged since the election and may continue do so if the left do not take action now to be a left wing pole of attraction for workers. 

Analysis of One Nation’s 2016 Federal election result suggests many One Nation voters are sympathetic to Labor over the Coalition. Since July, One Nation voters in the Senate show they support the Government over its anti-worker policies and Budget attacks and crackdowns on the poor.  

Regional and rural areas in the last election showed strong One Nation support, especially in Queensland. A possible Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party victory in the New South Wales seat of Orange by-election is one indication of the political crisis unfolding in Australia in light of the lack of a real social democratic left, let alone revolutionary, alternative on offer.

The failure of the Labor Party and the broader social democratic left in Australia to present any sort of challenge to the one-sided employer class war over the last 33 years, other than to lead it, helps explain why many workers in Australia are losing their attachment to the ALP. Labor’s primary vote in the 2016 Federal election was just 34.7%.  

Without a shift to the left and a mass mobilisation against all the rotten aspects of neoliberalism we will be trapped in a downward spiral into the darkness of reaction.

What to do? Unions could begin an industrial fightback in the workplace to win real wage increases and protect jobs. The CFMEU could try to close down the building industry to defeat the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation and to win real safety on building sites with other unions joining in and supporting it. Workers could try to reclaim their unions. The by and large conservative "march and go home" social movements could and should radicalise, as appears to be happening in the growing protests against President-elect Donald Trump right now in the U.S..

If not, the alternative may well be "Trumpland" in Australia, with Pauline Hanson leading the charge and Malcolm Turnbull following her.

Working class social dislocation and anger are real. The left in Australia must make the case in our unions and social movements that we can win a better world. That means arguing for militant action over economic and social issues — for better wages, for jobs, for safety at work, for real measures to halt climate change, for refugees, for Indigenous people, for women’s rights, for equality, against racism and xenophobia. They are all linked. They are all our issues. Let’s begin the fightback now.

Read more by John Passant on his website En PassantYou can also follow John on Twitter @JohnPassant.

John Passant’s first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed, is now available. You can email John at en.passant@bigpond.com to order a signed copy or purchase at Ginninderra Press.

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