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Victorian Socialists — the invisible campaign

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Victorian Socialists candidate Kath Larkin at the 2019 Federal Election campaign launch (Image via WikiMedia Commons)

An independent Victorian party is hoping to make a loud voice against the Government's profits-before-people attitude, writes Dr Martin Hirst.

THE MELBOURNE AGE prides itself on its coverage of Australia’s second-largest city so you might think that it would be interested in a political party that is standing candidates in 11 Melbourne-based electorates and has nominated a Tamil refugee for the Senate.

Well, think again.

The Victorian Socialists is that political party and its vigorous grassroots campaign across the working class north-western suburbs of Melbourne has not even piqued the interest of our champions of democracy in the Fourth Estate.

Vic Socialists might not win a seat, but it is campaigning just as hard as the “teal” Independents. Sure, it’s a small(ish) party, but it has a very active membership and it’s raised a small fortune in donations to produce campaign material, while the mainstream media lavishes attention on the Independents and the crazy outliers on the far right; a serious left-wing challenge to the status quo is studiously ignored.

Let me give you a flavour of the Victorian Socialists’ (VS) campaign. Across the electorates of Calwell, Cooper, Fraser and Melbourne, VS activists have doorknocked over 50,000 homes. The letterboxing effort is even more impressive. Over 285,000 letterbox drops across 11 electorates. The letterboxing and doorknocking are continuing through the last week of the campaign and VS organisers are confident of adding substantially to these already impressive numbers.

On Election Day itself, VS is hoping to have volunteers handing out how-to-vote (HTV) cards at around 300 polling booths. More importantly, on voting day, VS members and supporters will be talking to voters on their way into the polling station to make sure they don’t miss any last-minute converts.

Victorian Socialists are also standing a candidate in the Senate; he’s a Tamil refugee, trade union activist and the founder of the Tamil Refugee Council.

Who are the Victorian Socialists?

Full disclosure, I am a member of the Party and I’ve been actively campaigning for Vic Socialists’ candidate Kath Larkin in the seat of Cooper, currently held by the ALP’s Ged Kearney and where there is a serious Greens challenge from Celeste Liddle.

The Victorian Socialists was formed in 2018 by members of Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance and independent left-wing activists (Socialist Alliance has since withdrawn). In the 2018 Victorian State Election and in the 2019 federal poll, Vic Socialists garnered on average just over 4% of the vote in the seats they contested: 4.56% in Calwell, 4.52% in Wills and 4.23% in Cooper.

In the 2018 State Election, Victorian Socialists concentrated on the Legislative Council seats in the northern metropolitan zone. In Preston, the VS candidate got 3.9 per cent of first preferences.

In the upper house poll, the three VS candidates all got more first preference votes than Fiona Patten of the Reason Party. Patten eventually won the fifth seat in that district on preferences from the small right-wing parties.

Victorian Socialists is an electoral alliance that is seriously trying to get a socialist voice into parliament, but at the same time, it is not a reformist party that thinks socialism can be introduced through parliamentary politics.

If a VS member is elected to parliament, they will not sit back to enjoy the perks of office. Candidates must sign a pledge to only accept a workers’ wage and to donate the rest of their salary to building activist campaigns. A socialist in parliament would use their position to argue for workers’ rights and class politics.

The Victorian Socialists’ campaign this time is entirely built on activist volunteers.

Rail worker and union activist Kath Larkin is the VS candidate in the Labor-held seat of Cooper and she told IA that campaign volunteers have found people are receptive to socialist ideas:

“Some of my best conversations have been with older union militants who haven't lost their fighting spirit. They've been quietly appalled by Labor’s various betrayals of working people over the last few decades.”

Kath is no stranger to union politics. Like all of the VS candidates, she is an active union member, a workplace delegate and a rank-and-file militant.

She says socialist arguments are also getting a hearing from younger voters, too:

“It's not just the older crowd who take an interest — more and more young people are looking to radical alternatives as the planet is burning, Labor and the Liberals bipartisan cruelty to refugees becomes ever more barbaric and all while we're struggling with declining wages and a soaring cost of living.”

Interview with VS candidate Kath Larkin

For almost a decade, Kath Larkin has worked in the railways where she was the first female union delegate in her workplace.

Talking about her experiences of fighting for workers’ rights today, Kath says:

“During the pandemic, I organised rank and file actions including petitions, forums, stop works and occupations to fight for safer workplaces and economic security in the face of the pandemic.”

According to Kath Larkin, the Labor Party is running a right-wing campaign that won’t frighten business leaders:

[Labor Leader Anthony] Albanese grovelling to big business, backing the Liberals tax cuts for the rich, talking about turning back boats, not allowing refugees to settle in Australia, opening new coal mines, the ALP's support of the bigoted ‘religious discrimination laws’ and in a clear attempt to relate to right-wing culture war warriors declaring that he is ‘not woke’.”

Even Labor’s commitment to raising the minimum wage is hedged in by caveats and a whole lot of “ifs” and “buts” regarding the Fair Work Commission. In the last week, we’ve seen Anthony Albanese try to push his pro-worker credentials by arguing that a Labor government would “accept” the deal if the FWC ruled in favour of an increase in the minimum wage in line with inflation.

Victorian Socialists say this isn’t good enough and it shows that Labor’s commitment to the working class is paper-thin.

Kath Larkin says that Anthony Albanese is not serious about lifting wages for all workers.

“The Labor party is virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals offering talk shops and little more than a reworded version of trickle-down economics. If Labor was serious about wage growth, it would be proposing to lift the minimum wage, legislating to increase all wages ahead of cost of living increases and, most importantly, removing all the anti-union laws which create barriers to worker organising.”

The Victorian Socialists are also being principled about their preference recommendations. Unlike the major parties who make carefully engineered deals with some of the less savoury smaller parties, VS is recommending voting for left-wing candidates where you can and then the Greens, followed by Labor.

Why Greens before Labor? Put simply, because they have a better policy on climate action and refugees. “Labor has made it almost impossible for principled socialists to give them their first preference vote,” says Kath Larkin, adding “but the Greens are not much better”.

According to VS socialist principles, the problem is that both Labor and the Greens are parties committed to the maintenance of capitalism, the profit system, private enterprise and the ongoing economic exploitation of labour and the planet.

Kath Larkin argues the socialist position that capitalism is the central problem affecting the world and the VS position is to fight for socialism – the abolition of capitalism – beyond simply standing for parliament:

“Labor and the Greens actually committed to the current system, so neither of them can really support the type of radical action needed to abolish the profit motive in order to save the planet.”

Kath Larkin is realistic enough to know that VS probably can’t win a seat, but that doesn’t hold her or her comrades back:

“Victorian Socialists are not interested in compromising our way onto the negotiating table — we want to flip that table and fight for a world that puts people before profit.”

Dr Martin Hirst is an Independent Australia columnist, journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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