Looking around the world as we enter 2011, Australia can seem somewhat of an anomaly. Europe and the US are still mired in recession with many places facing unemployment levels of 10% or more. Savage cuts to state spending are the norm as governments attempt to make ordinary people pay for the bank bailouts and stimulus measures.
In a number of countries workers have resisted austerity measures. In places like Spain, Greece, Portugal, France, India and South Africa workers have responded with general strikes. Young people to have been on the march fighting against attacks on education in places like Britain, Ireland, Italy and the US.
The fact that the downturn has not been as severe in Australia, compared to Europe or the US, has meant that the government has had some breathing space and has not yet had to push ahead with deep spending cuts. Economic developments in Australia are lagging behind the rest of the world and subsequently so is consciousness. So far workers and young people in Australia have not felt the need to come out onto the streets en masse.
This situation can not be maintained indefinitely. Australia is tied to the world economy by a thousand strings and there are a number of factors that could lead to a dramatic change in Australia’s economic fortunes. Not least would be a worsening of the debt crisis in Europe or a bursting of the property bubble in China.
While Australian workers have not yet seen a sharp drop in living standards, it is definitely the case that most people are finding it harder to make ends meet compared to a few years ago. Wages have barely kept up with inflation while interest rates have gone up along with the prices of electricity and water. Food prices have skyrocketed and will continue to worsen due to the devastating floods in Queensland.
Against the backdrop of the still unfolding crisis big business is doing all it can to maintain profits at our expense. One recent example of big business greed is the campaign of the retail giants to force consumers to pay GST on goods purchased for less than $1000 on-line. This is nothing more than an attempt by them to lock consumers into a market where they can set exorbitant prices.
The hostile reaction of consumers towards billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey is an example of the anti-big business mood that has developed in many parts of the world. As the crisis gets worse, and the effects become clearer in Australia, this mood will deepen and an increasing amount of people will draw radical conclusions.
The problem at this stage is that across the world there is an absence of mass left wing parties that are harnessing this anger and putting forward an alternative to the program of cuts, privatisation and corporate greed. In many places it is the ex-social democratic parties that are driving the attacks on working people.
This is the situation in Australia where the Labor Party have aligned themselves with the big business elite and have presided over an undermining of people’s living standards. Both nationally and in most states Labor has lost a lot of support.
Until recently Labor held power at a national level and in all states bar Western Australia (WA). In WA Labor are now trailing the Liberals 42% to 58% on a two party preferred basis. Labor have had to cobble together coalition governments and have lost power to the Coalition in Victoria. If one thing is certain in 2011 it is that Labor will also lose the March State election in New South Wales. With some polls showing Labor’s support as low as 24%, it is inevitable that the Coalition led by Barry O’Farrell will win office.
The problem facing workers and young people is that replacing one big business party with another is no solution. The crisis facing world capitalism will not be resolved in the short term. In many parts of the world it will continue to get worse and it is only a matter of time before Australia catches up with the rest of the world.
We need to prepare for this and drive towards developing a socialist alternative so that ordinary people are not forced to pay for the problems created by the profit driven system. 2011 will be a year of challenges but also of opportunities. While the crisis of capitalism will impact on the lives of many it will also result in more interest in the ideas of socialism as people search for a more sane and just way of running society.