Eileen Darley spoke for the LIFE campaign at May Day in Adelaide.
It’s difficult to exaggerate the path the laws of history are taking this country at present.
A country that millions of families, including my own, came to because, with no doubt a degree of unrealistic optimism, it was seen as the ‘workers’ paradise’.
Not by any means perfect but where a massive trade union movement (over 60% of workforce membership) hand in glove with mighty grassroots social movements forced the captains of industry and government to a measure of wealth distribution, access to half-decent social services, and a safety net for the poorest.
Now, 40 years of not just chipping away but wholesale destruction of working class institutions, our gains and militancy, by governments of both stripes, sees us faced with well over 3 million people living in poverty, by which I mean on income support payments that are not much more than half the poverty line, and millions more above them languishing on inadequate Disability and Aged pensions, Carers and Single parenting payments and several million just above them struggling in badly-paid casual jobs with increasing levels of exploitation, and threatening to slide down the slippery slope any day.
All of this whilst this Govt, and others before them, has orchestrated the greatest shift of wealth from the poor to the rich we’ve seen in the best part of a century. Some of the largest multinational corporations, who are plundering this land and its people, paying zero or little tax, government handouts to the largest big businesses while their profits skyrocketed, and tax cuts for the top 10- 20% of income earners.
Last year for the first time in 26yrs the govt, with a flick of its wrist, doubled the Jobseeker payment, just like those of us who have fought for years for the incomes and dignity of low-income earners always said they could .
For a brief moment, a moment in which people could breathe for the ,often, the first time in years, kids got a pair of new shoes and an excursion or two, people could replace dying white goods, get their car serviced, buy their medications, eat healthier food, didn’t have to skip meals (which they’re doing now again in alarming numbers) and for once didn’t have to worry so much about how they were going to pay the electricity bill or rent.
And just as quickly as it came the bastards took it all away, until now an even greater number than before Covid are living in poverty with an insulting $25 a week increase to the base rate of Jobseeker to show us just how much they care.
If that doesn’t fill you with outrage I don’t know what will.
Last year, just as the Coronavirus supplement was coming into effect, a loose coalition of existing welfare and anti-poverty groups , unemployed, single parents, disability , carers and aged pensioners, housing and migrant activists together with some current and retired trade unionists , founded the National Campaign called Living Incomes for Everyone (LIFE for short) to defend the increased Unemployment Benefits of $550 per week; to extend that to all other people surviving off Centrelink payments; to abolish the vicious Mutual Obligations system and its associated multi-billion dollar , privatised Job Providers whose sole purpose is to police and punish the lives of the poorest. (And make no mistake, the punishment of the poor exists as a WARNING to all employed workers to be satisfied with your lot and not fight for better wages and conditions or you’ll end up at the bottom of the shit-heap like “those people”.)
We came together to demand a massive increase to * public* housing, never mind these milquetoast nods to affordable and social housing which are just pipedreams, to address the tsunami of a housing crisis coming our way which no scribbler in the mainstream media has begun to come to terms, because the ramifications are too unsettling. An Anglicare report just a couple of days ago telling us that there is not one house available in SA for rent to a single person on Jobseeker.
And we aim to abolish the Cashless Welfare Card , doled out in an overtly racist manner to largely Aboriginal communities first, and coming for everyone else soon.
And most importantly comrades we started the process of coming together because we know that the only way to defeat these policies dished out on behalf the corporations and big businesses that own the Australian state is to bring together those discarded by the system and those most exploited by the system, that is, people forced to rely on income supports and low-income and other workers.
To this end our demands have been endorsed by significant trade unions across Australia: the Commonwealth Public Service Union, the United Workers Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, some branches of the AMWU and CFMEU, RAFFWU, several regional Trades and Labor Councils and the powerful Victorian Trades Hall Council.
But here’s the thing comrades: endorsements do not a movement make. LIFE looks around and sees a working class movement in disarray; people organising in small grouplets and silos, defending their issues and territories, but without the muscular organising capacity to really build the groundswell movement which is the only way to lift the living standards of the poor and working poor of this country.
And a working class movement which cant win basic issues around wages and conditions, social and industrial, around peoples standards of living, isn’t really a working class movement worth its name.This is the challenge.
Make no mistake, the situation we are in is certainly at the feet of the bosses and their political henchmen but its also because we have given over territory which should never have been surrendered in the first place.
The model of top-down advocacy from social service institutions and charities…. hasn’t worked! It couldn’t even defend an unemployment rate that was in existence and we have more people living in poverty than ever before.
Advocacy and deals orchestrated from the upper echelons of the trade union leadership …. hasn’t worked!
Deference to electing an ALP that left us in the dirt 40 years ago and appeals to leave it to the big guys and gals ….hasnt worked! In fact is a big part of the problem.Its delivered us frozen wages and a measly minimum wage,no right to strike, punitive industrial laws,endless privatisations, increasing poverty and costs of living and a housing crisis to boot.
Appeals to the conscience of politicians…. hasn’t worked! They don’t care about our stories. They don’t care how many people are living impoverished, unfulfilled lives, having their human potential snuffled out daily . They’re the fist, and we’re in its grasp, and they’re squeezing as hard as they like.
So long as the profits keep rising, they have great tolerance for the misery of those at the bottom of the heap. That misery and insecurity that is one of the main reasons that theres been no growth in wages for quite some time. And let’s be clear that amounts to a wage cut for workers, because it’s you who will be asked to support your kids and elders and disabled loved ones who live on poverty payments.
They won’t do anything substantial until we force them to. Until they’ve got no other option.
What is needed is a bit of old-school fight comrades. All unionists, welfare groups and activists building an independent movement in our communities, our states and nationally to raise the living standards of the working class of this country, starting with those at the bottom who have the greatest need . Living Incomes For Everyone is the beginning of that movement. It doesn’t belong to any individual or group. We’re building it for us. And we’d like to see you along.
Get in touch, find our website livingincomes.org.au, come to meetings, bog in, lets build this thing.
Thanks for listening comrades.