Victorian Socialists: The Invisible Campaign

An independent Victorian party hopes to speak out against the government’s “profits before people” attitude, writes Dr Martin Hirst.

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

Well, think again.

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

Vic’s Socialists may not win a seat, but they are campaigning just as hard as the ‘green’ independents. Sure, it’s a small party (sort of), but it has a very active membership and has raised a small fortune in donations to produce campaign material, while the mainstream media lavishes its attention on the Independents and wacko outliers from the extreme right; a serious challenge from the left to the status quo is studiously ignored.

Let me give you an insight into the campaign of the Victorian Socialists (VS). In the electorates of Calwell, Cooper, Fraser and Melbourne, VS activists have knocked on the doors of more than 50,000 households. The mailbox effort is even more impressive. More than 285,000 mailboxes in 11 electorates. Mailboxes and knocking on doors continue into the final week of the campaign and VS organizers are hoping to substantially increase these already impressive numbers.

On election day itself, VS hopes to have volunteers distribute how-to-vote (HTV) cards at about 300 polling places. More importantly, on the day of the vote, VS members and supporters will talk to voters on their way to the polling station to make sure they don’t miss out on any last-minute converts.

Victorian Socialists also stand as candidates in the Senate; he is a Tamil refugee, union activist and founder of the Tamil Refugee Council.

Who are the Victorian Socialists?

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

The Victoria Socialists were formed in 2018 by members of the Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance and independent left-wing activists (the Socialist Alliance has since withdrawn). In the 2018 Victorian state election and 2019 federal poll, the Vic Socialists averaged just over 0.4 per cent of the vote in the seats they contested.

In the 2018 state election, the Victorian Socialists concentrated on Legislative Council seats in the northern metropolitan area. In Preston, the VS candidate received 3.9 percent of the first preferences.

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

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

KERRYN PHELPS: Why are independents the teal deal?

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 accept only workers’ wages and donate the rest of their wages to build activist campaigns. A socialist in parliament would use his position to defend workers’ rights and class politics.

The campaign of the Victorian Socialists this time is based entirely on activist volunteers.

Railway worker and union activist Kath Larkin is the VS candidate at Cooper Labor headquarters and she told meAN that campaign volunteers have found that people are receptive to socialist ideas:

โ€œSome of my best conversations have been with older union activists who haven’t lost their fighting spirit. They have been quietly appalled at Labour’s various betrayals of working people in recent decades.”

Kath is no stranger to union politics. Like all the candidates of the VS, she is an active union member, labor delegate and grassroots member.

She says that the socialist arguments are also being heard by younger voters:

“It’s not just the older crowd that cares: more and more young people are seeking radical alternatives as the planet burns, the bipartisan cruelty of Labor and Liberals towards refugees becomes increasingly barbaric and all while we fight with the decrease in wages. and a very high cost of living.

Interview with VS candidate Kath Larkin

For nearly a decade, Kath Larkin has worked on the railroads, where she was the first shop steward at her workplace.

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

โ€œDuring the pandemic, I organized grassroots actions including petitions, forums, work stoppages, and occupations to fight for safer workplaces and economic security in the face of the pandemic.โ€

According to Kath Larkin, the Labor Party is running a right-wing campaign that will not scare business leaders:

โ€œ[Labor Leader Anthony] Albanians humiliate themselves before big business, support Liberal tax cuts for the rich, talk of returning boats, not allowing refugees to settle in Australia, opening new coal mines, ALP support for bigots ‘religious discrimination laws’ and in a clear attempt to relate to right wing culture war fighters who declare that he is ‘not awake’โ€.

Even Labour’s commitment to raising the minimum wage is protected by caveats and plenty of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ regarding the Fair Work Commission. In the last week, we have seen Anthony Albanese attempt to boost his pro-labour credentials by arguing that a Labor government would “take” the deal if the FWC ruled in favor of raising the minimum wage in line with inflation.

Victorian Socialists say this is not good enough and shows that Labour’s commitment to the working class is thin.

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

โ€œThe Labor Party is virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals who deliver talk and little more than a reformulated version of trickle-down economics. If Labor were serious about raising wages, they would be proposing raising the minimum wage, legislating to raise all wages before cost of living increases and, most importantly, removing all anti-union laws that create barriers for the organization of workers.

Liberal Party afraid of the Independents

The Victorian Socialists are also building on their preference recommendations. Unlike the major parties who make carefully crafted deals with some of the less likable smaller parties, VS recommends voting for left-wing candidates where possible and then the Greens, followed by Labour.

Why Greens Before Labour? Simply put, because they have a better policy on climate action and refugees. “Labor have made it almost impossible for principled Socialists to give them their first preference vote,” says Kath Larkin, adding “but the Greens aren’t much better.”

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

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

“Labor and the Greens have really committed to the current system, so neither of them can really support the kind 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’s not stopping her and her comrades:

โ€œVictorian Socialists are not interested in compromising our way to the negotiating table; we want to flip that table and fight for a world that puts people before profit.โ€

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

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