Capitalism in Australia
Since the end of the second world war two-and-a-half million workers from Europe, including a million from Britain, have gone to Australia. The majority go in the hope that they are going to make a fresh start and are leaving their problems behind them. They have been attracted by advertizing. (One slogan declares “We are making Australia a better place to live in”.) The emigrants are going there to work. To be more accurate they will be “getting a living”, but as they will be doing the bidding of some employer they are not free men and women.
Australia is a one-country Island-Continent. Its recorded history did not start until 1788 when the first Europeans arrived. Prior to that this huge land mass was an unknown land and, when discovered, was inhabited only by a handful of Aborigines. It was occupied without opposition, never knew feudalism, and has not known revolution or civil war. The early settlers “brought” capitalism with them and set in motion all the paraphernalia. The capitalist system was therefore imported into Australia.
Australia has vast prairies, formidable deserts, rich grazing lands, plentiful minerals, beautiful beaches. Its population has grown to 13,000,000, most of whom live in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and small towns along the east coast. With Darwin, Adelaide and Perth, these cities are the major centres of commerce. World capitalism has booms and slumps, and Australia in its short history has experienced both. In the 19th century there were two slumps, in 1842 and 1892, but recovery was stimulated each time because of gold discoveries. Gold rushes always attract fresh emigrants with tradesmen, shopkeepers and so forth in their wake. By the turn of the century, capitalist development was again on the upgrade. After the first world war there was a boom which encouraged still more migrants but it was short-lived, for Australia did not escape the effects of the 1929 world depression. The older generation of the working class remember those years: the unemployment, the Labour Exchanges and the grinding poverty.
Today, Australia is called an “Awakening Giant”. It presents itself as an expanding capitalist country making the most of the “Winds of Change”. Its agricultural and mineral wealth are being exploited to the full. Exports in minerals alone (iron ore, zinc, lead, coal, copper) bring in millions of dollars annually. Vast amounts of capital, Australian and foreign, is invested to develop industry of every kind. The cities of Sydney and Melbourne with their teeming freeways, their busy dock areas and airports, their skyscraper office blocks, are the outward symbols of Australian capitalism. At the same time they testify where some of the surplus-value extracted by the exploitation of the working class has gone.
Propagandists describe Australia today as “the country of the future”, “young and vigorous”, and so on. But such words are idle chatter as far as workers are concerned. In Australia, as in all capitalist countries, the working class does not share in profits: those go to the capitalist class, the owners. During the boom period in Australia, for the capitalist it means full order-books, profit and prosperity. For the working class it means “full employment” and “regular wages” — which means rushing to and from work and the usual struggle to make ends meet.
In Australia wages appear to be high, but appearances are deceptive. The workers have to fight to maintain their wage levels in relation to increasing prices. A recent report in the Daily Mail said (9 May 1974):
“A new campaign is being launched to lure Britons to well paid jobs in Australia. Miners will be offered about £100 per week and Electrical Fitters about £60 per week. The booming Kalgoorlie gold and nickel mines are hoping to take on 400 Britons in the next three years.”
Like every other commodity, the price for labour-power fluctuates around its value according to supply and demand. There is an urgent demand for miners but in other trades £50 a week would be considered average. A trip around the shopping precincts, the big stores and the car showrooms makes clear the workers have access to little when the prices of goods are considered. Much in evidence are signs advertizing Easy Terms, Weekly Accounts and “Lay- By”, in other words workers have to mortgage their wages to get things they need. If they were receiving half as much as the propagandists imply, none of these tricks would have to be employed. In addition to food, clothing and the running of a car to get them to work, are their mortgages and rents. Many workers live out their lives in blocks of flats and others in Commission (Council) Houses. It is true they have access to the beautiful beaches and can go surfing or swimming. Sport is encouraged and Australian Rules football and cricket are popular, but what fundamental difference is there between the lives of the workers of Australia and those in Europe or USA? In the final analysis there is no difference. In the article in the Daily Mail appeared also the words of an Australian Government spokesman: “The money for Miners is good but it’s bloody hard work”.
About 2¼ million are organized in the trade-union movement; strikes are quite frequent. There is “National Arbitration Machinery” to cover the whole country in the event of strikes overlapping from one State to another. Each State has its own Industrial Tribune to intervene in strikes, make binding agreements and fix minimum wage rates. These bodies pretend the class struggle does not exist and are anti-working class as they uphold the whole structure of the wages system. Their existence and functions will end when the wages system itself is abolished by a Socialist working class.
To go to the polling booth in Australia is compulsory, but workers do not show much interest in politics. This is probably the result of conditions since the war for the younger generation especially. For 23 years there was a coalition Government of Liberals (read Tories) and Country Party but a year ago this was replaced by the Australian Labour Party. Not that it will make any difference. All are reformist parties. They act in the interest of the capitalist class, and the working class will have to learn this.
A small Socialist Party of Australia was formed nearly fifty years ago and groups exist in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These groups are endeavouring, as do Socialists everywhere, to gain the ear of their fellow workers. The distances are vast, but nevertheless they keep in touch, distribute Socialist literature and use every opportunity to explain the cause of poverty, insecurity and war. The movement will grow. They are conscious of the fact that they are the only Party of Socialism and of the working class in Australia. They are indeed worthy of being one of the Companion Parties of Socialism. What more fitting phrase can be used to summarize their efforts other than “Good on You!”
J. C. Gormley