Capitalism down under

The political and economic situations in Australia and Britain are remarkably similar. Both have had the same party in power after several elections — in Britain since 1979 and in Australia since 1983. The oppositions in both countries now have substantial opinion poll leads, and so look forward to winning the next general elections, probably in 1997. The size and power of the trade unions have been reduced in both countries. The gap between the rich and the poor has been getting wider in both countries. Both governments have presided over the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But there is one difference: the long running party in power is Conservative in Britain; in Australia it is Labor. To those who are naive enough to believe that Labour — or Labor down under — is the party of the working class, the point about the widening gap between the classes in Australia may come as a surprise. It shouldn’t do — the facts show it to be true. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports “increasing inequality in earned income received by both male and female full-year, full-time workers over the period 1981-2 to 1989-90”. During that period the highest 10 percent of income earners enjoyed a dramatic increase in their real income, but all other income earners experienced a dramatic fall.


Further evidence of inequality comes from an international study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Britain came third and Australia fourth (behind Norway and New Zealand) in the growth of inequality in the 13 years 1979-92.


In the Australian weekly Bulletin (28 February) spokesmen for the Labor and Coalition (equivalent to Conservative) parties debated the question of the income gap. For Labor, Peter Baldwin argued that the Henderson poverty line has increased by 16 percent in real terms over the past decade. He was therefore able to assert that “the poor are certainly not getting poorer”. But Peter Costello, for the coalition, was more impressed by the relative than the absolute: “While the rich have got richer under Labor, the poor have got poorer.”


Both sides did, in fact, agree on the widening gap. Baldwin admitted that “it is true that there has been an increase in inequality of market incomes, both in Australia and other developed countries. This reflects the phenomena of globalisation and technological change, as well as the successful restoration of business profitability during the 1980s”. Note the word “successful”. From all their efforts the workers have got a bit more money. Thanks to Labor, the capitalists have been “successful” in getting a whole lot more. And the cost to the working class as a whole has been enormous: an unemployment rate of nearly a million (fluctuating between 8.5 and I I percent) and a new underclass of some 350,000 long-term unemployed.


The lessons are clear. Labour, Conservative, Liberal and any other aspirants to run capitalism do so in the only way it can be run — in the interests of capital. The cake made by the workers gets bigger but we get a smaller share of it. Business “succeeds” in making more profits as it forces more of us to join the reserve army of the unemployed.
But no-one forces us to vote for one of the capitalism-supporting parties. We can say “no” to them and their system and replace it with one where we’ll all succeed.


Stan Parker