Rudd’s attempts to pump up the Australian economy with tens of billions in government spending have been widely welcomed. We are facing a deep international recession. Many people are understandably worried about losing their jobs and their homes. The Melbourne Age newspaper’s half-yearly economic survey in January predicted 250,000 people could lose their jobs this year.
It is right for governments to be spending money in the face of the economic meltdown. Rudd’s spending packages will have some effect. But they are aimed at providing a short term stimulus to the faltering system, not safeguarding working class people’s jobs and living standards.
The most direct way the government could reduce unemployment is to simply employ people in government funded jobs. Our schools, hospitals and public transport systems are crying out for more staff—yet there is nothing in Rudd’s stimulus package to employ extra people in public services. State Labor governments around the country continue to retain wage-freeze policies.
A good portion of Rudd’s spending will go into infrastructure—from new school buildings to road maintenance and public housing. Yet the government will contract this construction work out to the private sector and allow construction firms to cream off money in profits that could go into employing more people.
Unfortunately, The Greens made no serious moves to direct the spending package towards a genuine defence of workers’ interests or the environment.
We need demands that all government spending be tied to job creation and that all workers entitlements are guaranteed. Planned tax cuts which favour the wealthy should be scrapped and there should be higher taxes on corporations who are continuing to profit. The Commonwealth Bank posted a 9 per cent profit increase over the past 6 months and Woodside’s rose by 73 per cent to $1.79 billion.
Instead of capitulating to pressure for a quick response, The Greens could have demanded serious investment in renewable energy infrastructure and public transport. Such measures have public support and are necessary to head off the twin threats of recession and global warming.
Even with Rudd’s package the Australian economy still faces recession. It is nowhere near big enough to prevent a sharp rise in unemployment. Spending levels are paltry in comparison with other governments around the world and will result in less than half the boost to Australian GDP that Obama’s package will bring to the US economy.
There is, however, nothing inevitable about companies imposing job cuts. Many will use the excuse that they are losing money to claim they can no longer afford to employ people. Most companies will still turn a profit despite the slowing economy —and precious few CEOs or managers will be taking a pay cut.
Where businesses go bankrupt we should demand that the government step in to take them over and save affected jobs. But all this is going to take a fight.
After ABC Learning childcare collapsed, instead of taking it over Rudd let an administrator cherry pick profitable sections of the business to sell off. Centres deemed unprofitable have either already been closed or face closure in the near future—with hundreds of people’s jobs affected. And this was in a business that got around 40 per cent of its revenue from government subsidies.
Anywhere there is a business threatened with closure or that announces job losses, there is an opportunity for workers to fight back by protesting, striking, or like workers in Waterford Crystal in Ireland, by occupying to save their jobs.
Any stand by the union movement would boost the confidence of workers to resist moves to cut wages or jobs. As the crisis begins to bite in Australia, more and more workers will be under pressure. We need to fan the flames of every bit of defiance. Any real action on jobs and climate change will have to be pushed from below.