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Living standards in 2024: a programme with socialist characteristics

Just before Christmas, the Socialist Alliance (SA) put forward a ten-point programme to deal with the cost of living crisis in the interest of workers, their families and communities.

It is unclear what they have done or intend to do with this proposal.

Nevertheless, it is a good and constructive starting point for further discussion that the immediate circumstances require.

In a separate post, I will set out why it is a good starting point, including why its socialist characteristics are relevant in the immediate and short term. In that, I will also outline how an education programme should be developed to drive acceptance of the concept and its detail.

For now and in brief: a collaborative effort across the left to polish and use the proposal could 1) build a movement that shifts the Greens and the ALP from squawking at each other into a more constructive strategic relationship that prevents the return of an LNP government and 2) enables the left to the left of the ALP and the Greens, including those who are members of those parties, to learn how to build a common programme of struggle, with socialist characteristics.

To encourage collaborative "polishing" and wider discussion, I offer what follows. I have retained all of the elements of the SA proposal. These are shown in red print. However, I have re-ordered them and assigned them to one of 5 main "themes". The "strike-through's" show bits that could be taken out to keep it as short as possible. I have added some points that make sense in general if not in precise detail.

These themes do three things. First, they reflect the main determinants of the standard of living. Second, they capture the real and immediate impacts of climate heating and associated disasters, misogyny and racism across and inside class relations. Three, as a unit they invite stronger common support for more detailed proposals in a lot of "policy" areas.

The ongoing effort should try to keep the succinctness of the SA effort, and its plain language.

So, here is a re-draft with my sketches about what could be addressed as standard of living issues.

Draft "People's Ecological and Economic Programme"

A. Jobs and environment and manufacturing

  • Climate-induced Disaster Recovery - regional peoples planning control and ongoing, based on the existing, but minor, element of the government’s current policy “ownership” – regional skilled jobs creation - clear expression needed.·

  • Energy democracy: publicly owned renewal, restoration and preventative, sustainable - clear expression needed.

B. Industrial wage

  • 1. Full and automatic quarterly indexation of wage rates and welfare payments to keep up with inflation. All welfare payments should be raised to a liveable and dignified level of income.

  • 2. The minimum wage should be raised to at least $25 an hour and penalty rates should be fully restored.

  • Gender pay gap closed – clear expression needed.

  • Right to strike - clear expression needed.

C. Social wage - taxation and social services

  • 9. Scrap the GST, cancel the Stage 3 tax cuts and impose a steeply progressive taxation system. Raise the company tax to 49%; establish an additional super-profits tax and a wealth tax on the super-rich.

  • Closing the Gap - clear expression needed, draw from First Nations' organization(s) / leadership

  • Unemployment benefit increase – clear expression needed, draw from AUWU.

  • 3. Housing is one of the biggest costs for all but the very rich, so private rents should be capped at September 2020 levels for 10 years and public and social housing rents set to be no more than 20% of a renter’s income.

  • 4. Rents and housing prices have become unaffordable because of property speculation, so a program to radically expand the supply of quality and ecologically sustainable public housing is needed to guarantee affordable housing for all who need it.

  • Another significant cost-of-living is health. Australia needs to restore free and universal health care and include free dental care while ending the subsidies to private health insurance companies. Abolish the Medicare levy.

  • 6. Public education — from early childhood to tertiary level — should be made totally free and the Higher Education Contribution Scheme debt (a more than $100 billion burden mostly on younger people) should be cancelled.

  • 7. Provide free, 24-hour childcare funded by a levy on business and eliminate the gender pay gap.

  • 8. Make public transport comprehensive, frequent and free. This will remove a major cost-of-living while making a significant contribution to addressing the climate emergency and improving the sociability of our cities and towns.

  • Aged care services and the aged pension

  • … reverse the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal and other expensive offensive arms acquisitions. (War making)

D. Price of money

  • 10. The Reserve Bank has been raising interest rates to force the working class to carry the burden of inflation driven by corporate profiteering. Its functions should be taken over by a democratically-controlled People’s Bank, formed through the nationalisation of the banking sector.

E. Workers’ rights

  • To bargain at the award and enterprise agreement levels over investment policy.

F. Parliamentary reform

  • Right of recall

  • Limited tenure

  • Compress salaries against the median wage earner benchmark

  • 4-year terms

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One initial general comment I would make is that we need to be clear on which of the claims in a statement such as this can be credibly pursued as part of an immediate and short-term response to the cost of living crisis. A number of the proposals are certainly worth pursuing but are the sort of things that would require some years of policy development and campaigning to achieve.


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