By Shannen Potter
Inequality and Injustice: What can we learn from these unprecedented times?
Unprecedented Times is a response to an unprecedented moment in history. We are a collective of democratic socialists, trade unionists, and Labor Party rank-and-file members who believe the COVID-19 crisis reveals the broader crisis of inequality and injustice which has been festering in Australia and globally for some decades under the system of neoliberal capitalism.
The public health and economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19 has exposed the inherently flawed logic of neoliberalism. In the biggest ideological shift since the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s, mass job losses, business closures and rent and mortgage defaults have fundamentally changed the conventional wisdom about the role of government in the economy. In Australia, the conservative Coalition Government has functionally doubled the rate of Newstart (now Jobseeker) after years of resisting any increases to the payment, dramatically expanded the social safety net through new and better welfare programs, and undertaken an economic stimulus package that dwarfs the Rudd Government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 - a scheme which the Liberals spent two election cycles deriding as a foolish waste of public money.
This moment of crisis absolutely must be seized upon in order to ensure that these advances are retained and expanded upon after COVID-19 passes. We needed better protections for tenants, higher welfare payments and more support for community organisations and essential services before this crisis hit. We will continue to need them once it has passed. We must examine the deep inequalities in our economic system that allowed this pandemic to cause in a matter of weeks near total economic collapse, and the real possibility of mass homelessness, food insecurity and lack of access to medical care. In fact, this result was avoided only through significant government intervention in the economy. Further, we must closely scrutinise the loss of civil liberties necessitated by the public health response to COVID-19, and the fight to make sure that this crisis is not seized upon by the political Right to curtail freedom in the long term.
The Labor Party, and therefore its membership, has a crucial role to play in transforming the political debate. We must ask: what does a fair and equal economy, society and community look like post-COVID-19? Labor must prioritise new ideas and new organising practices for the Party to remain a relevant political force during and after the crisis. Labor must, as a political organisation, practice the democracy we currently find lacking in our public institutions. We must be a forum for robust debate about the way forward and must have a large and empowered membership that is willing to put the work in to get it done. In short, Labor must become a social movement in and of itself.
Unprecedented Times will be a platform for this new way of doing politics. We are democratic socialists who believe in a fair and just society for all. We stand for environmental action, anti-racism, gender equality, justice for First Nations, anti-authoritarianism and the democratic ownership of the economy. We know that in order for Labor to truly stand up for working people in the wake of COVID-19, we need to be animated by branch activism, community organising and rank-and-file union action in and alongside our Party.
Now is the time for action. We face a rare moment in the history of our country in which the total failure of neoliberalism has been laid bare for all to see, and in which structural change not only seems possible, but is clearly visible. We absolutely must seize upon it and stand up for a fairer and more just society, economy and community after COVID-19.