Build a better society with reforms that empower people

Contributed by Glen Davis

How do we move beyond a political system and economy not working in the interests of the majority?

Despite having what is supposed to be ‘Left’ ALP governments at both state, and federal level, for much of the last 50 years,  Australia has become more unequal. These governments have only been too clear on their role to maintain the status quo. What they once might have promised, or even obtained, are memories.

As the well-known Slovenian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek says :

“ Social  Democratic reforms are now revolutionary as capitalism won’t/can’t accommodate them” Short of a revolution, what can we do to turn this around, to build a new, better society? Is there any point in battling for social democratic reforms?

André Gorz was a radical thinker, particularly active in the Left from the late 1960’s. As the much desired, much spoken about , revolution(s) failed to materialise, Gorz looked at other approaches to build a better society. He talked about non reformist reforms. These were reforms aimed at winning gains a decent society should provide its people. These reforms could take us on the way to building a new social system.

André Gorz

For Gorz, there were the following important points about non-reformist reforms:

Reforms for Gorz were a step in the struggle for something larger, a systemic change doing away with capitalism. Gorz wanted reforms that went beyond accommodation in the current system, with reforms that gave us impetus to build a better world. Non reformist reforms could lead into greater transformations. To Gorz, these gains would be steps to revolution.

He saw the way the demand is won is as important as the demand. It Is not good enough for a bureaucrat to say, ‘here we like you/feel sorry for you. Take this handout.’ For example, mobilising around demands, struggle to achieve secure, stable housing for low-income earners is worth far more than a charity saying, ‘Oh you poor people, here are some houses we’re giving you because we feel sorry for you ’. We can see the struggle, more so than the reform, is transformative in building people’s consciousness.

The reforms won start boosting popular power at the expense of the established system.

People become more confident in challenging the elite, in wanting more than handouts. These actions help people in their struggle for their own emancipation.

Compromises are part of the process. Gorz acknowledged the reality of compromises if they go in the right direction, a direction, one that is clear about its overall goal, would allow/accept compromises on the way. For Gorz a compromise to win a reform must be judged on its context.

Yes, there’s ambiguity here but battles are rarely one straightforward.

What are some of the possible non reformist reforms we can fight for in 2022 Australia?

A Universal Basic Income (UBI): The idea of a regular, liveable payment to people covering their living expenses without them being stigmatised as being a welfare beneficiary, is gaining thought in many places. In 2020 a report by ACOSS estimated 3.24 million people were surviving under the poverty line. This in a land where Gina Rinehart has over$ 32 billion to survive on; not far behind is Andrew Forrest, who needs to survive on $31 Billion. Many of Australia’s wealthy pay next to no tax, while huge companies like Glencore, Lend Lease are also accused of this evasion.

Then there’s extremely wealth corporations that pocketed the Job Keeper dollars  in the early part of the  pandemic, despite recording large profits: Many of these companies did not repay the job keeper handouts. In a wealthy country like ours, no one should be in poverty : A UBI may help address that.

Shorter working week: As a young worker back in the 1980’s

I remember the campaign to reduce the hours of the working week when I was a young worker in the 1980’s. The metal trades led the way with the 35-hour week campaign. In the health field the,  I saw the campaigning for a 38-hour week .

Though ‘officially’ a 37.5 hour working week is the norm in most industrial awards and agreements, many Australians work longer hours to retain their jobs, while many more are underemployed juggling precarious work. Although the official figures say unemployment is at 6.3 percent, it’s likely this is substantially understated.

Surely, it’s time to challenge how much time we spend providing the labour power for others to make big money from our hard work.

Taxes on Capital: We saw the attempt by the Rudd, Gillard, Federal ALP Governments to get the big miners to pay a ‘fair share’ of tax. The Resource Super Profits Tax  drew a rapid mobilisation to …. Subsequently under Julia Gillard  a watered-down  Minerals Resource Rent Tax was put up, that was inefficient. If we’re not going to tax capital now, when will we?

It is estimated a third of big corporations pay no tax; during the Covid pandemic wealthy Australians including as Gina Rinehart whose personal wealth in this time doubled from $16 billion to $32 billion, as this period saw the combined wealth of Australia’s billionaires jump to $417 billion, an increase of $90 billion.

None of these reforms are a revolution, also none will be easy. But if we want to move beyond this exploitative system the battle must commence.

To close with Andre Gorz,’ Win what should be, not what can be.”

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