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Issue 576, 7 December 2007 - Union Campaign Smashed Howard

Chance to become real opposition to Rudd

THE GREENS' vote at the election was stronger than many expected. In the context of the momentum to come in behind Kevin Rudd to defeat Howard, the Greens' vote nationally increased slightly in the lower house and by just over 1 per cent in the Senate.

In Tasmania the Greens secured 17.6 per cent of the senate vote - enough to get Bob Brown elected on first preferences. Although Kerry Nettle failed to get re-elected in NSW, the party elected extra senators in SA and WA.

This result means that the Greens have solidified a base of committed supporters. Over 1 million people voted for the Greens in the Senate as a left alternative to Labor - sending a message that they wanted Rudd to go further in undoing WorkChoices, dealing with climate change and putting money back into public services.

Kevin Rudd�s conservatism will eventually disappoint those who voted for him�whether over his plans to retain much of WorkChoices, introduce budget cuts or his pro-US foreign policy.

Disillusionment with Labor offers the Greens the opportunity to further increase their support - particularly among Labor's working class base.

However it is not inevitable that the Greens will benefit from disillusionment with Labor. If working class people do not identify with left alternatives as an expression of their anger, they can be drawn behind right-wing parties instead. This can even mean the growth of extreme, racist right-wing groups, seen in the way that Pauline Hanson attracted those left behind by globalisation.

The progress made by the Greens in this election in taking up working class issues, especially WorkChoices, and in drawing support from unions were important steps forward. This was most clear in the seat of Melbourne.
Working class orientation

But this is not an orientation which is universally agreed within the party. Much of the Greens material produced during the campaign continued to present Labor and Liberal as the same�an approach that did not help win over Labor supporters who were desperate to get rid of Howard.

In addition many Greens campaigns did not make it clear that a Greens vote was an anti-Howard vote - that voters could use their preferences to vote Greens 1 Labor 2 and still prevent the Liberals being re-elected.

In Melbourne this threatened to derail the great work done by Adam Bandt's seat of Melbourne campaign, when a Greens candidate in another Victorian seat issued how-to-votes which suggested voters could direct preferences either to Liberal or Labor.

This was immediately seized on by Labor in an attempt to discredit the Greens in the eyes of Labor voters.

The links forged with unions during the campaign are particularly important. These need to be strengthened by Greens supporters helping to sustain local Rights at Work groups and campaigns by the unions to demand the complete abolition of WorkChoices.

The Greens will hold a share of the balance of power in the new Senate. However relying on the Senate cannot be the Greens main strategy for pressuring Rudd. As we saw during the period of the last federal Labor government, the Liberals were quite happy to vote with Labor when the government pursued neo-liberal policies. This means the key arena of struggle will be on the streets, not in the parliament.

The Greens as an organisation come from the social movements. Many Greens members, as well as Greens parliamentarians, have a track record of grassroots activism. But as a party the Greens have not mobilised around key struggles.

With one million people who now look to the Greens as a left alternative to Labor, the party could be a powerful force if it tried to mobilise its supporters to resist Rudd's attempt to continue with Howard's policies.

When Greens members play key roles within dynamic campaigns it strengthens the party. The increase in Greens support in Tasmania - the biggest in any state in the country - was a result of the campaign against the pulp mill.

If the Greens put themselves at the centre of building the key movements of opposition to the Rudd government, both the Greens and the whole left will be immeasurably strengthened.

James Supple