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Issue 576, 7 December 2007 - Union Campaign Smashed Howard

Greens eat into Labor's base in Melbourne

The Greens' campaign in the seat of Melbourne was a model of how to increase the party's support by breaking into Labor's working class base.Greens eat into Labor's base in MelbourneAdam Bandt increased the Greens vote by 3.4 per cent, gaining 22.4 per cent of the vote - the highest vote for the Greens in the lower house nationally.

With 20 per cent of the vote still to be counted, the Greens may take second place from the Liberals after the final count and distribution of preferences. The Liberals are currently only a few hundred votes ahead of the Greens. Labor's Lindsay Tanner looks set to win the seat with just over fifty per cent of the primary vote.

Adam ran an energetic campaign of doorknocking and four rounds of letterboxing, as well as addressing community forums on issues ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Barwon 13 (who are being held in Victoria's Barwon prison on so-called terrorism charges), to nuclear power and public transport.

On one Saturday morning, 14 stalls were set up in different shopping centres across the electorate.

As Adam explained, this hard work paid off: "Many people were surprised, telling us that they hadn't heard from the other parties.

"We understood that the key task of this election was to defeat Howard and that the ACTU Rights at Work Campaign was tremendously successful."

This meant the Greens were potentially squeezed, with left-wing voters shifting back to Labor because of the desire to get rid of Howard.

The Greens across Victoria responded by making it clear that their preferences would flow directly to Labor ahead of the Liberals and the Democrats. The seat of Melbourne campaign letterboxed a special leaflet explaining preferences titled "How to safely vote Howard out".

The campaign focused on WorkChoices, emphasising that unlike Kevin Rudd's half-way compromise, the Greens policy was to completely abolish WorkChoices.

Union support

Discontent with Labor's policy within the union movement led to two Victorian unions supporting Adam's campaign - the Electrical Trades Union and the firefighters' union.

In addition the medical scientists union recommended its members to vote Greens 1 and Labor 2 in all lower house seats.

All three unions, as well as the Finance Sector Union, supported the Greens in the Senate.

Adam's union support gained widespread media coverage, and led to the unions funding the installation of huge billboards calling for a vote for the Greens on two centrally-located union offices.

Greens supporters attended mass meetings held during the nurses' and teachers' strikes with anti-WorkChoices leaflets. The campaign also presented a wider alternative to neo-liberal policies, arguing for public services and a $30 per week increase for pensioners, instead of Rudd's $31 billion spending on tax cuts.

A Greens leaflet posed the question: "What kind of world do we want for ourselves?" Linking climate change, working conditions and war, they opened up a dialogue on anti-capitalist change.

Adam Bandt targeted the large public housing areas in the electorate that are Labor strongholds. Over 5000 high-rise public housing tenants received a Greens mail out arguing for services not tax cuts.

Earlier Adam had also backed the campaign against the state Labor government's plan to increase rents for public housing tenants. This led to his endorsement by Lyn Dixon, a leading member of the North Richmond Tenants Association.

The Greens were unequivocal in supporting refugees. Adam's opposition to Kevin Andrews's attacks on Sudanese refugees led to backing from African community associations and built a new layer of supporters in key public housing areas in Flemington.

As a result a number of people from local African communities came out to help the Greens on polling day.

There was a swing to the Greens in every polling booth, with particularly large swings in housing commission and working class areas - 4.3 per cent in Hotham Hill, 8.2 per cent in Newmarket, 7.8 per cent in North Melbourne and 4.4 per cent in North Melbourne Central. A similar decline in the Labor vote in these booths shows that these swings came from those who would usually support Labor.

There were also large swings in inner city areas with a high proportion of white collar workers, such as 7 per cent in Brunswick South, 6.9 per cent in Clifton Hill and 6.1 per cent in Fitzroy North.

The Greens increased their Senate primary vote from the last election in the seat of Melbourne by 5 five per cent to 30 per cent. In at least two polling booths, the Greens received more Senate primary votes than Labor. At another, 44 per cent voted for the Greens in the Senate.

Adam's campaign showed that by targeting working class issues, it is possible for the Greens to win over traditional Labor voters . The challenge now is for all Adam's supporters to stay active and help build the grassroots movements which can force Kevin Rudd to deliver real change.

We are off to a good start with the Greens endorsing and speaking at the Human Rights Day rally organised by Unity for Peace on December 9. By helping to build this and other activist events, the Greens can continue to build wider electoral support as well a be part of rebuilding the left more broadly.

By Judy McVey