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Issue 576, 7 December 2007 - Union Campaign Smashed Howard

Working class voters savaged Howard

The vote against Howard represents a polarisation against the government by working class voters.

Howard's landslide win in 1996 was based on the desertion of a chunk of Labor's traditional working class base to the Liberals, after 13 years in which a Labor government introduced neo-liberal policies that reduced living standards. Now those voters have deserted Howard in droves.

Some of the largest swings against the government were in working class seats in the western suburbs of Sydney like Parramatta, and the south-east of Melbourne like Holt. Strong Labor booths in Parramatta like Westmead recorded swings of over 15 per cent and booths in Seven Hills recorded swings of 10 per cent and 14 per cent. By contrast swings in the richer northern parts of the electorate were around 5 per cent.

Western Sydney seats like Chifley, Greenway, Lindsay and Werriwa, which swung heavily to the Coalition in 1996, were amongst the seats which swung heavily to Labor.

But as Mark Davis pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald, there was also a huge swing to Labor in regional centres like Cairns and Lismore, allowing it to pick up seats like Leichhardt with a 12.7 per cent swing and Page with a swing of 9 per cent. In the outer suburbs of Cairns there were swings of 17 and 18 per cent. This represents a huge swing towards Labor by the working class in the larger regional towns.

The opposition to WorkChoices shows that class is still a fundamental divide in Australian society. Inequality has accelerated under Howard. The number of millionaires increased by 10 per cent in the last year alone. In 2005-6 the wealthiest 20 per cent of households had 61 per cent of total Australian household wealth, while the bottom 20 per cent had just 1 per cent.

His government consistently attacked unions while cutting corporate tax rates from 36 to 30 per cent and pouring billions into private schools and private health insurance.

But with WorkChoices he attacked not just one section of workers but the entire working class. All workers - whether in unions or not - were threatened by the laws. With rates of unionisation and the general level of workers' strikes and demonstrations low, working class people mobilised against the government in the only way they saw available - by delivering it a thumping blow at the ballot box.