Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

A Labour Sell Out?

Earlier this week the Israeli Labour Party voted to join a coalition with the right-wing Likud Party to form a new government in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. This vote occurred after weeks of debate within Labour as to whether joining such a coalition would see the party sell-out on its principles to retain a level of power in government or whether it would mean saving Israel from a narrow, right wing government that would seriously derail the peace process. Whilst there is no doubt that Labo(u)r Parties around the world have a good tradition of selling out on their apparent principles, there is a genuine question to ask as to whether the Israeli Labour Party did the right thing in Israel to stop four years of a ‘narrow right wing government’.

The best way to look at the situation facing Labour is to discuss the two different viewpoints presented by the opposite sides of the party.

1.)     It was pretty simple for many within the Labour Party that joining a Likud based coalition would be a sell-out in the Labour Parties principles that could seriously hurt the credibility of the party and its future prospects. It must be said that many on the left wing stick pretty strongly to their principles (and rightly so) and find it extremely difficult to even comprehend the idea of joining a party such as Likud in a coalition. The reasons behind this are obvious; as a left winger, one aims for the creation of a new and better society and joining a coalition with a party such as Likud means voting for policies that reverse all that one aims for. This is a fair feeling and one that cannot be ignored.

Secondly, and somewhat more interestingly for many in Labour was the thought that joining a Likud based coalition could damage the party in the future. As a party that’s based around the left wing labour movement in Israel it is understandable that many in the party now fear that joining Likud would repulse their voters  and force them to move away from the party. The logic behind that is clear – with every new right wing policy that Likud implements, left-wing voters may start to blame Labour and turn away from them, adding to the downfall of the once large party. Parallels can easily be drawn here with the Green Party in Ireland, who looks like they will suffer massive defeats at the next Irish election due to their continued support, through voting (but not in media etc.), of a government who has implemented many unpopular measures and un-green measures.

2.) The opposite side of the coin to this argument is one that states that instead of selling out on their principles; Labour has saved Israel from four years of an ultra-rightwing Government that would have set the peace process and the welfare of the Israeli people backwards by four years. Labour has pointed to the number of policy platforms that have been agreed upon by Likud when signing the coalition documents as proof that this agreement has saved Israel and Palestine from many disastrous policies. The problem with this argument is that is assumes that Lukid would have been able to form a government with other parties. It is quite clear the Likud and the other coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu had many problems with the prospects of joining a coalition with the other right wing religious based parties. Given this, there was a good prospect that Likud may have failed to form another coalition, giving Kadima the option to form a coalition or forcing Israel to further elections. No one knows what this could have achieved, but some may argue that Labour has just provided four years of a Right Wing Government rather than saved Israel from it.

I think it is interesting to ask the question as to whether ‘selling out on ones principles’ is worth it to some level to save a people from four years of more right wing policies. In my mind there is no doubt that the new Netanyahu Government will be disastrous for both the Palestinian and Israeli people, but one needs to ask the question as to whether through joining Likud Labour has made things worse (through ensuring a ‘stable’ Likud government) or better (through changing the policies of the party who were destined to become the government). 

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left | , | 5 Comments

Students Deserve More

As the day that Australian students receive an extra $950 into their bank accounts under the Australian Government’s stimulus package and the day that students around Australia take a National Day of Action calling for an increase in student income support, I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion on the issue of Youth Allowance and the welfare state in general.

I think it’s important to start a discussion on Youth Allowance with a little picture of the sort of society that I would like to live in. Here are a couple of points regarding the sort of society I would like to live in (obviously there are more, but these are the ones that relate most to the welfare state):

  1. A society where people work collectively to support each other when times are more difficult for one particular person or group, with a general expectation that in a time of trouble this support would be returned if the same sorts of situations were reversed.
  2. A society where working 50 to 60 hours a week is not considered a thing that has to be done and, unless someone makes an active choice to do so, is avoided. (The reason behind this is that I do not see the point of constant economic growth and increasing prosperity if a society cannot enjoy it. I would much rather have a society that is not as wealthy, but enjoys its wealth, than a society that is extremely prosperous but is stuck spending all its time working with the aim to become more prosperous just for the sake of it. In the end, I think it becomes pointless.

Now, I would like to add, that believing in these principles does not make me someone who ‘expects everything served to me on a plate’ as I have been accused of before. Instead it makes me someone who believes in a compassionate society where people care about each other and are willing to support one another in different periods of each other’s lives, whether it is a time of study or a time of crisis.

Students:

Given these assumptions one can quickly guess that I am very much in support in increase income support for students. The current income support levels for students lay well below the poverty line, which means that students tend to be forced to work a minimum 20 hours a week whilst studying full time. For example, I myself worked 27 hours a week last year (noting that I am studying overseas this year and can’t work) whilst studying an equivalent full time level. Assuming that a full time level of study equals approximately 30 hours (this includes class time, reading time, research time, study time, paper writing time etc.) I was undertaking an approximate 60 hours worth of work a week. This is not an unusual case for students, who are now faced with a situation of either letting their studies begin to slip or letting their ability to afford rent slip. It is obvious that something needs to be done about this situation and increase income support is definitely the answer that I believe is the most suitable. An increase in income support is a simple and fair way of letting students finish their studies in a timely and affective manner to the best of their ability.

Now, I think before I finish it is best to counter some of the responses I tend to get when I argue such a point. First, is the obvious ‘this just adds another group of bludgers who are bludging off the tax system’. Now, whilst I agree that to some level people do take advantage of our welfare system in an unfair way, I strongly believe that this group is largely overrepresented within our mainstream media and that the large of majority of people who receive payments from Centrelink do so in an honest way. Second, I have a major problem with this idea of people who are receiving Centrelink payments as being ‘bludgers’. I think there tend to be two types of people who receive Centrelink payments; people who are in a serious situation and require serious help (people who cannot find work, victims of natural disasters etc.) and people who are in a transition phase where working a full time job is untenable (i.e. students). None of these people sound like bludgers to me!

The second rebuttal I normally receive is that ‘working just prepares students for the real world’. Whilst I agree that working is a good idea for students as it gains good experience (in fact I would probably continue to work a little bit even if income support was increased) I have a serious problem with living in a ‘real world’ that forces people to work a minimum 50 hours a week and up to 60 – 70 hours a week. Acknowledging that this is the current ‘real world’, I understand this sort of response. However, I will continue to respond with ‘why do we want to live in a real world where people are forced to work 50-70 hours a week to gain wealth that they will never enjoy?’ I think we should be working towards a society where people can enjoy their wealth and where unlimited growth and profit drops below happiness as one of our major societal goals.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future | | 2 Comments

The Politics of Population

As an environmentalist I find myself regularly concerned with the way the environment movement, through organisations such as ‘Sustainable Population Australia’, is framing the discussion on population policies. As climate change and environmental degradation are becoming more real, environmentalists are increasingly turning towards population control as a method of saving the environment. Often discussed policy initiatives include lessening migration intake and even implementing policies such as the ‘one child policy’ that exists in China today. The logic here is pretty simple; by creating policies that aim to directly reduce population we reduce the amount of people who have the ability to degrade the environment and in turn reduce the impact humans have on the environment. From that sort of logic it seems like a pretty benign act. Unfortunately however, such policies can create terrible consequences through creating an insular society that ignores the problems of the rest of the world and restricts the rights of its own population.

Framed in a ‘Western’, ‘First World’ perspective populations policies such as those from, ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ tend to fall into two categories; (1) migration and (2) aiming for lower birth rates. I will have a look at both of these policy issues, within the framework of ‘first world’ and discuss some of the serious problems with such policy prescriptions.

Migration: Populations organisations often target lowered migration intakes as a desirable policy, as it provides an easy target that is measurable and somewhat politically favourable. However, such policies don’t create any beneficial environmental circumstances and simply causes serious social problems through inflicting harm on some of those who deserve it least. There are two real problems with policies of reducing migration. First, there is the obvious social problems that occur when a people reject a call for help from another group of people. Living in a society where people care and help for each other no matter where someone comes from or who they are is the sort of society I desire to live in and reducing migration intake fully rejects this ideal. Instead it creates a mantra that states:  ‘Because I was born here and was lucky enough to gain ‘citizenship’ from this nation, I deserve these resources and you don’t’. It is a simply fact that resources are spread unfairly throughout this world and rejecting migration simply says that this is something we are happy to continue to happen, which I cannot stand for.

Second however, and more interestingly for the environment movement, is that the reduction of migration simply doesn’t achieve anything, except social harm. No matter where we  live, we are all people who use resources. Whether I live in Africa, or Australia or anywhere else I live in a state that is based on a carbon intensive energy sector and moving to a different country will not change this. Therefore targeting migration doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but simply changes where they occur. Therefore, a focus on migration simply doesn’t work and we would be better off targeting the production and consumption of resources on a worldwide basis to create a sustainable world population, rather than creating an insular society that focuses entirely on its own impact. 

The second policy provision that is often touted is one that is aimed at the current population of an area; birth control. There are two real problems with birth control policies. First, is the very obvious social issue of the right of a state to control ones sexuality and desires to have children. I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.

Second, and again more interestingly for the environment movement, is the simple fact that stopping people from having children is a terrible policy idea. Whether we want to believe it or not, breeding and creating a future generation is somewhat important for continuation of human kind and given the extremely low birth rates in the majority of Western countries is seems somewhat ridiculous to claim that we need to drop births rates even lower. The simple fact is that if we do it, we won’t be producing enough children to support the current population when we grow old, which will create serious problems. This still ignores the serious social problems that can arise through the implementation of birth control measures, as seen in China, which are often hard to predict and difficult to solve. 

So what is the answer? There are obvious reasons to have concerns about the world’s growing population. We are now living in a world that holds 6 billion people and it is estimated by the UN that this population will continue to grow to 9 billion before we even have a chance of it dropping. We must look at how we can help curb this growth in population, but targeting migration and forcing people to stop having children is not the answer. Most studies will show that one of the most effective birth control measures is proper family planning facilities and the proper provision of methods of safer sex, especially in poorer areas. If we wish to have an impact on populations we would be much wiser to target these issues in our aid provision, not only helping population issues but also providing great social benefits for those who need them most. We cannot continue down the path that many wish for us to do as it will only lead us to a society that not only refuses to help others, but also neglects to help the environment in the meantime. 

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , , | 6 Comments