After an election campaign that alternated between intensity and absurdity, we could be forgiven for feeling tired of politics. But we do not have the luxury of being tired of the political. Italian anti-fascist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, while locked away in Mussolini's prisons, famously wrote: "Everything is political, even philosophy ... and the only 'philosophy' is history in action."
Everything is political. Our lives are intimately connected with the collective stories that help us to be human, as well as with the structures that harm and humiliate us. The struggle between the two is actually our history in action.
Which is why campaigns don't end when elections are over. Election campaigns might end, but the campaigns for all the things that tug at our guts do not. It is a naive campaigner indeed who thinks they can put their feet up once a progressive change of government has been achieved.
Many of us feel an enormous sense of relief that the federal government is no longer in the hands of some of the most outstanding wreckers in recent history. If the Morrison government is remembered at all, it will be remembered for its viciousness towards workers and the vandalism it committed against what is left of the infrastructure of fairness.
The past few years have especially left us gutted. The pandemic continues to be a powerful and unwelcome presence in our lives. But it's not the pandemic itself that has gutted us. It's the former government's wanton lack of compassion, the abrogation of responsibility, the absence of vision, the dereliction of its duty of care to the people ... this is what has left us undone. Nowhere is this clearer than with the Morrison government's approach to the climate emergency and its attendant disasters. One thing none of us will forget about the former prime minister is that, while the country burned, he pretended powerlessness, memorably reminding us that he doesn't "hold the hose".
Understanding that everything is political is all about acknowledging our collective power to protect our planet and to build a better society. But to achieve lasting change we need to move from anger to hope, and then to action.
The catastrophic fruits of a climate emergency not only left unaddressed but systematically exacerbated; the aiding and abetting of the violence wrought by the patriarchy against women; the neoliberal glee with which jobs have been made insecure, wages lowered, profits obscenely increased and social infrastructure deliberately decimated; all of this, and more, has taken its toll on us. We're gutted.
So much hope was invested in this election. Many expressed this through their explicit support for an Albanese Labor government. Many others expressed it through their support for candidates from the community independents and the Greens. More broadly, but equally significant, has been the collective hope, the collective rejection of an unjust and dehumanising status quo, that many of us have expressed through our participation in the union movement's campaign for secure jobs, the womens' movement, the First Nations' campaign for a Voice, treaty and truth, the mobilisation of young and old to protect the planet, the ongoing campaign for refugee justice, the struggle for social housing, and the fight for an NDIS that works for all who need it and a social security system that actually delivers social and economic security, instead of punishment and paternalism.
And we are filled with a hope that this election result can be the opening for a transformative project of action and lasting social change.
As Sally McManus put it the morning after the election: "There's no financial security without job security. You can't pay your bill without pay rises. Unions look forward to building a fairer, more inclusive country."
No matter how strong our optimism, though, we continue to feel gutted as long as any of us are locked out of the essentials of life. We're gutted that every night, roughly one in 200 of us is denied a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.
We're gutted that workers' wages have been deliberately cut in real terms, that jobs remain insecure for one in three of us, that nearly 1 million of us need to work two or more jobs to make ends meet. We are gutted that we have an industrial relations framework that makes it hard for unions to collectively bargain and advocate for decent wages, working conditions and workplace safety. We are gutted that a worker is killed on the job every two days, and that workplace deaths have increased by 32 per cent since 2018. We are gutted that, in contravention of international law, the right to strike, the right of workers to withdraw their labour, has been severely restricted, while every protection is offered to employers to withdraw capital, to axe jobs, to cut pay and conditions and to hang on to the publicly funded gratuities, such as JobKeeper, that have been cynically given away to them.
We are gutted that one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man they know. We are gutted that the number of women imprisoned in Australia has grown by 64 per cent between 2009 and 2019.
We are gutted that more than 500 First Nations people have died in custody since the 1991 royal commission.
We are gutted that any of us are forced to live on $46 a day, the current single rate for JobSeeker.
We are gutted by the crisis in aged care.
We are gutted when, after fleeing intolerable conditions in their countries of origin, people seeking refuge are turned away or subjected to the torment of indefinite or extended detention.
We are gutted when any of us are persecuted, systematically hated and singled out for harassment because of our gender or sexuality.
When any of us have been kicked in the guts, we are gutted. This is the core meaning of solidarity. We stand with all who are gutted by the current way of things.
But solidarity means more than standing with each other in our pain. It also means standing up together against the structures that are designed to produce that avoidable pain.
It is up to all of us who yearn for a more just and equitable society to not simply be content with an electoral victory, but to make this an enduring victory for the gutted, a win for all who feel ground down; to make it a new dawn, a new beginning, not just rhetorically but in reality.
The struggle against all that leaves us feeling gutted continues. The realities remain, but the parameters of what is possible have now changed and there is fresh hope. Not the kind of hope that passively rests on waiting for the initiatives of government, but the kind of hope that is born of, and sustained by, the hard and patient work of organising collectively and shaping the national agenda.
As a union member recently said to me, apropos of the setbacks in a specific battle for workers' rights that she is involved in: "I'm gutted. And when I'm gutted I fight back. I am a unionist, after all!"
There's no better summary of the political than that utterance: being gutted about what matters, fighting back, and joining together to demand change.
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