We will not fix the world just by getting more MPs elected to Parliament. Meaningful, sustainable change happens in society from the grassroots up. Our rights haven’t just been handed to us. Well-minded Parliaments didn’t just give women and First Nations people the right to vote, or working people the right to a weekend. Progressive change is driven by unions and other broad collective action that builds social movements and social agendas. It is only once that happens that Parliament is forced to act.
In 2018 this fundamental law of politics hasn’t changed. As Greens we campaign and struggle to get MP’s elected, but only as part of our broader engagement in political change.
The Greens NSW came from activist social movements like the union-led Green Bans, anti-nuclear and forest campaigns. We formed the party because, as activists, we know that our environmental, social and political struggles are all connected.
But it’s not just the issues that are connected, it’s also the way we make change. One, two or twenty MPs can only be effective if what they are demanding in Parliament is also being demanded across society. That’s why we go to rallies, work with activist groups and link in with unions in our day-to-day politics. That’s why we must always support the right to strike.
An effective Greens MP can give leadership on issues, can bring campaigners together and ultimately introduce changes in Parliament, but none of this will happen if we don’t work with and build the grassroots movements outside Parliament in the first place.
As a party we must also respect our own grassroots structure and celebrate the right of members to determine policy, direct campaigns and hold Greens MPs to account. We need to learn from the history of formerly progressive parties like the ALP and not allow an elite group of MPs to seize control of the party and its policies.
In those cases where parliamentary action loses touch with broader social movements then progressive legislative wins face being undone by a resurgent right wing campaign. This is how the Your Rights at Work campaign ended up with the UnFair Work Act, forestry protections in Tasmania were unwound, the greyhound racing ban in NSW came unstuck and, most shamefully of all, how the Commonwealth climate change package was rescinded. Grassroots movements don’t just drive progressive change, they keep it.
A stated preference for the “political mainstream” and an artificially limited focus on the environment with no critique of the political, social justice and economic system that is causing environmental devastation and inequality is not the path to electoral success.
The way forward for the left is a bold vision that preferences fundamental change over minor reforms. If we broaden our focus to prominently include policies that address growing economic injustice and transform the economic and social system, we will see increased support.
The Greens will then be better placed as a party to protect the environment and improve the lives of ordinary people.