Take back the wealth: Five reasons to nationalise the mines

The Socialist Alliance is using the federal election to popularise the idea that we need bring mines, banks and power companies into democratic public ownership. Here are five reasons why this is a good idea.

1. Wealth distribution

The richest 20% in Australia own more than the rest combined. Mining company profits rose 540% between 2000 and 2009, while the share they paid as tax or royalties dropped from 40% to 14%. Yet mining billionaire Gina Rinehart wants Australian workers to compete with workers in other countries who are on $2 a day. This wealth needs to be taken away from this greedy minority and used for the benefit of society as a whole.

2. Essential to reduce carbon emissions

As a society, we need to take serious action to reduce carbon emissions. This is simply not possible while mining and energy industries are privately owned and run for the purpose of maximising profits. For decades, these companies have fiercely resisted the large-scale development of renewable energy. Their friends in government have now designed for them an emissions trading scheme that is spectacularly ineffective in reducing emissions but does make it appear that they are doing something. The Liberals’ do-nothing plan is even worse than Labor's. Public ownership would make possible a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy as Beyond Zero Emissions has shown is possible. This cannot happen while climate policy is trapped in the dead-end of market-based solutions.

3. Workers' rights

Mining companies claim that mining jobs are highly paid, but they disguise the fact that relatively high total earnings are possible only because of excessive overtime, remote area allowances and shift work. Continuous 12-hour shifts and the stresses of a “fly-in fly-out” lifestyle put a huge strain on workers and their families. To drive down costs one company on the Gorgon project in north-west WA is pressuring workers to share bunks, with night shift and day shift workers taking turns to sleep in the same beds. Just as in any other industry, the bosses care only about profits and not workers' rights. Public ownership under workers' control would enable improvements in workers' conditions benefiting not only mine workers but the broader community as well.

4. Genuine democracy

People need a meaningful say in the big decisions that affect their lives. This can happen only with a profound democratisation of society that focuses on citizen involvement and grassroots popular power. An essential element of such a process is democratisation of the economy. After all, you can't control what you don't own and the big monopolised sectors of the economy should belong to the people. As private capital is brought under social control, this would have the added advantage of progressively removing the corruption of big money from political life.

5. It points to a better world

Nationalisation of the mines, even while capitalist economic relations exist elsewhere in the economy, would make possible immediate improvements in environmental sustainability, social justice and democratic reform. More significantly, it would point the way to a better society in which human need and social justice instead of profit maximisation would become the goal. Many people think mining billionaires are too strong and cannot be defeated, but this is not the case. Bolivia and Venezuela show that left-wing governments backed by popular movements can take mining projects into public ownership. Building a popular movement that achieves public ownership of the mines would create the popular confidence and organisation necessary to achieve more far-reaching goals — an ecosocialist transformation, a society that puts the potential of all human beings and the need for us to live in peace with the planet ahead of corporate greed. [Sam Wainwright is a Fremantle City councillor and the Socialist Alliance candidate for Fremantle.]
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