Mates Helping Mates: Mutual Aid In Working Class Australia
Written By: T.Johnston
Around a decade ago, I found myself in a situation all too common in Australia. Living in a regional area, I finished high school and opted to move out of home when my single parent moved to a capital city for better employment options. Despite having a few hours a week at my part time job, I soon found myself lacking stable accommodation, sometimes walking through the night for lack of a place to sleep, going without meals to try to save money, leaving my few possessions in the care of friends and sleeping on couches hoping for a break to come my way.
This scenario will not be unfamiliar to working class people. The official unemployment rate is nearly 6%; youth unemployment more than double that. Polling indicates that the true unemployment rate is 9.1%, and at least 1 in 10 employed people are trying unsuccessfully to get more work. In regional and rural areas, those numbers can be more than twice as high. Our politicians, media and even the meagre welfare systems that we rely on in hard times, all denigrate and humiliate anyone finding themselves in that 20% of the population whose needs for stable employment and fair income are not being met by our economic system.
“The concept of “mutual aid” is not just some abstract idea, dreamed up by idealistic academics. It is already practiced widely in working class communities, where mates helping each other out in hard times is already part of our national culture”
I was one of the lucky ones. A friend who had gone through the same hardships as I had was taken in by a family he knew and they provided him with a stable place to live while he started his apprenticeship. That same family, working class, with children of their own, took me in off the street while I found my feet. I was still sleeping on a couch, but it was the most stable and safe I had felt in months. Soon, I was able to find stable housing of my own, and things started looking up. I’m still grateful for the help that was extended my way - it’s no exaggeration that it helped turn my life around.
It wasn’t the government, my employer, organised charity or any social program that was willing to help me - it was members of my own economic and social class, the working class. When Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin in 1974, it took days for the armed forces to arrive at the devastated city. When they did, they were amazed to find that everyday people, faced with almost total devastation. Instead of waiting, they had already begun self organising into clean-up and rescue crews and volunteers from surrounding areas worked selflessly to feed and clothe their neighbours. Millions of dollars were raised all around the country and the refugees were warmly received in nearby towns.
The concept of “mutual aid” is not just some abstract idea, dreamed up by idealistic academics. It is already practiced widely in working class communities, where mates helping each other out in hard times is already part of our national culture. There is already an impulse to assist our peers and friends and we trust they will reciprocate when we need their help. Whether it’s shouting your mates’ lunch while they wait for payday, offering a friend a couch to sleep on, or chipping in to help out local community organisations, we are already engaging in the practice of mutual aid. The Australian Communist Party’s Community Union Defence League, or CUDL, puts these ideals into practice, serving hundreds of free meals in the street kitchen every week, and serving their communities by volunteering member’s time to assist those in need of a helping hand.
“When Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin in 1974, it took days for the armed forces to arrive at the devastated city. When they did, they were amazed to find that everyday people, faced with almost total devastation”
Communists believe that working class people already possess the ability to organise themselves to meet their needs. We have the material capacity for full employment, guaranteed safe housing, education and healthcare for all - these are all possible right now, if we were to adjust our economic and social system to truly suit the needs of the majority of the population instead of the wealthy few. The Australian Communist Party intends to make this future a reality.