Australian Left Review

Article Title

Economic Notes: Reductions of the social wage


Gavan Butler


Within a month, the federal government will bring down the 1979-80 budget. It won’t seem to be quite such a horrific budget as were those brought down in 1977 and 1978, because the press has made a point of the recently increased revenue from the excise duty on crude oil, and because workers in particular have come to anticipate horror budgets from the Liberal-National Country Party government. Most workers are only too well aware of the government’s attempts to reduce the real value of take-home pay during the past three years. But workers’ standards of living have declined with or without any reductions in real wages. A worker’s social wage includes more than take-home pay: it includes a variety of “ social services” provided by the state. And reductions in the provision of “ social services” have been as much a characteristic of the two Fraser governments as have been their efforts to reduce the real value o f the wages bill. Broadly, the reasons for the reduction o f the social wage are the federal government’s concern to bolster rates of profit throughout the economy, its concern over a real or imagined budgetary crisis, and its concern to repudiate expectations built up within the working class during the earlier Whitlam years that the power of the state is accessible to workers.