Socialists candidate pursues a less toxic Calwell


Jerome Small talks to Victorian Socialists volunteers

Jerome Small considers himself the “accidental candidate for Calwell”. 

He first ran for the seat in 2019 after the initial Victorian Socialist candidate pulled out. Despite having only just “jumped in”, he received more than 7 per cent of the vote. 

Small cited the exposure of many Calwell constituents to socialism in their past lives as a reason for this level of voter appeal. 

“People [in Calwell] have traditions, or at least knowledge of socialist or communist political traditions from Turkey or from the Middle East,” he said. 

Despite not living in Calwell, Small said his connection with the electorate has developed over years of grassroots activism. 

Worker safety campaign 

Both he and the party have advocated for improving the dangerous working conditions recently faced by workers in the area. 

In 2019, a fire at the Bradbury waste storage facility in Campbellfield resulted in an enormous cloud of smoke, with two employees being taken to hospital. 

In a video posted to the Victorian Socialists Facebook page, Small says this incident would not have happened in Melbourne’s wealthier suburbs of Toorak and Brighton. 

Three days after the fire, Small and Victorian Socialists, spurred on what they see as a lack of responsive action, held a protest with members of the local community. 

They called on Hume City Council to stop the northern suburbs from becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for toxic waste 

Their concern was based on a Victorian Department of Health study conducted after the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire. It examined the long-term health effects suffered by those exposed to the smoke. 

“Surprise surprise, between four years and 10 years [are taken off your life] … from being exposed to that toxic smoke”, said Small. Yet despite similar incidents, he added that “no one’s even looking at the northern suburbs.” 

Six months after the events at Bradbury, local activists protested outside Glass Recovery Services in Coolaroo in response to another toxic fire. 

“After that protest the EPA did what they had refused to do, and failed to do at Bradbury, which was use their step-in powers. Step in, take control of a site and start to clean it up.” 

Active in the activist community 

Small said the fact that Victorian Socialists were on the ground with local activists was what separated them from other parties. 

“I’m not saying that Victorian Socialists can claim credit for all of that, but we were part of a push that happened, that had that result. It also gave us something to talk about in terms of a concrete illustration of … how we roll. Have you seen the Labor Party calling protests? Have you seen the Liberals or the Greens calling protests?” 

Small’s professional life was spent in the construction industry, where he experienced firsthand the positive impact collective action can have. 

For him, it proved something that had up until then only been theoretical: a workplace could exist where the boss wasn’t the only power.  

“It was a little glimmer to me of another world not just being desirable or a nice idea, but possible. And that that combination of working-class power and radical politics can be an extraordinarily powerful and transformative one.” 

Fighting opponents and cynics 

He’s realistic about the party’s prospects of winning and claims there’s more than just the opposition parties to overcome. 

“In formal terms we’re up against the Labor Party [and] we’re not gonna take the seat. But you’re also up against a deeply ingrained and in many ways justified feeling of cynicism and disconnection and betrayal and [people thinking] ‘Politicians are all f—ing liars, scumbags’, so you’ve got to sort of cut through that as well.” 

Small says that continuing to grow support for the party in Calwell will increase its chances of winning a seat in the November 2022 state election.  

Some of the most serious criticism of Victorian Socialists comes from within the left itself. Patrick O’Connor, of the Socialist Equality Party, wrote an article in 2019 alleging Victorian Socialists were of the ‘fake-left’. 

O’Connor’s main criticism was that Victorian Socialists’ policies were not devised to subvert capitalism, but merely to reform, and therefore maintain it. 

Small acknowledges the party’s policy proposal to raise the minimum hourly pay rate to $30 and increase taxes on the rich do not conform to the technical definition of socialism. 

These policies are, however, seen by the party as a more pragmatic approach to elections instead of advocating immediate revolution. 

“[Our policies] are about trying to increase working-class living standards, trying to increase the share of the wealth produced by workers that actually comes back to workers.”