24 August 2019

German Lopez on doing a “complete 180 on unions”: “On November 17, 2017, right after the Vox Media editorial staff started a push to unionize, I sent out my worst tweets of all time. ‘I am against #VoxUnion,’ I wrote in one of the tweets. … ‘I am generally fine with and even supportive of unions,’ I concluded. ‘Just not this one.’ … Good organizing and outreach from colleagues helped change my mind about the need for a union at Vox Media specifically. But so did approaching the research on unions the same way I would any topic in my reporting: by looking at the data and talking to experts. … [A]s I dug deeper and deeper into the research, and as I engaged in the actual organizing and bargaining processes, I was repeatedly proven wrong, in large part because I initially focused way too much on the bad examples of unions instead of the good ones. When you stack up all the research and look at the broader picture, though, the net effect of unions — bad examples included — is good for the typical worker. I hope more Americans go through the transformation that I did. We’d all be better for it.” His article summarises the evidence rebutting common objections to unions.

23 August 2019

On the eve of a coronial inquiry that will investigate what role systemic racism played in the death of Tanya Day, the Victorian Government has promised to abolish the crime of ‘public drunkenness’ and implement a health-based approach. This is the least they can do — the reform was recommended almost 30 years ago by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Sadly, “the majority of recommendations dating back to the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991 have either not been implemented or only partly implemented”, and Aboriginal people continue to bear the burden of that indifference. The Guardian’s analysis shows that the situation has worsened: “The proportion of Indigenous deaths where medical care was required but not given increased, from 35.4% to 38.6%. The proportion of Indigenous deaths where not all procedures were followed in the events leading up to the death increased from 38.8% to 41.2%.” There is no excuse for this. Hopefully the inquest will force some urgency beyond the Victorian Government’s preemptive response.

22 August 2019

Protestors are gathering to protect sacred trees in Western Victoria: “Tents are mushrooming across a grassy plain as a 200-strong crowd of Indigenous activists and protesters join the traditional owners in protecting the trees from being destroyed to make way for the duplication of the Western Highway. … The activists’ deadline to be evicted is Thursday and the air is thick with anticipation for what’s to come.” Lidia Thorpe explains: “So far, our campaign has resulted in some changes to the road easement, saving six of about 300 trees that must be preserved. These trees, hundreds of years old, include birthing trees that have hosted the delivery of an estimated 10,000 Djab Wurrung babies, with ties to 56 family groups. It is heartbreaking that these deeply intimate cultural sites, which literally contain the blood of Aboriginal women, giving these trees nutrients to grow for so long, are going to be destroyed to widen a road.” And while it is preparing to bulldoze these 800-year-old trees, the Andrews Government is asking the Heritage Council to protect a freeway.

21 August 2019

The National Employment Standards require all full-time workers to be given a minimum of ten days’ paid sick leave. For years, many bosses have been rorting this system by interpreting “day” as “7.6 hours” — even if their workers are required to work a standard ten- or twelve-hour shift. When the owners of a chocolate factory tried to impose the same scam on its workers (with the support of the Coalition government), the AMWU resisted. And the Full Court of the Federal Court agreed with the union: ten days means ten days. The flow-on effects of this decision will be significant, because the Fair Work Ombudsman has been wrongly advising employers to rip off sick workers for years. In earlier comments about this issue, AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said [$], “This potentially affects every employer in the country that employs shift workers. … Employers who have been taking the FWO’s advice and only paying their employees for 7.[6] hours when they are missing 12-hour shifts on leave are likely liable to backpay stretching back six years. Ten days’ leave should mean 10 days leave — and those who happen to work 12-hour shifts should not be disadvantaged.” Check your pay slips!

20 August 2019

John Quiggin: “the core democratic principle that those affected by a decision should have a say in making it, unless they are absolutely disqualified in some way… makes an open-and-shut case for lowering the voting age to 16. But where should we stop? If we set the bar at the level of emotional maturity and intelligence shown by say, the crowd at a Trump rally, most 12 year olds would clear it with ease. So, how about giving everyone a vote? For young children, that would amount to giving parents an extra vote, though it’s worth noting that opponents of womens’ suffrage made the same claim about husbands. In any case, the assumption that parents would vote in their children’s interest seems much more defensible than the idea that the old, as a group, will vote unselfishly about decisions (Brexit, for example, or wartime conscription) that will have little effect on them, but drastic consequences for the young. More importantly, the age at which young people stop doing as their parents tell them is well below 18. Allowing them to engage directly in the democratic process would be an unambiguously good thing, whether or not they chose more wisely than their elders.” My own view is that the voting age should be ten, which is the age of criminal responsibility throughout Australia.

17 August 2019

Yesterday marked 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, when a mass protest for expanded suffrage and against the rotten boroughs was attacked by a cavalry charge. Chris Dillow wonders about the commemorations: “The protestors were demanding a wider suffrage. One would expect those Tories who sanctify the ‘will of the people’ to celebrate such demands. And we’d expect lovers of freedom to condemn those who killed the protestors: they were, after all, doing just what Stalin did later — murdering opponents of the regime. But this is not what we see. It is trades unions and leftists who are marking the day: Mike Leigh made a film of it. Tories, on the other hand, seem much quieter. Why? For one thing, many Tories have never really been on the side of freedom. … During much of the Cold War, Tories supported Pinochet, apartheid, Macarthyism, the forced labour that was national service and the criminalization of homosexuality. There were happy with repression, as long as it was they who were the repressors. … So perhaps there’s really no mystery after all about who’s commemorating Peterloo and who isn’t — because, 200 years on, many on the right haven’t changed much.”

16 August 2019

CM Lewis on industrial or labour law (with relevance to Australia’s Change the Rules campaign): “We can, and should, codify our organizing gains into law at every turn. Radical industrial organization in the 1930s conjured the spectre of worker revolt on an unprecedented scale: a spectre that led directly to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. Public sector workers in the 1960s — such as Pennsylvania teachers — turned to wildcat strikes and mass actions, like 20,000 teachers marching on Harrisburg in March of 1968 to demand fair pay, dignity on the job, and union rights. Striking postal workers in 1970 secured the right to collectively bargain for the first time. Once we’ve built power — power only created and sustained through organizing — we need to seize concessions that make more possible. But we need to be clear about what makes that law: organizing and working-class power. Changes to labor law aren’t handed down from the sky — or from transactional deal-making between ‘benevolent’ politicians and union lobbyists. They’re hard-won concessions gained through the power of organized workers. Organize first. Make the law follow.”

ASIO has justified criminal penalties for journalists reporting on government leaks, by pushing a Reds-under-the-beds claim that foreign spies might be posing as journalists. This seems to be based on a hamfisted (and unsuccessful) approach [$] made by to Angus Grigg in 2013. Grigg observes [$] that “if the agency was really concerned about journalists being co-opted by ‘foreign operatives’ you’d think they would have contacted me. But in the 18 months since the story was published, I’ve heard nothing from 70 Constitutional Avenue, ASIO’s shiny new headquarters”. He also notes that ASIO initially kept its submission to a parliamentary inquiry secret, but “eventually declassified the document under pressure and it was revealed to be little more than a rehash of what [ASIO head Duncan] Lewis said last year.” This is a major threat to press freedom — the over-classification of documents. By illegitimately stamping information with a secret classification, agencies can make reporting mundane matters crime. Reviewing the classification system (and its cousin, Freedom of Information) should be an urgent priority.

15 August 2019

Lucy Friend on the moral case against billionaires: “When normal people have been repeatedly told there’s not enough money for social services in developed countries, and progress on providing basic services has stalled in many developing countries, it’s not difficult to see why many people are starting to lose faith in economists and politicians who are intensely relaxed about people getting ‘filthy rich’.” Friend sees “a genuine belief that it is morally wrong to allow some to have so much, whilst others have so little. We are constantly being shown the wonders man-made technology can achieve — AI, drones, robots — yet we are seemingly unable as a species to distribute the food and other resources we produce in such a way that doesn’t leave some people starving and others with super yachts. Combined with a climate crisis where many of the world’s poorest are the most vulnerable, and the use of private jets seems even more inexcusable. Politicians and economists are finding it harder and harder to defend the indefensible.”

14 August 2019

Rick Morton, formerly of The Australian, says his old newspaper’s aggressive right-wing campaigns feed extremist groups: “Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp titles, particularly The Australian, offered wall-to-wall coverage of themes and subjects, including the ‘genocide’ of white South African farmers and the queer anti-bullying program Safe Schools, which would go on to spur extremist right-wing groups. No one is arguing these media outlets directed any of these horrific attacks. But according to new research, they did incubate an environment in which hate speech could flourish. In the end, those ‘respectable’ debates provided fuel and gave permission.” The national newspaper has identified transgender kids as its new target, with a new category dedicated to spewing bile against them: “The new page is technically titled ‘gender issues’, suggesting a broader remit, but … all but one of the 18 articles currently listed on the page are about transgender people. Shockingly, the majority are not flattering to trans people.” The articles push a lot of nonsense, including promoting the views of Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics, which appears to be an astroturf group.