archive: February 2020

19 February 2020

John Falzon: “Australian policymakers must acknowledge the social nature of risk and address the distribution of that risk. As a society, Australia must face uncomfortable truths about how its democratic processes have been steered in the direction of compulsory risk-imposition on large sections of the community. … The removal of workers’ rights, attacks on the right to collectively organise as unions, the casualisation of jobs, the dismantling of social security, the imposition of precariousness on the working class — including people excluded by the labour market and those whose labour, especially the labour of caring, is devalued and carried out either for low pay or no pay — all of these deliberate acts amount to an inherently unequal imposition of risk. It is time Australia reconfigured its economy and society so that it can democratise the process by which risk is allocated. In other words, instead of sustaining and protecting the persistence and growth of inequality, Australia must sustain and protect its people.”

Some good news after a tough fight: “On Tuesday morning, Kickstarter’s employee union effort, Kickstarter United, announced it successfully voted to form a union with the Office and Professional Employees International Union. … The final vote tally was 46 for and 37 against. The OPEIU will now work with Kickstarter United to bargain with Kickstarter management for a contract. Kickstarter United has publicly said it wants things like equal pay, more diversity in hiring, and more fairness and transparency in disciplinary measures for employees.  … While the company has been nominally supportive of an employee vote for unionization, leadership said in no uncertain terms that a union was not “the right tool” to fix Kickstarter’s issues in a FAQ published last year. Beyond that, Kickstarter fired two employees who spearheaded organizational efforts last year, though the company insisted in the aforementioned FAQ that it had nothing to do with the union. … Kickstarter is by far the highest profile tech company in the United States to unionize up to this point. … This might be the first such story of 2020, but don’t be surprised if it’s not the last.”

18 February 2020

Shifrah Blustein: “You get a speeding fine and, although you’re annoyed (at yourself and, probably, at ‘the system’), you pay it and the problem disappears. But think about what happens if you can’t pay.  … We know that some people try to pay their fines and, as a consequence, have to forgo life essentials; or, if they can’t pay, are subjected to stress, court, and ever more punitive and all-encompassing systems of control. Remember that this is only happening to people already living in poverty. This system, then, begins to look a lot like a means to control the life horizons of people who are already seriously marginalised. … The theoretical implications of fines are different if you are imagining a system where they in fact get paid, as opposed to one that is deliberately set up so that fines are unpayable by some segments of the population (indeed, those most likely to accrue them), and which then exacerbate a life of chaos, surveillance and distress. This is even more the case where the alternatives to paying a fine include court appearances, justice system entrenchment, restriction of rights to vehicular access, a criminal record, and possible imprisonment.”

Liam Hogan: “The ‘clerical companionship’ of workplaces was that communal trust in other people that had to exist when white-collar production was necessarily a team job. Consider a report: researchers or specialists worked the ‘machines’, analysts provided consideration, authors distilled the prose, editors cut and reordered, typists corrected, either typesetters created the printed product or designers produced a camera-ready copy, and a printer ran the whole lot through yet another machine for delivery. One person now does all of these jobs, most likely in the walled garden of production that is the Microsoft Office Suite. When we now vertically integrate our production completely and withdraw into the factories of ourselves, is it any wonder companionship at work is lacking?”

14 February 2020

Tim Dunlop: “[W]e constantly hear that the main argument in favour of something like the Adani coal mine is that it will create a lot of jobs. Jobs are lauded as the primary benefit for Australians. But of course it isn’t true. Modern mining simply doesn’t need that many humans, and in fact, mining is one area of work where arguments over automation just about don’t exist amongst anyone except deceptive politicians. Everyone realises that mining is increasingly done by machines, with relatively few humans involved, and that in many cases, a robot has already taken your job.” Just look at WA coal town Collie — it is going to be the home of automation training for the mining industry, replacing thousands of jobs around the country (and around the world) with tens of jobs monitoring automated systems. Instead of fetishising “coal jobs” and “coal communities” we need to start preparing for the imminent future with less coal and a lot less coal employment.

12 February 2020

I was wrong about the High Court — in a narrow 4-3 split, the judges decided that an Aboriginal person can not be an “alien” and therefore can not be deported from Australia. The decision accepts that in very specific circumstances, a person can be a non-citizen non-alien: “The category will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians born overseas, ensuring they will not lose their right to traditional lands because of an accident of birth. The decision upholds the law’s recognition of the importance of Indigenous Australians’ connection to, and rights over, their lands.” This was the first time all seven of the current judges have written separate judgments, and Anne Twomey gives a quick summary [$] of the differences between them. Meanwhile, the hard Right are in meltdown — the IPA’s Morgan Begg hyperventilates [$] that this is the “most radical instance of judicial activism in Australian history”, while The Australian‘s Legal Affairs editor (always out of his depth) screeches about “lunacy” and “pure racism­ built upon an illegitimate exercise of judicial power”.

We value your input, as long as you agree with us: “Indigenous leaders have been barred from pursuing constitutional reform within the Morrison government’s new peak advisory group on a voice for First Australians, under leaked rules that restrict their ability to press for change. A briefing to some of Australia’s most respected Indigenous leaders has warned them against making recommendations on constitutional recognition, ruling it out of scope for their group. The terms of reference … also place restrictions on the wider national group of leaders who are being asked to help design the voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians. In one of the biggest restrictions, the government also prevents the national group making any recommendations on a Makarrata Commission, the forum meant to offer ‘truth-telling’ and conflict resolution with First Australians.” Ironically, this shows exactly why an Indigenous Voice to Parliament must be constitutionally enshrined — as long as it is created by parliament or the executive, it will not be free to express the real and full views of Aboriginal people. It needs to have independent authority, so that it does not depend on White Australia for permission to speak.

11 February 2020

Britain’s Industrial Strategy Council is calling for industrial policy to address the twin objectives of environmental sustainability and better employment: “The most important economic challenge confronting contemporary societies is … to ensure that new technologies being developed by the advanced sectors of the economy serve society at large. That in turn requires the active steering by governments of prevailing production and innovation systems in two specific directions: toward green technologies and toward employment-friendly technologies. … The first of these imperatives is perhaps more widely understood in view of climate change and the vast environmental externalities at stake. … The second challenge — ensuring that our economies create a sufficient number of ‘good’ jobs — may be less existential, but it is also of great importance. … [T]he shortfall in good jobs is … a gross economic malfunction that impairs the proper functioning of a society. As recent studies have shown, communities that fail to produce good jobs experience a wide range of social ills… These are all costly externalities. Governments must induce private-sector decision makers engaged in production, investment, and innovation to internalize these somehow.” Sounds like a Green New Deal.

10 February 2020

The AWU has been fined $18,000 for asking two scabs to explain why they should be allowed to remain members of the union. In 2015, AWU members at an Orica factory voted to take protected industrial action, but two members refused to participate; the union wrote to them and asked them to explain why they should not be expelled. Justice Snaden explained that of the objects of the Fair Work Act is “the protection of free association”, but in an Orwellian twist he decided AWU members had to be punished for exercising their right not to associate with scabs, because this would “punish them for their [the scabs’] decision to dissociate themselves from the broader AWU collective”. So scabs have a right to dissociate from the union, but union members will be fined for dissociating from scabs? “Fair” Work Act, indeed. (The Fair Work Ombudsman decided this case was worse than serious wage theft. Last year, it let Sunglass Hut off the hook with just a $50,000 “contrition payment” for $2.3 million in underpayments, but here it prosecuted the AWU and sought penalties of “between $77,760 and $87,480” — even Justice Snaden, a former Liberal student politician and barrister for militant employers, said this was “extreme” and “well above what is appropriate”. Priorities!)

5 February 2020

Ella Shi expresses the fears of Chinese-Australians: “The announcement that those being evacuated from Wuhan — predominantly Australian citizens of Chinese descent — would be quarantined on Christmas Island struck an uncomfortable chord for many who felt the resonances of our brutal offshore detention regime. We’re asking, would this be the treatment reserved to repatriated people had the virus broken out in the UK?” She explains how old prejudices are bubbling back to the surface, and why: “Whiteness doesn’t inherently exist but was constructed to justify Western European economic exploitation, slavery, colonisation and control. … Because if the ‘Other’ is dangerous and exotic then ‘we’ are the civilised norm. … Today, we don’t recoil at bat soup because it’s ‘barbaric’: it is barbaric because we choose to recoil at it. This isn’t about whether it’s okay or not to eat bat soup, but about recognising the response to the Coronavirus is an expression of a need to feel disgusted by the dirty barbaric Other in order to enable the Anglo-European Australian state to identify itself as civilised and pure to legitimise its sovereignty.” White Australians need to confront this truth and ask themselves what they are doing to change it.