5 February 2020

The Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (with the support of 3CR) has published recordings of some sessions of its 2019 conference, on the theme of “Activism, Struggle and Labour History”. The range of topics is very diverse, ranging from specific industrial disputes and radical protest actions, to anti-racism organisations and global campaigns.

Shocking but not surprising: “Senior police in Western Australia were warned 12 months ago of a ‘clearly disturbing’ trend of Aboriginal drivers being overrepresented in police-initiated traffic stops. The briefing note from the mothballed evidence-based policing unit, obtained under freedom of information laws by Guardian Australia, found that Aboriginal drivers received 3.2 times more fines from being pulled over by police than non-Aboriginal drivers. But when tickets were issued by traffic cameras, Aboriginal drivers received slightly fewer penalties on average than non-Aboriginal drivers. … Aboriginal drivers in WA receive 1.75 times more penalty units over their lifetime of driving than non-Aboriginal drivers. That is about $1,260 more in fines for Aboriginal drivers, ‘almost entirely driven by police-initiated, on-the-spot infringements’. It also found Aboriginal drivers were carrying 6.2 times more unpaid fines — amounting to a debt of $2,327.” The police did nothing about it, and the evidence-based policing unit was starved of resources. This has potentially disastrous consequences for the people affected — Ms Dhu died after being abused in WA police custody, after being arrested for unpaid fines.

With Richard Di Natale retiring — good riddance — the Greens have turned to Adam Bandt for leadership. Contrary to Anthony Albanese’s strange (but telling) criticism, I think “strong rhetoric that has people who agree with you agreeing with you even stronger” will be good for the Greens, and I think Bandt’s so-called “watermelon” background means he will be better able to grapple with the issues facing working people — including the industrial issues facing communities on the front line of the climate transition we need to make. Bandt’s priorities of free education and a manufacturing renaissance show he has plans to address this vulnerability. (My only concern is that the concept of a Green New Deal is being turned into a generic Greens election slogan — for example, while expanding Medicare to cover dental services is unequivocally good policy, I can’t see why it is a pillar of Bandt’s version of a Green New Deal.)

31 January 2020

Marjorie Kelly: “It’s time to make the profit-maximising, shareholder-controlled corporation obsolete. In the perilous moment we face, with the crises of the climate emergency and spiralling inequality, the time is up on corporations acting as though serving financial shareholders is their highest duty. … What must change is the structural design and ownership of the corporation itself. We need to envisage and create an entirely new concept of the company — a just firm — designed from the inside out for a new mandate: to serve broad wellbeing and the public good. The just firm is the only kind that should ultimately be permitted to exist. The time is coming when society must end the corporation as we know it. … Control by capital is what pulls companies away from the living mission for which they exist… The purpose of economies is to meet human needs. When companies instead exist simply to spin off gains for capital, society is in peril.” Her proposal is for a shift away from the dominance of corporations towards “a rich diversity of designs”, including co-ops, credit unions, social enterprises, and state-owned companies.

29 January 2020

Harvard Law School has published a major report on US employment law,  Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Democracy and Economy. Based on consultation with workers, organisers, economists, sociologists and political scientists around the world, it makes detailed recommendations for wholesale reform of labour law — and although some of it is US-centric, a lot of it has value for Australia. Here are some of the recommendations I find most interesting:

  • Provide a works council in any workplace where at least three workers request one;
  • Allow union organizers access to workplaces and email systems upon showing of 25 percent support;
  • Allow workers to strategically choose whom to strike based on which companies have power over their working conditions, not who signs their paychecks;
  • Expand the range of collective bargaining subjects to include any subjects that are important to workers and over which employers have control, including decisions about the basic direction of the firm and employers’ impact on communities and our shared environment;
  • Expand corporations’ fiduciary duties to include a duty to workers;
  • Give worker organisations a formal advisory role informing enforcement agencies’ operations and strategic priorities; and
  • Prohibit employers who have a record of noncompliance with labor laws from receiving federal funds.

There’s a lot in this report, and it’s well worth digging into.

26 January 2020

Lidia Thorpe: “One of the first things you notice about the ‘Change the Date’ debate is a glaring absence of Aboriginal voices. This is in keeping with the obsession that Australia (progressive Australia included) has with fretting about the so-called ‘Aboriginal problem.’ For all the talk, this never seems to involve opening the conversation to perspectives, solutions, and leadership by First Peoples themselves. We are also absent from the debate because — unsurprisingly — many of us aren’t interested in helping to alleviate white guilt by moving the date of Australia Day. Given worsening and horrific deaths in custody and a gap in the life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous men of up to fifteen years, it’s not a pressing concern. In fact, it’s a dangerous distraction from the conversation we should be having, about signing a treaty between black and white Australia. … Without a treaty, the trauma and bloodshed that stretches from our past into the present cannot be confronted; lasting and meaningful reconciliation will be impossible. Indeed, the absence of a treaty is the single biggest roadblock to Australia growing up as a nation. … [A]t its core, a treaty is an agreement between sovereigns that recognizes the existence and inalienability of the rights of all parties. Other forms of ‘recognition,’ even if well intentioned, don’t cut it because they do not resolve this fundamental injustice.”

25 January 2020

Tom Greenwell on the school “choice” lie: “Twenty years since John Howard declared that private school fees would fall, we are still waiting. Government funding has increased so much that non-government schools now enjoy similar public funding to state schools. By 2017, Catholic schools received, on average, annual government funding of $13,000 per student, while Independent schools received around $11,000 per student. That’s 81 per cent and 69 per cent respectively of the average per-student funding that goes to state schools. The difference narrows even further when we account for the much larger share of expensive-to-educate students at state schools (such as kids in rural and remote locations, and children with disabilities or from other disadvantaged groups). Comparing like with like, non-government schools receive around 90 to 95 per cent of the public funding that government schools do — and yet fees continue to rise rapidly. … Why don’t private schools cut their fees in response to this ever-growing taxpayer contribution? The most important reason is very simple. They don’t have to. … Fee reductions and improved affordability won’t happen until governments require it — by imposing caps on fees, demanding a minimum number of scholarships or creating an obligation to enrol local students, for instance.”

24 January 2020

Giri Nathan: “Climate change will warp human life in diverse ways: mass migration, drought, agricultural failure, rising seas. Besides these brazen, urgent threats to life itself, there are also lesser, subtler threats to ways of life, as global culture is deformed by the changing planet. What will sports, for one, look like in the end times? This past week at tennis’s Australian Open offered one of the clearest, grimmest visions yet of that future. … [T]he air in Melbourne was described by a state health official as ‘worst in the world’; its Air Quality Index qualified as ‘hazardous’ for all people… Meanwhile, dozens of players seeking spots in the tournament’s main draw were told it was safe to venture outdoors and compete in tennis matches that often last several hours. … Going to work in these conditions was, for some players, brutal. … ‘The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood,’ wrote world No. 234 U.K. player Liam Broady… ‘Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high-intensity physical competition?’ … The world is coming apart in novel ways that tennis functionaries — to say nothing of global leaders — have yet to grapple with.”

The Edelman Trust Barometer has a strong elite bias (for example, its definition of “informed public” includes college education — fair enough, maybe — but also “in top 25% of household income per age group” for some reason) but perhaps that makes its 2020 findings more interesting. Globally, 56% of people agreed that “Capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world” (50% in Australia). This is fairly consistent across age categories, genders and income brackets. 66% of people “do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges”. 82% of people believe businesses have a duty to “pay everyone a decent wage, even if that means I must pay more”, but only 31% trust business to actually do so. So if people agree that there is a problem, and might be willing to hear about solutions, who can influence them? Well, 33% trust government officials, 36% trust journalists, 47% trust CEOs and business analysts — but 54% trust “regular employees” and 61% trust “a person like yourself”.

22 January 2020

It’s just over a year since I started this blog/newsletter project, and I have managed to keep it up. So now I’m adding something new — a shop where you can buy t-shirts and tote bags. These are designs I want to wear myself, and when I looked into print-on-demand options I realised it’s just as easy to set them up for others to order if they like. The garments are produced by AS Colour, a NZ/Aus company with an A grade on Ethical Shopper. Printing and fulfilment is by Brisbane-based The Print Bar. I hope you find something you like.