22 July 2020

We now know that “about 80 per cent” of Victoria’s second-wave covid outbreak has been “driven by transmission in workplaces” — with big clusters in meat processing, aged care, and security, three industries characterised by low wages, lax safety, and high rates of outsourcing, casualisation, and sham contracting. The breakdown in procedures at quarantine hotels was inevitable, given that decades of outsourcing and privatisation led the public service to rely on the notoriously crooked private security industry: “In late March, without a tender process, the Victorian Government contracted private security operators to guard hotel quarantine guests. … 7.30 has obtained a series of WhatsApp messages which reveal how some security guards were recruited to work in these Melbourne quarantine hotels. … When someone in the group asked about the rate of pay, the organiser responded, ’25 dollars, ABN’ — signifying the guards weren’t expected to be directly employed by the company, but act as independent contractors and supply an Australian Business Number.” A guard told the ABC: “We didn’t get any training when I got there. They just didn’t tell us what training we had to do, we just had to put a mask on, put gloves on, and that’s it. They had no training of how to use PPE (personal protective equipment), how to sanitise hands, nothing. No training at all.”

Godfrey Moase: “It was the mining lobby that killed effective climate action. With it went a program of investment into industrial processes in order to make for more carbon-efficient manufacturing. Australia’s case of Dutch disease has real political dimensions. The Australian state has represents what we might call in vulgar Marxist terms an executive committee for the mining industry. … Any truly just socialist economic system, Australia would be a location (amongst others) for the generation of renewable energy and production of associated downstream products such as green steel or renewable fuels such as ammonia. Changing the balance of power between mining and manufacturing capital in Australia does not automatically solve this problem but it is a necessary step along the way. The Australian left needs to build its power by weighing into this intra-capital dispute in favour of manufacturing. Building up manufacturing matters on two levels. First, manufacturing has the capacity to employ many more people than mining, even accounting for automation. Secondly, manufacturing requires a renewable energy transformation in order to control the cost of energy as an input into the productive process.”

Shakira Hussein and Scheherazade Bloul: “Medical face masks have become a signifier of East Asian identity and as Sinophobia rose along with the COVID 19 death toll, those wearing them were singled out for racist abuse and harassment. We suggest that the institutional scepticism and community hostility towards facial covering mirror the moral panic generated by the ‘burqa ban’ debates which located face-coverings as emblems in a civilisational conflict during the decade preceding the pandemic. … Just as visibly Muslim women were vilified as carriers of terrorism, people of East Asian appearance are now scapegoated as carriers of the so-called ‘Chinese virus.’ … In East Asia, face masks are regarded as hallmarks of courtesy and good manners — long stereotyped as ‘Asian values’ in contrast to the supposed ‘Western values’ of individual choice and liberty. Masks are fast acquiring similar connotations of empathy and care in other communities as well, as societies adjust to the no-longer-new normal of the pandemic. The true ‘clash’ has always been within rather than between civilisations — but never more so than now. It remains clear, however, that much of the discourse around face covering is much more concerned with the colour of the face beneath the mask than with the mask itself.”

15 July 2020

Nick Dyrenfurth [$]: “Australia — and Victoria — would be in a far stronger position against COVID-19 had it not been for free-market utopianism advocated by libertarian ideologues during the last three to four decades. This fundamentalist agenda has undercut our ability to effectively respond to COVID-19. … It is responsible, in the main, for contracting out essential services… privatising strategic assets, signing bilateral free trade agreements, endless workplace deregulation, and the demise of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. These policies damaged our sovereign capability. We don’t make things any more, nor procure them, including critical medical supplies and emergency PPE. An insecurely employed, underpaid workforce, denuded of vocational training and contracted out to labour hire firms who adopt a cavalier approach to OHS issues, was ill-equipped to fill urgent production needs or perform critical safety tasks. Yet the response by free-market zealots responsible for subcontracting national sovereignty is to blame government when events inexorably go pear shaped. This pandemic has also shone new light on social incohesion and economic insecurity. Hyper-individualism has frayed our social fabric and imperilled our ability to act collectively and co-operatively in a crisis”.

Via Flood Media’s regular link roundup, Ed Rooksby on the renewed right-wing obsession with an imaginary communist threat: “[W]e should remember that the famous imagery of the ‘spectre’ … refers not so much to any (as yet) real, material forces of communism but precisely to a phantom — a largely imaginary fear that the old powers project onto the figure of what they take to be ‘communism’. … So, back to the post-2008 context and a system beset by permanent and constantly deepening economic and political dysfunction, lurching from one crisis to another. Perhaps we can see current obsession with ‘communism’ on the part of the political representatives of the bourgeoisie as intensified expression of these long-running nightmare-desires. Indeed, might we see the increasingly grotesque and buffoonish guises of its chief political representatives — utterly absurd smirking clowns like Trump and Johnson — as a sort of disguised cry for help? The clown show at the White House and in Downing Street expresses a deep self-loathing and a kind of pleading to be put out of its misery. The ruling class no longer has any respect for itself. It wants to be relieved of the terrible burden of its authority. It sees ‘communism’ everywhere because it wants to see it everywhere because it secretly longs for an end to capitalism and its own abolition as a class. The great trajedy, of course, is that the left is in no position to grant them their desire.”

13 July 2020

A recent SMH headline — Economy to recover strongly, but wages and jobs will not — put me in mind of an editorial from Salvage #8: “Millions of workers, with little or no support from the state, have been forced to risk their health and that of others around them by crowding onto contagious public transport and going to work every day. … Lauded for their ‘sacrifices’, they are actually being sacrificed. And sacrificed to what is, in the truest sense of the word, a fetish. The genre of handwringing commentary that poses a ‘hard choice’ between health and ‘the economy’ merely exposes the intangibility of the latter. The ‘economy’ is no more an object with needs and wants than the king-God Moloch — unless we endow either with them, and give up our weak and needy to the fiery idols. The ‘economy’ denotes that realm of human production and reproduction in which surplus value is produced, and the exploiters of that surplus value are becoming anxious that its flow has been shut off… [T]he owners of capital are still owning it in the same way as they did three months ago, only now all the indicators that supposedly justify their obscene levels of remuneration are heading downwards at an unprecedented rate. Far more than even the crisis of 2008, Covid-19 is exposing that it is workers, their productive and reproductive labour, who do the key work for capitalism. Might one of the reasons for the eagerness to end the lockdown in order to revive the ‘economy’ be that the lockdown demonstrates the possibility of abolishing the ‘economy’?”

Jia Tolentino on the steps needed to bring about more equality and justice: “[A]t a policy level: slashing the military budget and police budgets; really taxing inheritances; really taxing corporations; instituting a massive wealth tax — and then using that money to fund public schools, public colleges, public transit, universal health care, affordable housing, subsidized parental leave and care for children and the elderly; a higher minimum wage. In order to get there we need to restore voting rights — reverse court decisions on voter suppression, enfranchise incarcerated people, including felons. But on an individual level, I’ve been thinking about what it means to normalize the everyday surrendering of advantage — to put an ideology of equality in practice at a time when it’s obvious that voting once a year or whatever is not going to be enough. I think the American obsession with symbolic freedom has to be traded for a desire for actual freedom: the freedom to get sick without knowing it could bankrupt you, the freedom for your peers to live life without fearing they’ll be killed by police. The dream of collective well-being has to outweigh, day-to-day, the dream of individual success.”

8 July 2020

Boe Spearim on his new history podcast: “Frontier War Stories is a podcast dedicated to truth telling about a side of Australian history that has been left out of the history books. In each episode I speak to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people about research, books and oral histories which document the first 140 years of conflict and resistance. These times are the frontier wars, and these are our war stories. I’ve always been interested in history, not just here in Australia but worldwide. The transmission of history is something Aboriginal people on this continent have always done through culture and storytelling. History connects us to who we are. It gives us a way to connect to the past and gives context for us to understand the world today. … Aboriginal people are murdered today, and there is no justice because our humanity was — and still is — stripped from us. If you look through history you can clearly see when we as a people didn’t matter to anyone else on this continent. Not long after the invasion commenced in 1788, our people began a war of resistance and we fought fiercely for 140 years. This history gives context to the relationship between Aboriginal people and settlers today.“ Listen to Frontier War Stories.

Last week, the government’s new Closing the Gap targets were leaked, including parity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates by 2093 — not so much a target as a threat. It was dropped after an outcry. Megan Davis points out that the new goals reflect a bureaucratic status quo: “A feature the government was happier claiming was that the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap was a deal between it and the Coalition of Peaks, the many organisations that make up our Aboriginal service delivery sector, who would deliver on its aims. This innovation is ostensibly ‘self-determination’. It is anything but. The peaks are a triumph and a testament to the peerless activism of pioneers in the health and services sector … [b]ut the peaks are contracted service providers. The peaks rely on government funds to run their organisations and these monies are pegged to the governments’ outcomes, not ours. Government can defund service deliverers and dismiss them with a wave of a pen or defund them when it so chooses. … True self-determination is beyond the scope and function of providers of essential services. We need structural reform that will give Indigenous Australians some power over all decisions that are made about us. The peaks treat the symptoms, but a protected Voice in the constitution is about treating the causes of illness, of incarceration, of early death, unemployment and poor education outcomes.”

7 July 2020

Christopher Ryan asks Why Are Rich People So Mean? “When the researchers posed as pedestrians waiting to cross a street, all the drivers in cheap cars respected their right of way, while those in expensive cars drove right on by 46.2 percent of the time, even when they’d made eye contact with the pedestrians waiting to cross. [W]ealthier subjects were far more likely to claim they’d won a computer game — even though the game was rigged so that winning was impossible. Wealthy subjects were more likely to lie in negotiations and excuse unethical behavior at work, like lying to clients in order to make more money. When [researchers] left a jar of candy in the entrance to their lab with a sign saying whatever was left over would be given to kids at a nearby school, they found that wealthier people stole more candy from the babies.” But it seems that it is inequality, rather than wealth per se, that makes people mean: “Research conducted at the University of Toronto … suggest[s] … it’s the distance created by wealth differentials that seems to break the natural flow of human kindness. … Rich people were as generous as anyone else when inequality was low. The rich are less generous when inequality is extreme, a finding that challenges the idea that higher-income individuals are just more selfish. If the person who needs help doesn’t seem that different from us, we’ll probably help them out. But if they seem too far away (culturally, economically) we’re less likely to lend a hand.”