10 March 2020

The Australia Institute’s Ebony Bennett: “The surplus the Coalition boasted about delivering looks to be cactus, but that’s good, delivering a surplus amid an economic downturn is about as useful as having 1000 toilet paper rolls in a flu pandemic. Now, the risk is that the Coalition will listen to its own rhetoric instead of expert advice, undercook its stimulus package, and potentially send Australia into recession. … The Coalition is quite capable of targeting its spending, judging by the precision used to target marginal seats for a $100 million cash splash in recent the sports rorts scandal. It has however, shown less aptitude for targeting money where it’s needed (as opposed to where it’s electorally advantageous). … [T]here’s no point giving business money if people won’t buy anything. That’s why targeting the majority of stimulus at business is risky; business won’t invest if there’s no demand. … That’s why a stimulus package that supports households, such as by increasing Newstart, has a double benefit.” I’m now expecting to see permanent benefits for business, and one-off payments to needy people.

8 March 2020

The DSA’s Cinzia Arruzza: “[T]he Socialist Party USA first established a day of education and action around women’s rights called ‘Woman’s Day’ in 1908, and the following year US socialists held demonstrations in several cities to demand women’s suffrage. In 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the transformation of the US Woman’s Day into an international day of action — International Working Women’s Day — which, in 1914, started being celebrated on March 8. Three years later, on March 8, 1917, Russian women workers took to the streets in St. Petersburg, organizing a strike to demand bread and peace. It was the beginning of the Russian Revolution. When the United Nations declared IWD in 1975, it took care to remove the word ‘working’ from the title. This was only a first step toward the transformation of the day from a demonstration of working women’s struggles to a day of festivity in celebration of ‘women’ as such, returning to an essentialist or biology-based identity of women as natural mothers and caregivers.” International Women’s Day must be reclaimed as a day to honour the work — paid and unpaid — of all women, and to support their ongoing struggle for equality and control of their lives.

6 March 2020

The University and College Union is currently striking at 74 UK universities over pay, job security, and workload issues. In support of the campaign, History Workshop crowdsourced suggestions for a Strike Syllabus: “texts (of all sorts) to inspire and galvanise; texts to stir righteous anger or provide necessary solace.” The result is an excellent list of resources organised by topic: Strikes in Theory and Practice; Strikes in History; Strikes in Fiction. Definitely worth bookmarking for when you can’t decide what to read next.

4 March 2020

The New Economics Foundation’s Aidan Harper: “Coronavirus isn’t just a disease — it’s a test of the systems that are part of our everyday lives. In the recent guidance it released to the public, the [UK] government said it would encourage self-isolation as the primary way to contain the spread of the virus. Yet for many of the low-paid workers in Britain who look after your parents, deliver your food or drive your Uber, self-isolation means forgoing wages in order to protect others from disease. … The government’s advice to self-isolate seems tone-deaf to the reality of many British workers. Precarious work, where employees can’t afford to take sick days for fear of losing their wages, impedes what is needed most when containing a pandemic: acting with other people in mind. This is why public health policies must place the interests of the least well-off at their centre.” The same goes for Australia. The union movement’s call for unconditional financial support for coronavirus-affected people [$] must be supported.

In this month’s issue of Current Affairs, Joshua Cho writes In Defense of Laziness: “Aside from the absurdity of knowing that the phrase ‘pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps’ was originally intended to prove the absurdity of succeeding without outside help (because the very act is literally impossible to perform), the continued irony of rich people who don’t work accusing the working poor of being ‘lazy’ shouldn’t be lost on us. It’s true that there are many rich people who work a lot, but they are not rich because they work hard. … Capitalists are quite literally people who receive money from owning a lot of investments, rather than working for every dollar like everyone else. … Nobody ‘earns’ a billion dollar fortune. And the bootstrapping myth only perpetuates the absurd pattern where the most victimized and hardworking people are accused of laziness by those who don’t really work. … Socialists shouldn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of the policies they champion would save people from pointless work, freeing up their time to do other things. … When people attack socialists for wanting an easy world that encourages laziness, we shouldn’t hesitate to agree. We should instead ask: ‘What’s wrong with laziness?'”

Arwa Mahdawi: “When you think about hotbeds of socialism, Texas is not the first place that comes to mind. However, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll last month, 56% of Democratic primary voters in the Lone Star state say they have a positive view of socialism while only 37% have a favourable view of capitalism. It is a similar story in California; more Democrats feel positive about socialism than about capitalism. … [T]he poll reflects a step-change in US attitudes towards capitalism. It would be inaccurate to say that the US is embracing ‘socialism’, because the word has become amorphous: boomers associate it with Stalinism, millennials associate it with Scandinavia. In many ways, the S-word is a red herring. The country has not so much warmed to socialism as it has cooled on capitalism. This is hardly surprising when you consider how the latter has failed ordinary Americans. The poorest men in the US have the same life expectancy as men in Sudan. Maternal mortality more than doubled between 1991 and 2014. The middle class has shrunk. People are desperate for an alternative to an increasingly dismal status quo. … Honestly, I don’t know if the US is ready for a socialist president, but it may be more ready than it has been before.”

3 March 2020

An independent study conducted by three universities has confirmed that compulsory income management — which targets vulnerable Indigenous communities — is ruining lives instead of empowering them. The report found that by limiting their access to cash, people are cut off from important cash-only transactions, such as taking their kids to community events like fun-fairs, or buying second-hand textbooks. Worse, the companies profiting from the system (such as Indue) don’t pay their “clients'” bills on time, so that affected families are forced to use their limited cash to pay rent. Survey respondents “overwhelmingly indicate that IM had hindered rather than helped with management of their financial affairs, and that it had reduced their sense of autonomy, wellbeing and overall locus of control”. Dr Michelle Peterie summarised: “The overwhelming finding is that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling affect on the lives of many social security recipients. This was true across all of our research sites.”

2 March 2020

In a victory for freedom of speech, a Fair Work Commission appeal bench has ordered the reinstatement of a worker who made a Downfall parody about his employer’s EBA negotiations. At the time of the awful initial decision upholding the sacking, I made my own meme in response, explaining that a Downfall meme “suggests the subject is under intense pressure and refuses to accept reality as their position deteriorates and the humour comes from the absurd juxtaposition of Hitler’s downfall with a mundane situation. … If it literally suggests the subject is Hitlerish, the joke falls flat.” The worker’s lawyer incorporated this analysis into his appeal submissions: “the Downfall video genre involves an absurd juxtaposition between Hitler’s downfall and a contemporary mundane, commonplace or day-to-day matter not going to plan, and is a device to make a humorous point about the contemporary matter not going to plan; there would be no humour in the video genre if it constituted depicting a person as a Nazi or likening a person to a Nazi”. The FWC Full Bench accepted this and gave BP two weeks to reinstate the worker to his job.

26 February 2020

Daniel Lopez on Labor’s Coal Grouper rats: “When it boils down to it, the Otis Group want to cut taxes on an industry that already pays virtually none. And they want to give that industry more money, even though it already receives billions in subsidies every year. None of this will go to workers. And as the long decline of Australian car manufacturing shows, corporations won’t think twice about abandoning workers who have given decades of their life when profits dry up, subsidies or not. Farrell, Fitzgibbon, and the other Coal Groupers have committed the political equivalent of crossing a picket line. There can be no common ground between Gina Rinehart, a woman who writes poetry about mining, and a rural Queenslander dying of black lung, a disease caused solely by coal mining. There is no common ground between Gautam Adani, a vicious Hindu supremacist who has employed child labor, and a power plant worker who will, if not today, then tomorrow, be jobless and broke. … The Otis Group… have organized in secret to advance the interests of the class enemy. But they won’t be expelled. … Caucus discipline has been used for decades, but only to discipline the Left. … The ALP today is so far from class politics that rats congratulate each other’s cleverness over dinner while the optimists of the Left do their bidding.”

Osmond Chiu: “Australian politics is too white. It is less diverse than comparable countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. This is embarrassing. We cannot be “the most successful multicultural society in the world”, as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote, if our institutions do not reflect Australia’s cultural diversity. The lack of diversity hurts our democracy. It leads to more disconnected, myopic and polarised debates about race and national identity. The homogenous nature of Australian politics is one reason why politicians find it difficult to deal with issues like foreign interference because there is insufficient cultural and political knowledge of the foreign entities the government seeks to legislate against. A truly representative parliament is necessary if we want Australia to successfully navigate big foreign and domestic policy challenges, and to reflect the values of equality which Australia stands for.” Chiu calls for three changes: parties should publicly report on their diversity targets; parties and community organisations should train potential candidates; and there should be a national anti-corruption commission and limits on political donations to address the perception that non-white candidates are susceptible to foreign interference.