21 October 2019

In The Age, Michael Walker summarises a paper he delivered at the ILO’s 6th Regulating for Decent Work conference: “I looked at thousands of instances of worker-generated content in the online forum uberpeople.net, which was established in 2014 and has over 5 million posts, and also interviewed Uber drivers in Australia. It emerged that online chatter is not just a stepping-stone to real action, such as Uber strikes, but also provides the opportunity for workers to better their situation in a less dramatic fashion by sharing information and experiences, including how to work the system and earn more. … Those working in a situation where there is no union present should check out online forums and share their experiences with other workers, as these forums not only provide support and advice, but also the opportunity to improve working conditions and earning potential. Unions, for their part, should embrace digital technology as a way to strengthen worker voice, either through co-operating with forums that already exist, or creating new online platforms to assist workers and support decent working conditions.”

18 October 2019

In her book, Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging, Jodi Dean sees “[a]ttention to comradeship” as the antidote to tense, conflicted, suspicious, exhausting identity-driven Left politics, especially online. She is particularly critical of the recent focus on allyship: “the term ally appears more to designate a limit, suggesting that you will never be one of us, than it does to enable solidarity.” This is not to deny real differences of privilege: “comrade does not eliminate conflict. It names an aspiration not always fulfilled but one that comrades can be expected to recognize, to strive for. … The determinations of a sexist, racist, capitalist society unavoidably intrude, but comrade names a relation no longer determined by these factors, providing a site from which they can be judged and addressed.” Alliances are, by their nature, temporary alignments of interest. We should look beyond them for something deeper: “an ally with interests of [their] own that temporarily overlap with mine… might later come to be a comrade.” Comradeship goes further: “Comrades are those you can count on. You share enough of a common ideology, enough of a commitment to common principles and goals, to do more than one-off actions. Together you can fight the long fight.”

17 October 2019

Anglicare’s annual Jobs Availability Snapshot proves that government propaganda about unemployed people as job snobs or drug addicts is nonsense. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, especially for people who lack qualifications or work experience: “It found there were about 100,000 disadvantaged jobseekers in May… while there were only 18,200 low-skilled ‘level 5’ jobs advertised.” That equates to “5.49 people competing for each entry-level job”. Anglicare calls for an end to punitive measures and a shift to government job creation programs. Meanwhile, the Australian Unemployed Workers Union has put forward a constructive proposal to deal with this: a Green Jobs Guarantee, focussed on the needs of regional Australia. Their proposal argues that “linking the objective of full employment via a Job Guarantee to the urgent task of preventing catastrophic global warming is an absolute imperative”, and would target the local needs of regional communities with an investment in training and public employment.

15 October 2019

The Sunday Herald Sun doesn’t believe in the right to protest: “Protected by the blanket of democracy, these Extinction Rebellion protesters were simply able to do what they wanted … simply because they think it’s their right to protest. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege, and they abused that, day after day.” The police seem to agree — they have been inflicting extrajudicial punishment on protesters, holding them in custody for hours or days if they don’t sign up to harsh bail restrictions (later thrown out by courts). Scott Ludlam was banned by police from coming within 2.5km of the Sydney Town Hall or attending any XR events anywhere; similar conditions were imposed in Victoria. Every major social advance has been achieved by disruptive protest. Clive Hamilton explains: “XR is just the latest manifestation of the long history of the politics of impatience. It’s a politics that energizes and emboldens a movement’s moderate majority and expands the boundaries of what seems reasonable to demand. … Explaining the inflammatory logic of the Freedom Rides into the Deep South in 1961, Martin Luther King wrote that the aim was to generate ‘such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.'” Protected by the blanket of democracy, MLK was simply able to do what he wanted…

14 October 2019

Noting that “going out on strike is all but outlawed in Australia, thanks to some of the most restrictive laws surrounding workplace action in any OECD nation,” Sam Wallman gives a recent example of the Kafkaesque system for taking protected industrial action: “In drafting their application, the [Melbourne Metro] workers and their union [the RTBU] ticked every box, followed every process and procedure, but a court order put a stop to their plan to leave the ticket gates of stations open for one day in August as a bargaining tactic. … The court order went further than just vetoing the tactic: it demanded that the union post notices at every station within twenty-four hours — this happened on a Saturday — in which they formally retracted their plans. The RTBU was also told to take out full-page ads in all the major newspapers the next day to announce that their action wasn’t going ahead. Since getting a full-page ad in every copy of the papers turned out to be an impossible ask, the union was found in breach of the court order. As a result, any industrial action taken would now be unlawful. The union could face millions of dollars in fines and potential deregistration if they continue in the face of the court’s decision. … There is a legal appeal moving slowly through the courts… [T]he potential legal precedent in this case is extremely dangerous and could limit our right to ‘simply stop working’ even further.“

12 October 2019

Federal Court finds ROC acted illegally — and doesn’t clear Cash

The Federal Court has found that the Registered Organisations Commission’s high profile investigation of the AWU — which involved televised police raids searching for 10-year-old paperwork — was illegal because paperwork errors more than four years old are automatically forgiven by the law. The government, though, is claiming victory [$] because the claim of a political conspiracy was not upheld by the court.

That’s true — but only because of the difficulty of gathering evidence from a reluctant government agency, with a witness from the ROC who took an “overly protective approach” and gave implausible evidence, at least one witness from Ministers’ offices whose evidence was “likely … not truthful”, and a Minister who was herself possibly untruthful. There was no smoking gun, as ROC’s lawyer put it, but there is still good reason to believe the AWU’s claim was correct.

While the AWU couldn’t definitively prove the raids were motivated by a political vendetta against Bill Shorten, the judge said that claim was “not entirely bereft of support”. In part, they fell short because they didn’t question the key decision maker, Chris Enright, about why ROC’s media officer described the investigation as “a formal inquiry into Bill Shorten” and “perceived [a] need to disguise it” as an inquiry into the AWU. Moreover, “[h]ow or why it was that between 2.29 pm on 17 October 2017 and 5.34 pm on 17 October 2017 all mention of Mr Shorten was removed from the draft Decision Record was not explained”. While “it might have been expected that Mr Enright may have had some involvement”, the AWU couldn’t explicitly link him to it.

The judge “harbour[ed] concerns about the reliability of the evidence given by Mr Enright”; it was “unsatisfactory” and “hard to accept”, it “involved inconsistency and was not plausible”. Enright himself was described as “selective in relation to the matters he chose to rely upon” in deciding whether to investigate the union, “unwise … to have had direct contact with the Minister’s office”; he was “evasive”, “overly protective of his own conduct and the conduct of the Commission and … he was prone to giving evidence as an advocate protecting himself and the conduct of the Commission from criticism.”

Nevertheless, the judge could see no “strong motive” for Enright to improperly target the Opposition Leader, because he is a “career public servant” with an “unblemished career”, who “has held a range of positions and performed various roles serving governments of the Minister’s political persuasion as well as those on Mr Shorten’s side of politics”. But these findings were based on “the evidence before me”, and don’t take into account the fact that last time Enright served Mr Shorten’s side of politics, he kept a secret file on his boss, the Home Affairs minister.

And contrary to media reporting, Michaelia Cash was not exonerated. The court held that because ROC admitted it had assumed Cash was politically motivated — an assumption the court said would be shared by “[m]ost people with an understanding of the relevant political landscape” — it was not legally necessary to decide whether that assumption was correct. So, was Cash lying when she denied it? The judge sidestepped that question, saying “it is neither necessary or appropriate that I address the adverse credit findings sought”, leaving open the possibility that Cash lied under oath.

So — what this judgment shows is that ROC is at best incompetent, and at worst politically motivated and effective at stonewalling. It should be abolished, not given more power to attack unions.

11 October 2019

Kassandra Vee [$]: “We find pleasure and compensation in even the most banal endeavors, because we have to survive everyday life in this capitalist hellscape… But there is a serious danger in confusing these survival mechanisms for desirable horizons of possibility. Let’s start recognizing the truth: Hating your job is smart, and it’s the right relationship to work. Finding pleasure and happiness at our jobs is a way to make ourselves able to show up at work the next day, not a reflection of work’s intrinsic moral value. … What if we tried to conceptualize a struggle whose central goal was reducing the amount of work, both in the process of struggle itself and in the world we want to build? … How much can we steal, eat, pilfer, and destroy? How much time can we take back for ourselves? … Why not build a politics around material reality—that we hate our jobs, that our productivity is destroying the planet—instead of around some magical idealistic notion about the dignity of our labors. Fuck that. Your job sucks, and so does mine.” (I don’t entirely agree with all of Vee’s conclusions, but it is a challenging essay and well worth subscribing for.)

10 October 2019

In the Tribune, Olivia Humphreys tells the story of the Cairo Forces Parliament of 1943, a mock parliament of British soldiers debating post-war reconstruction. It was “run ‘along pukka parliamentary lines’. There was a speaker who was ‘versed in all the rules and regulations’, and at each meeting a bill would be debated and voted on. Anyone who attended was considered an mp and could vote on the bill. Around 150 troops turned up to the first meeting.” Initially the events ran with the approval of the military authorities, but as time went on the troops began to propose socialist policies. A bill to nationalise the banks was carried, and the mover, mock chancellor Leo Abse, described the army’s reaction: “‘That night I nationalised the bank; but in the morning I was arrested … I was taken under escort to Suez and kept in custody to await the arrival of a boat which was to take me to a hot and arid island in the Persian Gulf where I was to be quarantined.’ In the days that followed, several other leading members of the left-wing parties were posted abroad without warning.” (Leo Abse went on to be a Labour MP for almost 30 years.)

Seeking to justify his union-busting, Orwellian-titled Ensuring Integrity Bill, Scott Morrison claims, “These are the same bans that apply to company directors who break the law.” Anthony Forsyth, professor of workplace law at RMIT, says that is a blatant falsehood; the legislation “would allow court-ordered disqualification to be sought against a union official on much wider grounds than those available for company directors. An employer could seek to have an official removed because they have been involved in a technical breach of the protected industrial action rules under the Fair Work Act, but a union could not seek disqualification of a company director who had breached the same legislation by, for instance, presiding over the underpayment of workers. Disqualification could also be sought because a union official had breached the proposed ‘fit and proper person’ test. There is no fit and proper test for company directors…”

9 October 2019

The Raise the Rate campaign has been pushing for a $75-a-week increase in the rate of Newstart, and has persuaded a broad range of people and organisations — from Sally McManus to John Howard; from ACOSS to the Business Council. But a new report from KPMG suggests $75 is not enough — Newstart should be raised to 50% of the minimum wage, which equates to a raise of over $90 per week. The KPMG bean counters argued in a submission to a Senate inquiry: “There is an optimal level for Newstart which involves balancing meeting material and psychological needs and providing incentives for work. That balance is not being met. An inadequate Newstart tears at our inclusive social contract, given our society does not guarantee work and thus should ensure that there is an adequate living standard for those that cannot obtain work.”