archive: May 2019

30 May 2019

“The problem with Australian democracy is not that there is too much of it, but that it stops as soon we clock on at work.” Godfrey Moase urges support for worker cooperatives, arguing that even the Morrison government might be persuaded to support them: “There is no reason why Australia cannot build up a worker cooperative sector employing tens of thousands of people in well-paid secure jobs over the next decade. … Conventional corporations receive a staggering amount of public subsidies and funding. If worker cooperatives had an equal shot at getting the same treatment, then we could all reap the social and economic rewards. Moreover, the twin traditions of worker ownership and entrepreneurship which runs through the very heart of cooperatives means the sector could cut through the traditional partisan divides in Canberra. This is one area of pro-worker reform that Coalition parliamentarians might even move on (with some pushing).”

29 May 2019

Bernard Keane has tabulated the numbers [$] to demonstrate that wage theft is now an epidemic in Australia: “Crikey has compiled the results of all FWO raids and investigations since the start of 2018, which have covered not merely the wage theft hotspots of hospitality, personal services, fast food and retail, but textiles, agriculture, construction and manufacturing. The results are disturbing: a total of 4975 businesses have been investigated since the start of 2018 and more than 27% were found to be underpaying employees.” The new industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, has flagged he will focus on “law enforcement aspects” of the portfolio — but I suspect that punishing wage thieves and cracking down on the $6 billion superannuation rip-off are not what he has in mind. Instead, expect to see more politically motivated police attacks on trade unions.

The University of Sydney’s Shaun Ratcliff has a lesson for the Australian media on how to interpret electorate-level voting and demographic data: “Contrary to the narrative forming around this election — that the Coalition has become the party of workers, ordinary Australians or battlers — according to data collected on individual voters during the campaign, its strongest supporters remain high-income business owners. Workers, the disabled and parents on low incomes receiving federal government payments are all more likely to support Labor.” Part of this is because journalists are blinded by high-vis and are falling for Australia’s own Joe the Plumber sleight-of-hand. Ratcliff explains: “A high-income, self-employed plumber is not working class. They are a capitalist. This is not a pejorative. They own capital (their business) and profit off their own and (potentially) their employees’ labour. They do not necessarily have identical economic interests as a low-income plumber who is an employee, working for someone else and being paid a wage. … It was only the self-employed in blue collar, and sales and service occupations, with incomes above $208,000 a year who overwhelmingly voted for the Coalition. These voters can hardly be called battlers, working class or even ordinary citizens.”

Elizabeth Payne reports on two simple changes that have improved the lives of women and girls: “In January the tampon tax was finally removed in Australia after a long and arduous campaign. Tampons, pads, menstrual cups, maternity pads and menstrual underwear are no longer taxed under GST, saving families suffering financial difficulties precious money each month. … The removal of this tax saves Australian shoppers $30m each year. It also sends a very important cultural message – that sanitary products are and always have been essential, and no one should be financially penalised for something as simple as having a period. Victoria has introduced free pads and tampons in state schools, a national first. Their reasoning was impenetrable: access to sanitary products shouldn’t be a barrier to getting a good education, surely this could be introduced nationwide.” Surely.

26 May 2019

Jeff Sparrow on the so-called ‘coal constituency’ of Queensland: “It might be noted that, despite all the memes about the supposed backwardness of the Sunshine State, the Greens outpolled One Nation in the Senate there. In fact, as Jonathan Sri notes, after a five per cent swing to the party, the state now represents one the Greens’ strongest constituencies, a fact that undercuts any idea that Queenslanders innately hate the environment. Yet for a program of climate action to win mass support, it must address ordinary people’s legitimate concerns about jobs and wages and conditions. That’s the significance of the so-called Green New Deal being discussed in the United States: it links environmentalism to an explicit program of structural change. Without that, a climate program doesn’t seem serious — and will struggle for traction. The takeaway from the 2019 election shouldn’t be a retreat to less ambitious goals. The lesson’s quite the opposite — on climate, you go hard or you go home.”

24 May 2019

As the Australian union movement licks its wounds and asks whether running a polling company and a network of volunteer call centres is the best way to campaign, it would do well to heed the words of Sara Nelson, president of the US Association of Flight Attendants: “And always remember: if you start in the workplace, the candidates will follow too. They answer to us. … For years, we outsourced our power while the bosses were outsourcing our jobs. We spent too much time trying to cut deals with the boss or build favor with politicians, and too little time mobilizing members to fight for what we deserve. People think power is a limited resource, but using power builds power. Once workers get a taste of our power, we will not settle for a bad deal. And we won’t stand by while someone else gets screwed, either. … Solidarity is a force stronger than gravity and with our collective power comes respect. This is true today.  In this city, in this country, in this world. But only if we make it so.”

21 May 2019

Ten piping hot takes on Labor’s election defeat

Saturday was a bad day. Here are ten early analyses that I have found helpful in understanding what happened, and in forming an initial view about what needs to happen next.

1. Amy Thomas, What the hell just happened? Five arguments:

Labor’s promise for a moderate level of income redistribution was hardly big target: some things were big spending, perhaps, but it was not a significant vision for social democratic reform to undo decades of neoliberalism. The election was not a vote against social democratic principles nor a victory for neoliberal reform. The missing link here has been any workers’ action to challenge the economic set up. Left entirely in the parliamentary sphere, the promises to ‘change the rules’ fell flat. And if this strategy doesn’t change, we face the real and present danger of racism continuing to fill the void – and those on Manus and Nauru, those fearful to enter mosques, and the Chinese people being cast as the enemy within will be the ones made to pay. In fighting this, and building solidarity, we can neither discount the appeal of racism nor assume it is hardened and impossible to break.

2. Jeff Sparrow, Where to now for the left?

[I]f [commentator David] Crowe’s right, it’s not just ‘big ideas and ambitious plans’ that are dead to our politicians. It’s also, according to the best available science, a great chunk of life on Earth, with neither major party even trying to put forward the measures necessary to end extinctions. That’s a bleak conclusion — but, in a way, it’s a bracing one since it clarifies, in the starkest possible fashion, the strategic perspectives in front of us. The fight against climate change — and the broader environmental disaster of which it is part — depends on the construction of a social movement. It depends on the kind of struggle we associate with the civil rights campaigns of the sixties: on civil disobedience, on mass marches, on occupations, on ordinary people putting their bodies on the line to stop something we all know to be terribly wrong.

3. Elizabeth Humphrys, We live in anti-political times:

In the days to come, many will continue to speculate on Labour’s failings and offer opinions on what could have made a difference. It is likely commentators (and the ALP itself) will draw the worst conclusions from this result — that they need to offer and say less next time, when the opposite is true. There was no big target in this election, but piecemeal policy making and attempts to play both sides (most notably on the climate crisis and Adani). Numerous commentators, as well as ordinary Labor voters and members, say that Shorten lost because the ALP did not communicate their policies well enough. It is the height of hubris to have voters continually reject your party and policies and respond by saying that it is that people just don’t understand and imply they are stupid. And yet, this is not an uncommon message from progressive commentators either. … A lot is being said by voters in this election, but one wonders whether many politicians and pundits are really listening.

4. Guy Rundle, Losing the unlosable election: the aftermath for Labor [$]:

Well Labor was taking a risk, but it didn’t have the courage or imagination to go further and make a case as to what this was all for, what sort of society they wanted to create. They were running for federal office like it was a state election, emphasising redistribution without talking about the whole picture. … They bore the cost of their ‘big ticket’ strategy, and gained none of the benefit from a more comprehensive vision. Which is pretty ironic, for a party that has become so economistic in its manner. … The common refrain has been that Labor had two choices: a conservative small target strategy, or the ‘bold’ one they took. It wasn’t bold at all. It was piecemeal but pricey, an inept combination, the worst possible. Missing entirely was the third possibility: one in which Labor talked of production and work, not just distribution, about how we could transform the way we live, about our place in a changing world.

5. Daniel Lopez, How Australia’s Labor Party Lost an Un-Losable Election:

In some parts of Broadmeadows, the Victorian Socialists outpolled The Greens and the Coalition. Of course, the Victorian Socialists — who were founded only in 2018 — can’t take credit for Broadmeadows’ progressive character. Rather, the point is that the broader left in Victoria has consistently fought racism, denying it a basis in this state. The union movement is also strongest in Melbourne: for example, the NUW has played an important role organizing warehousing workers and farm workers in Melbourne’s north, both undermining racism in this ethnically diverse industry and proving that solidarity can win. … Shorten also failed to outline any measures linking action on climate change with improved living standards. That is, he did not attack climate scepticism at its root. This is why wherever mining and resources were a factor, Labor was punished badly.

6. Frank Bongiorno, Clearing the scrub:

[C]an those arguing that Labor should move to the right tell us what this might actually mean? … Does it, for Australia, mean an embrace of the coal industry? A softening of commitment to renewables? More ‘environmental’ water for farmers? Income tax cuts for the wealthy? A reduction in business tax rates (to encourage companies to employ more salt-of-the-earth workers wearing the same kinds of high-vis vests beloved of politicians on the campaign trail)? Does it mean a winding back of welfare entitlements? Rejection of the Uluru Statement? Higher university fees? More support for private schools so that the working class can afford to send their kids there? … And if it means any or all of these things, why would anyone vote Labor when the Coalition will always be more full-throated in delivering on them?

7. Peter Browne, Wrong-target strategy:

So is the failure of Labor’s ambitious reform plan the final nail in the coffin of big-target campaigning? Do the many parallels with John Hewson’s spectacular loss in 1993 — previously the most notorious case study — mean that timid, evasive campaigning is the only option? …  The party certainly needs to propose things — just as the Coalition needs to constantly assert its economic competence. It’s the reason it exists. … [But e]nough voters are sufficiently sceptical of politicians and parties — and are already feeling unsettled by pressures that Labor should be well aware of — for that strategy to end in disaster. This doesn’t mean small-target campaigning is necessarily the way to go, but it does mean that Labor — as the only alternative government — needs to make itself a much smarter target.

8. Osmond Chiu, Australian Labor’s Miliband Moment:

While some have sneered at voters for the result, the fact remains that Australian Labor’s offer was not one that captured the public imagination. Labor was unable to convince enough voters that their lives would be better off under its government. There was no public affection for the coalition but nor was there excitement for the prospect of the Labor Opposition winning under Bill Shorten. … The times require a popular leader with a vision for a better future that can excite voters. This will have to include an agenda that seriously tackles the climate crisis and has a credible answer for those who might lose their jobs and livelihoods. It is no easy task given the internal tensions implied by such a political coalition. But it is the only way Australia’s left can reclaim its future and win again.

9. Ben Hillier, Why did Labor lose?

[H]ad Labor articulated a more radical program to lift living standards and create jobs, it might have won back and energised some of its historic base. On this front again, the problem wasn’t being too bold, but not bold enough. … For the time being, we need not cry for the party. We have to organise against this rotten government. For all its triumphalism, on current counting the Coalition has registered its worst primary vote result since 1946, the first year Robert Menzies’ new party contested the federal election. It starts its third term as it ended its second: incredibly mean, but weak, divided and lacking much authority. There are wells of disaffection, which the ALP only half-heartedly was prepared to connect with. The task for the rest of us is to keep building an alternative prepared to stand up and start swinging.

10. Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin, It’s time for open rebellion you useless herd of motherflippers!

The born to rule boys of the ALP are just as bad as their Tory counterparts. They made a gormless wooden factional warlord their leader and he went on to utterly fail to convince the Australian people of the value of not being a dick. The list of reasons for removing this government is like the ocean, vast and deep and full of pilchards. Yet the ALP are inexplicably incapable of mounting a case for change. They are cancelled. I wish I could tell you how to win over the electorate but I can’t and that’s because I’M A PENGUIN and not some number crunching poll frotting genius from the ALP. Irregardless, do not lose heart comrades and do not give up, a penguin never surrenders. We shall return and penguin the barricades anew. In time we will give those fascist leopard seals a good flipping.

17 May 2019

Medicare. Aggressively tackling child poverty. Protecting the Franklin River, Kakadu, Antarctica. Responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Fighting Apartheid. Taking refugees after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Handing back Uluru. Establishing ATSIC. Confronting the causes of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Pushing for Treaty. Cutting ties with Britain. Advocating for gender pay parity. Banning sex discrimination and requiring affirmative action for women. Appointing the first minister for women and the first female High Court judge. Bob Hawke wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty bloody good.

15 May 2019

Labor has announced a new small-claims jurisdiction to help workers recover wages from recalcitrant bosses. Barriers to the current small claims process were highlighted as a significant problem by the Migrant Workers Taskforce in its recent report, and the $100,000 threshhold was proposed by the McKell Institute in a comprehensive discussion paper, Ending Wage Theft: Eradicating Underpayment in the Australian Workplace. Labor made additional, welcome commitments that “[c]laims brought forward by groups of workers against a single employer will also be permitted”, and that funding to community legal centres will be increased. The ACTU’s Sally McManus explains why this simple policy is so important: “Getting back wages which have been stolen from you should be simple and inexpensive… Wage theft has become systemic because employers get away with it. By empowering working people to claim back their stolen wages we will make sure that employers who steal wages face consequences.”

Lizzie O’Shea’s book, Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Teach Us about Digital Technology, is out today. A substantial excerpt is available on Long Reads, focussing on the false neutrality of algorithms. Referring to Google Ads that algorithmically become racist over time, O’Shea comments: “One possible response to this is that the algorithm is neutral, that it is just a vehicle for the ad, automatically responding to how people use it; algorithms aren’t racist, people are racist. But the algorithm is built in a way that also confirms implicit biases that exist in the real world, and it does so over and over again. … Google executives should bear the responsibility for the outcomes generated by their technology when it does what it is designed to do. In this case, Google is providing a service that is doing what it is designed to do: monetize advertising most effectively. In other words, the importation of racism into digital technology and the failure to consider implicit bias in design processes is not a bug, it is a feature of technology capitalism.” (In her day job as a lawyer, O’Shea is currently managing a class action against Uber for the tort of conspiracy to injure by unlawful means.)