archive: August 2019

29 August 2019

The Obama-funded documentary American Factory depicts the culture clash when a Chinese billionaire opens an automotive glass plant in a former GM factory. As his management becomes more authoritarian, morale drops and workplace injuries rise. The company spends a million dollars on “union avoidance” strategies, forcing workers to attend propaganda meetings and openly admitting to sacking union supporters. While the film has been criticised for sitting on the fence and pushing a flaccid “common ground” agenda, I think its dry presentation underscores the importance of a real union (not a servile company union like the official Chinese factory union shown) to protecting workers from exploitation. That seems to be what Chinese viewers have taken from it: “‘Who doesn’t know China’s efficiency comes from stripping low-class workers of their health, safety and dignity?’ read the top-voted comment on review site Douban. ‘Chinese people have given Americans a lesson on what capitalism is like,’ a Weibo comment said.” And as Vox notes, the filmmakers “train their cameras on not just the people but the tasks and materials of the job, giving audiences less familiar with the factory floor an idea of just how complicated and difficult the work is, and how valuable skilled labor is as well.”

27 August 2019

Labor’s Pat Conroy presents a spurious defence of new Australian coal mines: “[Y]ou might say — Australia has a moral responsibility not to export coal. In fact, the moral — and legal — responsibility for the emissions lies with the nation that burns the coal, not the nation that supplies the coal. … To understand the perverse impacts of the scope-3 argument, consider Australia’s transport sector. Motor vehicles emitted 101 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in Australia last year — nearly 19% of our total emissions. Under the scope-3 approach, responsibility for these emissions would be shifted from Australia to Japan, Germany and Thailand because their car manufacturers export the vehicles. Not only is this ridiculous — it would give a leave pass to the Australian government, which is already refusing to tackle transport emissions.” This ‘coal doesn’t cause emissions, people cause emissions’ argument rests on a false dichotomy; it’s not one or the other. It’s entirely fair to apportion blame to both the coal miner and their customer. After all, when we criticise gun manufacturers for marketing and putting weapons into the hands of killers, nobody suggests that we can’t hold murderers responsible, too.

24 August 2019

German Lopez on doing a “complete 180 on unions”: “On November 17, 2017, right after the Vox Media editorial staff started a push to unionize, I sent out my worst tweets of all time. ‘I am against #VoxUnion,’ I wrote in one of the tweets. … ‘I am generally fine with and even supportive of unions,’ I concluded. ‘Just not this one.’ … Good organizing and outreach from colleagues helped change my mind about the need for a union at Vox Media specifically. But so did approaching the research on unions the same way I would any topic in my reporting: by looking at the data and talking to experts. … [A]s I dug deeper and deeper into the research, and as I engaged in the actual organizing and bargaining processes, I was repeatedly proven wrong, in large part because I initially focused way too much on the bad examples of unions instead of the good ones. When you stack up all the research and look at the broader picture, though, the net effect of unions — bad examples included — is good for the typical worker. I hope more Americans go through the transformation that I did. We’d all be better for it.” His article summarises the evidence rebutting common objections to unions.

23 August 2019

On the eve of a coronial inquiry that will investigate what role systemic racism played in the death of Tanya Day, the Victorian Government has promised to abolish the crime of ‘public drunkenness’ and implement a health-based approach. This is the least they can do — the reform was recommended almost 30 years ago by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Sadly, “the majority of recommendations dating back to the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991 have either not been implemented or only partly implemented”, and Aboriginal people continue to bear the burden of that indifference. The Guardian’s analysis shows that the situation has worsened: “The proportion of Indigenous deaths where medical care was required but not given increased, from 35.4% to 38.6%. The proportion of Indigenous deaths where not all procedures were followed in the events leading up to the death increased from 38.8% to 41.2%.” There is no excuse for this. Hopefully the inquest will force some urgency beyond the Victorian Government’s preemptive response.

22 August 2019

Protestors are gathering to protect sacred trees in Western Victoria: “Tents are mushrooming across a grassy plain as a 200-strong crowd of Indigenous activists and protesters join the traditional owners in protecting the trees from being destroyed to make way for the duplication of the Western Highway. … The activists’ deadline to be evicted is Thursday and the air is thick with anticipation for what’s to come.” Lidia Thorpe explains: “So far, our campaign has resulted in some changes to the road easement, saving six of about 300 trees that must be preserved. These trees, hundreds of years old, include birthing trees that have hosted the delivery of an estimated 10,000 Djab Wurrung babies, with ties to 56 family groups. It is heartbreaking that these deeply intimate cultural sites, which literally contain the blood of Aboriginal women, giving these trees nutrients to grow for so long, are going to be destroyed to widen a road.” And while it is preparing to bulldoze these 800-year-old trees, the Andrews Government is asking the Heritage Council to protect a freeway.

21 August 2019

The National Employment Standards require all full-time workers to be given a minimum of ten days’ paid sick leave. For years, many bosses have been rorting this system by interpreting “day” as “7.6 hours” — even if their workers are required to work a standard ten- or twelve-hour shift. When the owners of a chocolate factory tried to impose the same scam on its workers (with the support of the Coalition government), the AMWU resisted. And the Full Court of the Federal Court agreed with the union: ten days means ten days. The flow-on effects of this decision will be significant, because the Fair Work Ombudsman has been wrongly advising employers to rip off sick workers for years. In earlier comments about this issue, AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said [$], “This potentially affects every employer in the country that employs shift workers. … Employers who have been taking the FWO’s advice and only paying their employees for 7.[6] hours when they are missing 12-hour shifts on leave are likely liable to backpay stretching back six years. Ten days’ leave should mean 10 days leave — and those who happen to work 12-hour shifts should not be disadvantaged.” Check your pay slips!

20 August 2019

John Quiggin: “the core democratic principle that those affected by a decision should have a say in making it, unless they are absolutely disqualified in some way… makes an open-and-shut case for lowering the voting age to 16. But where should we stop? If we set the bar at the level of emotional maturity and intelligence shown by say, the crowd at a Trump rally, most 12 year olds would clear it with ease. So, how about giving everyone a vote? For young children, that would amount to giving parents an extra vote, though it’s worth noting that opponents of womens’ suffrage made the same claim about husbands. In any case, the assumption that parents would vote in their children’s interest seems much more defensible than the idea that the old, as a group, will vote unselfishly about decisions (Brexit, for example, or wartime conscription) that will have little effect on them, but drastic consequences for the young. More importantly, the age at which young people stop doing as their parents tell them is well below 18. Allowing them to engage directly in the democratic process would be an unambiguously good thing, whether or not they chose more wisely than their elders.” My own view is that the voting age should be ten, which is the age of criminal responsibility throughout Australia.

17 August 2019

Yesterday marked 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, when a mass protest for expanded suffrage and against the rotten boroughs was attacked by a cavalry charge. Chris Dillow wonders about the commemorations: “The protestors were demanding a wider suffrage. One would expect those Tories who sanctify the ‘will of the people’ to celebrate such demands. And we’d expect lovers of freedom to condemn those who killed the protestors: they were, after all, doing just what Stalin did later — murdering opponents of the regime. But this is not what we see. It is trades unions and leftists who are marking the day: Mike Leigh made a film of it. Tories, on the other hand, seem much quieter. Why? For one thing, many Tories have never really been on the side of freedom. … During much of the Cold War, Tories supported Pinochet, apartheid, Macarthyism, the forced labour that was national service and the criminalization of homosexuality. There were happy with repression, as long as it was they who were the repressors. … So perhaps there’s really no mystery after all about who’s commemorating Peterloo and who isn’t — because, 200 years on, many on the right haven’t changed much.”

16 August 2019

CM Lewis on industrial or labour law (with relevance to Australia’s Change the Rules campaign): “We can, and should, codify our organizing gains into law at every turn. Radical industrial organization in the 1930s conjured the spectre of worker revolt on an unprecedented scale: a spectre that led directly to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. Public sector workers in the 1960s — such as Pennsylvania teachers — turned to wildcat strikes and mass actions, like 20,000 teachers marching on Harrisburg in March of 1968 to demand fair pay, dignity on the job, and union rights. Striking postal workers in 1970 secured the right to collectively bargain for the first time. Once we’ve built power — power only created and sustained through organizing — we need to seize concessions that make more possible. But we need to be clear about what makes that law: organizing and working-class power. Changes to labor law aren’t handed down from the sky — or from transactional deal-making between ‘benevolent’ politicians and union lobbyists. They’re hard-won concessions gained through the power of organized workers. Organize first. Make the law follow.”

ASIO has justified criminal penalties for journalists reporting on government leaks, by pushing a Reds-under-the-beds claim that foreign spies might be posing as journalists. This seems to be based on a hamfisted (and unsuccessful) approach [$] made by to Angus Grigg in 2013. Grigg observes [$] that “if the agency was really concerned about journalists being co-opted by ‘foreign operatives’ you’d think they would have contacted me. But in the 18 months since the story was published, I’ve heard nothing from 70 Constitutional Avenue, ASIO’s shiny new headquarters”. He also notes that ASIO initially kept its submission to a parliamentary inquiry secret, but “eventually declassified the document under pressure and it was revealed to be little more than a rehash of what [ASIO head Duncan] Lewis said last year.” This is a major threat to press freedom — the over-classification of documents. By illegitimately stamping information with a secret classification, agencies can make reporting mundane matters crime. Reviewing the classification system (and its cousin, Freedom of Information) should be an urgent priority.