archive: December 2019

31 December 2019

In David Harvey’s excellent Rebel Cities, he argues that organising communities beyond the narrow concerns of the working class provides the best hope for radical change. He points out that this has always been true, illustrating it by reference to an old film: “There is a wonderful film that was produced by blacklisted Hollywood writers and directors (the so-called Hollywood Ten) in 1954 called Salt of the Earth. Based on actual events in 1951, it depicts the struggle of highly exploited Mexican-American workers and their families in a zinc mine in New Mexico. … The awesome power of unity between gender, ethnicity, working, and living is not easy to construct, and the tension in the film between men and women, between Anglo and Mexican workers, and between work-based and daily life perspectives, is just as significant as that between labor and capital. Only when unity and parity are constructed among all the forces of labor, the film says, will you be able to win. The danger this message represented for capital is measured by the fact that this is the only film ever to be systematically banned for political reasons from being shown in any US commercial venue for many years. Most of the actors were not professional; many were drawn from the miner’s union. But the brilliant leading professional actress, Rosaura Revueltas, was deported to Mexico.” Salt of the Earth is streaming on YouTube.

30 December 2019

Adam Triggs: “Imagine a single policy that could boost our lacklustre economy by $4 billion, create an additional 12,000 jobs by 2021, disproportionately support regional and remote communities doing it tough with drought and bushfires, reduce inequality by benefiting the poorest fifth of Australians twenty-eight times more than the richest, disproportionately support women, boost wages and corporate profits, and increase federal and state tax revenue by more than $1.25 billion. … And suppose the cost of this policy was only 0.6 per cent of the federal budget, meaning it could be funded without losing the politically cherished budget surplus. Sound good? Then, congratulations, you support increasing Newstart.” On the other hand, the only reason not to increase Newstart is cruelty.

Rebecca Solnit surveys the protest movements of the 2010s, and comes away with hope for the next decade: “What lay underneath all this disillusionment was a readiness to question foundations that had been portrayed as fixed, inevitable, unquestionable — whether that foundation was gender norms, heterosexuality, patriarchy, white supremacy, the age of fossil fuels or capitalism. To see beyond what we had seen before, or to change the ‘we’ whose perceptions define the real, the important and the possible. … That capitalism is the best or only way to do things was, in the triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, affirmed again and again. That mood fell apart in the wake of episode after episode of corruption, destruction and failure — and the rise of a young generation ready to rethink the alternatives and, often, embrace versions of socialism. The nonviolent strategist George Lakey argues that polarisation brings clarity and a volatility that makes positive change more possible. We have the polarisation and the disillusionment, and with perspective about how we got here and when we won, we can claim the possibilities in the decade to come.”

25 December 2019

Some Christmas perspective from Don’t Call Me Ishmael:

So if you’re driving home for Christmas
To spend time with those who care;
If you’re battling in festive retail hell
And you think that’s real despair;
You’ve got food and shelter, a job maybe,
You’ve got somewhere to sleep tonight;
Just remember:
Not everyone’s Christmas will be bright.

(A beautiful song with an important message.)

24 December 2019

A good anti-politics take on Corbyn’s Labour (and by extension Shorten’s Labor) from Adam Ramsay: The problem was that Labour ran a campaign with a ‘retail’ offer when voters wanted empowerment. They asked people to trust the political system to transform their lives after the Tories had been waging war on trust in the political system. They failed to drive a debate about radical change to the British state, to rage against a system designed to ensure elite rule. And so huge numbers didn’t believe they’d deliver their otherwise popular policies. Because they have no faith in politics. … Labour’s proposals could be summarised as a core argument: we will use politics to make your life better. But if people don’t believe in the political system, they won’t trust you. Corbyn should have raged against elite rule, and promised a new democracy, by the people, for the people. He should have tapped into the anti-systemic energy. It should have been ‘by the many’. He could have won.”

Shirley Jackson makes the case for mission-oriented industry policy: “[T]hose in power have taken their hands off the wheel of government. They have accepted that the best kind of government is one that doesn’t intervene. It is hard to build trust in a political system that tells you that you’re on your own. To rebuild trust and solve the various problems confronting the nation, the government must act decisively. The good news is that there is a way to address the climate and economic crises and rebuild trust in our political system: industry policy.” After setting an ambitious emissions target, government should “identify companies that would benefit from government assistance… These companies would act as the hub of an investment strategy that would extend through businesses in the supply chain, distributors and energy retailers. … Finally, government procurement and planning laws could be rewritten to require public buildings and institutions utilise this growing sector. … Not only would this approach substantially reduce our country’s carbon footprint, but it would provide secure jobs for Australian workers, show that the government has vision and purpose, and most importantly, it would give people hope in uncertain times.”

23 December 2019

Godfrey Moase compares UK Labour and the ALP: “How should we explain this similarity? The suggestion that both parties campaigned too far to the left is the most facile. This is wrong twice over. First, the ALP’s platform was not radical. They made some vague noises about workers’ rights, declared a climate emergency while refusing to take action, and proposed opaque and moderate social democratic measures on taxes. Overall, Australian Labor’s manifesto aimed to show the markets how responsibly it would govern. Second, insofar as Labor tacked left, it was because its hard-nosed Labor right leadership noticed a shift in sentiment. … Shorten’s rhetoric sought to capitalize on this, without a tenth of Corbyn’s substance. …  In a system that privileges capital and neglects its casualties, those communities in which capital has been withdrawn have suffered the most. This has resulted in a tendency to support the authoritarian right. … Wherever the labor movement played an active role building neoliberalism, as is the case in Australia, or in reinforcing it, as in the UK, this pattern was exacerbated. In short, the decomposition of left electoral support reflects the localized decomposition of the working classes themselves, a process often managed by their labor leaders, unions, and parliament.” Rebuilding trust and reorganising these communities will be hard but there is no alternative.

Elizabeth Humphries, Freya Newman and Natasha Heenan on the need for collective workplace action on climate: “Outdoor workers, especially those engaged in heavy labour, are particularly vulnerable to the health risks from smoke and particulate levels in the air. These workers are on the frontline of the impacts of the climate crisis, which also include growing risks from heat stress. Earlier this month, about 100 Maritime Union of Australia members — working at three main terminals at Port Botany in Sydney’s south-east — walked off the job due to unsafe conditions resulting from bushfire smoke. The Australian Workers Union also advised that work had stopped on some road projects because of the bushfire smoke hazard, and the Electrical Trades Union and others urged members to immediately stop work if they felt ill or badly affected by climatic conditions. Construction workers across Sydney and Canberra have downed tools on the basis of workplace health and safety, and union firefighters travelled to Canberra to repeat their calls for greater resourcing and the phasing out of fossil fuels. … A mass movement capable of building effective collective action and a democratic response to climate change is our best hope of addressing both a warming world and access to decent, stable work. And unions need to play a central role.”

(In “an act of bastardry”, DP World has used the safety stoppages as an excuse to deny sixty workers $20,000 each in productivity bonuses.)

18 December 2019

The CEO of Samsung has been jailed for 18 months by the Seoul Central District Court for an aggressive union-busting scheme, after a vice-president of the company was previously jailed for 16 months for a similar plot. We won’t see the same thing in Australia, because most of what Samsung was engaged in is perfectly legal and very common here. For example, Samsung would outsource work and then move it to a new contract if the labour hire company showed signs of unionising — something Australian firms can legally do. And whereas Samsung had to set up a fake union and reach agreements with it, Australian companies can legally make a non-union agreement with a handful of employees before transferring the full workforce to the new corporate entity. Even the worst behaviour — surveillance of union members — has parallels in Australia, with Glencore ordered to end “clandestine and quasi-militaristic” spying on union members by a private security firm “collecting evidence of poor conduct [in their private lives] to be used against employees”. No jail for those bosses.

17 December 2019

Ronald Purser: “[C]onventional mindfulness training finds it difficult to tie these two things [individual mindfulness and collective action] together because it views the self as a separate psychological entity. By placing the self, rather than the whole, at the center, mindfulness can function as a higher, therapeutic octave of neoliberalism, reverberating and transmitting dominant cultural assumptions about individual responsibility for stress and anxiety. The atomized self is positioned as the fulcrum of its own success and failure, while the causes of suffering are localized — contained within our own minds regardless of the broader context, which only collective action can transform. … This unbalanced tilt towards inner development not only reinforces a neo-liberal view of the world, but it is deeply disempowering. … Faced by multiple and interlinked crises of injustice, inequality and environmental degradation, this simply isn’t good enough. … [T]he insularity and quiescence that many apolitical mindfulness programs promote no longer serves us. We need a new language and praxis of spiritual and political liberation that isn’t muted by the weak balm of self-improvement. That, I hope, will be the future of mindfulness.”