archive: February 2020

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.

25 February 2020

Secretary of Unions NSW Mark Morey on responding to automation [$] and the “decoupling” of GDP and productivity growth on one hand, and jobs and wages on the other: “Banning unpaid overtime and providing a stronger safety net are just some of the options for changing the way our economy operates, and tilting the balance back in favour of humans. Giving workers greater bargaining power in the workplace, by removing restrictions on the right to strike, would also help take the handbrake off wages. But ideas like this first require a fundamental change in the mindset of our politicians — away from small government conservatism and towards a more ambitious style of governing. Australian workers have been blanched, but were not boiled yet. That’s why the robot apocalypse itself should not be our biggest fear. Our biggest fear should lie in the failure of political leaders to confront the crisis of the Great Decoupling. Now is not the time for more timidity in politics. We need courageous leaders and strong, interventionist governments, who are prepared to put the needs of people before the demands of corporations.”

Associate Professor Luke Beck: “The [Religious Discrimination Bill 2019] protects ‘statements of belief’ from being the subject of a complaint under any federal, state or territory anti-discrimination law. The protection extends to statements made in writing or by spoken words that ridicule, humiliate or even intimidate another person. Employers will be able to ridicule Christians in the workplace. For example, an atheist boss could put a poster above a Christian worker’s desk saying ‘Christianity is superstitious nonsense’. The boss could also say things like ‘Christianity is like a mental disorder’ to a Christian during a job interview. Doctors will be able to humiliate Christian patients. For example, a Buddhist doctor could tell the Christian parents of an unwell child, ‘If you spent less time praying and more time caring about your child’s health, your child wouldn’t be this sick.’ … The bible cautions people against making life difficult for others. Psalm 7:16 says ‘The trouble they make for others backfires on them.’ … The bill was meant to give conservative Christians the right to be nasty to gays. But Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter have stuffed up big time. The religious discrimination bill backfires, giving everyone else a right to be nasty to Christians.”

19 February 2020

John Falzon: “Australian policymakers must acknowledge the social nature of risk and address the distribution of that risk. As a society, Australia must face uncomfortable truths about how its democratic processes have been steered in the direction of compulsory risk-imposition on large sections of the community. … The removal of workers’ rights, attacks on the right to collectively organise as unions, the casualisation of jobs, the dismantling of social security, the imposition of precariousness on the working class — including people excluded by the labour market and those whose labour, especially the labour of caring, is devalued and carried out either for low pay or no pay — all of these deliberate acts amount to an inherently unequal imposition of risk. It is time Australia reconfigured its economy and society so that it can democratise the process by which risk is allocated. In other words, instead of sustaining and protecting the persistence and growth of inequality, Australia must sustain and protect its people.”

Some good news after a tough fight: “On Tuesday morning, Kickstarter’s employee union effort, Kickstarter United, announced it successfully voted to form a union with the Office and Professional Employees International Union. … The final vote tally was 46 for and 37 against. The OPEIU will now work with Kickstarter United to bargain with Kickstarter management for a contract. Kickstarter United has publicly said it wants things like equal pay, more diversity in hiring, and more fairness and transparency in disciplinary measures for employees.  … While the company has been nominally supportive of an employee vote for unionization, leadership said in no uncertain terms that a union was not “the right tool” to fix Kickstarter’s issues in a FAQ published last year. Beyond that, Kickstarter fired two employees who spearheaded organizational efforts last year, though the company insisted in the aforementioned FAQ that it had nothing to do with the union. … Kickstarter is by far the highest profile tech company in the United States to unionize up to this point. … This might be the first such story of 2020, but don’t be surprised if it’s not the last.”

18 February 2020

Shifrah Blustein: “You get a speeding fine and, although you’re annoyed (at yourself and, probably, at ‘the system’), you pay it and the problem disappears. But think about what happens if you can’t pay.  … We know that some people try to pay their fines and, as a consequence, have to forgo life essentials; or, if they can’t pay, are subjected to stress, court, and ever more punitive and all-encompassing systems of control. Remember that this is only happening to people already living in poverty. This system, then, begins to look a lot like a means to control the life horizons of people who are already seriously marginalised. … The theoretical implications of fines are different if you are imagining a system where they in fact get paid, as opposed to one that is deliberately set up so that fines are unpayable by some segments of the population (indeed, those most likely to accrue them), and which then exacerbate a life of chaos, surveillance and distress. This is even more the case where the alternatives to paying a fine include court appearances, justice system entrenchment, restriction of rights to vehicular access, a criminal record, and possible imprisonment.”

Liam Hogan: “The ‘clerical companionship’ of workplaces was that communal trust in other people that had to exist when white-collar production was necessarily a team job. Consider a report: researchers or specialists worked the ‘machines’, analysts provided consideration, authors distilled the prose, editors cut and reordered, typists corrected, either typesetters created the printed product or designers produced a camera-ready copy, and a printer ran the whole lot through yet another machine for delivery. One person now does all of these jobs, most likely in the walled garden of production that is the Microsoft Office Suite. When we now vertically integrate our production completely and withdraw into the factories of ourselves, is it any wonder companionship at work is lacking?”

14 February 2020

Tim Dunlop: “[W]e constantly hear that the main argument in favour of something like the Adani coal mine is that it will create a lot of jobs. Jobs are lauded as the primary benefit for Australians. But of course it isn’t true. Modern mining simply doesn’t need that many humans, and in fact, mining is one area of work where arguments over automation just about don’t exist amongst anyone except deceptive politicians. Everyone realises that mining is increasingly done by machines, with relatively few humans involved, and that in many cases, a robot has already taken your job.” Just look at WA coal town Collie — it is going to be the home of automation training for the mining industry, replacing thousands of jobs around the country (and around the world) with tens of jobs monitoring automated systems. Instead of fetishising “coal jobs” and “coal communities” we need to start preparing for the imminent future with less coal and a lot less coal employment.

12 February 2020

I was wrong about the High Court — in a narrow 4-3 split, the judges decided that an Aboriginal person can not be an “alien” and therefore can not be deported from Australia. The decision accepts that in very specific circumstances, a person can be a non-citizen non-alien: “The category will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians born overseas, ensuring they will not lose their right to traditional lands because of an accident of birth. The decision upholds the law’s recognition of the importance of Indigenous Australians’ connection to, and rights over, their lands.” This was the first time all seven of the current judges have written separate judgments, and Anne Twomey gives a quick summary [$] of the differences between them. Meanwhile, the hard Right are in meltdown — the IPA’s Morgan Begg hyperventilates [$] that this is the “most radical instance of judicial activism in Australian history”, while The Australian‘s Legal Affairs editor (always out of his depth) screeches about “lunacy” and “pure racism­ built upon an illegitimate exercise of judicial power”.