archive: April 2020

29 April 2020

Guy Rundle [$]: “Now, as the possibility of, and pressure to have, a relaxation of such begins, there is the time to debate the principles, practices and priorities of continuing lockdowns. That needs to be done in parliament. So that the government has to make its best case for the changes it is proposing. So that opposition and crossbenches can hold the proposed policy to account, offer alternatives, speak up for those who have been excluded from JobKeeper and other measures, raise the interests of those who may be treated as expendable citizens in the move to reopening: the aged, the chronically ill and disabled, remote-area indigenous people and others. Governments in power have loved the de facto dictatorship of lockdown by regulation. … Unity derived from dictatorial fiat is no unity at all. Faced with second and third waves of this disease, we may have to do this all over again. That will be far more difficult to impose. Only with the legitimacy of unity after debate — an achieved and created unity, a shared responsibility — will we able to do what is necessary to avoid the disasters of the US and the UK. The place for this is parliament and the time is now.”

28 April 2020

David Harvey: “[I]n the midst of this emergency, we are already experimenting with alternative systems of all sorts, from the free supply of basic foods to poor neighborhoods and groups, to free medical treatments, alternative access structures through the internet, and so on. In fact, the lineaments of a new socialist society are already being laid bare — which is probably why the right wing and the capitalist class are so anxious to get us back to the status quo ante. This is a moment of opportunity to think through what an alternative might look like. This is a moment in which the possibility of an alternative actually exists. Instead of just reacting in a knee-jerk manner and saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get those 26 million jobs back immediately,’ maybe we should look to expand some of the things that are already going on, such as the organization of collective provision. … This is not utopian. This is saying, all right, look at all those restaurants on the Upper West Side that have closed and are now sitting there, kind of dormant. Let’s get the people back in — they can start producing the food and feed the population on the streets and in the houses, and they can give it to the old people. We need that kind of collective action for all of us to become individually free.”

Anthony Forsyth on the Fair Work Commission’s decision to put legal chicanery ahead of reality: “The upshot of the FWC Full Bench’s decision is that Ms Gupta — who was found to be devoid of any real prospect of developing an independent business — had no legal recourse when the organisation for which she provides delivery services ended that relationship. It’s pretty simple really: Ms Gupta performed work over the course of more than a year from which Uber Eats directly benefited. She did not perform work for anyone else. Yet through the interposition of various legal entities and obscure contractual documents, Uber Eats distanced itself from Ms Gupta and any responsibility for her right to decent treatment in the work she performed. … The FWC Full Bench has now sanctioned that exercise in sophistry. … This case highlights, yet again, the need for legislative intervention to recognise the reality that work is being performed in the gig economy by workers. In the Australian context, that means employees with the full suite of employment rights — unless it is clearly demonstrated that someone is operating a genuine business on their own account.” This is an awful decision that allows a lawyer’s fantasy to displace what is obvious to everyone (including Uber) — that Uber drivers are Uber Drivers.

25 April 2020

Statistics from NSW show bias in the way police are issuing social distancing fines (other states refuse to release data): “Julie Leask, a professor at the University of Sydney specialising in public health and risk communication, says… ‘You see this great big spotlight shone on all the cracks in the system. Clearly Aboriginal people are more likely to be policed in a way that is more severe,’ she said. ‘I also noted, for example, that Western Sydney had a lot more fines issued than Woollahra, where there were a lot more cases. You know, a pandemic is no excuse to reinforce existing inequities.’ … Tamar Hopkins, who worked as the founding lawyer at the Police Accountability Project in Melbourne and researches police profiling at the University of New South Wales, said the breakdown of infringements issued in NSW ‘really fits the pattern’ of racialised policing. … ‘Wherever data is collected in Australia, we see clear patterns of racial targeting going on. … The laws as they are currently drafted are very, very broad. It’s very hard to be clear about what exactly is an illegal and a legal thing that someone could be doing,’ Hopkins said. ‘It leaves a huge amount of discretion. And the more arbitrary a piece of law is, the more likely it is going to be applied through the biased lenses that police apply to their job in an ordinary context. The facts are that whenever police powers are examined and data is collected over how police are using them, there is always a racial bias in the way that they’re used.’”

22 April 2020

Dr Tess Hardy: “Even before the pandemic hit, big business was complaining that ‘inadvertent’ payroll mistakes were due to an overly complex industrial relations system. Some, including head of the FWO Sandra Parker, were sceptical of this excuse. But, given that the regulatory framework has now changed at breakneck speed, the workplace relations system is in a state of flux. … [T]here is likely to be continuing uncertainty on the part of employees, employers and their representatives about how these changes apply to their particular circumstances. More worrying, however, is the way in which apparent ‘confusion’ regarding the new system may be used as a cover for deliberate abuse of freshly minted rights and entitlements. … The COVID-19 crisis means that employers are less likely or able to comply with their workplace obligations. Employees are more vulnerable than ever. Rather than deferring reforms to the compliance and enforcement framework, they need to be urgently put back on the government agenda.“ (Read the full article for specific concerns about the role of the ATO and the impact on vulnerable workers.)

19 April 2020

Richard Power Sayeed: “In the middle of the 14th century, the Black Death killed perhaps a third of Europe’s population, hastening the breakdown of rigid social hierarchies — what we now call ‘feudalism’ — to an astonishing degree. But there was nothing inevitable about that transformation. It happened because [peasants] exploited the crisis. Local protests and uprisings against landlords had happened before, but after the Black Death they became more common. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was the biggest, but it was an overreach and was defeated. The ruling aristocracy resisted the peasants’ demands from the outset. … But the peasants’ movement survived; in fact, it thrived. Some landlords cut their rents by more than half between 1350 and 1400. In the same period, wages for agricultural workers rose by around 50% for men and 100% for women. And by the turn of the century, almost all rents in England were paid in cash, rather than feudal services, reflecting how many former serfs had bought their freedom. … In recent weeks, some people have optimistically predicted that the Covid-19 outbreak will force governments to build fairer economic systems. But the peasants’ story reminds us that change isn’t automatic… Conservatives are organising already, … gearing up for a return to austerity when the downturn slows. … Like the generations of peasants who took advantage of their landlords’ need for labour, we hold enormous power, but only if we fight together.”

In the UnionsACT Sunday Focus newsletter, Guy Mosel points out some of the ways the Morrison government and its big business allies are already pushing a hard-line agenda — for example, by allowing bosses to ram through permanent wage and condition cuts. And now, Morrison is foreshadowing using coronavirus recovery as the excuse for a business-as-usual, “aggressive pro-business” agenda: “Senior government figures on Friday flagged the potential return to cutting the company tax rate for big business and a possible aggressive overhaul of the nation’s industrial relations framework.” The AFR observes [$] that this will give the Government the excuse it has been waiting for to implement dearly-held ideological beliefs that it suppressed to win the election: “[T]ax options include cutting the company tax rate (which would be an election promise breach)… The deregulation agenda will focus on ‘streamlining’ approvals, especially environmental approvals, and making inroads into industrial relations. Morrison promised before the election no significant changes to industrial relations”. The fight back must start now — if we wait until coronavirus restrictions are lifted, it will be too late.

17 April 2020

Lola Olufemi: “I think the difference for a whole subsection of ‘gender critical’ feminists is that they see that category as founded on something fixed and immutable called sex. So the only thing that makes a woman is a certain set of chromosomes. The only thing that invites gendered violence is certain sets of genitalia. For me, sex is merely another system of categorisation — a way for us to be made intelligible to one another, on which gender is then mapped. There’s a whole host of things that destabilise sex as fixed and rigid… It’s less important to ask ‘what makes a woman’ than it is to recognise that this system of intelligibility places us (trans and cis) women in danger. That is indisputable. Feminism is a tool that we can use to lessen proximity to violence and end violence all together for all those read as women, because if you are read as a woman or you disrupt the visual script dictated by gender no matter who you are, you pose a problem in the current schema/binary. The men harassing you on the street do not know or care about your chromosomal make-up… [T]he idea of sex being the sole basis of gendered violence precludes us from even understanding why violence is happening to us in the first place. … [E]very claim to that seeks to reinforce the rigidity of the sex binary is also a claim against queer life which has never fit neatly into that.”

Jeff Sparrow: “It’s hard to imagine another context in which mass death and economic misery inflicted upon millions of people would be celebrated by those who regarded themselves as progressive. The currency of the ‘humanity is a virus’ slogan should, then, serve as a warning of the extent to which deeply reactionary ideas can bubble away underneath an ostensibly environmental rhetoric. Specifically, as ecological crises worsen, we need to confront the Malthusian legacy that still shapes much ‘common sense’ about humanity’s relationship with nature. … [A]n argument that identifies human activity as an innate threat to nature inevitably leads to such odious positions. If people can’t live in the world — if we’re a virus or a disease or a cancer — then the sooner we’re exterminated, the better. But if we understand how capitalism reshapes our relationship with nature, we can imagine – and fight for – a very different way of being in the world. … That’s the deeper problem with hailing a virus-induced shutdown as somehow environmentally progressive: the misanthropic denunciations of the entire human race discount the possibility that people might improve, rather than destroy, their environment. … People aren’t the virus. Capitalism is the virus. People are, or can be, the cure.”

15 April 2020

Human Rights Law Centre: “In a landmark decision, the Coroner in the inquest into Tanya Day’s death in police custody has referred Victoria Police officers to the Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal investigation, saying that she believes ‘an indictable offence may have been committed’. The Day family argued from the outset that there was a possible case to answer in relation to negligent manslaughter. … The Coroner’s other important findings include: That the V/Line officer who woke Tanya up on the train and called the police was influenced by unconscious bias and his decision making was influenced by her Aboriginality. That … was not checked on in accordance with police procedures, that she was treated with complacency and that her human rights to be treated humanely and with dignity were breached. … That police should not be investigating other police officers when it comes to Aboriginal deaths in custody.” Remarkably, the coroner also demanded a change in the law to give the coroner more control [$] over the evidence gathered for future inquests, because of “the lack of clarity, both real and perceived, regarding the independence of the coroner’s investigator from Victoria Police.”