archive: July 2020

31 July 2020

Nick Slater: “[I]n my younger days, I earned $7.25 an hour working on the ‘turf management crew’ of a Minnesota country club. … It always struck me as bizarre that although my colleagues and I were the ones who’d made this little patch of heaven, we were forbidden from setting foot on it unless we were carrying rakes or pushing lawnmowers. We were unable to pay thousands of dollars in initiation fees, never mind the monthly dues, and therefore we were permitted only to toil at the club, not to enjoy its beauty.” And that’s why “we need to nationalize all the nice places. All the beaches, all the ski resorts, all the country clubs, all the private hunting reserves. We need to stop the steady segregation of the country into Zones for Elites and Zones for Plebes. We need to not only preserve our many mini-Edens, but to make them accessible to everyone. … With all due respect to Mother Nature and her indisputable knack for decorating, many of the United States’ nicest places owe no small part of their charm to the minds and muscles of the low-paid workers who are, at present, prevented from enjoying those places in their leisure time.”

Laundry workers in Dandenong — who handle the soiled linen from a major hospital — were pressured by their employer, Spotless, to keep working despite a covid outbreak. The company denied there were any close contacts of the first positive case, and when the workers refused to work in unsafe conditions, Spotless started Fair Work Commission proceedings to order them back to work. Subsequent testing has identified two further cases, and a Health Department inspection demanded by the United Workers Union has shut down the site and deemed that hundreds of workers who spent more than 30 minutes at work are close contacts. UWU’s Godfrey Moase said, “Spotless was forced to act because union members took a stand. If it wasn’t for the workers, this outbreak could have been much worse. Spotless Dandenong workers are low-wage migrant workers who have acted together and swiftly. They acted in the interests of the entire community and should be congratulated for their service. We are calling on Spotless to pay all workers who now have to self-isolate as per the DHHS guidelines, including the labour hire staff… To beat COVID-19 we need to back in workers standing together, and we need everyone to have access to paid pandemic leave. Every single worker. No exemptions.”

28 July 2020

Jeff Sparrow, noting that Victoria’s major covid outbreak is linked to insecure work: “[J]obs didn’t become insecure by accident. For decades, politicians and pundits urged us to welcome precarity as a liberation from the shackles of the old industrial order. … Ever since the Hawke and Keating years, governments have hailed workplace deregulation and flexibility, as they eroded centralised bargaining and rigid awards in the scramble for productivity. … After years of ‘reform’, workplace insecurity pervades the whole economy, right at a moment when every job is under threat. Milton Friedman, the ideological godfather of market deregulation, once noted that ‘only a crisis … produces real change.’ The crisis has come — and with a vengeance. So let’s not let it go to waste. It’s well past time to reassert some control over our working lives.” (Meanwhile, the Morrison Government has identified [$] “industrial relations reform aimed at injecting greater flexibility into the labour market” as the “first cab off the rank” in its coronavirus response.)

Osmond Chiu: “[T]he biggest open secret in Australian public policy [is] that Australian governments have regularly reversed privatisation over the past 20 years. … In the last year alone, the Queensland government has taken back two prisons from the private sector, the Western Australian government has reversed the privatisation of the operation and maintenance of Perth’s Water Corporation and the ACT government has brought school cleaning back in-house to the public sector. These examples challenge the assumption that once privatisation occurs, it does not get reversed. The failure to recognise how common it is has made our public policy discussion poorer. This flawed assumption that privatisation does not get reversed has prevented public ownership from being seriously considered as a realistic option by political leaders when privatised services fail. … These case studies demonstrate the reversal of privatisation is far from radical and an understandable response by governments both on the left and right to meet policy objectives and address market failures. It shows that if we genuinely want to improve our public services and deliver better outcomes for all Australians, taking back privatised functions needs to part of the policy discussion.”

Oz has been cataloguing these case studies as part of the Transnational Institute’s Public Futures Global Database of remunicipalisation.

22 July 2020

We now know that “about 80 per cent” of Victoria’s second-wave covid outbreak has been “driven by transmission in workplaces” — with big clusters in meat processing, aged care, and security, three industries characterised by low wages, lax safety, and high rates of outsourcing, casualisation, and sham contracting. The breakdown in procedures at quarantine hotels was inevitable, given that decades of outsourcing and privatisation led the public service to rely on the notoriously crooked private security industry: “In late March, without a tender process, the Victorian Government contracted private security operators to guard hotel quarantine guests. … 7.30 has obtained a series of WhatsApp messages which reveal how some security guards were recruited to work in these Melbourne quarantine hotels. … When someone in the group asked about the rate of pay, the organiser responded, ’25 dollars, ABN’ — signifying the guards weren’t expected to be directly employed by the company, but act as independent contractors and supply an Australian Business Number.” A guard told the ABC: “We didn’t get any training when I got there. They just didn’t tell us what training we had to do, we just had to put a mask on, put gloves on, and that’s it. They had no training of how to use PPE (personal protective equipment), how to sanitise hands, nothing. No training at all.”

Godfrey Moase: “It was the mining lobby that killed effective climate action. With it went a program of investment into industrial processes in order to make for more carbon-efficient manufacturing. Australia’s case of Dutch disease has real political dimensions. The Australian state has represents what we might call in vulgar Marxist terms an executive committee for the mining industry. … Any truly just socialist economic system, Australia would be a location (amongst others) for the generation of renewable energy and production of associated downstream products such as green steel or renewable fuels such as ammonia. Changing the balance of power between mining and manufacturing capital in Australia does not automatically solve this problem but it is a necessary step along the way. The Australian left needs to build its power by weighing into this intra-capital dispute in favour of manufacturing. Building up manufacturing matters on two levels. First, manufacturing has the capacity to employ many more people than mining, even accounting for automation. Secondly, manufacturing requires a renewable energy transformation in order to control the cost of energy as an input into the productive process.”

Shakira Hussein and Scheherazade Bloul: “Medical face masks have become a signifier of East Asian identity and as Sinophobia rose along with the COVID 19 death toll, those wearing them were singled out for racist abuse and harassment. We suggest that the institutional scepticism and community hostility towards facial covering mirror the moral panic generated by the ‘burqa ban’ debates which located face-coverings as emblems in a civilisational conflict during the decade preceding the pandemic. … Just as visibly Muslim women were vilified as carriers of terrorism, people of East Asian appearance are now scapegoated as carriers of the so-called ‘Chinese virus.’ … In East Asia, face masks are regarded as hallmarks of courtesy and good manners — long stereotyped as ‘Asian values’ in contrast to the supposed ‘Western values’ of individual choice and liberty. Masks are fast acquiring similar connotations of empathy and care in other communities as well, as societies adjust to the no-longer-new normal of the pandemic. The true ‘clash’ has always been within rather than between civilisations — but never more so than now. It remains clear, however, that much of the discourse around face covering is much more concerned with the colour of the face beneath the mask than with the mask itself.”

15 July 2020

Nick Dyrenfurth [$]: “Australia — and Victoria — would be in a far stronger position against COVID-19 had it not been for free-market utopianism advocated by libertarian ideologues during the last three to four decades. This fundamentalist agenda has undercut our ability to effectively respond to COVID-19. … It is responsible, in the main, for contracting out essential services… privatising strategic assets, signing bilateral free trade agreements, endless workplace deregulation, and the demise of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. These policies damaged our sovereign capability. We don’t make things any more, nor procure them, including critical medical supplies and emergency PPE. An insecurely employed, underpaid workforce, denuded of vocational training and contracted out to labour hire firms who adopt a cavalier approach to OHS issues, was ill-equipped to fill urgent production needs or perform critical safety tasks. Yet the response by free-market zealots responsible for subcontracting national sovereignty is to blame government when events inexorably go pear shaped. This pandemic has also shone new light on social incohesion and economic insecurity. Hyper-individualism has frayed our social fabric and imperilled our ability to act collectively and co-operatively in a crisis”.

Via Flood Media’s regular link roundup, Ed Rooksby on the renewed right-wing obsession with an imaginary communist threat: “[W]e should remember that the famous imagery of the ‘spectre’ … refers not so much to any (as yet) real, material forces of communism but precisely to a phantom — a largely imaginary fear that the old powers project onto the figure of what they take to be ‘communism’. … So, back to the post-2008 context and a system beset by permanent and constantly deepening economic and political dysfunction, lurching from one crisis to another. Perhaps we can see current obsession with ‘communism’ on the part of the political representatives of the bourgeoisie as intensified expression of these long-running nightmare-desires. Indeed, might we see the increasingly grotesque and buffoonish guises of its chief political representatives — utterly absurd smirking clowns like Trump and Johnson — as a sort of disguised cry for help? The clown show at the White House and in Downing Street expresses a deep self-loathing and a kind of pleading to be put out of its misery. The ruling class no longer has any respect for itself. It wants to be relieved of the terrible burden of its authority. It sees ‘communism’ everywhere because it wants to see it everywhere because it secretly longs for an end to capitalism and its own abolition as a class. The great trajedy, of course, is that the left is in no position to grant them their desire.”

13 July 2020

A recent SMH headline — Economy to recover strongly, but wages and jobs will not — put me in mind of an editorial from Salvage #8: “Millions of workers, with little or no support from the state, have been forced to risk their health and that of others around them by crowding onto contagious public transport and going to work every day. … Lauded for their ‘sacrifices’, they are actually being sacrificed. And sacrificed to what is, in the truest sense of the word, a fetish. The genre of handwringing commentary that poses a ‘hard choice’ between health and ‘the economy’ merely exposes the intangibility of the latter. The ‘economy’ is no more an object with needs and wants than the king-God Moloch — unless we endow either with them, and give up our weak and needy to the fiery idols. The ‘economy’ denotes that realm of human production and reproduction in which surplus value is produced, and the exploiters of that surplus value are becoming anxious that its flow has been shut off… [T]he owners of capital are still owning it in the same way as they did three months ago, only now all the indicators that supposedly justify their obscene levels of remuneration are heading downwards at an unprecedented rate. Far more than even the crisis of 2008, Covid-19 is exposing that it is workers, their productive and reproductive labour, who do the key work for capitalism. Might one of the reasons for the eagerness to end the lockdown in order to revive the ‘economy’ be that the lockdown demonstrates the possibility of abolishing the ‘economy’?”