archive: August 2020

26 August 2020

An interesting article in The Nation: “In the basement bedroom of his parents’ small brick house along a hilly Christiansburg back road, Adam Ryan, a 31-year-old part-time sales associate at Target, has amassed a tool kit for revolution: a megaphone, research reports and fliers, and hundreds of books—biographies of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx, histories of Jim Crow and capitalism, and guides about organizing workers and the benefits and limits of unions. This room has become an unlikely organizing center. Ryan wants to help build a workers’ movement that does not rely on unions or nonprofits to educate or organize and instead trains the workers to do it themselves. The result is Target Workers Unite, a group that Ryan created in 2018 and has had involvement from Target employees across 44 states. There are currently about 500 TWU members, and that number is rapidly growing…” It’s a great story about promising grassroots organising, but the article has this weird frame: “It’s not that he is anti-union. He’s not against joining one in the future…” Here’s the thing — TWU is a union. Any group of workers organising collectively to advance their interests is a union. It’s not complicated!

Victorian crossbencher Fiona Patten: “The state of emergency gives the government extraordinary powers — an almost unchecked ability to make new laws and override existing laws administratively, without Parliament. To extend those powers to 18 months, without checks and balances is a misstep. In my view it’s an overreach. … My first preference would be for COVID-19 specific legislation that deals directly with the issues at hand. Something that deals directly with the effects of the crisis we are experiencing now and measures to enable us to continue to live, work and play safely in this state of COVID-19. If that cannot happen, an extension of a state of emergency, could be achieved in a safer and more democratic way — with appropriate checks, balances and oversight. I want to see this bill re-drafted to permit three, or possibly six month extensions, but only if supported by a majority in Parliament. That way we are not dispensing with democracy and we are not removing civil liberties without a safety net. Parliament is not the government and they should welcome oversight during this difficult period — not shun transparency.”

John Quiggin on a new Greenpeace report about coal pollution: “‘Lethal Power’ estimates that pollution from coal-burning power stations is responsible for somewhere between 400 and 1,300 premature deaths in Australia each year, as well as around 15,000 asthma attacks and 400 cases of low birth weight in babies. … The death toll for Australia, while staggering, is consistent with estimates from other countries which rely on coal to generate electricity. A 2011 analysis by U.S. economists … concluded that the health damage caused by coal-fired electricity is as much as five times greater than the value-added in electricity generation. … The lives lost in Australia and the U.S. pale into insignificance compared to the catastrophic toll taken by air pollution in developing countries. Coal accounts for a large proportion of the 3 million deaths a year caused by air pollution, including around 400,000 a year in China and 100,000 a year in India. … As a possible recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic comes into sight, it’s time to place human health above the desire to maintain the economic status quo. Australia can and should get off coal by 2030, without harming workers employed in the industry. In doing so, we will be saving both lives and money.”

21 August 2020

Michal Rozworski: “Imagine what a rational society run in the common interest would do to get over a pandemic. Our blinkered opposition between public health and economy doesn’t make sense in this context. The question would simply be how to enable the proper physical distancing and other virus suppression measures, while still being able to ensure everyone has the food, the shelter, the power, the water, the internet, and everything else they need for material and social reproduction, and that those supplying these needs were put in the least danger themselves. There is nothing wrong with putting an economy on pause if that is what is needed for a higher goal. We can democratically deliberate and decide what requires a pause, even if that comes with some shortages. … It may be difficult, but we can imagine this world. To make it a reality, we will also have to reclaim freedom: freedom from the vagaries of the market, from hunger, from false choices like that between working and starving, public health and a functioning economy. This crisis should be an impetus to weaken and displace the role of market relationships, to plan together and to build new forms of collective freedom.”

19 August 2020

Guy Rundle [$]: “The desperation of the right is an obvious response to the continued widespread public support for state government measures erring well on the side of caution. That support has held up into what is now the pandemic’s six month. There’s a lot of grousing, but no actual protest, save from the growing number of Australian QAnon crazies, which is the direction in which the whole right is heading. So the only way in which the pandemic measures can be attacked is to utterly mischaracterise them. … Victoria is a parliamentary democracy which empowers its leaders to make collective decisions but is akin to the restrictions placed by East Germany, a cold war dictatorship. The inconvenient fact that the Andrews government enjoys widespread support despite its blunders? This, according to Uhlmann, is ‘pandering to the mob’. So you’re a dictatorship betraying the country by pandering to what people want done, viciously imposing on them what they enthusiastically support. Very rational. … The COVID-19 crisis in Australia has revealed, utterly, how deep the priority of ‘positive freedom’ over ‘negative freedom’ runs here — and everywhere. The lockdowns and limits here are based on a rational understanding of the need for collective measures.”

15 August 2020

UWU’s Godfrey Moase: “For every extra day of lockdown, for every extra quarantine measure, and for every additional restriction placed on Victorians, it is the corporations pushing insecure work and forcing workers to turn up to work who must bear ultimate responsibility. Ultimately, … the extreme imbalance of power between employers and workers is the root cause of the swift spread of COVID-19 through Victoria. … After face coverings became mandatory, some bosses were still disputing whether or not they had the legal responsibility to provide them to their workers. … At workplace after workplace, employers failed to disclose the news of positive COVID-19 cases. At one factory in Melbourne’s western suburbs, management attempted to keep the news from workers that one of their managers had tested positive. Even when such news was disclosed, there was no consultation around how a close contact would be defined. Confusion reigned, and workplaces mainly remained opened. The idea of managerial prerogative ran up against its physical limits. Often managers thought they knew better about every potential vector of transmission than the sum total of the experience of their entire workforce. They were wrong. One case would become three, three would become nine and then there was an entire workplace cluster. And then it was a plague for the Victorian working-classes.”

Brianna Rennix and Nathan J Robinson: “Hierarchy is common to bad governments, bad workplaces, bad relationships, and bad schools. When we look at societies throughout history and feel disturbed, the reason is usually something to do with hierarchy: some people were priests doing human sacrifices, while other people had to be the sacrifices. In our own country, some people have been slaves, others masters. Some people have been prisoners, others cops. Some are ‘non-citizens,’ without basic rights, others are ‘citizens’ who are Legitimate People. (Yes, the distinction between the citizens and noncitizens should be thought of as a formal caste system, whereby some people are more entitled to rights than others. It is only because we are used to it that we don’t comprehend how appalling it is to divide society into a hierarchy of ‘non-people’ and ‘people’ based solely on where they happened to be born.) Wherever you find distinctive ranked orders of social status, and some people with vastly more power and liberty than others, you find a situation that should be revolting to anyone who cares about universal justice. (That is, revolting to the sort of person who wants everyone to be served by our social arrangements, rather than having categories of ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’) A truly just world has to be a democratic and egalitarian one, where hierarchies are minimized. … [While] it is not yet possible to envision a perfectly non-hierarchical world, a fair starting point is to treat social hierarchies as presumptively illegitimate.

Monica Dux: “As a child, I remember thinking that, when it comes to wages, we have things upside down. Back then, I understood them as a being a bit like dessert: a reward you got for doing something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. Like eating brussels sprouts. So it seemed to me that people who did less pleasant jobs — jobs that are boring, dirty or repetitive — should be paid more. On the other hand, those who do interesting jobs should earn less. After all, no one gets ice-cream as a reward for eating cake. As I got older, I absorbed a different message. That high pay equates with high importance. Doctors save lives, which is important, so naturally they get lots of money. Futures traders also make squillions — so whatever futures might turn out to be, trading them is obviously vital. Cleaners, on the other hand, are paid very little. So what they do can’t be important. Or so the logic dictates. Warehouse workers and orderlies, night fillers and aged care workers: so many people who do vital work are poorly paid. Over the years, many such jobs have been made less secure, and their entitlements eroded. A relentless signal that society neither appreciates nor values what they do. I’m not the only one to notice that the pandemic could actually be an opportunity, a chance to reconsider all this. To fundamentally rethink the value of work, and how we reward those who do the difficult but necessary jobs. And I’ll give you a hint — I’m not talking about the futures traders.”

12 August 2020

Nyunggai Warren Mundine [$]: “What if I was to tell you about stolen wages? No, I’m not talking about some employer underpaying their workers. I’m talking about the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians being taken by governments and never paid back. During the ‘Protection era’, the period from about the early 1900s until the 1970s, … wages of Indigenous workers were paid to government-administered accounts, controlled by protectors or superintendents of Indigenous missions and reserves. It was believed Indigenous people wouldn’t be able to handle their money, so governments had to look after it for them. Some people had all wages taken and others were paid only a fraction of their income. Other payments were also taken, such as child endowment and pensions. Most never saw the money again. … This is a dark part of our nation’s history. It’s a basic human right … that a person should be paid for their labour.  … So why are governments finding it so hard to resolve and pay Indigenous people the money they are due? Indigenous people talk about unfinished business. This is a major area of unfinished business in this country: the recovery of wages earned by Indigenous people but never paid to them.” Mundine explains that some jurisdictions have set up ‘reparation’ schemes, but these pay a tiny fraction of what is really owed.

10 August 2020

Marcia Langton: “Are the police and correctional services racist? Is there structural or systemic racism in the Australian criminal justice system? The answer to these questions that emerge from the thousands of pages of evidence is a resounding yes. Until measures are taken to prevent police and correctional services officers from failing in their duties to the Indigenous people they detain or any Australian they detain, and ensuring that an encounter with them is not fatal, we must say yes, and demand that all Australian governments implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. … To achieve this, they must reduce the incarceration rate. They must reduce the arrest and imprisonment rates. Australians like myself expect to see the principle of Black Lives Matter implemented as soon as possible and the deaths prevented. Should we accommodate the tactics of governments who delay the implementation of these recommendations? I say no. I say the protests must continue.”