archive: December 2020

30 December 2020

Robert Poole ad Henry Fowler: The global economy, matched with global supply chains, is facing a growing movement of disruption. Some of the most impressive industrial action is taking place by self-organised workers, sometimes with the backing of recognised trade unions and often without. These self-organised workers are using tactics like walkouts, sickouts, and workplace occupations, as Tronti notes, to ‘block the economic mechanism and, at the decisive moment, render it incapable of functioning.’ You’d be forgiven for not knowing about these actions, though: most in the country don’t. Labour organising isn’t the subject of choice for a mainstream media who have vilified trade unions for the past forty years. … [I]n combining both the innovative forms of worker organising with the technology available to us all, we have built Strike Map UK. Currently, there are no coordinated records kept of the strike action happening across the UK. Our online map is an attempt to start to catalogue the action taking place, and we hope this will be useful to other workers. The site is ‘worker-powered’ and relies purely on the information supplied via our submission form.” (An Australian equivalent would be great to see!)

Ben Butler: “Never one to miss the opportunity a crisis presents, the treasurer has used the coronavirus pandemic to ram through changes to the way the Australian economy is regulated that will significantly shift advantage away from ordinary people. But who benefits? With one significant and telling exception — the banks — the answer is not, as you might expect from the conservative side of politics, the forces of capital. Or at least, not so much. Instead, a lot of the Frydenberg program favours what you might call the managerial class — the executives who in normal times prowl the mahogany-lined corridors of CBD towers but this year have been confined to their luxury homes in Point Piper or Toorak. Frydenberg, aided or spurred on by a ginger group of backbenchers — it’s difficult to tell which is cart and which horse — is increasingly pursuing an agenda that will weaken the power of the owners of capital to hold the managers of their money accountable for bad decisions. This is the unifying link between things as seemingly random as attacking industry super, making it harder for shareholders to sue company directors who cause losses by failing to keep the market properly informed and declaring war on the corporate regulator. … As company executives tend to be Liberal voters, it’s perhaps no surprise their agenda is reflected in party policy. The only real change is that those interests no longer so perfectly align with those of capital. … [A]n understanding of the shifting power dynamics within Australia’s financial world goes a long way towards explaining what Frydenberg has been up to — and why we can expect more of the same in the new year.”

A bittersweet outcome: “Uber has settled a legal challenge that struck at the heart of its business model and could have resulted in its drivers and riders being classified as employees, after three Federal Court judges savaged the company’s arguments at trial. The delivery giant settled shortly after the hearing, avoiding the cost of having to pay its workers a minimum wage, comply with unfair dismissal rules and roster employees that could have come with a ruling its delivery workers are not independent contractors. In a volley of critical questions, the judges said the trial was ‘not a debating club’, Uber should stay ‘in the real world’ and ‘everybody knows what function Uber plays’ as the company’s lawyers argued it was not an employer but merely a service that connected customers, deliverers, and restaurants. … The case settled before the court could deliver its judgment but after the trial, where Uber was represented by a legal team from multinational law firm Ashurst.” (The Liberal-linked Ashurst recently admitted it was systematically underpaying its own junior lawyers.) It’s hard to blame the driver who decided she had to take the settlement offer — she was very brave to take on Uber and push the case as far as she did — but until someone sees a case through to judgment, Uber is free to continue paying drivers based on its “debating club” argument they are not really employees.

Here’s one to file under No Shit, Sherlock: “This paper uses data from 18 OECD countries over the last five decades to estimate the causal effect of major tax cuts for the rich on income inequality, economic growth, and unemployment. First, we use a new encompassing measure of taxes on the rich to identify instances of major reductions in tax progressivity. … We find that major reforms reducing taxes on the rich lead to higher income inequality as measured by the top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The effect remains stable in the medium term. In contrast, such reforms do not have any significant effect on economic growth and unemployment.” As Charles P Pierce put it: “[N]o, cutting taxes for the very wealthy does not help the rest of us, neither does it ‘trickle down,’ and neither does it lift all boats or whatever other metaphor has been used to camouflage the fact that supply-side economics was a mechanism for shoving the nation’s wealth upwards. This cotton-headed legacy of the Reagan Era was precisely what David Stockman (‘a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate’) and George H.W. Bush (‘voodoo economics’) said it was at the time.” But alas, this is not some historical failure — Morrison is committed to another huge tranche of this stupidity in coming budgets.

ANU’s Tax and Transfer Policy Institute wondered: “Are differences in preferences for redistribution between right and left wing voters amplified because of misperceptions of inequality? To answer this question, we conduct a nationally representative, randomized survey experiment of 2,584 Australians in which respondents either received information about the level of national inequality and economic mobility, their position in the national income distribution, or no information. We show that both types of information about inequality lead to convergence in preferences for redistribution and charitable giving between right and left wing voters. The effect from the treatments are predominantly due to right wing voters becoming more progressive in their views.” Specifically: “Respondents who are told about the level of inequality and economic mobility in Australia become more pessimistic about upward mobility, more likely to desire urgent action from the government to reduce inequality, and less supportive of traditionally right wing policies (such as cutting corporate taxes). With regards to correcting beliefs about respondents‘ own position in the national income distribution, respondents who are told they are poorer than they expected are less likely to attribute being rich to hard work and more supportive of urgent action by the government to address inequality.”

23 December 2020

Ajay Singh Chaudhary: “[S]eeing, feeling, and saying all the unnice things, against … those who fear any scrap of negative feeling not dutifully ensconced in a spoonful of sugar, is how we begin to find a way out of our impasse. Almost all the moments identifiable in the revival of the still-nascent left have emerged when the depressive realism seeped in: Occupy Wall Street, the Movement for Black Lives, the Sanders campaigns, NoDAPL, the growth of DSA, and proliferation of other activist organizations. There’s no need to make a fetish of negative affect—that is a real form of ‘left melancholy’; all these movements generate true positive feeling, too. … But these kinds of politics—the ones we should be looking to for guidance—don’t begin with the optimist’s cognitive illusions or manic admonitions to feel good about things. Even the Stoic affective posture in our politics partakes in a kind of optimism: if we just keep on keeping on, following the path forward, we march up the hill to progress. … Collective effervescence—collective feeling—is vital; feel all the manic euphoria perhaps you feel. But feel all the depressive realism and whatever else, too. Feel it about the Trump years with kids, and forced hysterectomies, in the cages that Obama and Biden built. Feel it as we, perhaps finally, begin to mourn the dead. Feel it all—grief, sadness, anger.  Pessimism: ‘… even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious.’ Feel it not to internalize toward guilt or as another one-quick-trick-to-fix your life—‘wrong life cannot be lived rightly’ after all—but to open up to that depressive realist realization: it’s not you; it’s the world, and there is something you can do about it.”

16 December 2020

Emma Dawson [$]: “The workers most at risk of losing pay and conditions from Porter’s IR package are those we have relied on the most during the worst months of this horrible year. The frontline workers in health and aged care, early childhood educators, those who restocked our supermarkets and delivered our parcels and groceries are the same employees who have been unable to bargain for a real wage rise since the GFC and who make up the ranks of the underemployed, swollen to record size even before the pandemic hit. … Put simply, our economy is unbalanced in favour of the very wealthy — the holders of assets and controllers of capital. Too much of that capital is unproductive, limiting growth at the time we need it most. We are at real risk of hollowing out the middle class in a way that has wreaked havoc on the US economy and is leading to social unrest not seen in developed economies for a century. The rebalancing of workplace relations needed to restore growth in jobs and incomes is not greater ‘flexibility’ for employers, but towards more power for workers, to claim their rightful share of the wealth they produce and which is being hoarded by increasingly fewer asset holders at the top of the global economic pile.”

Ross Gittins: “[O]ne unintended [sic] consequence of the now-ended era of neoliberalism has been to convince our manager class they have a divine right to be given whatever they think necessary to their greater success. Which brings us to the latest batch of ‘reforms’ being proposed by Scott Morrison and his Attorney-General, the misleadingly advertised Christian Porter. … I think we’re getting muddled between means and ends. The business proposition is: if only you’ll let me give my workers a hard time, my business will be more successful and everyone will benefit. If only you’ll accept an insecure job with hours that change from one week to the next according to my needs, the economy will be much better off. But if you take the workers and their dependents out of the economy, you don’t have much left. People rightly crave job security. Make their working lives a misery and a pay rise is poor consolation. (And right now, of course, we can’t afford the pay rise either.) We’re getting the cart before the horse, turning the people who are supposed to be the chief beneficiaries of a good economy into the people who, we’re told, must suffer to bring the good economy about. That’s what needs reform.”

It looks like Morrison might back down on undercutting the Better Off Overall Test, but, as Shaun Carney points out, that isn’t the worst of his IR omnibus: “Wage stagnation is a serious ongoing problem in Australia. Real wages have barely moved in the past seven years. The share of national income that goes to workers has been falling since the 1970s — right now, it’s below 50 per cent for the first time in 60 years — while the profit share has correspondingly been rising. This is hurting low-paid workers and those who are stuck in casual positions especially, and it is needs to be addressed. There isn’t much in the new bill that’s going to turn it around. The proposals do little to deliver greater job security or even create new jobs because they hand employers greater powers to define any employee as a casual and to give part-time workers more hours at cheaper rates than they would get at the moment. … It’s hard to see what the government would have had to lose by going further and offering a better deal for low-paid workers. Certainly, it would have grumpy employer groups to contend with, but where would they and their members go politically — to Labor or the Greens? … In a time when politics is all too often an exercise in marketing, it had been too much to hope for.”

11 December 2020

The Centre for Future Work’s Jim Stanford explains how Morrison wants to use covid as an excuse to ram through a wave of wage-cutting, non-union agreements: “Australia is unique among wealthy nations in allowing employers to unilaterally implement enterprise agreements, without involvement by a union. The BOOT is thus necessary to prevent enterprise agreements from undermining award rights. The bill proposes suspending BOOT for two years. But even if it were restored after that (which is uncertain), agreements approved during that window would remain in effect (enterprise agreements typically last four years). Even after they expire, under Australian law they remain in effect until replaced by a new agreement, or terminated by the FWC — neither of which is likely in a non-unionised workplace. Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant agreements, the bill also includes measures to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. The process must be completed within 21 days (with some exceptions). This will limit the ability of affected workers to learn about and resist their loss of benefits and conditions. Unions will be restricted from intervening around agreements they were not directly involved in negotiating (including intervening against agreements that had no union involvement at all).”