archive: February 2021

24 February 2021

Rick Morton on the disconnect between Canberra policymakers and real lives: “The prime minister thinks only in the hollow terms of political problems. Humanity does not figure into the equation. Worse, for a man who thinks he knows the answer he has never suffered the real problem. Neither he nor almost anyone in his government has ever had to do the threadbare arithmetic of blunt survival. Never had to make a decision to skip meals or medications to feed a family. Never had a single, sudden expense trigger a five-year debt spiral. There have been no back-to-back years of punishing stress which exacts its toll not only on the mind but on the body, too. … The problem is not necessarily that he has not lived this life, but that he refuses to accept the testimony of the millions who have. Millions. It reaches further down, into the public service, where often well-meaning people are forced to reduce the rich and complicated human tapestry to mere budget constraints and policy priorities. For those who have not lived the life of gritty survival, it is difficult to really understand the consequences of enduring scarcity. These aftershocks bleed into every area of government service delivery and into every budget.” One small illustration of this: “A single person on JobSeeker will receive a little over $300 a week to live on. A politician receives more than $280 per day in travel allowance”.

23 February 2021

Anthony Forsyth: “[I]t is in the [IR Omnibus] Bill’s provisions on casual employment that we can most see the government’s opportunism in latching onto the pandemic. To understand this, we need to take a step back. In 2018 and again last year, the Federal Court up-ended what has become a common practice of many employers: engaging casual employees for long periods of time, so they are almost permanent but without the rights of permanent staff. … So what does the Bill say? It is quite devious, presenting the façade of adopting the Federal Court’s definition of a casual — someone who does not have a firm commitment from their employer to ongoing work, according to an agreed pattern of work. But then the Bill adds other elements to the proposed casual definition, including how the work is described in the employment contract — thus preserving the power of employers to designate an employee as casual. The Bill also freezes the assessment of employment status (casual or not) as at the time the employment begins. A court could have no regard to how the employment evolves or changes over time. All of this would return us to the position that prevailed before the Federal Court stepped in. Employers would have maximum power to engage and keep an employee as a casual, no matter how regular their shifts become or for how many years they are employed. … If passed into law, this Bill will only intensify insecure work and enable employers to push through reductions in wages and conditions in the name of ‘economic recovery’. … All up, the Coalition’s Bill tells Australian workers: ‘thanks, but really, no thanks, for all your efforts in the pandemic’. Cross-bench senators need to tell the government: it’s just not on.”

19 February 2021

Lizzie O’Shea: “The media code aims to solve a public problem — the decline of the fourth estate — by setting up a system of private transfers between digital platforms and news organisations. Such an approach harbours several design problems. Firstly, it represents an abandonment of the democratic political practice of taxation and spending. That strategy might have allowed elected representatives to strip tech companies of their excessive profits, which is an important objective. It would have also permitted lawmakers to redirect such funds to fill the actual gaps that have emerged in the media in recent times, rather than, say, Rupert Murdoch’s pockets. … The other key design problem with the proposed code was that it aimed to align media organisation and tech platforms against the interests of users. Media organisations have demonstrated that they are perfectly fine with exploiting user data for ad dollars, so long as they are not left out of the game. What does it say about tech policy in this country that the human rights of users were almost entirely left out of the conversation? … Imagine if the government had shown instead an interest in facilitating public participation and community-building by supporting other platforms that were not driven by profit. … It would be a world in which Facebook doesn’t get to dictate the terms of our engagement in online life.”

12 February 2021

Tom Theuns and Andrei Poama, Leiden University: “Far from banning prisoners from voting or making it difficult for them to vote, we think democratic governments should legally oblige felons to vote and call them to account if they don’t. Advocates of felon disenfranchisement sometimes argue that depriving felons of their right to vote allows democracies to affirm the importance of basic values, like equality and trust. If you decide not to live by society’s rules, they argue, you forfeit the right to have a say in how society is run. We disagree. … The right to vote is fundamental to democracy. It should not be seen as a favour or a privilege that depends on other people’s goodwill. Other citizens or unelected judges shouldn’t be in a position to deprive us of such rights; this makes all our voting rights more fragile. When people violate the values we hold dear by committing crimes, democracies should double down. Whereas criminal disenfranchisement communicates to felons that they are second-class citizens, compulsory criminal voting reinforces the idea that democratic rights are an important responsibility. If we think criminals see themselves as above the law, compulsory criminal voting sends a strong message that felons are fellow citizens, that we are all in this together, whether we like it or not. … The fear of certain disadvantaged groups heading to the polls should tell us something about the legitimate complaints these groups have. Such complaints should be heard.”

Victorian Trades Hall’s Luke Hilakari: “I call it the Fitzgibbon Paradox. It’s a comforting story for politicians that have no interest in tackling climate change to tell themselves. The idea is that caring about clean air and drinkable water is just a niche obsession for inner-city dilettantes who are detached from the everyday pressures faced by working people. The problem is, it’s just not true. … [A]bout three quarters of Victorians, from all walks of life, are genuinely concerned about climate change. Contrary to what some folks would have you believe, less than one third of working class Victorians claim to be unconcerned. This shouldn’t be surprising, because working people feel the impact of climate change every day. … [T]he group least likely to support real action on climate change is actually the wealthiest among us. … It’s the top end of town that have the biggest interest in maintaining the status quo, perhaps because they’re more shielded from the catastrophic impacts of climate change on their jobs and way of life than the rest of us. … We can either plan now for an orderly transition, build new industries, and create the well-paid jobs of the future, or we can have a very different future thrust upon us. It’s time that we got beyond political games because such distractions don’t just damage our climate, but also damage our chances of creating a future built on good, clean, well-paid and secure jobs.”

Cristy Clark: “‘[C]limate-proofing’… aims to ensure that the risks of climate change to existing or planned developments are ‘considered and, if necessary, managed’. The problem with this approach is that it tends to reinforce ‘development-as-usual’ — ultimately promoting the resilience of existing industries and economic systems, rather than the resilience of communities (particularly marginalised communities) or the biosphere. … The government is steadfast in its commitment to increasing the resilience of [agriculture and mining] in the face of worsening climate change impacts. What is it not particularly committed to is protecting the biosphere or the global population who will rely on it into the future. As Barnaby Joyce put it so charmingly, ‘None of us in [parliament] will be here [in 30 years]’. If there is a lesson for us here… it is that we should be careful when calling for increased commitments to climate change adaptation and resilience. While we absolutely need a massive scale up in support for adaptation globally, the last thing we need is to reinforce and entrench the industries and economic systems that created this crisis in the first place. Instead, we need to make transformational changes to these socio-economic systems by prioritising equitable and locally-led climate resilient development — and foregrounding human rights in the process.”

Michael McClelland: “The current semantic division of essential and non-essential work has inadvertently reminded workers what kind of work is socially necessary, and more often than not, these are jobs that are resistant to automation. … The reason these jobs couldn’t ultimately be abolished is that society relies on this work, which will always give essential workers a degree of leverage. … [But] better wages and conditions for essential workers… would only come about through collective demands, itself the product of a collective awareness of alienation. Luckily, the new category of ‘essential’ work, strategically designed by capitalists to suture up capitalism in crisis, has inadvertently provided space for such consciousness to form. By keeping the work that is necessary for human wellbeing, by expanding the work that is necessary for human happiness, and by abolishing the work that serves neither purpose, we would be making the most strategic move of all: protecting the vitality of the planet. But redefining work on such terms would be more than a merely defensive exercise. It would open the way to a further expansion of the imagination, leading to philosophy, happiness, and self-fulfillment. This was what Marx meant when he spoke of ‘that realm of freedom which begins when the realm of necessity is left behind.’ It’s a cause to work for.”

11 February 2021

Shemon and Arturo on “car-looting” as a tactic of rebellion: “For all the radical rhetoric of marxism, in terms of its actual deeds and practice, most of the radical left has accommodated itself to the status quo. The law has expanded in response to class conflicts and anti-racist struggles to the point that plenty of harmless forms of activism can be engaged in, but they are simply a new prison for activists and movements. Previous generations have won victories and expanded the law so that we can safely denounce wars, march almost anywhere we wish, and say whatever we want. This range of legality seems like a victory, but has also become a trap that leftist organizations treat as a principle. The fact of the matter is that leftist organizations are simply not prepared to deal with the illegal nature of the revolutionary struggles and politics that are taking place in the present moment. The black proletariat continues to show a practical commitment to fighting the police, setting fire to carceral infrastructure, and looting the commodities of this dying capitalist system.” This fascinating article describes the advantages and risks involved when protestors use cars to defeat police tactics in the Black Lives Matters protests.

8 February 2021

Colin Long: “In the recent public discussions about the future of Federal Government pandemic assistance — especially JobKeeper — little consideration has been given to the truly staggering figure of 700,000 workers on temporary visas losing their jobs. Even less recognition has been given to the fact that this was in fact the goal of the Morrison Government. The JobKeeper scheme was designed in a way that ensured employers would sack workers on visas. Say I am an employer with ten staff, five of whom are on short-term visas. My turnover has decreased by half. Five of my staff will be eligible for JobKeeper, so I will keep them on to do the work that I have remaining. The other five, on short-term visas, I will sack. Given the number of job losses among short-term visa holders, it is clear that this is what has happened on a wide-scale. Given it is obvious that this would be the result, and many people warned at the time of JobKeeper’s introduction that it would happen, it is clearly the government’s intention. It is the central plank of a strategy to purge the workforce of non-citizens.”

5 February 2021

Mark O’Connell: “The way that Amazon does business — its pressuring of suppliers, its systematic annihilation of retail competitors, its incessant harvesting of its customers’ data, its treatment of its own workers as little better than machines — is, of course, inseparable from the personal wealth of its founder, Jeff Bezos, who earlier this week stepped down as CEO of the company. But even if the means by which that wealth had been amassed were somehow unobjectionable, it would still stand, purely on its own terms, as a moral obscenity. It’s impossible to even conceive of the scale of this man’s wealth. It’s like trying to think about deep time: the mind’s eye glazes over. This is a man who makes about $149,000 with every passing minute. This is a man who, last July, in the midst of a global pandemic and a devastating economic crisis, increased his personal wealth by $13bn in the course of a single day. This is a man who, despite living on a planet where one third of human beings don’t have access to safe drinking water, told Business Insidermagazine that ‘the only way I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel’.” (This “long read” has a lot of interesting things to say about Bezos, Amazon, and the challenge of living ethically within their hegemony.)