archive: July 2021

28 July 2021

Allison Pennington: “Public health restrictions are … undermined if not coupled with a program of liveable income supports that allow people to stay safe — and keep others safe — by staying home. Intensive policing to enforce stay-at-home rules doesn’t work when people feel compelled to work because they have no other way to support themselves. In this regard, the uneven and inadequate patchwork of income supports provided through the federal government’s disaster payment program is not up to the task. For example, the federal government excluded anyone receiving welfare payments from receiving Covid disaster supports. But excluding our lowest-income most vulnerable communities from these supports isn’t just cruel. It also jeopardises public health. Many people receiving welfare payments also earn paid work income. … But they will not be compensated for losses in income resulting from the new lockdowns. Indeed, an estimated 400,000 unemployed or part-time workers across greater Sydney don’t qualify for Covid supports, purely because they receive another form of payment. These desperate people face continued compulsion to work, expanding the pool of desperate workers seeking precarious, dangerous cash-in-hand and gig work. We have already seen how this story ends: with WhatsApp security guards, pizza delivery drivers, and interstate removalists. With this arbitrary and dangerous policy choice, the federal government reveals its political priorities: to appear ‘tough on dole-bludgers’, and focus on deficit reduction even amid a pandemic. … The federal government can choose to do this right. Or it can choose to keep sending cruel ideological signals. All Australians hope it does the former.”

According to a London School of Economics study of tax rates in 18 OECD countries from 1965 to 2015: “We find that major tax cuts for the rich push up income inequality, as measured by the top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The size of the effect is substantial: on average, each major tax cut results in a rise of 0.8 percentage points in top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The effect holds in both the short and medium term. Turning our attention to economic performance, we find no significant effects of major tax cuts for the rich. More specifically, the trajectories of real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate are unaffected by significant reductions in taxes on the rich in both the short and medium term.” Labor now supports greater inequality for no economic benefit.

Jeff Sparrow: “The desultory vaccine rollout in Australia proves that, as an administrator, Scott Morrison makes a good curry. Yet even without his government’s remarkable ineptitude, the emergence of the Delta variant was, in a sense, inevitable. Viruses mutate — that’s their whole point. Even if we control Delta, new diseases will emerge, either different strains of Covid or, God help us, entirely new viruses. … We might not know the exact cause of this particular outbreak but we’ve been repeatedly warned that ongoing deforestation and uncontrolled urbanism create the conditions for the spread of pathogens to which we have no resistance. Covid-19 only kills a small proportion of those it infects — and still the global death toll from the pandemic stands at more than 4 million. What happens if the next virus we release is more like Ebola, with a morbidity rate of over 60%? To put it another way, renewed normality isn’t the solution — it’s the problem. … There is, after all, a term for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results — and that insanity doesn’t merely pertain to Covid. … In the words of a leaked draft from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: ‘The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own.’ That’s why, even in lockdown doldrums, we need to rekindle a belief in the possibilities for change. Covid has shown that people can adapt. None of us thought that we’d become accustomed to wearing masks, to teleconferencing and to working from home. We put up with lockdown; we altered the way we lived — because that was what the times required. We know we can change. We’ve shown it.”

Greg Jericho: “The Labor party seems to have decided to shrink its policies to the very few things it believes are politically advantageous as it looks to the next election. In doing so it has thrown its support behind the most inequitable tax cuts in Australia’s history, effectively putting an end to progressive taxation in this country. Oh, the things you do when you want to win so badly that you have forgotten why exactly you want to win so badly. This week the ALP announced … it would now support the legislated stage three-tax cuts to come into force in 2024-25. … [T]he decision to support the stage-three tax cuts means the ALP now believes increasing inequality is a price it must pay if it wants to win government. What is the point of a progressive party if not to reduce inequality, you might ask. To be honest, at this point I don’t know. Essentially the stage-three tax cuts are about flattening the income tax rate to 30% for everyone earning between $45,000 and $200,000. Some eight years ago … I wrote of the superannuation debate at the time that it was clear to me that what it was really about was bringing in a flat income tax. What had once been the policy of libertarian cranks was then starting to be accepted in the Liberal party. And that battle was won on Monday with the ALP’s not untypical capitulation”.

27 July 2021

Matt Huber: ”Instead of expecting climate mobilization to emerge from knowledge or experience of climate change, we should seek to orient climate action around the everyday material realities of the working class — the vast majority of society. Such an approach could build something the climate movement still lacks: a majoritarian political coalition with the power to confront fossil capital. While more and more surely are experiencing climate disasters, for most working people the primary obstacle to survival is the daily struggle to afford the basics of life like food, electricity, rent, and health care. … A working-class strategy would mobilize climate action on a decidedly positive platform of improving most people’s lives. And it is not as if these material needs are ‘distractions’ from the climate crisis. Food, housing, energy, and transport are the key sectors we need to decarbonize. … The Green New Deal represents a breakthrough in this respect — offering a climate program around public housing, a job guarantee, and, most recently, public power to, ‘establish electricity as a basic human right and public good.’ Still, for this strategy to work, you have to deliver these material gains in the name of climate action.”

21 July 2021

Melissa Coade, reporting for the public service industry magazine, The Mandarin: “On Tuesday CPSU national president Alistair Waters told a senate inquiry into the current capability of the APS that decisions made by Services Australia to silence concerns raised by public servants about the bungled robodebt scheme, and replace them with labor hire staff to do the work, saw the automated debt-collecting program executed in spite of warnings from experienced bureaucrats. ‘Of the almost 1,600 labour hire workers engaged in Services Australia at the end of April, around 800 work in the payments and integrity group, raising debts,’ Waters told the senate committee. ‘This labour hire workforce was introduced when robodebt was being implemented. Permanent staff who then worked in the robodebt area objected to the lawfulness of the program and were moved to other duties. An insecure workforce of about 800 labour hire employees were then brought in by Services Australia to implement robodebt.’ In June this year the Federal Court approved a $1.8 billion settlement for hundreds of thousands of Centrelink recipients who were wrongfully issued with debt notices. Justice Bernard Murphy outlined in a scathing decision against the Commonwealth that it ‘should have been obvious’ to public servants and ministers running the scheme that the process for determining debts was flawed.” It’s not obvious to people who have no institutional knowledge or understanding. Content-free managers were the first wave of neoliberal attack on public service. Content-free (and job security-free) employees are the next wave.

James Clark: “Supermarkets have become an indispensable part of modern life. Most of us shop at them several times a week. Almost everyone buys their fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy there, as well as cleaning products, toiletries, basic medicine, and whatever household supplies we need. Supermarkets are the center of our food system. The products they decide to stock and promote impact the health and well-being of the entire population. But their real influence comes from their buying power. As the largest buyers, the decisions that supermarket chains make flow through our whole economy. From what farmers grow to how shipping companies schedule their fleets, supermarkets set the agenda for the food system. That system is broken. To fix it, we need to take the supermarkets out of private hands. … In fact, supermarkets already plan our food system. But they do it for the sake of profit maximization rather than the public good and long-term sustainability. Supermarkets use their influence over what we eat to promote high-margin, low-nutrition foods. Their buying power places arduous demands on their supply chains, leading to worker exploitation. Like all other essential services, the supermarket should be in the hands of the people.”

Good news/bad news: “A Melbourne magistrate said he was handcuffed by legal limitations from giving Coles the sentence he felt it deserved for underpaying staff. Coles Australia has been fined $50,000 for underpaying long service leave to more than 4000 Victorian employees in a landmark case. The supermarket giant, who pleaded guilty to seven charges on March 30, was sentenced in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. The court heard an audit revealed Coles failed to correctly pay 4096 Victorian employees their long service leave, totalling $697,016. On Wednesday magistrate Justin Foster slammed new long service leave legislation that prevented him from slapping the company with a bigger fine. He said the $50,000 did not reflect how serious the offending was and set a dangerous precedent for future cases.” While the magistrate is right about the low maximum penalty, this case is still a big step forward — at last, employers face criminal prosecution for ripping off their employees. The federal government’s Fair Work Ombudsman does not treat wage theft as a crime, but the new Victorian Wage Inspectorate is taking a tougher approach.

13 July 2021

Annina Claeson: “In Iceland, the Reykjavik City Council, the trade union confederation BSRB, and the national government ran a series of trials of a four-day working week between 2015 and 2019 — the world’s largest experiment thus far in shortening working hours without slashing wages. … The Icelandic trials were a direct response to campaigning pressures from trade unions and other grassroots organizations. Over 2,500 workers in the public sector (more than 1 percent of the country’s entire working population) moved from a forty-hour to thirty-five- or thirty-six-hour working weeks without any reductions in pay. The scale of the trial, combined with the variety of workplaces involved (including both nine-to-five workers and those on nonstandard shifts) means that the Icelandic experiment now provides some of the best data available on the prospect of shortening the working week. It should come as no surprise that this data paints a positive picture. Workers reported experiencing better health and less stress and burnout, and they had more time to spend with their families or on leisure activities. Productivity and service provision either remained at similar levels or improved in the majority of workplaces. With Iceland’s unions playing a key role every step of the way, they wasted no time in building on the trial’s success to negotiate shortened working hours on a permanent basis. Thanks to a series of successfully negotiated contracts in 2019–2021, 86 percent of Iceland’s working population has either already moved to shortened working hours or gained the right to negotiate such reductions in the future.”

12 July 2021

Jason Wilson: “In Australia, scholars working in the related field of critical race and whiteness studies have for decades analysed Australia’s nature as a colonial state, founded on stolen land, which excluded Indigenous people and non-white immigrants from its commonwealth at its foundation, and where vast inequalities remain between Indigenous and white Australia. There are several possible responses that a white person can have to this. One possible response is visible in the moral panic around critical race theory. … Conservative media, which subsists on hate clicks, has eagerly jumped on this train. Australia’s dim-bulb rightwingers have followed. The real function of these arguments is to close white ears to demands for justice which are premised on simple facts about how their settler-colonial societies were built — including by means of theft, forced labor, and the consolidation of stolen property with state power. In this version of history, white America is itself the victim of the scheming of European marxist academics, with critical race theorists pulling the strings of protesters in the streets. … Another is available for those who see all of this as a compelling analysis of a vast historical injustice, which matches a systemic explanation with a systemic problem. The next step for them is to engage with and listen to the demands emerging from racial justice protests; to acknowledge how, why, and for whom our institutions were designed, and how they and other white people have benefited from it; and to find ways to assist with the enormous task of righting an almost incomprehensible wrong. If you’re white, this approach may be worth a try. Denying history uses up a lot of energy that could be spent on building a better, more inclusive future.”