archive: March 2023

23 March 2023

John Falzon in the Jesuits’ Eureka Street: “Poverty is, above all else, a power relation. Typified by income inadequacy and housing deprivation, it is a means of deliberate disempowerment, a structural and historical violence done to people, not an individual state passively or accidentally experienced by people. Nor is poverty a choice by those who are forced to experience it, as per former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s argument that poverty in Britain was ‘not material but behavioural’. Poverty is a choice, a political choice though, not a personal one. And poverty is material. But it is also more. That it is primarily a power relation is evidenced in the poverty experienced on the basis of gendered violence, unequal (or absent) bargaining power, colonisation, ableism, queerphobia, ageism and exclusion from secure work, adequate income security, or housing. It is also evidenced by the shame and humiliation that is often carefully manufactured and imposed. … If we want to prevent poverty we need both: a more equitable distribution of income, especially for those who are on income support payments or low or insecure wages; and the building and buttressing of a safe, democratic and respectful socio-economic space.”

21 March 2023

Ross Gittins on the Productivity Commission’s latest neoliberal manifesto: “The report is quick to explain that improving productivity does not mean getting people to work harder. Perfectly true. It’s supposed to mean making workers more productive by giving them better training and better machines to work with. Except that when you see the commission recommending a move to ‘modern, fit-for-purpose labour market regulation’ — including, no doubt, getting rid of weekend penalty pay rates — you realise the commission has learnt nothing from the failure of John Howard’s Work Choices, nor from the failure of the reduction in Sunday penalty payments to lead to any increase in weekend employment, as had been confidently predicted. So, what the commission is really advocating is that the balance of power in wage bargaining be shifted further in favour of employers and away from workers and their unions. Which probably would lead to people working harder for little or no increase in pay. … What’s conspicuously absent from all the bemoaning of the slowdown in our rate of productivity improvement, is any acknowledgement that there’s also been a huge fall in the rate of the flow-through to real wages of what improvement we are achieving. Until that’s fixed — until the capitalist system goes back to keeping its promise that the workers will get their fair share of the benefits of capitalism — Australia’s households have no rational reason to give a stuff about what’s happening to productivity.”

(No wonder the ACTU and ACOSS want to abolish the Productivity Commission.)

20 March 2023

Alison Pennington’s new book, Gen F’ed, is a good summary of how the ‘fair go’ has been withdrawn from young Australians, and an argument that we need to organise (not just rally) to restore it: “One core reason that movements reliant on protests lose steam is they aren’t emerging from, or translating into, ongoing associations between people — organisation. Organisations are structures that people affiliate to, or become members of, which coordinate and cohere their combined campaign efforts over time. The most impactful organisations throughout history have involved large numbers of people not just participating in political activities, but also practising democratic decision-making — whether they be movements, political parties or unions. Big protests are powerful when they represent organisation. For instance, the Vietnam Moratorium protests involved hundreds of different campaign groups who debated the merits of the nation going to war, developed a stance together, and mobilised at massive central rallies. Today’s infrequent protests are more likely to involve thousands of separate individuals or friendship groups congregating in one place. Rally organisers circulate placards among the crowd to create the illusion of an organised voice. This isn’t real power. Big rallies that are unsupported by real organisation can also cause lasting damage to the people’s belief in their democratic power when their demands are not immediately realised. For instance, without stronger anti-war organisations across society, Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to march the country to war in Iraq in 2003, despite national protests, permanently altered Australians’ belief in their capacity to influence the political decision-making process. Post-rally demoralisation is already setting in for young people. After diligently researching, deeply feeling, and seeking a common community, many turn out for rallies only to return home and ask, ‘What next?’ When they pull blanks, social media platforms are all they have. People need somewhere to brush the gravel from the graze and plough on together, stronger. When they push for political change and don’t achieve their aims, organisations and institutions should catch their fall, and help them return, with more effective tactics in the future.”