3 September 2020

Paddy Manning: “News that the Morrison government is planning to fast-track $158 billion in legislated tax cuts in the October budget should sound the alarm for the labour movement. Not only is the Coalition using the pandemic as cover to wage culture wars against its old enemies in universities, the media and the arts, but it is also using the recession to accelerate a neoliberal policy agenda that threatens to permanently undermine workers’ rights, reward the rich and beggar the nation’s finances. This would ensure radical austerity for years to come in what economist Richard Denniss describes as the ‘right-wing ratchet’. Labor premiers who have celebrated the new national cabinet, and the ACTU (which is participating in a rushed round of talks with employers), should carefully consider whether the prime minister’s all-in-it-together schtick has been entirely genuine or whether, in fact, they have been comprehensively outplayed. So far, the national cabinet has functioned as an unaccountable body that has bolstered Scott Morrison and sidelined the federal Opposition. The new labour-market flexibility reforms, introduced along with the JobKeeper legislation at a time of crisis, may prove to be a Trojan Horse for an assault on workers’ rights. Memo to Daniel Andrews and Sally McManus: are you legitimising what looks likely to be an attack on the people you represent?”

2 September 2020

Some bad news: “A new report from the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the University of New South Wales — using the latest available ABS data from 2017-18 — shows how far behind those on the lowest incomes are from the nation’s richest households. The report found the incomes of those in the top 20 per cent were six times higher than those in the bottom 20 per cent. That is worse than 2015-16, when the ratio was five times.” But then some good news [$]: “The government’s extraordinary income support measures have virtually eliminated poverty in Australia, according to new ­research from the ANU’s Centre for Social Research… [T]he number of people in poverty has dropped from 1.6 million pre-COVID to 1.1 million — a reduction of about a third. Moreover, the introduction of the wage subsidy and boosted JobSeeker had ‘almost eliminated poverty for some of the most disadvantaged groups’, reducing poverty rates for households on Newstart from 67 per cent before the crisis to less than 7 per cent.” Bad news again: having stumbled upon a policy that lifted millions out of poverty, the Morrison Government is going to scrap it at the end of the month.

1 September 2020

The United Workers Union has produced a thorough report on Technology and Power in Australian workplaces: “At this present moment it is crucial we consider what a more democratic and equitable future of work and technology might look like, and how it can be achieved. A society in which data is held in common, the limits and use of new technologies collectively agreed upon and used by workers to build shared power and solidarity. Workplaces in which innovation can act in service of a broad public good — not just the narrow interests of profit accumulation.” The report makes compelling recommendations, such as the creation of “industry level worker councils to negotiate the use and scope of surveillance and other disruptive technologies in the workplace”, the inclusion of “[p]rivacy thresholds in the national employment standards,” the “[r]edistribut[ion of] productivity gains from technology back to labour via a universal basic dividend”, and a demand that “[d]ata must be held in common and not treated as private property”. UWU’s proposed Ethical framework for workplace technology is excellent, and workers should be aware of it and use it to challenge their employers when they push new tech-based schemes..

Good news: “One of McDonald’s Australia’s largest franchisees will be forced to pay after threatening employees who requested a 10 minute break… The post, which was shared to a private Facebook group by [a general manager], was made in response to staff lobbying for 10 minute breaks.” To be clear, they were lobbying for 10 minute breaks they were entitled to under their EBA! “‘If we implement this [ten minute break] over our current situation on your shift –– this ten minute break would be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet,’ [the manager] wrote. ‘So I hope to god you don’t get thirsty on your next shift because we just wouldn’t be able to allow a drink. Fair is Fair, right?’ The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RFFWU) took [the franchisee] to court over the post, alleging the franchisee had threatened to restrict workers’ drinks and bathroom rights. In the Federal Court of Australia on Monday, Justice Logan agreed that the post did, in effect, threaten to deny workers their rights to a drink or toilet break at other times during their shift. The judgment is the first time McDonald’s has been successfully prosecuted by a union in Australia.”

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.”