15 August 2020

Brianna Rennix and Nathan J Robinson: “Hierarchy is common to bad governments, bad workplaces, bad relationships, and bad schools. When we look at societies throughout history and feel disturbed, the reason is usually something to do with hierarchy: some people were priests doing human sacrifices, while other people had to be the sacrifices. In our own country, some people have been slaves, others masters. Some people have been prisoners, others cops. Some are ‘non-citizens,’ without basic rights, others are ‘citizens’ who are Legitimate People. (Yes, the distinction between the citizens and noncitizens should be thought of as a formal caste system, whereby some people are more entitled to rights than others. It is only because we are used to it that we don’t comprehend how appalling it is to divide society into a hierarchy of ‘non-people’ and ‘people’ based solely on where they happened to be born.) Wherever you find distinctive ranked orders of social status, and some people with vastly more power and liberty than others, you find a situation that should be revolting to anyone who cares about universal justice. (That is, revolting to the sort of person who wants everyone to be served by our social arrangements, rather than having categories of ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’) A truly just world has to be a democratic and egalitarian one, where hierarchies are minimized. … [While] it is not yet possible to envision a perfectly non-hierarchical world, a fair starting point is to treat social hierarchies as presumptively illegitimate.

Monica Dux: “As a child, I remember thinking that, when it comes to wages, we have things upside down. Back then, I understood them as a being a bit like dessert: a reward you got for doing something that you wouldn’t otherwise do. Like eating brussels sprouts. So it seemed to me that people who did less pleasant jobs — jobs that are boring, dirty or repetitive — should be paid more. On the other hand, those who do interesting jobs should earn less. After all, no one gets ice-cream as a reward for eating cake. As I got older, I absorbed a different message. That high pay equates with high importance. Doctors save lives, which is important, so naturally they get lots of money. Futures traders also make squillions — so whatever futures might turn out to be, trading them is obviously vital. Cleaners, on the other hand, are paid very little. So what they do can’t be important. Or so the logic dictates. Warehouse workers and orderlies, night fillers and aged care workers: so many people who do vital work are poorly paid. Over the years, many such jobs have been made less secure, and their entitlements eroded. A relentless signal that society neither appreciates nor values what they do. I’m not the only one to notice that the pandemic could actually be an opportunity, a chance to reconsider all this. To fundamentally rethink the value of work, and how we reward those who do the difficult but necessary jobs. And I’ll give you a hint — I’m not talking about the futures traders.”

12 August 2020

Nyunggai Warren Mundine [$]: “What if I was to tell you about stolen wages? No, I’m not talking about some employer underpaying their workers. I’m talking about the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians being taken by governments and never paid back. During the ‘Protection era’, the period from about the early 1900s until the 1970s, … wages of Indigenous workers were paid to government-administered accounts, controlled by protectors or superintendents of Indigenous missions and reserves. It was believed Indigenous people wouldn’t be able to handle their money, so governments had to look after it for them. Some people had all wages taken and others were paid only a fraction of their income. Other payments were also taken, such as child endowment and pensions. Most never saw the money again. … This is a dark part of our nation’s history. It’s a basic human right … that a person should be paid for their labour.  … So why are governments finding it so hard to resolve and pay Indigenous people the money they are due? Indigenous people talk about unfinished business. This is a major area of unfinished business in this country: the recovery of wages earned by Indigenous people but never paid to them.” Mundine explains that some jurisdictions have set up ‘reparation’ schemes, but these pay a tiny fraction of what is really owed.

10 August 2020

Marcia Langton: “Are the police and correctional services racist? Is there structural or systemic racism in the Australian criminal justice system? The answer to these questions that emerge from the thousands of pages of evidence is a resounding yes. Until measures are taken to prevent police and correctional services officers from failing in their duties to the Indigenous people they detain or any Australian they detain, and ensuring that an encounter with them is not fatal, we must say yes, and demand that all Australian governments implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. … To achieve this, they must reduce the incarceration rate. They must reduce the arrest and imprisonment rates. Australians like myself expect to see the principle of Black Lives Matter implemented as soon as possible and the deaths prevented. Should we accommodate the tactics of governments who delay the implementation of these recommendations? I say no. I say the protests must continue.”

Having previously identified neoliberal reforms as the cause of ongoing problems in the sector, the Aged Care Royal Commission is now turning to the unfolding coronavirus disaster. In the month since 9 July, more than 1000 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and of Australia’s 290 deaths, two thirds were aged care residents. Reflecting on these statistics today, the Commission’s lawyer said: “It is the system operating as it was designed to operate. We should not be surprised at the results.” He said the appalling death rate “starkly exposed all of the flaws of the aged care sector which have been highlighted during this royal commission”. The Morrison Government’s hands-off approach to regulation was singled out for attention: “the evidence will reveal that neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged care sector. … There was no advice about how the sector should respond to the risk posed by aged care workers who may be COVID-19 positive yet asymptomatic, particularly those who work in multiple facilities. … The regulator did not have an appropriate aged care sector COVID-19 response plan. Given that it was widely understood that recipients of aged care services were a high risk group, this seems surprising.”

5 August 2020

Nathan J Robinson: “What’s amazing is that the difficulty of creating this situation of ‘fully democratized information’ is entirely economic rather than technological. What I describe with books is close to what Google Books and Amazon already have. But of course, universal free access to full content horrifies publishers, so we are prohibited from using these systems to their full potential. The problem is ownership: nobody is allowed to build a giant free database of everything human beings have ever produced. … [C]opyright law is an unbelievably intensive restriction on freedom of speech, sharply delineating the boundaries of what information can and cannot be shared with other people. … [W]hat would happen in a society where the relative accessibility and cost of truth versus lies was adjusted[?] What if every online course was free? What if textbooks cost nothing instead of $200? What if we made it as easy and cheap as possible to find things out and were guided by the desire to create the greatest possible access to knowledge rather than by economic considerations? … Hopefully someday our patchwork of intentionally-inefficient libraries will turn into a free storehouse of humanity’s recorded knowledge and creativity. In the meantime, however, we need to focus on getting good and thoughtful material in as many hands as possible and breaking down the barriers we can.”

Chelsea Bond on the new Closing the Gap targets: “The failings in Indigenous affairs are not due to Indigenous people making poor choices. Nor is it because we lack data or evidence of what works. It is a result of a sustained indifference to the lives of Indigenous peoples, disguised as benevolence in fictitious claims of policy reform. The issue is the failure — or rather refusal — to commit to structural reform that meaningfully attends to the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the state. Such reform demands recognition of the unique rights of Indigenous peoples, not simply more data on disadvantage and supposed Indigenous deviance. Yet we are now being offered a partnership approach with government-funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. Few have noted the power imbalance at the heart of this relationship. As Roy Ah-See, co-chair Uluru dialogues at UNSW’s Indigenous Law Centre has said, ‘You are never going to bite the hand that feeds you, so how can these organisations be representative if they only received resources from government?’ When we cut through the talk of the new Closing the Gap agreement, it is clear this discourse of ‘change’ works precisely so that everything can stay the same.” (Previously.)

Thanks to the pandemic-driven downturn, unemployment is now such a problem that employers are being inundated with hundreds of applications per job — and that was before the Commonwealth Government decided to reintroduce so-called “mutual obligation” requirements that will force people to apply for an arbitrary number of jobs, regardless of how many are actually available or how well matched they are for the work. Alison The Australian Unemployed Workers Union has called for a mutual obligation strike — encouraging people to refuse all non-mandatory engagement with job agencies: “Right now there are no penalties for refusing to participate in most mutual obligations activities. You cannot be penalised for refusing to: sign a job plan — if you don’t sign one it’s harder to force you into a job you don’t want; answer a phone call or email from your job agency; attend training programs; do work for the dole; complete volunteering shifts; attend appointments with your job agency; do job searches; complete ParentsNext activities”. This strike should be broadly supported by the community.

31 July 2020

Nick Slater: “[I]n my younger days, I earned $7.25 an hour working on the ‘turf management crew’ of a Minnesota country club. … It always struck me as bizarre that although my colleagues and I were the ones who’d made this little patch of heaven, we were forbidden from setting foot on it unless we were carrying rakes or pushing lawnmowers. We were unable to pay thousands of dollars in initiation fees, never mind the monthly dues, and therefore we were permitted only to toil at the club, not to enjoy its beauty.” And that’s why “we need to nationalize all the nice places. All the beaches, all the ski resorts, all the country clubs, all the private hunting reserves. We need to stop the steady segregation of the country into Zones for Elites and Zones for Plebes. We need to not only preserve our many mini-Edens, but to make them accessible to everyone. … With all due respect to Mother Nature and her indisputable knack for decorating, many of the United States’ nicest places owe no small part of their charm to the minds and muscles of the low-paid workers who are, at present, prevented from enjoying those places in their leisure time.”

Laundry workers in Dandenong — who handle the soiled linen from a major hospital — were pressured by their employer, Spotless, to keep working despite a covid outbreak. The company denied there were any close contacts of the first positive case, and when the workers refused to work in unsafe conditions, Spotless started Fair Work Commission proceedings to order them back to work. Subsequent testing has identified two further cases, and a Health Department inspection demanded by the United Workers Union has shut down the site and deemed that hundreds of workers who spent more than 30 minutes at work are close contacts. UWU’s Godfrey Moase said, “Spotless was forced to act because union members took a stand. If it wasn’t for the workers, this outbreak could have been much worse. Spotless Dandenong workers are low-wage migrant workers who have acted together and swiftly. They acted in the interests of the entire community and should be congratulated for their service. We are calling on Spotless to pay all workers who now have to self-isolate as per the DHHS guidelines, including the labour hire staff… To beat COVID-19 we need to back in workers standing together, and we need everyone to have access to paid pandemic leave. Every single worker. No exemptions.”