Category Archives: Corporate behaviour

Happy Birthday 200th Birthday, Karl Marx!

Karl Marx, Helen Razer and May Day 2018: Marx’ 200th birthday Anniversary – May 5th

In Australia, in the middle of our month of actions to build the Change the Rules Campaign, we should pause for a while to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, May 5th.

That might be a big ask for many Australian labour movement activists. And probably also for those of you in the First Nations liberation, environment movements, feminist activity, anti-racism, refugee solidarity, and so on.

Therefore, “Why pay attention to Marx?” 

Back in the nineteenth century Marx gave our forebears – the workers of the world – the first coherent and worker oriented explanation of how capitalism worked in his day, and some basic principles for a true alternative, a true socialism.

21st century capitalist society is quite different from way back then, but in its essences it is so much the same. There is a connection between the way in which 21st century capitalism is different and the way it is the same. We are still living in a world of exploitation, with various levels of hyper exploitation, of both the majority of humans and of most of nature as we know it. The exploitation is driven by the dynamic of the system.

Karl and Fred, with Jenny and some others lending a helpful hand in many ways (see the recent bio, “Love and Capital”), explained that dynamic thoroughly. Even right wing commentators in the financial media can’t help but recognise it, especially to understand the 2007-9 financial crisis and why it is taking so long for a recovery to happen, and that so far there is no recovery for the lives of billions of humanity.

It’s worth paying attention to Karl for lots of reasons, including a sparkling and at times bawdy wit, and his contribution as a refugee solidarity activist with the rest of his immediate family (again, take a look at “Love and Capital”).

Earlier this week we in Australia were reminded in several ways why millennial workers, and others like me (post ww 2 generation), might find using a marxist approach to understand wtf is going on worth the effort.

They included the media coverage reports of

– what the Australian government is going to do to continue the failure of successive governments to tackle and reverse climate change at the rate that is desperately needed;

– and, the housing crisis: there was this summary of a new report from Anglicare that told us, among other horrible things, that out of 67,365 rental properties surveyed across the country, only 3 were affordable if you needed Centrelink (social security) payments;

– and this that described precarious employment plight for workers of the millennial generation … unemployment at 12.5% average, double the general average, underemployment at huge levels, the government driven destruction of vocational education and the apprenticeship system, and “wage theft”, the systemic payment of wages at less than the legal minimum rate.

Helen Razer and Marx

Helen Razer is a popular and sharpish marxist social commentator. Her most recent (2017) book is “Total Propaganda”, a plain speaking, witty and bawdy (in a way that Marx and his household would smile at) 21st century introduction to Marx and Marxism for workers of the millennial generation. I recommend it as a good (with a couple of weakness though) 21st century introduction from an Australian starting point.

Her Introduction includes this:

“You guys have it bad … There is nothing character building about not being able to afford a permanent place to live. There is nothing fun about a shrinking job market. Stagnant wages are not exhilarating.”

And this:

“You are not a pussy for feeling that the world has failed you. The world has failed you, and it’s hardly your fault that its systems have begun to break down. You guys are not choosing to flit from job to job. You are not choosing to hurt those Chinese and Congolese workers who made that iPhone with their blood. You did not throw your chance at a home after a gourmet sandwich.” (You can read the next bit yourself “Oh Millennial Sandwich Eater.”)

At the end there is a chapter about what to do about it and also a pretty good suggested reading list.  (It leaves out a couple that I would recommend. For example I would include Terry Eagleton’s equally entertaining “Why Marx Was Right”, and Malcolm Robert’s blog posts that offer good plain language explanations of how the economy we live in right now is working / not working, based on key marxian ideas, see below.)

In between there is a sparkling overview of how Marx was motivated by his passion for freedom for all people by analysing how freedom worked (works) in a capitalist system, including its cultural and political dimensions, not just its economic. She points also to what she sees as weaknesses in Marx’ thinking.

She gets into 2 key “economic” concepts essential to understanding things like exploitation and recurring and irresolvable crises. They are the labour theory of value and the tendency for profitability to fall. She doesn’t quite nail these, nor the value of dialectical thinking (eg capitalism changes by staying the same, but retains its impulse into crisis and inability to fully recover from it.)

She does nail pretty well Marx on alienation and the fundamental reality that our material existence is the foundation for all else. Its also funny and entertaining, using the “problem” of masturbation as the starting point.)

She also grabs hold of another core Marxian idea and shakes our brains with it: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

This is a good entry point to understand the essential difference between individualism, as lauded by the employers and their Liberal Party, and individuality. The promotion of individualism – rooted in selfishness, greed, self-centredness – is a central idea of 21st century capitalism, just as it was in Marx’ 19th century. The material economics of individualism – capitalism – kills individuality. Individuality – the precious unique potential of each human being – nourishes and amplifies the possibilities for each one of us and, in itself, is dependent on the power of workers uniting across the boundaries varies of gender and race.

Her “what is to be done” chapter is simple and powerful: get engaged including through study and thinking. Act. Bring identity politics into the common struggle against exploitation and hyper exploitation. Study exploitation using Marx because his legacy provides the best perspective for doing that. It’s time for that now and over these next few years. No more whinging.

The place for millennial workers is in the struggle to Change the Rules, in the workplace. Its rescuing our environment. Its standing in solidarity with our First Nations peoples. And so on. It’s on the streets for May Day. It’s in the public meetings, the rallies, the demonstrations and the meetings that plan them. It’s in the development and driving of strategy, from below and the mid-levels of our movement, not just leaving it to “heroic” leaders, elected or otherwise. Its breaking out of the boring cycle of rapacious LNP governments followed by marginally better (oh we should be so grateful) Labor governments, followed by … more getting nowhere at all.

Everyone has the potential for it. Find a way.

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Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century

White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not.  (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)

This story (click here) describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.

Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.For them, “outside third party interference”means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.

But, they made sure, when they negotiated the Fair Work Act to replace Howard’s Workchoices in 2008-9, they kept and re-energized that extra third party power that would punish workers for exercising the only power they have – collective industrial action. And, what is more, new ALP negotiators and certain (not all) union leaders let them have it.

What we see here, as we have seen in other disputes, is the PENAL PROVISIONS OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY.

The penal provisions of the 20th century were neutralized in big disputes through the 1960’s that culminated with the national strike when Tramway Union official Clarrie O’Shea was jailed for refusing to pay fines imposed by the courts because union members were taking industrial action in defiance of the so-called “bans clauses” of the day.

The industrial strategy that led to that great union and democratic victory was ten years in the making.

The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century. It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.

Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal elections.

So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.

Australia’s working poor: who stands up for them?

Obviously, not the employer organisations:

http://www.workplaceinfo.com.au/payroll/wages-and-salaries/27-a-week-to-avert-working-poor-actu (If the link does not work check the text of this short article below)

Australia’s union movement leads the way.

How to weaken that movement’s effectiveness:

– bring back in a new form anti worker / union member repressive laws – Workchoices Mark 2

– escalate daily propaganda that the union movement a s a whole is corrupt

– give privileged communication rights to white flag union and so-called “labour” leaders – eg Paul Howes, Martin Ferguson

– prevent union achievements from flowing to non organised workers

– promote the myth that only employers have the knowledge and the right to make investment decisions

and so on.

And so we struggle against all of that, right?

If you are fair dinkum against poverty, get on board with this campaign. Anything else will be weasel words.

From Workplace Information, 28/3/14

 The ACTU has called for a $27 a week increase to the minimum wage, calling it “essential if Australia is to avoid creating an underclass of working poor”.

In the next step of its campaign to boost the minimum wage, the union today lodged a submission to the Fair Work Commission’s Annual Wage Review, which included a call for a 71c per hour increase from $16.37 per hour to $17.08 per hour.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said: “A $27 per week increase to the minimum wage will ensure the gap between low paid workers and the rest of the workforce does not widen even further. 

“Australians do not want to live in a country of ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and the only way for low paid workers to keep up is for the Fair Work Commission to approve this increase.

“That’s why the ACTU is demanding the national minimum wage increase to $649.20 a week for Australia’s lowest paid including cleaners, retail and hospitality staff, childcare workers, farm labourers and factory workers.”

 
Employer groups have been more circumspect, with the Australian Industry Group stating in its submission to the wage review that a careful approach was needed “given the adverse economic impacts which would result from an excessive increase”.
 
The Federal Government is yet to comment on the ACTU’s submission. 

A reasoned debate on casualisation?! Give us a break

The Business Review Today (online) posted this today about casualisation: http://www.brw.com.au/p/leadership/workforce_casualisation_the_discussion_e6DEzUdUr5NFkzQCaEjhOJ 

This was my comment:

I cant believe how naive this is is. How unctuous. How incredibly slow to get in tune, Stephen (Koukoulas) is. Who is this “we” that needs to have a debate / a discussion. “Reasoned”? “Apolitical”? Are you serious? A debate in its “infancy”? Give us all a break! The union movement have been “discussing”, negotiating, dare I say “struggling” against employers and governments to get “causalisation” under some control for 30 years, at least. This struggle is deeply rooted in our whole history going back 200 plus years. Not so long ago, there was the ACTU commissioned report led by Brian Howe, ie “Lives on Hold”. Any chance that you Stephen, apparently an esteemed academic, might actually know about, refer to, acknowledge it. Most bosses love the way the working class is structured these days. I suspect the main reform business wants is the reduction / removal of the casual loading. If they can get away with it, most don’t pay it any way.

A billionaire’s life can be really tough, right?

I READ THIS IN THE FINANCIAL REVIEW TODAY.

Rich man versus rich park
JOE ASTON

Do billionaire Seven Group and Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes and his fed-up Darling Point neighbours in Sydney’s leafy east have a leg to stand on in their stoush with Woollahra Council over their local green, McKell Park?

According to a meeting of the council’s community and environment committee in November last year, bureaucrats admitted that while McKell Park is one of the smallest parks in the local government area, it “contributes approximately 40 per cent of the total income generated from special events in Woollahra”.

In a locale that also includes the expansive Lyne, Cooper and Trumper parks, that’s one helluva disproportionate fund-raising contribution to local coffers by the TV baron’s closest public lawn. And when you’re paying eight figures for a harbourside pile, why wouldn’t you be irate if you have a parade of bogan bridal parties turning your serene neighbourhood into a sea of cantilevered bosoms and stretch Hummers every other Saturday?

Rear Window also hears that, in addition to Sydney car dealership king Laurie Sutton, Stokes is joined in the legal bunfight by another neighbour: Stan Howard, brother of former Prime Minister John Howard.