Food supply workers hooray! Heroes they truly are.

“Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.” (from “Solidarity Forever”)

Who, truly, reproduces society?

The corona virus pandemic, and the Morrison government’s handling of it, brings to the fore a simple, profound although neglected truth. No society can reproduce itself without workers.

From that, because ours is a society driven by profit seeking, even this government now recognizes (without saying it) that it is workers whose labour provides profit, not just wages. Investment from employers is dead unless workers apply their “brain and muscle” for so many hours each day to the machinery and equipment put in front of them.

Showing our gratitude: health care … and food workers

Some workers, we are sharply reminded, are so essential that without their work sickness and death reigns.

Now, in gratitude, we stand and applaud our health care workers, including bosses and politicians who want a pay freeze inflicted on them.

And rightly so. Their “brain and muscle” cares for us despite attacks by governments, just like Morrison’s; not just pay freezes but the full range of neoliberal management … budget cuts, staff cuts, casualised and precarious work, commandist management, corporatisation, and privatisation (in which human caring becomes a commodity).

But so far, workers in food and water production and supply are relatively unrecognised. They are the direct farmers, harvesters, equipment maintainers and repairers, energy suppliers, transport workers, factory workers, warehouse and dam workers, and retail workers, especially check out assistants. Transport and retail workers in this “chain” do get a mention here, but not those actually producing.

They deliver both profit and wages and, elementally, the food and water that gives us all, including health care workers, the physical and mental energy to do our paid and unpaid work.

And that’s true for every one of us. We cannot protest and demonstrate, think and act critically or creatively, without the labour of food and water workers.

The starting point for food is of course the soil and its interaction with water. Who owns and controls the soil-water interaction is a very big deal for all of us. (I leave our oceans aside for the moment.)

Turning our back on food workers?

In Australia a big part of this essential food and water work is done by visa workers, often in “wage theft” driven businesses.

What they do is every bit as honourable and brave as any health care worker. They deserve our recognition. Yet the Morrison government deliberately excludes them from the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.

The government spin is that it must “draw the line somewhere”. Some workers who produce and distribute food and water to us are deserving, some are not.

Why? Because the government believes they can get away with it. Thus, they invite us to consent to that … that some workers are deserving and some are not.

We must not fall for that. Instead, think about it when we shop for our fruit and veg and so on. We must not agree that some food supply workers do not deserve our recognition and respect.

The ACTU has not fallen for that. They still work for excluded casual workers and visa workers to be brought into the scheme.

And there is another reason why we should escalate our respect for all food and water supply workers.

What brought the virus into human contact – the really big question?

It is almost certain, the science so far tells us, that the virus leapt from bats to food workers, and was probably a species of bat with very rare or no previous dangerous contact with humans. Otherwise it would have struck and spread earlier.

The particular location is almost certainly the Wuhan wet markets in China, so-called. (See here, and for further discussion, also here.)

Yes, so far everything points to food production workers being the first humans exposed. If so, we can be certain that that they did not choose to be exposed. And then the chain of human transmission formed and grew exponentially in the way that most of us now understand.

The really big question is this. What is the root cause of the pandemic?

In what ways has food production changed so that, for the first time, the virus leapt from animals in the first place? What had changed in food production that triggered the leap?

Discussing this question is critical. Here is one reason why.

Understanding “root cause” is essential

This past week we have been introduced slowly and carefully to the idea that there may not ever be a vaccine for the virus. Scientists have known this possibility for a long time.

If there is not the possibility of a short term, say 12 months, vaccine that works, the profit-seeking system, and our own social instincts, will push a return to work before a vaccination is available. At the very least, that means hundreds of thousands may remain exposed to the illness, serious sickness and possible death.

And that leaves in place the prospect of another virus appearing with similar potency against humans.

Surely “we” must demand a focus on the root cause and deal with that. The word is “prevent”: prevent new, exotic killer viruses.

And, what happens if a vaccination is found for this virus and, the “new” food production methods continue, not investigated and not dealt with? There will be a new virus.

The “root cause” question is generally neglected across main stream discussion , except for an article here and there that sort of sidles up to the issue and then wanders away. (For example, here.)

Nevertheless, serious “root cause” discussion is going on, and it is all about the link between viruses and food production, and who owns and controls food production. We are fortunate this is the case; there are critical thinking epidemiologists and activists in other fields articulating a deeper investigation into cause and effect.

Understanding “root cause” is actually dangerous knowledge. Not for the 90 percent of the population and within them food and water supply workers. Rather, dangerous for the ten per cent who profit from food production methods that enable new destructive virus – human interactions.

A Workers’ Alternative Programme

In Australia, the United Workers Union (UWU, through its National Secretary, Tim Kennedy), has published for discussion a pithy Workers Programme that advances the perspective of the 90%, the majority of the population.

This is such a positive development in the Australian situation. It is the starting point to challenge the government’s desire to “snap back” or “stagger back” to the normalcy that existed before the pandemic. That normalcy included the drift to a recession that would give us around 9% unemployment sometime between June and December.

There is so much that is positive in the UWU proposal. It can help us work out what there is that the government has done that we want to polish up and keep, for example the doubling of the JobSeeker rate. There are other bits that the government might like to keep – subsidies that enable shareholder and owner protection and stricter controls over public association – that we must vigorously resist.

Correctly, the UWU proposal links climate change transition to new jobs creation and the possibilities for renewed manufacturing under democratic public ownership.

However, the UWU proposal is inadequate in some areas. It is silent on “closing the gap” for our First Nations peoples, in my view the most urgent of programmes to tackle rising inequality. It falls short on corporate tax reform and democratic control of financial flows (ie banks, private investors and the stock exchange).

There is a pre-history to the UWU proposal in our union movement. In 1978 the AMWU closed the pages of its famous “Australia Uprooted” with a Peoples Economic Programme.

Readers of this post can help create popular momentum for the UWU proposal and its improvement. It is the seed for the birth of a movement that we need and is possible. Silo campaigning will be a failure.

Every worker is talking with their workmates, their families and friends about their grievances with the present situation. Many of them want to have a go in their own good time. Many know already that they will have to fight for their interests as soon as the conditions allow. Their instincts know that this government and their own bosses cannot be trusted with SnapBack.

The UWU programme can harness those justified grievances towards a more powerful movement.

Urgency

From now through to the next 6 months will be decisive and shape the possibilities for the majority for the next 6 years or so. The absence of a peoples mobilisation behind a polished Workers Programme will load up heavy austerity into the lives of the 90 per cent for the next 6 years or more.

We are all members of organisations. We can encourage them, from below, to seek meetings and dialogue with the UWU to improve on, and put spit and polish into the proposal. We can seek to combine all organisations, including for example the Anti-Poverty Network, into an improved version that appeals to all parts of the Australian working class, the 90%, and shows due respect to workers in food and water supply. There are at least 3 other unions with a strong presence in food manufacturing. They must be involved.

We can start preparing for that moment when we can pursue our demands in public debate, physical delegations, in work go-slows, mass meetings, and coordinated , UNITING public demonstrations and other forms of action used in our past and still to be designed by our collective creativity. To get what we all need: a healthy, fair and democratic society, living and working to create the renewal of the natural world on which we all depend.

And still we rise!

This morning I awoke with mind racing far earlier than is good for me. The “thinking” led pretty quickly to two Facebook posts, “self-opiniated” prick that I am.

Both of them reflected, in two different ways on the Morrison LNP government’s third stimulus package that is dominated by the $130billion of wage subsidies. First, who pays for it? And the second: why did it happen?

Who will pay for it?

There is a bigger answer to this question than the one that follows, as valid as it is. But what motivated the question is that decades of neoliberal messaging have said that we can’t afford such things, it just is not affordable. It takes a pandemic, not inequality or climate change to show that it can be.

$130 billion to employers for a portion of workers wages is a lot of money, right?

Nope. $550 billion is a lot more … bit more than 4 times more, right?

That’s the value of tax avoided by Australia’s biggest corporations (foreign and domestic) in 2017-18. So said the Australian Tax Office Report in its report on tax in for the 2017-18 financial year, the most recent.

Protected by Morrison, the Fraudenberg and Cormann (he goes back to the fat cigars with Hockey to self-congratulate on an austerity budget that hit the majority).

Don’t be fooled: Morrison and co have been dragged kicking and screaming to this third stimulus. They resent it deeply.

But still “we” rise!

The second Facebook post discussed, briefly, why it happened. This is what I suggested.

Last Friday the government was opposing wage subsidies. Vehemently.

What changed that? We did, coordinated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and it’s member unions.

The “We” are union members and potential members #joinyourunion .

Those of us stuck at work because we are essential and those of us stuck at home, “working”, sacked or “stood down”. “We” as part of the majority have acted for the majority.

For all of their power, those who gamble billions and more on the stock exchange, have done nothing at all to deal with the pandemic and made no contribution to winning a better wages deal for the majority. Those who prefer the safe haven of private ownership of their corporations insult us with their charity that is way below the value of the tax they should be paying. They are socially useless, and their self-centred individualism tries to deny the individuality of the majority.

But still “we” rise.

That’s why the employers and the government want to take our power away in their “Ensuring Integrity Bill” and their review of The Fair Work Act 2009.

We, the majority, are forced to concede our democratic rights to assemble, to be what we are – social – because of a virus that rises from deep in the bowels of capitalist exploitation.

We have defied them and we will defy them to repair the holes in their package and we can defy them at the Annual Wage Review.

And, if the government, driven by the most powerful business interests, seek to deny our democratic rights to be social and assemble we will confront them and defy them again.

Because we know that, under their dominance and control, this world is a disaster happening, and we know we can create a better one.

I add that yesterday’s post discussed an example of a transition programme towards that world. Transition programmes are the focal point of organizing by people like us, the “we” in other countries who are thinking just like we, here in Australia are starting to think that complaining and piecemeal demands are necessary but not enough. A transition programme is about “we” the majority taking things into our hands, including in creative ways that have not been thought of yet, dovetailing with old ideas that still make a lot of common sense.

And in the weeks ahead? We rise to win the 4% increase for minimum wage workers. Struggling now for a better deal “on the other side”?

#joinyourunion #abetterworldisnecessary

Mainstream journo talks Plan B for tackling climate change

Morrison’s fake “evolve” can be challenged

In today’s Guardian (Australian Edition), Lenore Taylor presents another strong summary of where we the majority sit with the role of government in slowing and reversing climate change. Again she is clear and coherent.

On this occasion she assumes what most of us who are paying attention already know … that Morrison’s blather about how is government’s policies may “evolve” is more about diversion, conning and alibi building for continuing to do know where near what is necessary and possible. (I am not convinced that this has reached the majority, although for real change to occur a majority is not always necessary.)

Therefore Ms Taylor speculates, too briefly, on a plan B. In brief, her Plan B amounts to state government collaboration in spite of the Commonwealth, and billionaire initiatives.

Obviously, this where she is disappointing and may just have been looking at the wrong responses.

The potential of worker and community organizations, existing and new

Just a couple of months ago a group of union leaders, meeting on the South Coast, talked about a plan B that would be driven by workers and their organisations, including but not just unions. They were riffing off the push from unions in a number of countries for, and implementation of, a “just transition”. “Just Transition” was tragically absent for worker’s in central Queensland at the time of the May elections, and also since. Regional mainstream media gave this about one day of coverage.

I commented on this at the time and elaborated on some ideas, drawn from a range of sources, actions and discussions, and called that Plan B triple A plus.

Workers and their communities can govern and implement recovery and just transition

The role of workers and their communities in stitching together bushfire recovery, urgent and future adaptation to extreme heat and bushfires, and rapid regional industry job creation and nature’s restoration where renewables replace fossil dependency, is lost in mainstream media. We should be surprised and there is little point in whinging about it.

However, communities and workplaces are not just courageous and resilient. Also, they are loaded with mutuality, knowledge, skills and determination to – a potential capacity – take charge of recovery and justice transition. Thus,”Just Transition” becomes “Democratic Just Transition”, that can also meet the immediacy if recovery.

Further, paying respect to this untapped workers and community intelligence will do wonders for the severe mental health problems that will surely flow in bushfire destroyed communities.

The role of government here is to facilitate and fund such initiatives, not dominate them. Government is the enabler.

The role of unions is to work out what that means for their employed organizers and their delegates in the workplaces. And then to develop plans of intervention and attack that give strength to the communities in which their members live.