Impending crisis, the broken rules of the system v the 90%

Here, Michael Roberts gives a good overview of the global picture regarding new levels of instability in the economic system. Instability is an intrinsic feature of the capitalists system we live in.

He starts as follows:

The US stock market turned volatile this week and has now erased all the gains made up to now in 2018 in just a week or so.  So much for Trump’s boast that things for rich investors have never been better.  The fall in the US market has been matched by similar drops in the European and Asian stock markets.  The all-world index has had its worst performance since the Euro debt crisis of 2012.

— Read on thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/correction/

What does it mean for Australia?

Australia is affected, and the impact will sharpen in the months ahead as the national election gets closer.

Living in denial is dangerous. Governing in denial is destructive. Campaigning in denial is not very smart.

That does not mean giving up. It does means re-thinking the campaigns we are active in and how we join in them, and bringing others with us. Many of our demands will be just as valid. We will have to be tougher and more united in defending and winning them.

Living … in brief

Among other things, profits and profitability will fall. There will be bankruptcies. If you are a small business employer that possibility is very sharp. If you are a worker with a job, the likelihood that you will lose it or be pressured to take a big cut in wages will escalate. If you are a worker without a job there will be downward pressure on your social welfare entitlements. Just surviving will be tougher and we will have to resist a louder call to blame it on refugees and migrant workers. It will infect our thinking and our social solidarity instincts or, it will make them stronger.

Governing … in brief

The LNP government is preparing to leave the next economic crisis to the market. Deciding to do that takes about 5 minutes and means the government is not in control.

In the meantime, they will seek to get re-elected on the basis of “their record”: current growth numbers, reduced unemployment, and very low strike figures.

Growth as GDP is barely adequate.

Unemployment has fallen. They say, for example Kelly O’Dwyer (the rather shrill and vacuous Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations), that unemployment is at 5%. She is using the volatile nominal figures not the more reliable “trend” figures that say it’s a bit higher. I haven’t seen an interview with her that deals with that.

She also does not talk about underemployment. That is now rising and more entrenched.

Campaigning … brief, but not so brief

On climate change …

Apart from the big and growing campaigns against the Adani mega coal mine there remains no coordinated national campaign. There is rich potential for this in the dozens of small initiatives and mini campaigns.

A thousand flowers blooming, each one in its own paddock, will not be good enough to win the battle to reverse climate change.

On workers rights and Changing the Rules …

The union movement’s campaign to “Change the Rules” (CtR) that seeks more power in the hands of workers to reverse inequality and poverty will be affected by instability and new crisis.

We must factor impending crisis into our strategy. Not to do so would be negligent.

Electoral intervention will not be enough.

This is true for those who want the campaign to be focussed almost entirely on getting a new Labor government. That is, an electoral strategy that focuses on the marginal seats that the Labor Party must win.

If the crisis hits not long after such a government, as it did in 2008-9, that new government – on historical form – will seek that we retreat from our most important demands. They will join with the employers, albeit with some reforms to make retreat “excusable”. Recent and longer history says that the dominant (these days) laborist tendency in our union movement will go along with that.

Compliant industrial strategy will not be enough

The CtR’s current industrial strategy is to comply with the rules (even though a percentage who attended last week’s rallies did not do that) and then whinge about them through social media and national union leader media appearances.

This is a dead end strategy because it leaves both union and non union workers fully exposed to the bankruptcies and wage cut demands that go with economic crisis.

The champions of the dead end approach are also champions of rules that restore arbitration powers to the Fair Work Commission and inspectorial and prosecuting powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman. They oppose a comprehensive “right to strike” that puts power into the hands of workers, union and non union alike.

A prospective new Labor government relies on the “dead end” champions as it prepares to win the election with the focus on the ALP National Conference in December.

A defiant strategy: electoral and industrial action before and after the national election

For those who want an strong, interventionist industrial strategy for CtR that interacts with the electoral strategy and also escalates the priority on the “right to strike”, the impending economic and climate crisis is also a big deal.

If we are “fair dinkum”, the need to change the rules by defying them – a big part of Australian history – will rise.

There is a serious option: a minimum wage increase

The National Minimum Wage Review starts soon. The Fair Work Commission will announce a timetable at any time in the next few weeks. The Review process will then start and traverse through to June 2019. This is the period leading up to and probably just after the national election.

In the next few weeks, the ACTU will prepare and present a proposal for a minimum pay increase by taking all minimum wages – the statutory and award based minimums closer to a “living wage”.

Lets start discussing that proposal now even, if necessary, before it is formalised.

Lets build an industrial campaign, reinforced by our efforts in the key electorates, that puts pressure on employer organisations, the government and the Commission to accept that proposal.

Otherwise they will dominate the public debate with the economic c risks logic of 0% increase.

All methods and tactics of campaigning can be harnessed into such a campaign.

It can be designed to appeal to all of those workers who are not in unions but who try to live on the minimum wage and those whose thieving employers pay below the minimum.

The 90% in charge

The modest efforts that the Rudd Labor government produced in 2008-9 to deal with the economic crash back then will be inadequate. They complied with the financial management rules of the day. But we know the rules of the finance system are stacked for the 1-10%, even more today. They must not be allowed to dominate “governing” as the crisis strikes and takes effect. Unless the 90 % take charge, the 90%, and the natural world we are dependent on, will suffer horrendously.

But we also have the rich working class potential to develop and win an alternative.

Understanding its reality is the first activist step towards preparing for the next economic crisis

Global economy is facing a ‘perfect storm’

BIS fears that increasing protectionism could reverse decades of progress.
http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/global-economy-is-facing-a-perfect-storm-warns-bis-chief-20180827-p4zzzq.html?btis

You don’t have to agree with or understand all of the stuff in this summary of what one of the major architects of “our” twenty first century capitalism is saying, except that another economic crisis is just around the corner. It will dovetail with the destruction of more climate change.

Among the experts I understand the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is the international bank of banks.

The crisis they expect will have very serious consequences for any Australian government, the Change the Rules campaign, and all Australians. It will reach into every nook and cranny of all communities of the world.

Every single democratic and social justice campaign will also be affected. All will have to work out on whose side they will stand.

Will corporations and governments be permitted so much control over the handling of the crisis that the recovery that might follow is for them only?

Will campaigns like “Change the Rules” concede major demands that give more control to workers to win the even tougher struggles that the crisis will bring? Or, will it allow new control in the hands of institutions like the Fair Work Commission to resolve conflict through “consensus” and “even handedness” and “fairness”?

This is union activist business and part of their business is to make sure, even when union and political leaders are sluggish about it, that the problem is discussed among members and potential members.

Of course this should include discussions with a prospective Labor government and the Greens – including at the local level – that drive towards a government that enables much more power in the hands of workers to deal with the destructive effects of the crisis on their lives.

Understanding the reality of another crisis enables the possibilities of a different resolution to last time, a resolution that enabled continued destruction of the environment and more inequality … and an even more destructive next crisis.

The challenge for all genuinely democratic forces is how to transfer power into the hands of the majority and to therefore break the cycle.

This means the development and popular spread of an alternative programme of change for the majority – economic, political and environmental. Much of the content of this programme already exists in the mainly separated demands of the thousands of organisations that are struggling in so many different, and mainly separate ways, against the pressures on their lives, including our precious environment.

Australians could well look towards the largely coherent programme of the Corbyn forces in the British Labour Party for an example of what is meant. And examples exist in our own history. Both the ALP and the Greens have some good material in parts of their programmes. But both end up wanting to maintain the system that causes the big problems for the majority.

Some thoughts on “the right to strike” and the Change the Rules Campaign – Part 2

The “right to strike” versus employer opposition and Laborist naivete

The “right to strike” is one of two (see below) demands that would change the “balance of power” towards working people in a “fair dinkum” way.

The FWA09 restricts workers’ right to strike so severely it is almost meaningless against an array of powers provided to employers to control grievances, disputes of all kinds, industrial award changes, and enterprise bargaining. In effect, the FWA09 denies the “right to strike”.

The right to strike is the countervailing power to the employers’ unrestricted right to withdraw their capital or to transform its use from productive activity to non-productive forms of profiteering, or to re-locate it in another country.

In struggling for a genuine “right to strike” the labour movement is seeking to change a law that a Labor government established in 2009, and that its union leaders consented to. At that time, most activists in that great struggle went to sleep, believing that what Labor was delivering was adequate. Those who did try to explain the serious shortfalls of FWA09 were criticised (not “team players”) and marginalized. That minority have now been proven to be correct.

There is a lot of other detail, also quite important, that will be contested terrain in the months ahead but also perhaps more amenable to agreement. For example, in enterprise bargaining FWA09 empowers employers to use just a few workers (who may not even work under the proposed agreement) to create an enterprise agreement that will cover many other workers who do work under the Agreement. Such enterprise agreements reduce wages, conditions and rights against previously established standards. Also, agreement might be reached to restrict or prevent employers from taking on workers as “self-employed”, individualized workers to drive down wages and conditions.

Laborist discomfort with the “right to strike”: tensions to emerge

Again today, not everyone is comfortable about changing the rules to enable an unrestricted “right to strike”. Some, especially in the parliamentary wing of the ALP  will argue that this change will harm the ALP’s election prospects. They also have some supporters in the leadership of the union movement, at both peak and mid-levels.

Generally speaking, they are comfortable with a minimalist programme of change to the FWA09, one that does not upset the employers or the voting public too much. They believe that the antagonisms between workers and their unions on the one hand, and employers on the other, are not fundamental or severe and can be managed with minimal conflict.

Instead, the minimalists prioritize more power to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to arbitrate disputes, some modest rights for unions to access workplaces and create disputes for arbitration, and tougher limits on employers using their “lock out” and “termination of agreement” powers in enterprise bargaining.

It should be noted and discussed that the recent and important ACTU pamphlet, “The system is broken- Big Business has too much power”, does not mention the “right to strike” issue in “changing the rules”.[1] Restoring stronger arbitration power to the Fair Work Commission does not give more power to workers.

Usually, the advocates of minimalist and technocratic change, will invoke “pragmatism” as the logic for this approach.

But really, their “pragmatism” is the height of “naïve idealism” because it leaves fundamental employer power intact and assumes that employers will not take advantage of that, and that workers’ power is not necessary for the FWC to treat workers fairly. The minimalist approach assumes that workers themselves cannot exercise their power democratically and effectively, and therefore cannot give their unions more power.

In the real world, a more fundamental reform programme is necessary. Fundamental reform enables a more decisive shift in the balance of power towards workers and their unions at both workplace and industry levels.

The unfettered right to strike is the most important element of reform, including in Award based bargaining (see below).

Direct strike power to workers enables workers, including through their unions, to do what unions were originally formed to do: limit and prevent the employers’ use of the competition threat to freeze and drive down wages, conditions and rights. It gives effect to the democratic idea that workers themselves, in their unions or in other types of combination, should be enabled to exercise their potential power against the powers of the employers. Thus, workers themselves are more in charge of their present and future.

Also, it brings Australia into real alignment with agreed ILO minimum standards on workers’ rights to organise and bargaining collectively.[2]

Bargaining rights: enterprise bargaining, “supply chain bargaining” and Award bargaining

In some union discussions “supply chain bargaining” appears to be the multi -employer bargaining that is quite popular. As one form of “multi-employer” bargaining it is not objectionable, provided its serious limits are not ignored or glossed over.

In a “supply chain” the focus is on a group of employers who are in “cooperation” with each other to deliver a product or a service to its ultimate customer. However, first there is usually one employer who is the main controller of everything else in the chain. Also, each employer link in the chain is likely to be in competition with an employer who is not in the chain. The competitor not in the supply chain might like to be and can offer lower wage costs as the competitive edge to get into it.  Or, the competitor might be in a competitive supply chain able to deliver the same or a similar product to a similar or the same type of customer at a lower wages standard.

Therefore, there are real limits on how “supply chain bargaining” deals with the problem of the downward pressure on wages etc that is created by uncontrolled competition between employers in the same industry or type of business, nor how it deals with the 21st century reality of global supply chains.

On the other hand, the enabling of a new form of Award based bargaining (that includes a “right to strike”) is a big step toward limiting, maybe preventing in some circumstances, the employers’ competition power.  How changes to Awards are processed these days is a big part of the broken rules of the FWA09.

Every effort should be made to bring together experienced and new worker activists to discuss how to advance the fundamental and comprehensive approach. Those in the parliamentary Labor Party and unions who seek, as they have before, to dilute proposals to establish a legal “right to strike”, can be challenged and pushed back.

Other significant factors that shape this struggle for genuine and fundamental strengthening of workers’ powers

There are other factors that do influence how this struggle might evolve in the months and years ahead. One of them is the rapid change in the composition of the workforce. There is also union density currently running at about 12-14% overall. This has to be taken into account in developing programme, priorities, strategy and tactics, and shape how the “the right to strike” can be achieved. Just calling for the “right to strike” in the most militant manner possible will simply not be adequate for the situation we face. And, there is the timing of the national election.

Sally McManus (ACTU Secretary), and other union leaders who have stressed the continuation of the campaign after the next election, are correct to do so. If the Labor Party wins, including with Greens support, a continued campaign will require a clear and determined strategy very different to the collapse of the Your Rights at Work campaign over 2007-9. It will not be adequate to declare, as in 2009, that there is “unfinished business” and then do nothing about it.

The labour movement’s strategy must aim to bring 21st century workers into the experience of struggle, with a new foundation in which they discover directly in their own workplaces and across their industries and regions, the great untapped and democratic potential of their power in combination. The workers themselves, including through their union membership, reveal the power of any appeal to “join their union”.

[1] The “right to strike” issue is put forward in the more comprehensive ACTU Campaign Kit at pp 34-35: here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/actuonline/pages/814/attachments/original/1521588484/ctr_campaignkit2018_digital.pdf?1521588484

[2] Andrew Stewart provides a summary of the issues at stake re the ILO standards here: http://communitywebs.org/labourhistory/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Right-to-strike.pdf

The Annual Wage Review 2017-18: From Marriage Equality to “Economic Inequality”.

By Don Sutherland (March 16th, 2018)

The Annual Wage Review:  update

This week the Annual Wage Review (AWR18) run by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that sets new minimum rates of pay moved to a new stage. March 13th was deadline day for submissions from “interested parties”. These include employer organizations, governments, and, for workers, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

And, the ACTU launched its 6 week advertising campaign to highlight general and some specific aspects of the “broken rules” of Australia’s Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA09). (Click here.)

Critically, this advertising campaign will lead into days of workers’ action being planned for May.

We also learned that the unregulated salaries of the Chief Executive Officers of Australia’s top 100 corporations pushed on average well above $5 million per year. (page 12.) These characters are not required to apply for a pay increase to the FWC.

Many of them supervise the attacks on the pay and conditions of their own workforce, using the “broken rules” of the FWA09, and their company’s strategy to pay little or no tax, using the “broken rules” of the tax system.

Between now and April 9th the parties can study the submissions of all of the other parties, and any new economic data, and by April 9 present counter submissions. (For more on the AWR process click here.)

Its all very polite and loved so much by those in “the IR club”. The process is designed to exclude the workers who are most affected by it from exerting any real influence. That is, unless they or a good part of them decide to defy the process.

The claims: what we now know

The submissions have now been posted to the FWC web page (click here) that provides the detail of the progress of the Review. There is a good summary of the main claims here. (Also, Caroline Pryor and I on “Workers Radio” . Radio Skid Row, discussed the claims today: click here.)

The ACTU claim is to lift the minimum rate of pay by $50 per week. This is a 7.2% increase for low paid workers. Make no mistake, there is no one else going in to bat for them like the Australian union movement.

This is a claim made for all workers, not just those who are union members. If you are not a member its time to join. If you know someone who is not a member its time to have a serious talk with them. You can help them join directly at this ACTU page: click here.

For the employers, arguably the most influential employer organization, the Australian Industry Group, wants a paltry $12 per week increase on the minimum rate and $14.60 for the lowest award rates. That’s a 1.8% increase, which is less a than the current inflation rate. In other words, a pay cut. No surprise there.

One of the retail employer organizations wants a zero increase. The other concedes a 1.9% increase, as does the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The federal government and the ALP did not propose any specific increase but their proposals were quite different.

The Federal government wants the smallest possible increase and argues that really wages should only increase naturally, that is, their genuflection to the “trickle-down effect”.

The ALP, in opposition, with its nose to the federal election breeze as you would expect, endorses a decent increase but one which is “economically responsible”. If the Commission grants $15 per week as “economically responsible” would the ALP accept that? What would their members say? (The Greens and One Nation have not made submissions or proposals. They both should be challenged on that.)

The arguments against the ACTU’s claim

The union activist army must grow in number and also lift their ability to defeat the employers’ propaganda against the ACTU claim.

So far, in the public arena, these are general “arguments”, and say that the claim is 4 times the inflation rate; will destroy jobs; and harm low paid workers.

These will be sharpened and added to in the weeks ahead. Murdoch’s media will be the prime vehicle to spin them.

They will have to be addressed by the union army of activists in their day to communications with workers, including those who are not yet unionised but who can be attracted to the struggle. The ACTU Submission does deal with each of them. And there is also this: click here.

How can low paid workers win? Business as usual or a defiant mobilization? Or leave it to Bill Shorten’s ALP as a new government?

We need a new strategy based on defiance and mobilization. This cannot be a once off, one year exercise. This year’s mobilization, if there is to be one, must pave the way for 2019.

The ACTU itself says that this year’s claim is step 1 towards the creation of a “Living Wage” as the new minimum pay rate. The aim is to establish a minimum rate about 2/3 of the national minimum wage. That would mean about an $80 per week increase this year. Clearly, this year’s strategy must be run as a platform for a more determined and bigger effort next year, no matter who is in government.

From the past 20 years of experience we know that the “obedient” strategy that abides by “the broken rules” is a failure. And, the AWR process in the FWA09 is one of the most broken parts of it. (See sections 134 and 285.) On equal pay the FWC has interpreted the “broken rules” such that important direct arguments on why and how to narrow the notorious gender gap on wages are rejected. (See the ACTU Submission here.)

This strategy is built around polite and strongly researched submissions (still important), orderly advocacy, a few “real” low paid workers as supplicant witnesses (a bit like Dickens’ Oliver Twist asking for more), on line petitions, a dose of social media outrage, and sometimes small scale symbolic protests.

In effect this past strategy concedes to poverty and inequality. On its own IT DOES NOT WORK. It is for dreamers only, those who love court processes, economic “debate”, and custom and practice. Such dreamers could listen to this: “The Basic Wage Dream”.  (It’s an old song with a 21st century meaning. There is a reference to “Nugget” Coombes. He was the governor of the Reserve Bank at the time.)

We all know that enterprise bargaining is falling apart both for workers who have such Agreements and for those who don’t. It is no longer a serious strategic option for any  workers, let alone for the 21st century working class.

The sparkling leadership and campaigning savvy of ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus will not alone win this claim for low paid workers.

McManus needs a much stronger movement along with her than we are currently seeing.

The core spirit of that movement must be the “defiance” that she started talking about just on a year ago in that first memorable interview on “The 7.30 Report”. She has often emphasized it since as the union outlook that has achieved all of the great gains for workers in the past.

It’s time to shift “defiance” from a word with emotional cache to a real mobilization.

Can the Australian union activist “army” deliver real defiance that attracts the low paid and their allies and strike a hard blow against inequality?

Last year the Australian union movement played a highly visible and leading role in the successful campaign for marriage equality. We saw the vibrant energy and campaigning skills of the cohort of union organisers and active delegates and members who have become active in recent years.

It confirmed their very strong grasp of discrimination politics, the meaning and manifold impact of discrimination, and a very clear reminder that the working class includes a significant cohort of gay, lesbian and trans workers, who have vital relationships with “straight” workers as mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends and so on.

This campaign strengthened gay workers, educated “straight” workers, neutralized opposition to and prejudice against gay workers, and found collective public actions that all parts of the working class could connect to.

The middle level, newly emerging union leaders – officials, organizers, communications officers, job delegates, active members – showed in that fight against a particular form of discrimination what they are capable of.

Can they reproduce that real potential in a wages campaign? Can the mid level activist “army” get as outraged by the increasing rate of exploitation?

At the moment there is no real sign that they can.

As strong as this part of our movement are on “discrimination politics” they are somewhat weak on “exploitation”, and not showing any sign yet of the same levels of movement wide clarity and energy as last year’s anti discrimination campaign.

The next 6 weeks leading to May is a chance to start changing that.

Because that’s how we build the pressure from below that is needed to win a much better result in this year’s wage claim, much closer to the ACTU’s claim that has ever before been achieved. Luke Hilikari, Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, gets close to the point here.

Such a mobilization is what is needed for the millions of workers who are dependent on the AWR for their wage increase. These include those who are paid at the minimum rate, those who are underpaid by employers who thieve their wages from them (a business model in 21st century Australian capitalism) and those who are paid a little bit (bit not too much) above the minimum rate, but not enterprise agreement rates that tend to be much higher.

If you wish to use your own initiative to learn more about the formal process, and also see the submissions as they are posted, you can start here: https://www.fwc.gov.au/awards-agreements/minimum-wages-conditions/annual-wage-reviews/annual-wage-review-2017-18 .

https://soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row/don-sutherland-discusses-wage-theft-reports-1-december-2017.

Here On “Workers Radio”, Caroline and I discuss the latest reports of wage theft and hyper exploitation of aboriginal workers in remote Australia and meat workers in northern NSW. WE ALSO START A SERIES OF DISCUSSIONS ABOUT WAGES SUPPRESSION IN AUSTRALIA, INCLUDING NOT JUST WHATS HAPPENING BUT WHY. This discussion will continue over the coming weeks and will connect to the ACTU’s Living Wage Claim to be heard as part of the National Wage Review as it continues in 2018. Please discuss and share. Also send comments, questions and information to workersradio2017@gmail.com .

“The Greeks are NOT lazy.” Fighting Austerity for REAL is complex

THere is a lot more to fighting against Austerity than slogans, demands and even a humanistic programme for the people. This is one important lesson from SYRIZA’s negotiations with the representatives of European finance capital. In this case, it means complex negotiations. Solidarity with the Greek people and with SYRIZA must also include an unrelenting determination to fight the propaganda that financial capital and their aides in governments like that of Germany and France promote to justify austerity against the majority.
Michael Roberts’ – in this article – refutes the German promoted myth that the Greeks are lazy, and therefore deserve austerity. He povides basic information to back up these statements:
“Greeks work more hours in a year than any other country in Europe – and more than even the Americans or Brits! And surprisingly, it is the Germans who are the ‘laziest’, if measured by hours worked.” And …
“Although Greek economy-wide productivity started from a low base when the country joined the Eurozone in 1999, growth in labour productivity since then has been faster than the strong capitalist economies of Germany or France, up 25% compared to just 10% in Germany.”
… and a few other choice facts that make solidarity with the Greek people and SYRIZA essential. https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/troika-grexit-or-plan-b/

Tsipras: the reverse shock doctrine

I think this helps to understand what SYRIZA is trying to do. It must continue to build its base in Greece and extend that beyond to other countries in a similar situation: suffering from the diktat of the Troika imposed neoliberal destruction of communities and societies. Their strategy appears to include NOT doing what the real enemy in the institutions of neoliberal capitalism either expect or want.