The “logic” of Morrison’s LNP new old-fashioned attack on workers’ rights

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a new LNP government would go after workers and union rights after winning an election. There has not been an LNP government that has not done that or regulatory bodies that have not fallen into line.

It’s in their DNA and in a perverse sense there is a logic to it that contains a profound truth. It is worth noting, based on that report, how strategically thoughtful Morrison appears to be on behalf of his base in the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, and the Australian Mines and Minerals Association. He is a formidable warrior for his class.

The logic

The logic is that falling profitability, and with that falling investment, can only be reversed by cutting the total wages share. In our times, that means also getting their hands more firmly on the superannuation share of that. In a capitalist society that’s how it really works. It is naive and idealistic to see it any other way. And denialist.

Which is not to say that there is not a genuine workers’ alternative to the capitalist class formula.

The profound truth

The profound truth that lies behind that logic is that all new wealth and its further accumulation depends upon workers’ labour (no matter the mix of intellect and muscle) and the gifts from the natural world, as well as the day by day reproduction of the society itself. Here is an immediate example.

Of course workers do not own that part of the natural world they work upon. That has been appropriated by employers for free or at the lowest value possible. Inherited wealth originates in workers’ labour and its work upon the natural world. Investment dollars are the same. And taxes paid, no matter how much and by whom, although the social wage outcome (see below) might reduce the rate of exploitation. And so is the trading and inflating of dollars by the bludgers in the financial system. And so on.

As the old song, “Solidarity Forever” – the late Hawkie’s favourite song apparently, although on several occasions I never heard him sing it without forgetting the words – says:

“They have taken untold millions they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.”

This is not a mawkish, sentimental lament. Rather, It’s the poetry (not all poetry is sweet) of 21 st century exploitation and thus the core rationale for the common sense of unionism. As much as in any previous capitalism.

The acolytes to the logic

It should also not be a surprise to see that the Australian Financial Review is and will be promoting workplace and industrial relations “reform”. Nor that they will be joined by most economic commentators to some degree or another. That’s because they are with the system. They believe in it.

And that’s why the parliamentary ALP will entertain the reforms – both industrial relations and tax – and agree to some of it.

It reflects the percipient observations but rather sad conclusions of Robert Reich, the yankee labour economist much admired in the ALP, including some in its left. The poor bloke doesn’t understand (or wilfully denies) that the more benign capitalism he wants actually creates the extreme capitalism he doesn’t want.

Now it is reported that the laborists in the parliamentary ALP will in effect accept the LNP’s tax cuts. That leaves begging a simple question that they hope will not get elevated.

Is the social wage important to the broad labour movement?

What will this do to the social wage? The social wage is the return to workers, especially those who for various reasons are not in regular or full time employment or who are dependent on public health and public education and public transport, out of the relationship between tax and government (public spending).

Making the social wage a part of working class and union business originated out of the union movement left in the late 1970’s, smack bang in the middle of the right wing Fraser LNP government ascendancy, and coinciding with that government’s introduction an industrial relations police force.

Why is the laborist ALP not talking about this? This gift to the LNP will punish a significant part of the working class.

What the general membership of the ALP make of and do about the parliamentary ALP’s actions in their name is an important question. “Trust our parliamentarians” is an important, although sometimes fragile, part of their belief system also. Watch out for more on this in a separate post.

Meanwhile, in the face of at least 12 months of denialism, in various forms and across the spectrum, the economy is marching steadily into recession. And monetarism (Reserve Bank leadership), as embraced by both major parties, says that it does not have the answer. This demands a workers’ alternative.

A delicate moment | Michael Roberts Blog … this is actually a big deal for the Australian election and its aftermath

IMF chief economist, Gita Gopinath reckoned the global economy had entered “a delicate moment”. She offered a decisive insight: “If the downside risks do not materialize and the policy support put in place is effective, global growth should rebound. If, however, any of the major risks materialize, then the expected recoveries in stressed economies, export-dependent economies, and highly-indebted economies may be derailed.” So, on the one hand or on the other….

Alongside the IMF view, the private Brookings Institution delivered its view on the global economy, concluding from its tracking index of economic activity that the world had entered a “synchronised slowdown” which may be difficult to reverse.  
— Read on

Note the reference to “export – dependent economies”. That’s Australia.

Given Morrison’s focus on the economic credentials, whatever they are, of an LNP government, the contest will include a battle over how to define responsibility for the downturn, even before it happens!

Under 3 different leaders the LNP neoliberal government, driven by its quasi religious faith in trickle down economics, a faith that defies the real world experience of 90% of Australians, must show that their economics for corporations and their system has not contributed to any downturn and is the best recipe for dealing with the next one.

The ALP, and also the Greens, will face the challenge of acknowledging that a downturn will probably happen soon, that is in the next term of the next government that they hope to form. The ALP wants this to happen on a stand alone basis but the electorate may not permit that. Hence, it’s a problem for the Greens also.

Labor might want to claim that the way it handled the last one, actually acknowledged as a crisis internationally, kept Australia out of recession. But, so far, Labor’s right wing controllers of economic policy don’t seem confident with that sort of quite mild Keynesianism. Fixed as they are in a laborist neoliberalism re economic policy they appear to believe 1) that the resources to do what they did in 2007-9 will not be there to repeat that, and 2) that their immediate commitments re tax revenues to fund health and education (etc) will do the job. Or, maybe, behind closed doors they are preparing to repeat what they did only with necessary lessons learned?

The prospective downturn problem is also real for “politics from below” driven along by unions (as in Change the Rules) and other people’s organisations some of whom have a “mass” character. I refer here to the disability and aged care movements whose programmes for reform require significant government intervention.

And above all there is the now multi dimensional “reverse climate change” movement. We all have until about 2030 to get the situation under control and momentum on reversal. That will also require massive government intervention.

And that government intervention must also enable more powerful intervention “from below”, by the unions and other people’s organisations, and in workplaces, industries and communities.

For workers and their unions, there is nothing yet in Labor’s stated changes to the industrial relations laws that will enable that.

In other words we have a political turning point centred on the interaction of economic downturn, possibly crisis, and ecological crisis.

For the broader politics engaged in by unions and other people’s organisations the challenge will be whether to retreat when the downturn hits or go on the offensive.

Historically, we have retreated. Our most recent experience was exactly in the period of the Rudd – Gillard Labor governments. The struggle over workers rights was pit to sleep and the environment organisations could not develop and lift a strategy from below to direct the Labor government and its erstwhile Greens allies to move forward. The scene was controlled by the fossil fuel corporations and its key front men like Tony Abbott.

There is precious little sign yet that the leading figures in both the union and environmental organisations have the economics to help their constituencies rise to the challenge.

How can we break out from that, and why is it necessary?

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

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.