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Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Prospects for Socialism Today









Dr Tristan Ewins


Writing in the Herald-Sun, Chris Collins (11/1/19 ) argues that the Nordic countries have never been “socialist” because they have not conformed to the original Marxist definition of the centralisation of the means of production in state hands. In reality, though, there were always a variety of definitions, and even Marxists themselves have revised their understandings.


Socialist aspirations include ending exploitation and the class system ; and reducing inequalities to a fair level. In Marx’s words, to advance the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need’. That should include a strong welfare state and social wage ; involving not only natural public monopolies and strategic state ownership ; but also producers’ and consumers’ co-operatives, democratic funds, and a mix of competition, markets and planning.


Socialism also means building an economy focused on ‘use values’. (ie: not just maximising abstract exchange value ; eg: preserving the natural environment) But we’re in a global economy: which means we have to live with the transnational corporations. They are at best ‘a mixed blessing’: at times spurring innovations and job creation ; but also unacceptable inequalities in wealth and power ; as well as collusion, monopolism, planned obsolescence and so on. But also arguably the consequence of bourgeois dominance is that we live in a ‘One Dimensional Society’ where substantially different social alternatives are excluded from mainstream discussion. What’s needed is robust pluralism: where socialism is part of the debate ; and hence a genuine option in the broader context of democracy.


In response to writers who attempt to put Swedish Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism in opposition to one another: for key Swedish thinkers and politicians such as Wigforss, Palme, Rehn, Meidner etc the Nordic Model was definitely a kind of socialism. The 'high water mark' was with the Meidner Wage Earner Funds proposals of the 70s and 80s. That marked the end of a 'corporatist consensus' (institutionalised consultation and co-operation) which developed over several decades starting from the 1930s. The model has been in slow retreat since. But its past successes over many decades still give a sense of what is possible.


Importantly, the wage earner funds were to be structured in such a way as to compensate workers for prior wage restraint. But the extent of that wage restraint had been such that the funds would eventually deliver economic control to workers over many years. One of the biggest problems with the funds is that they focused on workers alone rather than the broader category of 'citizens'. (hence excluding pensioners for instance) In 1983 Australian Leftists like Laurie Carmichael wanted ‘Nordic Style’ policies in return for wage restraint under the the Government of Bob Hawke and 'The Accord'. Unfortunately nothing of the sort was actually delivered.


That said: what kind of state is in a position to deliver on socialism?


Leninists are inclined to oppose the ‘liberal bourgeois state’ to the kind of state which existed under the Bolsheviks. A ‘workers’ state’. Trotskyists would argue it had become a ‘degenerated workers’ state’ under the domination of Stalin.

On the other hand, by certain interpretations a genuine workers' state is a democratic state ; where we can interpret 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' as a 'manner of applying democracy' ; the 'democratic dictatorship' of the working class majority. (widely misinterpreted, the term always referred to the democratic rule of the working class as opposed to the rule of a single man such as Stalin) The ultimate aim is to create a ‘pure democracy’ where the state represents all people ; and the class system is permanently transcended. Finally, the State itself is presumed by Marxists to ‘wither away’ with the end of all class divisions and antagonisms. One flaw of this thinking, however, is the presumption that over the long run 'only class antagonisms matter' to such a degree that some kind of state power is necessary either as arbiter ; or to enforce interests.


Arguably Sweden enjoyed a decades-long 'equilibrium in the class struggle' or otherwise what Korpi called a 'democratic class struggle'. Where the class struggle was in some ways 'institutionalised' between social democrats, unions, employers. Concessions were made based on ‘the balance of class forces’ ; but open escalation of conflict was avoided as being in no-one’s interest. Then in the 1970s and 80s the Social Democrats and the LO (‘Landsorganisationen’ ; or Swedish Trade Union Confederation) attempted to assert their democratic leverage to achieve previously unheard of economic redistribution and democratisation. Again: even with over 80% unionisation coverage they still failed. And Social Democracy has been on the defensive there largely ever since. If anything, this gives an idea just how difficult the struggle can be.

What we need is a democratic state which is not a medium for direct OR indirect bourgeois rule. Nicos Poulanztas wrote about a 'logic of the class struggle' which 'imprinted itself upon the state field'. I'm not a structuralist (as Poulantzas was) ; but in a way that makes sense. The state tends to defend bourgeois interests ; but not totally. It is not a 'simple instrument'. It is much more complex than that. Rather, it has its own internal contradictions and internal struggles. What we need is a state which is fully committed to the implications of democracy: as opposed to the direct or indirect rule of the bourgeoisie.

The problem is that capitalism is supported by a clear majority of states ; as well as by the transnationals which are an expression of and foundation for global bourgeois dominance. Even assuming a state which breaks POLITICAL bourgeois dominance at a local level ; there are still the remainder of bourgeois states internationally; and global bourgeois economic power ; and economic co-dependence.


Think about revolutionary France. The Revolution was diverted into Bonapartism. (the rule of the French Emperor, Napoleon I) And eventually with the Congress of Vienna there was total Restoration of the "Ancien Regime" in France, and the consolidation of monarchies and their traditional bloodlines elsewhere in Europe. Liberal Democracy did not really take hold through much of the world until the Bolsheviks put much of the European bourgeoisie under such pressure as to implement the crucial concession of universal suffrage. This had long been a key Social Democratic and Marxist demand. We're talking about a period spanning over 100 years. (throughout which we had other revolutions and struggles ; eg: 1830, 1848, 1871) Thereafter the bourgeoisie and its representatives have spent another 100-odd years thinking of ways to divide the working class against itself to prevent it from realising the potential of the suffrage. The splintering of the working class culturally and economically has made it increasingly hard to realise the solidarity we need to bring about the change we want. Narratives on ‘political correctness’ and ‘left elites’ have just this effect ; and sometimes by neglecting class interests we play into the bourgeoisie’s hands.


Critics of socialism often declare that they don’t want ‘statism’ or state domination. And this they associate with socialism. Well, no - we don't want Stalinist-style 'statism'. (though I hate the term 'statism' as it is commonly used to stigmatise any place for the state ; even a democratic state) But 'wresting capital by degrees' from the bourgeoisie still sounds like a good idea - if done properly – and if only it were possible. The problems of exploitation and economic polarisation still demand our attention as practical and moral questions. And after all, radical redistribution of wealth is what the Swedes were attempting with the Meidner wage earner funds in the 1970s and 1980s .

Arguably the Mixed Economy represents progress towards that goal. Though the ‘mixed economy’, social wage and welfare state can be supported by far more ‘moderate’ forces who want nothing more over the long term than to ameliorate inequality and ‘save capitalism from itself’.


"Wresting capital by degrees" from the bourgeoisie can imaginably involve a mix of public, co-operative and other democratic ownership - as opposed to 'Stalinist Statism'. But the process cannot be finished because bourgeois interests reinforce each other globally. Currently, there is no (acceptable) ‘way out’ of capitalism. But if we mobilise we can at least force compromises which are in workers' and citizens' interests. And we can convince the bourgeoisie that compromise is sometimes in its own interests. (again ; 'saving capitalism from itself') For example: natural public monopolies can reduce cost structures not just for citizens/consumers/workers – but also for business. And a state-owned savings and loans bank (with a charter promoting competition and ethical banking) could inject competition into the sector of benefit both to business, and to most ordinary people.


Importantly - forcing compromise through struggle is in some ways more involved than just 'gaming the system'. Over the long term who knows what's possible? Again: think about Revolutionary France - and the hegemony of liberal democracies which only finally arose more than 100 years later. We can only hope it will not take a catastrophe such as the First World War was to provide enough impetus to drive qualitative change ; to challenge the class system and the ‘defacto rule’ of Capital.

If anything the Global Financial Crisis gave a sense of capitalism’s enduring instability ; and that (should another crisis occur) radical interventions may be necessary ‘to save the system from itself’. But public dissatisfaction with “bailouts at the peoples’ expense” may drive strategic socialisations sooner than we think.


Socialism is not ‘inevitable’ as the old Marxist Centrists used to insist. We cannot anticipate all the policy innovations which may help ‘save the system from itself’. But over the long term a more generalised breakdown cannot be ruled out either. Socialists need to stand prepared for all manner of contingencies. Global organisation and dialogue are necessary to best prepare for those contingencies. That means not responding to discourse on ‘globalisation’ as an excuse for defeatism. It means working out the possibilities of domestic social democracy/democratic socialism ; but also building the organisation and dialogue necessary to give rise to internationalist responses. The current Socialist International is not an effective vehicle for this. Can it be reformed? Or do we need new forms of international organisation and dialogue?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht


Dr Tristan Ewins



16/1/2019


Comrade Marcus Strom alerted me and many others on Facebook that 15/1/19 was the 100th Anniversary of the brutal murder of Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht ; and the dumping of their bodies in the Landwehr Canal in Berlin. Liebnecht was an outstanding orator and leader. Meanwhile, Rosa Luxemburg (a Jewish Communist ; born in Poland – but migrating to Germany where the class struggle appeared the most advanced) is the best remembered today. This is largely because she is survived by a plethora of theoretical and practical political-literary work – much of it still relevant for the Left.


The broad example of the slide into war ; and the murder of Rosa and Karl is still instructive today of the dangers of certain kinds of ‘social patriotism’. In 1914 the parliamentary caucus of the SPD (German Social Democrats) voted in favour of war credits – to fund the War. This was against the standing policy of the Second International. Specifically it was the right-wing leadership of the Social Democratic Government following the 1918-19 Revolution who ordered the murders. For genuine socialists, the names “Ebert, Noske and Scheidemann” will forever live in infamy. And deservedly so.


It is disturbing to think that the SPD was perhaps the leading Social Democratic Party in Europe in 1914 – and yet it crumbled under pressure at the first real hurdle. Many socialists – including Karl Liebnecht and Rosa – tried to agitate against the coming blood-bath. Rosa was imprisoned for the duration of the war after distributing anti-war material. For years social democratic parties had talked about internationalism in the instance of a conflict. But in practice the German trade unions had been subverted ; had embraced a kind of ‘ethno-nationalism’.


And they effectively fell into line in return for a handful of reforms.


Therefore perhaps there was no social or economic basis for stopping the war. But the capitulation of the SPD parliamentary caucus set a demoralising example – which resulted in the split in the Social Democratic movement ; with the most uncompromising anti-war elements re-forming as Communist parties.


Right Social Democrats ; people like Ebert, Noske and Scheidemann ; were sold on ethno-nationalism in Germany since the start (of the war). They capitulated again when some social democrats argued the war should only be supported insofar as it was concerned with ‘national defence' ; and never be allowed to turn into 'a war of conquest'. But the German Army hierarchy demanded open ended support for the war instead. Again, in 1914 the caucus rolled over entirely.


Karl Kautsky – the leader of the ‘Marxist Centre’ – and for a time the most authoritative Marxist intellectual in Europe and the world - argued for a symbolic abstention on the issue of war credits. But this gained little traction. Lenin was to revisit Kautsky’s position following the October 1917 Russian Revolution, branding him a ‘Renegade’. But more on Kautsky later.


The real worry is how the unions remained so conservative at the start of the war. And swallowed militarist nationalism hook, line and sinker. In any case the war was to destroy those same unions ; as worker’s organisation collapsed in the face of total war mobilisation. It shows that achieving intellectual leadership of a socialist movement is not enough unless socialist, anti-imperialist and internationalist values can be successfully imparted to a broader base. As well as a willingness to fight when the situation demands it.


Who knows what motivations drove the German Social Democrats to support war in 1914? Fear of imprisonment or execution? Fear of the organisational destruction of the party? (False) assumptions the war would be short? Penetration of the caucus by government agents? Again: many social democrats insisted that support for the war be withdrawn once it became 'a war of conquest'. But the reality was that the Army had the guns. Again: the parliamentary caucus folded in the face of military pressure.


But what many Leninist and Stalinist critics do not recognise is that by 1915 the 'Centrists' (ie: as in the Marxist Centrists) had began agitating for peace at Zimmerwald. Those people argued for a separate peace. So did the Revisionist Socialist, Eduard Bernstein. By comparison, Lenin argued for civil war - to turn the war into Revolution across all Europe if possible. For all Lenin’s criticisms of Karl Kautsky – by 1915 he (Kautsky) was himself openly fighting against the war. The critiques of Bolshevism by such diverse figures as Luxemburg, Martov and Kautsky – are still worth reading today as we grapple with the meaning and legacy of the Russian Revolution and its eventual descent into Stalinism. (though many critics under-play the severity of the conditions faced by the Bolsheviks ; and the role of Western intervention in fuelling the centralisation and resort to Terror which opened the way for Stalinism ; That includes destabilisation and support for the White Armies – which meant the threat of starvation and heating fuel shortages for ordinary Russians )


Rosa Luxemburg is famed for her unique, libertarian Marxist contributions to socialist theory and practice. Her theory of the ‘spontaneity of the masses’ is more nuanced than shallow critics would allow for ; positing a dialectical relationship between Party leadership and proletarian initiative. She recognised early on the potential of the Mass Strike. Also, she feared the consequences of over-centralisation within the Bolshevik Party for any revolution ; and particularly the substitution of the Party – and later the Central Committee – for real, grassroots and participatory proletarian democracy. For her there could be no compromise or ‘middle way’ between Reform and Revolution. She was a strong critic of Revisionism ; including the positions of Eduard Bernstein.


But there are traditions of Left Social Democracy which are not stained by that. For instance the Austro-Marxists. The Austro-Marxists built a participatory counter-culture (workers’ sports, radio stations, libraries, forums, orchestras) ; and progressively funded public housing and amenities like laundries and pools for workers. They even maintained their own militia to defend ‘the democratic path to socialism’. This contributed to the sense that ‘Red Vienna’ was ‘a showcase of Social Democracy’. Though they also made certain fatal mistakes (eg: letting go of their grip on the state apparatus of force in the 1920s) which made it easier in the end for fascists to seize power in 1934.


So as against Rosa Luxemburg I believe a ‘middle way’ of ‘revolutionary reforms’ is possible. But on the 100th Anniversary of her death it is better to honour her very significant legacy. The legacy of her bravery and self-sacrifice. Of her intellect ; her uncompromising values ; her commitment to the working class and her faith in what she believed to be the coming revolution.


On the other hand, the example of the 20th and early 21st centuries (including the rise of fascism ; and also of neo-liberalism) appear to have put paid to a sense that some ‘inevitable teleology towards socialism’ can be counted on. Historical outcomes are far more contingent and uncertain than the old Marxists were willing to admit. Even though the continuation of neo-liberal capitalism is likely to cause intense human suffering – with increases in the intensity of labour ; and further cyclical crises and class bifurcation. And environmental crises also. Perhaps old Marxist claims to ‘inevitability’ provided morale and confidence. (as Kautsky put it – “the proletariat’s belief in its own strength”)


But while there is *hope*, notions of inevitability can no longer be maintained. Barbarism is as likely as socialism ; and that itself is a good reason to fight.


Rosa’s fears were realised in the end as Bolshevism gave way to Stalinism. For Communists it is instructive to read her critiques of Bolshevism to get a sense of the dangers associated with Stalinism. And also even with Trotskyism and Leninism. Trotsky wrote of a ‘Soviet Thermidor’ in his critique of Stalinism, ‘The Revolution Betrayed’. But in reality Trotksy supported the same policies of centralisation which led to a situation akin to the demise of the French Revolution - with the rise of the Napoleonic Empire in the place of the Republic. (Stalin is seen as a ‘Bonpartist’ figure) ; Only Stalin’s repression of his own people – and his Terror against them - was far more extensive than under other ‘Bonapartist’ regimes.


Compared not only with Stalin – but also with Lenin and Trotsky – Luxemburg stands for a kind of libertarian communism. To this day the leadership she provided with her activism and her writings – set a redemptive example for a Left which is often accused of ‘authoritarianism’ or ‘totalitarianism’. Luxemburg was a democrat and libertarian-revolutionary-communist ; and an uncompromising opponent of the wholesale slaughter of War ; and the Imperialist designs of the ‘Great Powers’.


My personal inclination is more towards the example of the reformed relative (Marxist) centre following World War One. Especially the Austro-Marxists. (though I am critical of them on certain counts as well) But Rosa’s steadfast bravery ; her self-sacrifice in pursuit of peace, and for the liberation of the working class ; should always be honoured on the Left.


Today’s Left needs to engage with past Social Democracy (and Communism) if it is to understand its past ; draw the necessary lessons ; and better plan for its future. This should also include a consideration of the sources of the split in Social Democracy in 1914 ; and the historical ramifications of that. Rosa Luxemburg ; and others like Karl Korsch ; showed that a different kind of (libertarian) communism is possible.


A different kind of social democracy is also possible: committed over the long term to the pursuit of ‘revolutionary reforms’ which would deepen democracy, transform the economy , and over time challenge the class system.


May Rosa Luxemburg (and Karl Liebknecht) always be honoured and remembered on the Left.

Friday, January 19, 2018

'For an Equal and Democratic Australia' model ALP Platform - Updated for 2018



Dear Friends and Comrades;


We’re Promoting an Updated version of the ‘For an Equal and Democratic Australia’ Model Platform for the ALP. The program is updated for 2018 from a very similar version platform I promoted for the 2015 Conference.

At this point we’re still considering suggestions to expand the document – and your ideas are welcome. Contact Tristan Vaughan Ewins at Facebook if you have a suggestion you would like to make.

The ALP needs a vision for the ‘big picture’ of social welfare, democratic and nation-building reforms it needs to implement in government.

Included are proposals on tax and welfare reform, social insurance, environmental reform, a ‘democratic mixed economy’ and much, much more.

Please also propose motions in support of this program at your local branch, or your ALP student club. Or you may belong to a ‘third party organisation’ (eg: a welfare organisation, charity, student union or other advocacy group). Motions of support from these organisations are also welcome! If you successfully pass a motion in favour of this document please leave a comment to Tristan Vaughan Ewins at Facebook so I am aware of this and can promote our success in garnering support.

With enough support and wide enough distribution we may influence debate on the ALP National Platform – to be decided upon this year in 2018.

If you are a delegate we would especially be interested – pls let us know.

But we will keep on campaigning after that also: to continue to build momentum for a genuinely progressive Federal Labor Government for 2018 or 2019 and onwards.

Again: if you support the goals of this ‘minimum platform’ please respond to this paper by ‘liking’ it at our Facebook group – and that support will be noted for purposes of our campaign.

see: https://www.facebook.com/ALPequalanddemocratic?focus_composer=true

We may also see if we can promote this cause via the ‘Megaphone’ Petition Platform to mobilise further support ahead of Conference.



As supporters of this Program we endorse the incorporation of the following into the ALP Platform for 2018:



a) ALP Core Mission:  We believe that the ALP exists for the purpose of improving fairness, democracy and equity. We support the promotion of a robust civil society characterised by informed and active citizenship ; and civil rights and liberties (including industrial rights and liberties), as well as preservation of the natural environment upon which human survival itself depends. Also we support separation of church and state - amidst freedom of faith and worship.  We support the advancement of ‘political’, ‘social’ and ‘economic’ citizenship; That includes the defence of civil and democratic rights and liberties; the provision of social wage and welfare rights; and finally the pursuit of a ‘democratic mixed economy’.
  
b) A Democratic Mixed Economy:  We support a variety of strategies for a ‘democratic mixed economy’. That includes a mixture of public and co-operative ownership and control (including but not necessarily limited to public ownership of critical infrastructure and natural public monopolies, and strategic Government Business Enterprises), as well as mutualism, 'union-friendly' co-determination and other related strategies; and also crucially including ‘democratic collective capital formation. (‘collective capital formation’ was a term used by Swedish social democrats to describe their Meidner Wage Earner Funds ; but might also be applied to superannuation for instance). Specifically we support a stronger role for producers and consumers co-operatives in the Australian economy on both a large and a small scale. For instance, government co-investment may be required to help co-operative enterprise increase its scale so as to remain competitive and hence viable. We support very significant but initially-capped aid to co-operatives via cheap credit, tax concessions and free advice/economic counselling - with co-operative enterprise supported in a variety of spheres, including credit unions, insurance, child care and aged care, manufacturing; as well as co-operative small and medium businesses. (for example in hospitality) 

c) Reform Tax to Extend Social Investment and Expenditure: We have as a medium term objective the goal of meeting the OECD average regarding our Tax to GDP Ratio. That means an increase in the Tax to GDP ratio by 5% ideally over as long as three terms of Labor Government. Specifically this translates to an increase of $80 billion/year in today’s terms. 


d) Specific Revenue Measures: To fund these new commitments we support measures including but not necessarily limited to the following:


· very significant strategic and equitable rescission of superannuation tax concessions (perhaps $10 billion/year or even more)

· Progressive expansion of the Medicare Levy

· restoration of a robust Mining Super Profits Tax

· the establishment of a progressively structured Aged Care Levy.

· Progressively restructure the income tax mix, and thereafter fully index the bottom three thresholds.

· Restoration of Company Tax and strong measures on Corporate Tax Evasion ; network with like-minded parties to create a global shift against the ‘race to the bottom’ on corporate tax

· Halving the rate of Dividend Imputation (perhaps $10 billion/year)

· An inheritance tax on inheritances valued over $2 million and over. (indexed)

· Consider stronger measures further limiting Negative Gearing for investors holding portfolios including several properties.


The total measures implemented must provide for the aforementioned increases in social expenditure, and very significantly add to rather than detract from the progressive nature of the overall tax and spending mix.


e) Specific social expenditure/infrastructure measures we support for implementation in the first term of an incoming Federal Labor Government include: 

  • a progressively-funded National Aged Care Insurance Scheme providing a broad range of high quality aged care services for all those aged 65 and over with the need (including high intensity care, low intensity care , and ‘ageing at home’) – and without forcing disadvantaged and working class families to sell or take equity against the family home to achieve the highest quality care. Also mandate a nursing skills mix in every aged care facility that includes a Registered Nurse on-site 24 hours a day.

    · Robust and progressively applied increases in state school funding; including improvements in funding formulae as proposed in ‘Gonski 1.0’ ; over the longer term we aim to improve the quality of state education (including infrastructure and student to teacher ratios) to the point where demand for private schooling is very significantly reduced.  The point is to achieve true equality of opportunity in education.

    · Completion of the National Broadband Network – publicly owned and with Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology; as well as other public-funded and owned infrastructure in areas such as transport, communications, water and energy; keep it public and provide as a social and economic good – not just ‘to realise a profit’.


    · Construction of ‘East Coast Fast Rail’ and State-Owned Centralised Renewable Power Generation

    · greater public support and funding for pure and applied scientific research via the CSIRO.

    · A review of existing job network services; considering the possibility of re-consolidation of a single provider in the public sector (Centrelink); And regardless of this ensuring an emphasis on a more compassionate, patient and understanding approach to case management; especially considering the special needs of the long term unemployed, the under-employed, disability pensioners, those with differing skill types and levels; and for older job-seekers,

    f) Welfare Reform: We reject the ‘blame the victim’ and ‘blame the vulnerable’ mentality promoted by the Conservatives. Along with that we reject all forms of ‘Punitive Welfare’. Specifically we propose raising the Aged and Disability Pensions, Youth Allowance, Austudy, ABStudy by a minimum $50/week. (then indexed)  Newstart to be raised by $75/week (also fully indexed).  We also support a more generous Carers’ Allowance ; and reject effective labour conscription for ‘Work for the Dole’ , as well as rejecting waiting periods for Newstart which force vulnerable Australians to exhaust their personal savings.  (or even drive some into homelessness) We understand that many pensioners – for instance the disabled – require flexibility which existing labour markets do not provide. To overcome ‘poverty traps’ we support ‘positive incentives’ and ‘flexible work’ without loss of pensions. FINALLY: We believe the ALP should consider – and conduct research into – the replacement of NewStart with a Guaranteed Minimum Income. (GMI)

    g) Retirement Age: We are committed to maintaining a retirement age of 65 instead of raising it to 67 or 70. Indeed we are also open to the possibility of reducing the retirement age below 65 into the future. Specifically we support reducing the retirement age for those who have suffered physical debilitation as a consequence of demanding work. (eg: manual labourers)

    h) Industrial/labour rights: We support a legislated real increase in the minimum wage as well as pattern bargaining rights for unions.  As well as stronger re-regulation of the lower end of the labour market more generally. And we support effective subsidies for some of the most exploited and underpaid workers (including in child care, cleaning, aged care and elsewhere)– whether through direct subsidies, tax concessions, enhanced social wage provision and other effective measures. We also support the industrial rights and liberties of workers; including a right to withdraw labour ‘in good faith’ (including political strike action), and including a right to secondary boycott when ‘in good faith’ in solidarity with ‘industrially weak’ workers

    i) Further Educational Reform

  • Curricula for ‘active/critical citizenship’: We are committed to reform of school curricula for the purposes of promoting ‘active and critical citizenship’. Without bias, the point of such reform would be to impart balanced and inclusive understandings of political values, movements and ideas, and social interests. We believe active and informed citizenship means a stronger pluralist democracy.

    · We support restoration and expansion of tertiary education funding; including for universities and the TAFE sector; with an expansion of tertiary education placements on the basis of an understanding of education as a modern social right, and not an exclusive privilege.

    · We also support the humanities and social sciences for the sake of effective pluralism in the Australian public sphere. And we support provision for tertiary academics’ participation as ‘public intellectuals’ and not only on the basis of the bulk of published academic works.

    · Furthermore we support progressive reform of the HECS system: reversing any fee deregulation, and with real increases in the repayment threshold significantly above Average Weekly Earnings; and forgiveness of debts of those who have a good reason for not being able to benefit from the prior education. (eg: because of disability)  Over the medium to longer term we support reversion to free tertiary education.

    · Gender equality: Finally, here, we support and strive for equal participation, and on-average equal achievement - between men and women in higher education, and greater participation and opportunity for those from disadvantaged and working class families.


    j) Treaty and a Republic: We are committed to beginning formal dialogue with representatives from the entire range of indigenous peoples with the aim of negotiating a Treaty. We support an incoming ALP government initiating such a process in its first term. Also we support the realisation of an Australian Republic at such a time that public opinion is such as to achieve the change.


    k) Environment: We are committed to increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources so as to achieve a real reduction of emissions even as the economy and population grow. Specifically we aspire to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2000 levels by 2025. To this end we support large scale public investment in renewables, as well as generous subsidies for lower income households to acquire micro-renewable energy systems; and incentives for landlords to invest in micro-renewable energy. In further environmental reforms we are committed to sustainable land use and water management, achieving ‘world’s best practice’ in food production.

    We also support an Emissions Intensity Scheme that would set an emissions intensity benchmark for the whole electricity sector, which will reduce in line with emissions reduction targets; 50% by 2030. To ensure that this mechanism would successfully reduce emissions, benchmarks will be set five years in advance as recommended by the Grattan Institute, and revised as the need for greater emissions reduction appears. The EIS would be accompanied by the maintenance of the Renewable Energy Target, and large scale investment in renewable energy through reverse auctions, provided the assets are held in public ownership at the end of construction. We also support providing microgeneration grants to households and businesses to promote uptake of renewable generation technologies, and reform of feed-in tariffs so consumers producing their own energy are paid an appropriate amount when selling the excess back into the grid.

    l) Humanitarian Migration: We support a very significant expansion of Australia’s humanitarian migrant intake. Additionally, we want for an ALP government to pursue diplomatic channels to encourage other prosperous countries in the region to also increase their humanitarian intake very significantly. For asylum seekers we support humane onshore community-based processing.  (that means close detention centres including in Nauru)

    m) ABC and SBS: We support continued (and extended) funding of the ABC and SBS – and the pursuit of ‘participatory media’ principles and strategies through these channels. We support a role for the ABC and SBS in pursuing an ‘authentic’ public sphere, and an inclusive pluralism. (with the exception of not providing a platform for the far right) And we support representative ‘popular’ participation on the ABC and SBS boards of management
n) Public and Social Housing: We support very substantial new investment in high quality public housing (a minimum ‘surge’ of $10 billion) facilitated through tied Federal grants to the States, and also social housing where it is more cost-effective - to increase supply, and hence also affordability. (combined with the necessary public investment in local infrastructure in emerging suburbs) That includes expansion of ( largely ‘non-clustered’) public housing stock to at least 10% of total stock over perhaps three terms of Labor Government. Where appropriate we support a mix of low, medium and high density stock. Further: High density housing development in capital CBDs, and amongst strategic activity/transport hubs - should not be left ‘only to the private sector’ ; and public developments could include more generous provision of space, and high quality amenities such as common rooms, gyms, pools, parks and gardens. Planning laws should also be rigorous to ensure a viable spread of amenities and services where-ever housing developments occur.
o) Internal Reform:  We support internal democratic reform of the ALP; including a direct role for union members in supporting particular policies and platform items; as well as direct election for ALP National Conference delegates; actual adherence to State and National Platforms; and a ‘mixed model’ for election of the Party Leader which may include rank and file, Parliamentary Labor and trade union components. We also support the establishment of a ‘progressive public sphere’ in this country, including (for our part) ALP related forums, and policy and ideas conferences and publications which are inclusive, authentic, progressive, and which accommodate difficult debates.


p) Strategic industry policy: We support an active industry policy aimed at the maintenance of ‘strategic industries’ with ‘strategic capacities’ in Australia; including through automotive production and shipping-construction. This means a public investment rather than a public subsidy or handout.  And it could create the basis for a more-independent foreign policy as well. Said industries can also involve high wage, high skill labour. And there are a variety of potential models, including joint multi-stakeholder co-operative-state ventures – involving workers, regions and government. This ought also be supported by attempts to emulate Denmark's success in related Education and Training.

q) Multilateral Disarmament and Peace: At the same time we support a policy of realistic multilateral disarmament with the aim of freeing resources for purposes which meaningfully improve peoples’ material; quality of life


r) On Health Care we support the following:

· provision of comprehensive Medicare Dental – with a wide array of dental services provided at minimal cost and promptly for pensioners and low income groups; The main aim here must be to radically slash waiting lists which currently can be in the vicinity of two years unless in the case of a ‘dental emergency!’ This means that vulnerable people are denied help until things reach ‘the critical point’. With new funding and resources public dental waiting periods must be no more than six months.


· Also increase investment in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to extend its coverage

· Improve the rate of Bulk Billing

· Tighten means tests for ‘Lifetime Health Cover’ in order to pay for the removal of penalties for low income individuals (including pensioners) who let their policies lapse; Over the longer term we aim to improve the quality of public health to such an extent as to significantly reduce demand for private health insurance. During the interim we also support the growth of Health Insurance Mutual Associations as alternatives to Private Health Insurance.

· Also extend Medicare to cover physio, optometry (including glasses or contact lenses), speech therapy, podiatry, psychology; provision of hearing aids where necessary; and also cosmetic surgery for those in extreme need (for instance as a consequence of physical injury)

· Improvement of and substantial new investment in mental health services to ‘close the gap’ regarding the life expectancy of those with mental illness; as well as to improve productivity and quality of life.  (for example there are in the vicinity of 200,000 to 300,000 Australians with Schizophrenia who on average live 25 years less than the general population)


s) ‘Physical and virtual commons’ ; ‘Public Space for Public Use’ ; We believe that ‘physical and virtual commons’ are necessary to provide support for a strong, participatory and democratic civil society’ ; In part this means decoupling public space from any strict and/or exclusive relation to consumption. Local communities must have centrally-located meeting and gathering spaces – and this requires a significant public investment, and associated regulations. In part this can also be supported with dedicated space in local business districts – including in shopping malls. Such developments should be dependent upon the provision of ‘community kiosks’ which would provide comprehensive information on how to become active in community organisations and clubs, social movements, political parties and so on. But excluding the far-right. Once-off public meetings and gatherings could also be promoted via these ‘community kiosks’ ; and citizens could ‘sign up’ for mail outs and/or emails regarding ‘what is going on’ in communities on a month-to-month basis.

t) A Comprehensive Bill of Modern Human Rights: Finally: We support a comprehensive ‘Bill of Rights’ in this country, supporting liberal and civil rights of suffrage, speech, assembly, association, faith, conscience. As well we support ‘social rights’ including education and health, a guaranteed minimum income; housing; access to communications and information technology; access to transport; access to fulfilling employment with a remission of exploitation; social inclusion including opportunity for recreation and participatory citizenship; respect and human dignity.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

What does 'Revolutionary' mean to Socialist Democrats today?




Above: Austro-Marxist leader and Theoretician, Otto Bauer



Does (and should) 'Revolutionary' mean anything anymore to the Democratic Socialist Left?




Should it mean anything anymore within the ALP Socialist Left?




Dr Tristan Ewins


A comrade in the ALP Socialist Left recently rebuked me for discussing "revolutionary" politics ; and said that "thankfully" the vast majority in the ALP SL are NOT revolutionaries and that that's "the beginning and the end of the discussion thankfully".



This was my response:



"When we speak of 'revolutionary' aims not everyone is talking of the same thing. Personally I'm NOT talking about an insurrection ; armed or otherwise. What I am talking about is qualitative change ; preferably through democratic channels ; though being prepared for whatever resistance may arise against said qualitative change through democratic channels when push comes to shove. So I'm talking about what various Leftists have described as 'slow revolution' or 'revolutionary reforms'.

What would be a 'revolutionary reform'? Well the Meidner Plan held that promise for a start. (ie: an economic plan which would have rewarded workers with collective capital share in return for wage restraint ; with the consequence workers collectively would over time become the dominant force in the Swedish economy) Going back further: free, universal and equal suffrage comprised a kind of 'democratic and political revolution' which only became possible in many countries following the end of World War I - and the fear of Bolshevism.


Were we around in the 19th Century - or in the 1917-19 period , would we have fought for the suffrage ; or would we have rejected 'revolutionary' changes of all sorts as a matter of policy so as not to rock the boat?


When I talk about a democratic economic revolution I'm talking about democratic collective capital formation ; restoring a robust mixed economy ; supporting co-operatives (producers' and consumers') with state aid. I'm also talking about decisive state support for the voluntary and domestic sectors. I'm talking about going down that road to the point where 'the democratic sector' becomes dominant. And hence a pivotal shift in the balance of class forces.


I'm also talking about a 'democratic cultural and political revolution' : driven by an exponential increase in political participation and consciousness. Where there is a qualitative change (a revolution) in our democracy which takes the form of said consciousness and participation.


For Marxists the final aim is to replace wage labour with economic democracy ; and then to transition to stateless communism. I'm not a full blown communist because I tend to believe human nature is not perfectible ; and therefore I think some kind of state power (albeit democratised) will be necessary for a long time to come.


I think the suppression of wage labour (ie: typified by the exploitation of labour by capital) can be taken so far ; But at a point you run into very serious resistance from the transnational corporations and often by their state-facilitators. Look what happened to Gough ; and look what happened under Rudd re: the Mining Tax. Also there’s the problem of ‘workers exploiting themselves’. Collective capital formation (workers - and hopefully citizens - holding what collectively is a significant share in capital) is a potentially democratising force. (I specify 'citizens' as well so as not to exclude non-capitalist citizens who for whatever reason are outside of the workforce ; eg: pensioners) Hence my support for democratic collective capital formation as policy. At this point it’s a good outcome. But it also creates complexities which would be hard to resolve. So importantly I'm talking about a process - in this country and globally - which spans decades - and maybe more. The transition from feudalism to capitalism was a kind of revolution - which took maybe a couple of centuries. Why not be a revolutionary over the long run?


Indeed the Guaranteed Minimum Income that some of my critics support (and I support as well) itself has revolutionary potential - by getting rid of workers' dependence on selling their labour power to capital in order to survive. Perhaps critics are just worried some Liberal will take the word "revolutionary" out of context ; and depict us all as terrorists or the like? But where do you draw the line then? Do we stop talking about socialism as well? Do we stop talking about 'capitalism' as anything less than 'an eternal absolute'? A truly 'closed system' ; which cannot be relativised or criticised ; and with no way out?



I'm a 'revolutionary' in the sense I support not only political citizenship ; but also social citizenship and economic citizenship. That's how some Swedish radicals viewed the question interestingly enough. 'Economic citizenship' would be a revolution to democratise the economy. 'Social Citizenship' involves the extension of social rights ; including those delivered via the welfare state, regulated labour market and social wage. 'Political citizenship' WAS the political and liberal revolution. And it's not necessarily finished yet either. So what's really so objectionable about all this at the end of the day?"


Finally and interestingly: the ‘Austro-Marxists’ (arguably one of the theoretically-most-significant tendencies in 20th Century European Marxism) talked about "slow revolution" ; especially during the interwar period ; Which they meant in a very similar way in which I use the word. They were also amongst the first to theorise 'multi-culturalism' - in the context of the pre-WWI Austro-Hungarian Empire. (ie: 'what would replace the Empire?')



The idea of 'revolution via democracy' is not new or unprecedented. And Yes - if Bill Shorten started talking about it at this point then it would confuse people. I doubt it reflects his world-view in any case. But here on the relative margins we can discuss it ; and maybe we should discuss it within the ALP Socialist Left (internally) as well ; as part of a process of working out what the ALP Socialist Left really stands for these days. It’s a long struggle to rehabilitate the language and substance of democratic revolution from shallow understandings. (ie: that 'revolution' means 'violence'.) But I think it's worth it in the long run. And it is crucial that people see we're NOT suggesting a 'revolution against democracy' ; but rather "a gradual, democratic (and hopefully peaceful) revolution FROM WITHIN democracy - to EXTEND democracy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

150th Anniversary of Capital : Marx still Highly-Relevant Despite the Critics



Debating Marx's ‘Labour Theory of Value’ and 'Marx on the Environment' on the 150th Anniversary of Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ (Vol I) ; Responding to the Critics.


Dr Tristan Ewins  ; September 2017

At the ‘ALP Socialist Left Forum’ Facebook group we’ve been discussing Marx’s ‘Labour Theory of Value’.  This is notable because this year is the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Marx’s ‘Das Capital’ (Volume One).

In the relatively-near future I intend restructuring, editing and partially-re-writing a speech I made on that subject.

But for now I would like to discuss Marx's famous 'Labour Theory of Value' specifically.  (and also whether or not Marx 'valued' the natural environment)  Another contributor basically argued that ‘labour theory of value’ (as argued in Capital Volume One) was defunct ; and that it led a lot of people to reject Marx.   This is a pretty common response ; and certainly ‘bourgeois’ responses to Marx have often fixated on discrediting his ‘labour theory of value’.  This has arguably been partly for reasons of interest – and hence a wish to discredit the argument that labour is responsible for all ‘values’ in terms of goods and services. (with the exceptions of land and the natural environment)   But there have been philosophical arguments about the nature of ‘value’ as well.  And there has been much confusion because for Marx ‘value’ is an analytical category with a specific (non-mundane) meaning.

Typically respondents have argued that ‘value is subjective’.   And indeed in my PhD Thesis I approved of (Marxist Revisionist) Eduard Bernstein’s merging of ‘objectivist’ and ‘subjectivist’ elements in his critique of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value.  Therein I argued that Marx did not account sufficiently for the relative privilege of what may be called the ‘labour aristocracy’.


Anyway: Having studied Capital more closely now, though, I feel in a better position to respond with greater confidence.  Here’s my understanding, now, of ‘Labour Theory of Value’.

My understanding is that Marx's labour theory of value is in some ways a self-referential system ; and it makes sense on its own terms. To begin you have to distinguish between the price of labour power sold to employers as a commodity and 'labour theory of value' where ‘value’ is ‘the amount of labour congealed in commodities’.  Though truly the idea of "average socially necessary labour time" does not distinguish between different *kinds* of labour.  That said: Marx does not deny a subjective element to items' values - or to the use values AND exchange values of different kinds of labour power ; He even recognises differences in the relative value of different kinds of labour power at some points in Capital ; but it's true that he doesn't explore that in enough detail. It’s a complication with regard his system and perhaps hence he neglects it. We are unclear how different qualities of labour should be recompensed under socialism for instance.  So yes, there are deficiencies in some of Marx’s notions even though they are internally consistent.

To elaborate: There is a problem not only with the *mechanism* or ‘process’ of Surplus Value Extraction (in the context where all value is ultimately created by labour ; so Surplus Value can be argued for as ‘unpaid labour time’)  ; there is also a problem that while some workers experience extreme alienation (ruinous working conditions, lack of creative control or fulfilment) in return for bare-subsistence, other workers (while technically exploited) experience superior conditions (including pay, creative control, prestige, career paths) ; and historically this is played upon to disrupt solidarity within and across the working class.

But also: While Marx DOES recognise the role of Demand and Supply on the price of labour power ; he does not consider as such ‘the relative worth’ of different kinds of labour once skill, difficulty etc are accounted for.  So under democratic socialism what kind of differences of recompense are possible – or even desirable?  How for instance do we promote solidarity and mutual respect ; but also some reward for skill, difficulty, effort and so on?

Nonetheless *Surplus Value* makes perfect sense. That is: workers *broadly* are paid the means of (relative) subsistence (a privileged minority (labour aristocracy) receive considerably more than the average) ; but there is not "an exchange of equivalents" ; the employer extracts surplus value from workers' labour.  The worker is only recompensed proportionate to a fraction of what he or she creates. That much makes sense. Also 'Labour theory of value' makes sense in that values (as defined by Marx) are created by labour ; and Capital is 'value in motion' ; a process for the cyclical creation of values ; and the production of surplus value ; and hence the reproduction of the capital relationship ; and capitalism generally.  Wages maintain workers at the relative level necessary for subsistence. The surplus is extracted both to pay for the maintenance and expansion of production ; and also for the maintenance of bourgeois lifestyles. All that makes sense. And no wonder capitalists and their apologists have strived to discredit Marx ; because the analytical category of surplus value implies a devastating moral critique of capitalism.

Theoretically some return on (small) investments of capital may be warranted ; because of the real sacrifices the small (working class) investors and some petty bourgeois make. But once you start talking about the bourgeoisie proper it's a different story. Only the bourgeoisie proper has access to such credit or reserves so as to overcome the barriers to entry into certain markets. And whatever risks and initiatives the bourgeoisie take ; the fact remains that Surplus Value is extracted. And what is more that the working class is separated from the means of production ; does not control the means of production ; must labour under the capitalists’ terms and labour discipline ; does not usually have creative control over its labour ; is often employed in monotonous, partial tasks which are profoundly alienating.

So there are big problems with capitalism that Marx is still very useful in analysing. Though he also observes capitalism's inbuilt tendency to drive innovations ; in search of what he calls Relative Surplus Value.  (think of it as a 'temporary advantage' in terms of quality or productivity - often driven by technological advances) That - in tandem with what Marx calls 'the Coercive Laws of Competition' - means that capitalism still drives an enormous amount of innovation and technological development. But capitalism proceeds at a terrible cost to some workers. Especially if you're at the wrong end of the Imiseration process ; ie: if you're a textiles labourer in Bangladesh.

‘Imiseration’ refers to class bifurcation ; as well as absolute impoverishment and ruination – which Marx anticipated.  Relative Western prosperity – largely delivered by technological innovation, qualitative developments, as well as improvements in technology-driven productivity ; has been argued as a refutation of this. But arguably absolute ‘Imiseration’ has also been ‘displaced to the Third World’ ; with an ‘outer dialectic’ where Colonial/Imperialistic exploitation of ‘peripheral’ economies provides ‘relief’ in Western (core) economies.  (eg: cheap consumer goods for Western workers) Nonetheless we do see ‘relative imiseration’ WITHIN Western (core) economies as well ; as with the exploitation of the working poor within the United States. (hence perhaps an ‘external’ aspect to the ‘inner’ dialectic  of class struggle within the US ; ie: middle income (working class) living standards are supported by the exploitation of the working poor) And the global capitalist economy (having integrated economies the world over ; and having integrated the labour-power of women) is again pressing its limits ; leaving the question “what next for growth (and hence capitalism) – if not greater intensity of labour?  (and hence further attacks of the rights of labour)

In summary, David Harvey argues that Marx's Capital (Vol I) makes the most sense when applied to 'economically Liberal' or 'neo-liberal' capitalism especially.  This makes Capital (Vol I) highly useful for understanding Anglosphere economies which have largely gone down that path.  But admittedly Marx did not anticipate the rise of modern mixed economies, advanced welfare states, Keynesian demand management and so on.  Arguably these could comprise ‘stepping stones’ towards a socialist economy and society – while at the same time ‘stabilizing capitalism’.  (reducing cost structures and the like)   Marx is still highly RELEVANT ; but perhaps he is not on his own SUFFICIENT in responding to modern economic and social problems.

As for arguments that Marx did not recognise the  ‘value’ of Nature (one person at our Facebook Forum argued this) ; that is demonstrably untrue if you understand Marx in context.  Marx defines between use values and exchange values. Hence 'a beautiful rainforest' may have no 'value' in the sense of exchange value ; or Marx's schema of 'value' according to his specific (non-mundane) definition as ‘the labour congealed in commodities’.  But remember this is just a technicality based on Marx's definitions... It does not mean (literally) that Marx thinks 'nature has no value'.  Again; In Marx's scheme 'value' refers to the labour congealed in a commodity. But 'USE VALUES' are something else entirely. Marx recognises that things can have USE VALUE without comprising 'values' according to Marx's particular (contextual) definition. So 'a beautiful rainforest' can have a 'use value' in the sense that human beings can appreciate its beauty. And 'nature' may have the 'use value' of being necessary for the reproduction, health and happiness of the human species. Though it’s true Marx doesn't consider what some might call the 'intrinsic value' of nature.  Deep Ecologists may not find as much of interest to them in Marx.

Similarly “work/life balance” has value ; as do domestic and voluntary labour ; as does education, philosophical and scientific enquiry , and art ‘in their own right and for their own sake’.  But capitalism does not ‘see’ or ‘encourage’ the identification of these – EXCEPT insofar as they can be manipulated to somehow magnify exchange value ; ‘creation of ‘values’ in the capitalist context ; production of surplus value ; the self-expansion and reproduction of the capital relationship on which bourgeois power, privilege (and arguably purpose) rest.

On the 150th Anniversary of Capital (Volume I) it is worth revisiting Marx ; and questioning some common assumptions.  In-so-doing we encounter a thinker still highly relevant for the current day. 
Even though some (eg: the ‘Post Marxists’ Mouffe, Laclau and others) have suggested revisions and alterations which are also highly useful, and sometimes inspiring.  The 150th Anniversary is as good a time as any to ‘return to Marx’ and to work out what he’s really saying ; and not just depend on the second-hand accounts of bourgeois-Liberal economists.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Das Kapital by Karl Marx - 150th Anniversary Event -- NIB Melbourne September 7th, 7pm





150th Anniversary Of Marx's Das Kapital ; Questions and Answers Event ; New International Bookshop Melbourne, September 7th. Please come along and show your interest and support. I will be there as an ALP Left activist who draws deeply from Marx and Marxism. PLS SHARE THIS WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND NETWORKS.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why and how the Fair Work Commission’s cuts to Sunday penalty rates can be Defeated.



above: Former Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union organiser, Don Sutherland


   
In this article guest writer Don Sutherland argues the case for a strategy to reverse the decision of the Fair Work Commission - promoted by Employers - to slash Penalty Rates for Hospitality and other workers.  He foresees it will have to be a long struggle led by workers - and workers cannot just sit back and depend on the Parliamentary Labor Party.  It is a strategy which - amongst other things - will involve targeting specific employers so they do not take advantage of the FWC's decision and exploit their workers.

by Don Sutherland, 25/2/17


Last week Australia’s industrial “umpire”, the Fair Work Commission, legalized a big cut to penalty rates for Sunday work for Australia’s lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in precarious work. (Click here and click here for the official summary of the decision.) Implementing the cuts is not compulsory. Anyone who thinks neoliberalism is dying needs to take a deep breath and step into the real world.

Like many others across the union movement and beyond I am very angry on several counts with this decision. Above all it does great harm to the lives of thousands of workers (click here for example), even though it will increase the take home profit of their employers.

There is a lot of material being posted in both mainstream media and in many sources across social media about why this decision is bad, some of it before the decision was handed down and of course a lot since. This article does not add to that.

Rather I focus on ideas about how the workers and union movement can respond.

How should the workers’ movement respond?

In my view not just with anger, but with a widely, deeply discussed and developed strategy to win the reversal of the decision or to prevent its actual implementation.

I am against a “strategy” based on immediate anger that sets our movement up for an urgent, satisfying day out and another “glorious defeat”. And I am also against a defeatist walk into the arms of the ALP as the heroic solution.

Rationale for a strategy

This Full Bench decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) comes out of an Award review that is required by the Fair Work Act (FWA). The Award review is very much an industrial relations club exercise. The FWA review involves either union peak bodies or employer peak bodies putting to the FWC ways in which Awards should be changed, with the capacity for others, especially governments and political parties, to join in. The parties present their claims and counter claims, then provide evidence in an increasingly judicial process that involves “expert” research and / or witnesses. There is not much industrial organising that goes on in support of union claims or counter claims these days.

In this current review all Awards are under the microscope. The focus in these particular Awards for workers in hospitality, pharmacy, fast foods has been on their penalty rates, especially the penalty rate paid for working on Sunday.

Employers in the industry and beyond have over several years invested big money and resources to convince the FWC to agree to cut penalty rates for Sunday work. They have been supported by the Murdoch press, a big posse of commentators from right wing think tanks, and all major employer organisations. The union movement has been the major source of opposition. Originally, employers wanted cuts to all penalty rates but decided for a strategic reason to focus on Sundays. Do not doubt that their “victory” last week to get Sunday rates cut is a foundation for a renewed assault at some time in the future for further cuts into both Sunday and Saturday rates and public holiday rates.

While the employers were investing big in their own way to achieve their victory, the workers’ effort – mainly through their unions – was valiant and well-intentioned but puny in comparison. It was entirely defensive, and accepted the rules of the Commission and the Fair Work Act.

The employer strategy successfully used prominent Labor politicians, some of them willingly, and ex politicians (most notably perhaps Martin Ferguson, formerly a President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions).

The employer strategy relied very much on today’s working class  historic memory loss  about what an Award actually is. Nothing significant has been done by unions to counter this with worker education. Australian unions, generally, have opted to devote most resources to enterprise agreements as the vehicle to protect and improve wages and conditions.

Remember, the employers originated and escalated this war on living standards, not the Fair Work Commission.

This very bad outcome is a reflection of the current balance of power between Australia’s 21st century capitalist class relative to that of the working class.
That is the situation that our strategy must change.

A working class based approach to our strategy

Can we build a strategy, loaded with mindful militancy, that can reverse this decision and also the whole current momentum against working people? (Facilitated in the bosses’ favour by the Fair Work Act, e.g. lockouts, agreement cancellations, and the new Building Industry Code to be enforced by the construction industry’s own industrial police force against construction workers and their unions.)

Of course we can. Here are some ideas.

The first big strategic decision
for all union leaders no matter what level of the union movement we are active in: should we leave the reversing or whatever of the decision to heroic leaders, those at the “top” of the union movement and especially those in the ALP and the Greens in the parliament? Will calls to the government for the government to change the statute re-build our numbers and our power?

Or, should we return en masse to a conviction that the workers in these industries, and their brothers and sisters in others, can grow together as a socio-political force to reverse the decision themselves through their own industrial and political action?

The union movement at all levels must, absolutely MUST, embrace this second approach. Why? Because we must see workers of the twenty first century as capable of learning to struggle for their objectives not as objects whose conditions of existence are decided for them by elites, well-meaning or otherwise?)

That still means lots of education work and lots of communication that is educational (not cheap slogans or cute and clever memes,) leading to days of action on carefully selected dates. Days of action can be seen as the building blocks to more serious forms of action, including a national strike that can decide the struggle in favour of the workers.

Industrial strategy leading the way

The Commission is now waiting for submissions from the parties about the timing and process for phasing in the new reduced rates. Depending on each award, the critical dates seem to be in late March and early May.

After that the Commission will set dates for the start of the new reduced rates, probably later this year.

So, for example, this year these union / workers days of action might be 2-3 days before or on the day of the “submissions” hearing and then again 3 days before the start date.
Remember, employers can chose not to reduce rates. Embedded in these days of action there must be a workplace, public, social and political demand that each individual employer NOT implement the decision, but infused also with basic education and learning about “what is an Award”, “who are the employers”, “what is their strategy”, and “what is the Commission”. (Of course, many employers will try to “stay sweet” with their workers by telling them that it’s not their fault and they have no choice but to implement it.)

To the extent that it is necessary, a secondary level of campaigning in these 2 periods might help reinforce worker pressure on MP’s to come out at a local level to urge local employers not to implement the decision.

How long will it take to win – the trajectory for winning?

The second big strategic decision is a notional time frame that this campaign will take 2 to 5 years to win. It would be nice to win sooner but expectation that we can – in my view – misjudges the power of those who want this decision against the current power of those of us who oppose it.
We need time for education work and union growth organising to build the power to win. We do not have it right now, just the same as the employers did not have enough power to win their objective in 2007. The employers have understood strategy much better than us and have been ruthless enough against working people and their unions to stick to their strategy and be flexible in applying it.
We have to be every bit as cold and calculating as they have been and more.

Therefore, these days of action MUST be educational and  must be seen as building blocks to very big and powerful actions in the future that will be more decisive.

Our strategy will have to escalate over that 2-5 year period in the spread and depth of awareness among the workers immediately affected and those who will experience the flow on effects of it.
A strategy of this type must culminate with the consequence of economic pain for the employers who wanted this decision and who decide to implement it.

The next award review will be in 4 years or so, possibly less. That is the moment for the first “really big culmination” of our strategy in which employers can face the prospect of real economic consequences for their actions.

Within it there is the opportunity for the union movement to actively regrow from within the 21 st century working class, basing that on education-driven organising of both union members and potential members.

This decision to cut penalty rates is one element of ruling class momentum against all workers … the whole of the working class.

We can add to that the employers threat to re-locate operations to off shore low wage havens, use of lock outs during bargaining, demand for major concessions in enterprise agreements, and refusing to bargain for any improvements about job security or wages or safety, employer applications to cancel agreements and drive their workers back to the minimum wages and conditions in Awards, penal powers against any workers who take industrial action that is not approved by the FWC, and the government’s new Building Industry Code policed by the building industry commission. This is a considerable array of power for employers that is facilitated by the Fair Work Act.

Penalty Rates Plus

Genuine working class power can be built to demand at the next Award review and even before not just the restoration of current penalty rates but also a significant increase in the minimum Award rate, and automatic casual conversion after 3 months for those who want it.

These issues are relevant to all other Awards as well. We are talking about common, multi industry actions to take on common big employment problems.

This will be a campaign for all workers because the huge gap between award rates and union negotiated agreement rates is contrary to the fundamental rationale for unionism, and should not be acceptable to any unionist.

The focus of the whole movement must turn steadily (although not absolutely) to AWARDS and away from enterprise agreements.

Finally, this “ordinarily people” rooted strategy will require that the Fair Work Act (including its penal powers against workers) be defied, and probably broken, and ultimately genuinely re-written for workers’ benefit.

That’s not a reason not to do it but it is a reason for a lot of educational work in preparation.



This article was also published at Don's blog - which can be found here: 

https://donsutherland.wordpress.com/2017/02/25/why-and-how-the-fair-work-commissions-cuts-to-sunday-penalty-rates-can-be-defeated/

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Unpublished Letters from a Left Activst


What follows are another series of letters I have written to the ‘Herald-Sun’ and ‘The Age’during the December 2016 to January 2017 period.
   None were published.  But I hope it sparks some thought and some debate amongst readers here at Left Focus.

Topics include 'Cultural Marxism' , Labor Policy, Pensions,  Green Energy and who pays?,  Islam and Education, Female Genital Mutilation,  What to do about Poverty?, and 'Bolt and Panahi need to Work Out Which Side they are On on Civil Liberties.....


Dr Tristan Ewins


Hysteria on ‘Cultural Marxism’

"P.Jones (Letters, 29/12/16) again raises the spectre of ‘cultural Marxism’ ; evoking the remnants of Cold War era fear of those movements bearing the name of Karl Marx.  But ‘Critical Theory’ and the ‘Frankfurt School’ (the proper names of the traditions referred to as ‘cultural Marxism’) are radical intellectual traditions which have very little to do with the Totalitarianism and Stalinism which once prevailed in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  Critical theorists promoted personal freedom, dignity and fulfilment ; and they rejected attempts by Stalin and his successors to crush the independence of radical thought.  Some critical theorists have also promoted the peaceful transition to a democratic socialist order through mutual engagement based on the powers of human reason.  They also subjected past Marxism to criticism on the basis that radicals needed to be open-minded about confronting past errors.  Considered in context, ‘cultural Marxism’ does not deserve ‘the bogey status’ imposed on it by Conservative intellectuals and others who either do not really understand its content ; or otherwise want to distort perceptions in order to create fear and prevent change."



Labor needs a Stronger Agenda ; and not only Defensiveness on Company Tax

Responding to ‘The Age Letters 7/1/17’: While Labor’s opposition to Company Tax cuts is welcome, Australia needs a more robust reform agenda: improving our social wage and welfare state, and providing for vital infrastructure.  Hence a National Aged Care Insurance Scheme to roll back regressive user pays;  and improve quality of life for our most vulnerable. Superannuation tax concessions for the wealthy and the upper middle class could be cut, bringing in tens of billions.  In addition to Capital Gains Tax and Negative Gearing reforms, Australia could also look to phased withdrawal of Dividend Imputation. Reversion to a 75% credit alone could save over $5 billion/year.  Because of their progressive potential, reform of income and other progressive taxes (eg: Medicare-style Levies) should not be ‘taboo’.  Presumed ‘pull factors’ regarding Corporate Taxation can neglect the impact of education and infrastructure in attracting investment.  Infrastructure privatisation increases cost-structures.  And there are economic and moral dilemmas associated with ‘corporate welfare’. Citizens and taxpayers effectively subsidize corporations benefitting from services and infrastructure ; because of a more regressive tax mix (flatter, and/or focusing on consumption) and also indirectly through austerity. Poverty and inequality also affect consumption power, damaging the broader economy.  


The Problems with Tightening Pension Eligibility

Frank Stubbs (Herald-Sun Letters, 7/1/17) argues “the pension is not a right” ; that it should only go to the most needy.  But there are problems with this argument.  In the 1980s Labor introduced superannuation while means-testing pensions.  This enabled a focus on ‘targeted welfare’ ; where we could have both a regime of low taxation – and necessary supports for the genuinely vulnerable.  Superannuation made all this possible.  But before this the Aged Pension was considered a right.  Primarily because people had paid their taxes their entire working lives – and had earned that security.  But “rights” must also be a matter of human decency ; such that we must not allow the vulnerable to struggle in poverty – even if they cannot work.  The problem with superannuation is that it might increasingly see the marginalisation of the Aged Pension, and those dependent upon it.  The consumption power of low income Australians is also affected, harming the economy. In the future conservatives may demand further tightening of pension eligibility; and that would marginalise pensioners, giving rise to further self-interested cries from business, the middle classes, the wealthy -  for pension cuts.   There’s a potential future social cost to cutting pension eligibility.



AN Important Question on Green Energy:  Who Pays?


In response to Matt Johnston (13/1): It is necessary to take action on renewable energy to respond to global warming.  But an additional concern is “who pays?”  Currently, renewable energy is more expensive.  And while many households are taking up ‘micro-renewable energy’, a great many others are ‘locked out’ because they simply cannot afford the investment. But as middle class families opt for micro-renewable energy, this damages the ‘economies of scale’ of the legacy centralised energy industry.  The cost of ‘poles and wires’ and other infrastructure is divided amongst a smaller consumer base.  So consumers on low incomes are forced to pay more.  This is worsened by privatisation: which means providers will pursue profits and avoid cross subsidies for the financially disadvantaged. “Micro-renewables’ are probably the way of the future: but in the meantime governments need to take stronger action to ensure financially disadvantaged customers don’t bear the cost.  Subsidies of various kinds need to negate the entire effect on affordability for low income customers during this transitional period.  (Until technology improves and prices fall)  The timeframe depends on the priorities of government and the progress of research and development.


Responding to Kevin Donnelly on Islam and Education


Kevin Donnelly (Herald Sun, 2/1/17) criticises Islam as ‘inherently violent’ while defending ‘the Western tradition’ against its apparent detractors on ‘the Left’.  Some things need to be stated in response to this.  Firstly, it is partly a matter of convenience.  The ‘West’ supported the Mujahedeen (Islamic fundamentalists) against the Soviets during the Cold War, despite what this meant for women in Afghanistan. Further, Islam is diverse – and potentially open to reform – perhaps like Christianity and Judaism have been.  (partly because of the historic intersection of Christianity with liberalism) In some places ‘a (liberal) Islamic reformation’ may actually be a good thing. (further reform of the Roman Catholic Church would also be good) But in the meantime we should not promote notions of ‘cultural superiority’ to justify interventions which are really geo-political in nature. Also when we defend ‘the Western tradition’ and ‘the Enlightenment’ we should be clear what that means.   It means supporting free and critical enquiry.  The consequence of this also must be that education is not only for ‘fundamentals’ of numeracy and literacy.  There is a crucial place for the Humanities and Social Sciences – in combination with a progressive civics agenda – which promotes political literacy and active citizenship.  Authoritarian responses to protest and civil disobedience are counter to the freedoms we celebrate which originated with the Enlightenment – and the liberal and democratic revolutions that followed.



Responding to FGM:  How Prevalent is it in Australia?

Rita Panahi (16/1) makes some points about the most reactionary practices  Islam, mentioning child brides, ‘honour killings’, and female genital mutilation. Despite allusions to a so-called ‘regressive Left’ any Leftist worth their salt could not help but oppose those practices.   Of course we must support women and girls who oppose and fight against these practices. But there are other complications. Firstly it is unclear how widespread  FGM is in Australia.  In 2010 the ABC reported that 700 cases were presented to the Melbourne Royal Women’s Hospital.   But in 2011 the total Australian Islamic population (all creeds considered) was nearing half a million.  So its important to keep perspective: to support the rights of women and girls ; but also to be aware of possible ulterior motives. Strong cultural differences can be exploited to justify geo-political and strategic objectives.  We need to keep cultural difference and strategic/geo-political issues separate so as to avoid confusion and remain clear about the real motivations and interests behind our foreign policy.

References:





What Must we actually Do in Response to Poverty?

In the Herald-Sun letters section recently there has been some good discussion of poverty. But the problem is on such a scale that it will never be overcome through charity ; and we need action - not only talk. Only government can provide the resources for a definitive solution. That calls for a stronger, fairer welfare system for disadvantaged groups, the elderly and the unemployed ; a fairer, progressive tax mix ; and labour market re-regulation at the lower end.  It also calls for a stronger social wage ;  including more funding for public health and education ; as well as for public housing and emergency accommodation, and energy and water subsidies.  It might also include better-subsidised public transport and internet access. (these are now essentials - for instance it is virtually impossible to search effectively for work now without them)  It could include an active industry policy which offers ‘flexible’ work favourable to employees’ needs ; preventing those such as retrenched auto workers being relegated permanently to unemployment.  And it could involve greater flexibility for pensioners to take on casual or part-time work without foregoing their pensions ; hence avoiding poverty traps.





Bolt and Panahi Need to work out where they Stand on Civil Rights

Andrew Bolt claims “Leftists hate our freedoms” while Rita Panahi gives thanks for liberal freedoms she enjoys in Australia compared with theocratic Iran.  But at the same time Rita Panahi has dismissed civil libertarians as ‘do-gooders’.  And for all his talk, Andrew Bolt has never had anything to say against anti-protest laws introduced by past Liberal governments in New South Wales and Victoria. That includes ‘move on’ laws that criminalised freedom of assembly ; and laws in NSW which could see protestors jailed for several years for civil disobedience.  As well as Federal laws criminalising ‘whistle-blowers’ who reveal details on the treatment of refugees.  Journalists like Panahi and Bolt need to decide what side they are on when it comes to liberal and democratic rights.  It is true that parts of the Left qualify freedom of speech where they believe that speech could be socially harmful.   Other Leftists are nonetheless concerned at possible precedents which could help result in a far more general retreat of liberties.  And the ‘pressure cooker’ effect of suppressed (and sometimes manufactured) grievances which can explode with the rise of populist, far-right-wing movements.  Reality is more complex than you would think reading Panahi and Bolt.

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