Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
The Premiership Quarter
How To Run Society
Who Started the Class War?
The Sydney Morning Herald's rancid social commentator Miranda Devine recently (September 16) accused Opposition Leader Mark Latham of digging up the divisive politics of class. Class with a capital C. Latham, she claimed, "was consumed with a clotted class envy".
Well no, Miranda. Latham is merely redressing a brazen use of public funds to prop up privilege, overseen by one of Prime Minister Howard's many reactionary lieutenants, the previous Education Minister, David Kemp. Mark Drummond, a University of Canberra academic, has dissected Kemp's 'socio-economic status' school funding model. Drummond notes (The Age, September 14) that:
'the actual families of the actual kids at actual non-government schools only contribute about 3 per cent to the SES scores for such schools, which determine their funding levels. Geelong Grammar, for example, has received massive over-funding because its SES score is based nearly entirely on households that have no connection at all with the school.'
If Miranda wants to enlist her journalistic talents against divisive class politics, she might turn post haste to the op-ed pages of the Australian Financial Review. The Fin Review is Australia's premier economic/business journal and its pronouncements and emphases carry authority.
And what do we find when it comes to the status of wage labour? Recommended permanent subordination on nineteenth century terms that prevailed before the federal Arbitration statute brought a modicum of civility to employer-employee disputation.
The Fin Review takes every opportunity to bash unions and unionisation. The paper once had reporters on industrial relations who enjoyed a modicum of independence in their reporting. No more. The Fin is hysterical that a Labor Government might undermine the current tendencies to employer autonomy, not least embodied in the shift to individualised Australian Workplace Agreements.
Thus Ken Phillips (26 August), a 'consultant' to the corporate-funded Institute of Public Affairs, gets bolshie with the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union on the occasion of the closure of the Fletcher Jones factory in Warrnambool, country Victoria. Phillips, amongst other things, hates the legislation monitoring the employment of outworkers.
Thus Ray Evans (15 September) rails against the revival of union 'privilege'. Evans has been the anti-union strategist and propagandist par excellence, providing the firepower for Hugh Morgan at Western Mining during the frontal attack on the arbitration system.
Thus Richard Calver (17 September), industrial relations director for Master Builders Australia, rails against the union 'bullies' in the building industry.
There is currently no voice for the worker in the Fin Review. Somebody dies on a building site? Stiff Cheddar. More where he/she came from.
The Financial Review is a class warrior. One takes it for granted.
The moneyed and political establishment of the United States has been engaged in a vicious class war against wage labour since the appearance of capitalist workplaces in the early nineteenth century. However, employers experienced a major setback with the passage of the Wagner Act during the New Deal in 1935 which belatedly legitimised unions.
Depression, a continued Roosevelt Presidency and World War delayed reaction. But from 1945, employers mounted a sustained attack on worker rights, most substantially embodied in the 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the Wagner Act. The war has been waged on a permanent basis ever since. As a consequence, American workers, the white collar salariat as well as blue collar workers, live in a state of vulnerability unparalleled in the advanced capitalist world.
The Australian Right admires this boldness in US practices and values. It is now on an elaborate drip to the supremely well-funded reactionary American think tanks.
In Australia, the class war against labour took off with the creation of the National Farmers' Federation and the later creation of the Business Council of Australia in 1983. The NFF's fighting fund was subscribed by farmers, but it was consumed in the attack on unions, and has never been available for more direct farmer concerns (such as fighting the predation of banks). The BCA oversaw the ultimately successful attack on the centralised arbitration system, and its front man was none other than Fred Hilmer, now the CEO of an increasingly mercenary Fairfax press.
Miners now work twelve hour shifts and retail workers are casualised to the hilt. A brilliant achievement. And the BCA is now presided over by the el supremo of the class war, Hugh Morgan, posturing as ever about progress.
Yet there is a perceptual problem with the anti-worker class warriors. The conventional rhetoric centres on something called 'democracy', the shrine before which all right-thinking people pledge allegiance. But the capitalist workplace is feudal. There must, of necessity, be obfuscation in its defence.
So the high sounding label 'productivity' is used instead of longer hours or more fragmented hours. Employer-worker mutual cooperation is used instead of unqualified managerial prerogative. Thus Ray Evans talks of the 'winding back of union privilege and power' and the attraction to AWAs 'in the hearts and minds of a rapidly increasing number of Australian workers'. A Fin Review editorial (31 August) claims that 'in the 21st-century global economy, genuine fairness will be achieved only by workplace decentralisation'.
Hello? Hyperbole pure and simple.
It turns out then that some kinds of class war are acceptable. They are so acceptable that we have become inured to their operation. Other kinds of class war are abhorrent. The acceptable kind involves the reconstruction of a pre-modern hierarchy; the unacceptable kind involves the resistance to that process.
Two hundred years of progress against entrenched privilege is being wound back before our eyes and at a furious pace. But the vehicles of reaction have appropriated the language of progress for their backward agenda.
In an age of unprecedented formal education, black is called white and carries the votes. This is a brilliant achievement and the nature of its success constitutes the most significant conundrum of our age.
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