There is mass outrage today at the news that Turnbull has pressured the ABC to take down and censor parts of an article by Emma Alberici which analysed how little tax some of Australia’s largest companies pay. This story reeks of a scandalous government intervention in a publicly owned free press. But this isn’t the only story. In fact, it’s not the biggest story. If you look closely at exactly what was removed from the article before it was reposted, you can see what Turnbull was so desperate to censor. And you immediately see where this desperation comes from: a fear that his house of cards is about to come crashing down, blown up by a truth bomb. Because the line that was taken out of this article smashes not just Turnbull’s entire political ideology, his political career and his government’s hold on power; it also smashes the right wing narrative the world over. The stakes are that high.
This is the key line which the public no longer have access to:
There is no compelling evidence that giving the country’s biggest companies a tax cut sees that money passed on to workers in the form of higher wages.
The Guardian reports that ABC director of news, Gaven Morris, gave in to Turnbull’s pressure to change the article because ‘he believed it sounded too much like opinion’. In other words, Turnbull told Morris that Alberici’s statement of fact – that there is no compelling evidence that tax cuts trickle-down to workers – is not a fact, and is instead an opinion.
At this point, we could waste hours of outrage, sending Gaven Morris every ABC news article ever printed, with segments highlighted to show how opinion is inherent in any news article – whether it be opinion about what is important to report, how the report is framed, which ‘facts’ make it in and which are excluded, who is used as a source, what order those sources are used, who doesn’t get a chance to speak, and what prominence the story is given on the ABC news agenda. But, again, this is not the big story.
The big story is Turnbull’s fear of workers finally understanding the truth. Finally understanding how they’ve been lied to for generations. Why else would Turnbull go to such extraordinary lengths to get this so called ‘opinion’ removed, if he didn’t know how damaging this truth is to his neoliberal worldview?
The truth is, Emma Alberici is spot on. The truth is, there is no evidence that tax cuts either increase wages or create jobs. If there was such evidence, Turnbull would be able to point to it, instead of censoring an opposing view. The truth is, the lie that tax cuts increase wages and create jobs has been engineered as conventional wisdom by right wing governments and the compliant media for so long, that workers have fallen hook line and sinker for the lie and punched themselves in the face by turning against unions, the only ones giving them the power to stand up to the liars.
The truth is, Turnbull is terrified the lie is no longer believable. And it’s no longer believable because workers are waking up to the reality that their Point Piper millionaire PM, who uses tax havens to ensure wealth created through the labour of workers doesn’t come back to the community, who uses the power of government to make rules enabling other millionaires to steal wealth from workers, is actually lying to them. These lies benefit Turnbull individually – giving him political power and more money. These lies benefit all the Turnbull’s kind – the one-percenters whose wealth has grown exponentially as compared to the wealth of those whose productivity produces the wealth. Once these lies are exposed, once the game is up, there is no turning back.
I have long said that once workers realise wealth doesn’t trickle down, right wing governments will never be elected again. Turnbull knows this too. So, he can censor all he likes, but editing an ABC news article is akin to pissing in the ocean when the waves of change are building like a truth-tsunami. Bring it on.
There is a reason why business owners have traditionally despised unions and voted Liberal, and why many workers have been convinced to punch themselves in the face by doing the same. It’s because they’ve bought into two big lies told by liars – Liberals, big business, employer groups and their parrots in the media. The first lie is that corporate tax cuts create jobs, and the second is that pay rises are bad for the economy.
I call them big lies because they have big consequences for all of us; they clearly hurt workers, who haven’t had a pay rise in years, and also hurt the businesses who rely on their customers having money to spend. In turn, these lies hurt the economic prosperity of the entire country, reducing spending, gutting demand and discouraging investment. So, you can see why it’s time we understood just how corrosive these lies are, and worked to convince the lied-to to stop putting the liars in control of the economy.
The first lie is easy to refute. Corporate tax cuts do not create jobs, nor do they increase wages. I’ve explained here why this lie is codswallop. Sure, tax cuts could be spent on higher wages and hiring new staff, but could doesn’t mean they are. The best predictor of the future is the past, and judging by the past experience of companies receiving tax cuts, workers aren’t getting a pay rise from Turnbull’s latest round of cuts.
The reason why workers and business owners believe this lie is because they are lied to so regularly. Whenever they open a newspaper, they read statements like this from the AFR:
‘The Labor party and an increasingly determined Australian Council of Trade Union secretary Sally McManus are punting on winning hearts and minds through a return to interventionist wages policy. Pitted against them is a Coalition determined to do what it can to stoke investment, hiring, and pay packets through corporate tax cuts’.
You don’t even have to read between the lines here to see the clear implication is that villainous Labor and unions will hurt ‘investment, hiring and pay packets’ by intervening in the economy, whereas the heroic Coalition (liars) will ‘do what it can’ to improve all these things with a corporate tax cut. Lies!
The truth is, there is only one reason why the liars want, lobby for, and deliver through their political-arm-Liberal-Party, corporate tax cuts, and that is to increase their profits. Increased profits are great for them and their off-shored millions, but do nothing to increase employment or wages. Lies!
The second big lie – that pay rises cost jobs – was on display on Q and A Monday night, when spokesperson for the liars, James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:
‘there’s something worse than having subdued wages growth, and that is not having a job at all’.
In other words, stop complaining that you haven’t had a pay rise in years – you’re lucky to have a job at all! This threat, that pay rises cost jobs, as I explain here, has been a clever little strategy for the liars as it has resulted both in productivity increases going unrewarded and also workers, through fear of job losses, turning against unions. Unions negotiate pay rises, and therefore in the lied-to-workers’ eyes, unions threaten their jobs.
These two big lies have therefore become a circular problem for the lied-to-workers, the business owners, and in turn, the economy. Workers have been so successfully turned against unions and the Labor Party – turned against themselves – that the labour movement is struggling to deliver pay rises for workers who fear losing their jobs if they are paid more, and in turn, businesses are struggling because their customers can’t afford what they’re selling. What an economic clusterfuck the liars have caused!
But wait, I hear you say. Businesses aren’t struggling – they have had huge profit increases year after year. So how can they be struggling if they’re making so much money? And yes, you’re right. Not ALL businesses are struggling.
At this point it’s important to differentiate between big business, and medium or small business. And, for medium and small businesses to see how the big business liars, who they keep voting for and helping to bash unions, are hurting them too.
Big businesses are making huge profits. That’s true. Big businesses also care most about corporate tax cuts, because they’re the ones who benefit from them most. Big business are the ones who most often get away with paying little to no tax because they can afford clever accountants with offshore tax schemes. Big business, often foreign owned, are more credible, but still not entirely credible, in claiming they can take their investment elsewhere if we don’t do what we’re told and vote for Liberals who will give them a tax cut. In reality, I can’t really see how Qantas is going to move offshore and still service Australian-based customers, or how BHP is going to mine Australian dirt in South Africa, or how huge banks and energy companies are going to gouge Australians of almost every cent they earn without investing their capital in the Australian economy. But either way, hugely profitable big businesses, who don’t pay their fair share of tax, who offshore most of their profits, who fund the employer groups and the Liberal Party in order to get the tax cuts they want, who own the newspapers which lie about tax cuts and pay rises, are, I admit, not the ones most hurt by low wages.
No, the ones hurt by low wages are the local small businesses, the medium sized employers, the Australian investors, who are suffering because their cash-strapped-customers can’t afford their products and services. It’s the owners of these businesses who are being hurt by the big liars, just as much as the workers missing out on pay rises.
Sure, small and medium businesses might not enjoy giving their staff pay rises, but they sure enjoy their customers earning more cash. Without pay rises, the self-employed painter sees his customers paint their homes every 10 years instead of every 5. Without pay rises, the café owner sees less coffee orders. Especially after paying their mortgages to hugely profitable banks and their power bill-shockers to privatised overseas owned electricity companies, workers without pay rises can’t afford to spend. This means small and medium business owners can’t afford to invest, and can’t afford to hire anyone, because there is not enough demand for the products and services they sell. As any good economist knows, capital investment comes from the promise of return on that investment. Return comes from demand. Demand is dependent on the customer’s ability to pay. When customers haven’t had a pay rise in years, they can’t afford to pay. So, bye bye revenue, bye bye potential returns, bye by investment, bye bye jobs and economic growth.
Remember this equation when you hear the Labor Party and unions opposing corporate tax cuts and calling for higher wages. Be warned, there might be a little voice in your head, put there by the liars, that makes you think Labor and unions are hurting the economy. But think of the small and medium businesses. Think of workers as customers, and understand why the economy relies on customers who can afford to spend. Call out the lies that are hurting all of us.
And next time you speak to a small and medium business owner, tell them they should join unions and vote Labor instead of supporting lying-employer-groups and voting for the liar-Liberal-Party. Tell them this story to explain why, if they really want to see their businesses succeed, this is the smartest thing to do. Unions and Labor governments are good for the economy, no matter what part in the economy you play. Spread the word.
Labor’s Mark Butler says unions are in ‘deep crisis’ thanks to Howard ‘smashing the power of organised labour’. Although the history books say that Howard’s WorkChoices policy was killed by the trade union movement and Kevin07, in reality, the biggest trick the Liberals and big business-devils ever played was convincing the world WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated. Just when workers felt they were safe, protected by the Fair Work Act, the Liberals and big business were bringing in individual contracts and minimum rates by stealth, and finding loopholes to sabotage collective bargaining. How did they do it? By turning workers against unions. And wow, wasn’t it easy.
In my study of trade union narratives, I have looked at the way the media framed trade unions, from the shearer’s strike, the pig iron strike, the waterfront dispute, the Hawke Accord to WorkChoices. There is a consistent theme in the coverage: unions are framed as the villains – unreasonable and bad for the economy. Employers are framed as the heroes – reasonable and good for the economy, always given the benefit of the doubt. It is no wonder, since the public have been hearing this trope for their entire lives, that they believe it.
This narrative has been so successful at winning the culture wars that workers are cutting off their nose to spite their face by opposing unions, right when they need unions most. Take, for instance, the case of Turnbull cheered on by truck drivers when promising to rid them of the Transport Workers Union and Labor Party’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body which was designed to increase truck driver pay so they could drive more safely.
Think about it for a moment. These owner-operator truck drivers were outraged that a union, of which they weren’t members, was working in their interest for free. It was forcing monumentally-profitable supermarket chains to pay them enough that they didn’t have to break the speed limit all night to make a living. Since they were all being paid at least the same minimum amount, and truck drivers provide a service the supermarkets can’t forgo, they’d still have work. So, how is it in truck drivers’ interest to campaign against higher rates of pay? Contract workers, like these truck drivers, have been convinced that ‘being your own boss’ gives you ‘freedom’, when really the only freedom it gives is for employers to rip you off. The fantasy of the Liberal’s WorkChoices dream has come true, yet many workers vote for union-bashing Liberal governments again and again.
Unions need to ‘un-smash’ the movement by countering this dominant cultural narrative in two ways:
The first is to put workers back in the frame by taking themselves out of it. Let workers tell the media their story, rather than speaking on their behalf. Remind workers that a union is just a group of workers who have every right to a say in their working lives.
Unions need to tell the ‘workers are the union’ story to show they aren’t just another boss, an outside influence who meddles in workplaces and tells workers what to do, duping members into giving them money to extend their political power. A union is not forcing workers to do anything against their interest. Instead, a union gives workers the tools to organise better wages and conditions for themselves. Unions are not in fact run by ‘union bosses’; workers vote to control the action. Enterprise bargaining agreements result from worker consultation; everyone working together to solve workplace problems.
By framing unions as power-hungry political players, the media have detached ‘unions’ from ‘workers’. They have put unions in the political-establishment-bucket, where they are written off as acting against the interest of workers. Industrial disputes are framed as ‘boss’ versus ‘union boss’, suits doing back-room deals, leaving workers with no voice in the story. Media reports of train strikes are about the will of ‘militant power-hungry union bosses’ rather than stories of poor conditions for rail workers and unsafe travel for commuters.
To fix this, unions need to remind the public that workers are the true victim of stalled workplace negotiations; workers are forced to take the drastic measures of industrial action. Employers are the villains who have forced them there. Strikes happen because workers need them, not because union bosses want them.
The second thing unions need to do to ‘un-smash’ dominant cultural narratives is to kill the mistaken belief that union-won pay increases cost jobs, with the presumption that low wages are good for the economy.
Employers have been using the cover of the Global Financial Crisis to claim they can’t afford pay rises. This is not a believable excuse. Profits are up 40% in the last four years, yet workers are still waiting patiently, too patiently, to be rewarded by wage rises. Too often workers believe their only choice is unstable, casual, low wage work – better than no job at all. Part of the reason profits are so high is because productivity isn’t being rewarded, and wages do not cost what they should. Profit-takers are laughing all the way to off-shore-tax-haven-bank accounts, while workers are left with wages that are not keeping up with cost of living.
A solution to this problem used to be collective bargaining. But since most workers don’t bother to join their union, let alone consider collective action, the employers have them right where they want them – in a position where they feel too vulnerable to ask for a pay rise. And even if workers do ask, they can be easily rejected.
Then there is the double-whammy of the Liberal-stacked-laughingly-so-called ‘Fair Work Commission’ which has made industrial strike action virtually impossible. So, even when the brave few union members organise to push back against greedy, uncompromising employers, they are left with no option than to put up with bad conditions, or resign.
But this is not the end of the story. Employers are individually greedy in refusing pay rises, and are also collectively cutting off their nose to spite their face by reducing the spending power of their customers. With 60% of the economy reliant on consumer spending, you have to laugh so you don’t cry when groups like the Retailers Association bemoan low retail spending, in the same year as they’ve won their campaign to cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers earning penalty rates. Workers are consumers, and when they can’t afford to shop, they don’t shop. This is not rocket science.
Unions are in a position to tell this story – of how the wage rises they facilitate are good for the economy. How workers should be unafraid of wage rises and how employers are lying when they say they can’t afford to pay workers.
The media’s trade union narratives have helped the Liberals and big business turn workers against unions, which ultimately turns workers against themselves. Unions can help to un-smash the movement by telling new stories to explain how workers can improve their lives, and make the economy a more equal and profitable place to work, by joining their workmates in solidarity.
When a political event unfolds, you would expect that each media outlet, and each political journalist might report that event from a different angle. You would expect a diversity of opinion and commentary in the stories, depending on the subjective and independent analysis of the individual journalist. But, my research into the stories told by the media shows this is not how political journalists behave. Instead, a media narrative springs up immediately to explain the what, why, how, when and who, and this narrative is adopted as given by the rest of the pack, with very few, if any, journalists willing to look at the story from a different perspective. Simply put, it is much more common for the political media to all tell the same story, and democracy is the loser.
I wrote recently about the success Alice Workman from Buzzfeed had in questioning the facts behind the AFP’s raids on the AWU, and how her reporting blew a hole in the media’s usual ‘unions are corrupt’ narrative, simply by investigating how it came to be that the media arrived at the scene ahead of the police. This type of brave, swimming-against-the-narrative-tide reporting is the exception, not the rule, in the Australian political media. Usually, political stories follow a far more uniform pattern of characterising the ‘facts’ of events as a ‘given’, in what I call the ‘train track narrative’ – as if the train only has one option – following the other trains ahead of it, instead of weaving its own path.
The train track media narrative was exemplified this week by the media’s reporting of the ongoing parliamentary citizenship saga. There seem to be some train tracks which are particularly popular, used as templates in media reporting, like a train set to auto-pilot. For example, there is the ‘they’re just as bad as each-other’ template. It appeared to be a relief to most journalists last week when Labor finally had some citizenship problems of their own. David Feeney’s lost paperwork and five others who claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship, who didn’t receive a response to their correspondence in time to tick that box before the commencement of a new parliament, have been a gift to this template narrative.
As the results of the audit came in, immediately it was the Labor MPs under a cloud who were the focus of the media’s attention. Just to name a few, we had Katharine Murphy at the Guardian making the story all about Labor. The ABC also did their best to paint Labor as the losers in the story, framing Labor’s cross-bench-supported bid to send all un-confirmed citizenship cases to the High Court as a ‘failure’, right there in the headline. Adam Gartrell and James Massola for Fairfax wrote a similar story under the heading ‘More Labor referrals loom as Bill Shorten’s horror fortnight ends with infighting’. David Speers, in the Daily Telegraph, reported Turnbull’s week as ‘the best for this year’, while labelling Shorten’s week a ‘shocker’. And so on and so forth.
To a casual observer of this story, it would seem that Shorten’s Labor opposition were the only party in parliament last week who had any issues with citizenship uncovered in the audit and that Shorten was mismanaging those issues by refusing to sort them out via the High Court. This narrative, however, doesn’t reflect the true reality of the situation.
Let’s look at some of the big things missing from this ‘thank goodness Labor can now be bashed about citizenship problems too’ narrative. Not only is Turnbull facing a by-election this weekend over his own citizenship problems with John Alexander in Bennelong, a by-election which could undermine his government’s numbers on the floor of the parliament (you would think this was a huge story, remember Craig Thomson?), he also has more citizenship problems uncovered through his pathetic attempt at an audit which looked more like a rabble of scant paperwork and disorganisation by the Liberal Party, who clearly have never had a proper process to deal with the requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution.
A reminder at this point that the Liberals and Nationals are in GOVERNMENT. The political stakes are higher for government than opposition I would have thought. The audit showed there are at least four Liberal MPs who still haven’t lifted the cloud of citizenship-doubts through their statements, who need to be referred to ensure they met the requirements the same as everyone else.
Even if you want to leave Josh Frydenberg out because his mother was a Jewish refugee, which Labor have chosen to do (as sympathetic as we all feel towards Jewish refugees, I’m not sure what this element of the story has to do with Frydenberg fulfilling the requirements of the Australian Constitution), there are still four who definitely need to be referred, as argued by Labor and the cross benchers – including Julia Banks, Nola Marino, Jason Falinski and Alex Hawke.
Falinksi has been named in the Daily Telegraph today as being ‘snared’ in the saga – a fact that was obvious last week as soon as the audit was released. All four of these Liberals aren’t arguing that they’ve taken ‘reasonable steps’, as the Labor MPs are, but rather are claiming not to be dual citizens of their respective ancestors’ birth nations, ignoring the fact that S44 requires that dual citizenry AND rights to dual citizenry be denounced.
So have their rights been denounced or not? The High Court are the only ones who can decide this. But even a non-lawyer like me, whose only education in S44 has been to follow the citizenship drama since June, can see that these four have a problem, just by looking at the paperwork they’ve submitted through the audit. Anyone reading media stories, however, this week would think these four MPs were being unfairly targeted by mean-big-bad-bully-Labor, who apparently coerced the cross-benchers into believing their conspiracy against the Liberals for political point scoring. That’s how the ‘they’re just as bad as each other’ story was old last week.
The fact is, Turnbull is shit-scared to send these four Liberals to the High Court because he knows that they are on shaky ground, and if even one or two of them was forced to a by-election, his government’s wafer-thin majority is at risk. So, why do journalists not report from this angle – from the angle that Turnbull blocked a bid by Labor to check both their own and Liberal citizenship cases – to get it all sorted at once – when it is clear that Turnbull would only fight to block the referral if he himself had doubts about his MP’s eligibility? If he thinks they are fine, as the journalists seem to agree, why not let the High Court lift the cloud and everyone can move on, starting 2018 afresh?
The media narrative straight out of the blocks in reporting the citizenship dramas unfolding last week was to rush for the ‘Labor are now on the bad-guy scoreboard and just as bad as the Libs’. But it is Turnbull, not Labor, who has the most to lose, and it is Turnbull’s MPs, not Labor’s, who can’t claim to have taken reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship. This is the crux of the story.
It stuns and frustrates me in equal measure that the political journalists are so quick to all write the same story, that they misrepresent the truth of the citizenship saga, and fall into unquestioning line with each other, leaving the public in the dark about what is really going on. There are many sides to every story, and when journalists all choose to go along the same track, the lack of diverse opinion is not just a bad look for their professionalism, but is also detrimental to democracy. We all lose when journalists don’t do their jobs well.
This week we have learned a lot about the way that the political media operates. That’s not to say any of us were surprised to see behind the curtain and find journalists complicit in a union-bashing charade. The surprise is the way these journalists have responded to the one amongst them who had the integrity to do the right thing: Alice Workman from BuzzFeed. The surprise is that they can argue with a straight face that their priority is always to protect their sources, and that this two-dimensional moral code is how they have been doing their jobs for so long, they’ve lost the ability to look at it objectively and ask if it’s really in the public interest. The surprise is that they’re willing to defend themselves speaking un-truths on behalf of power, instead of doing their jobs, the jobs they no doubt expected themselves to do as idealistic 22-year-olds: speaking truth to power. The surprise is the total lack of self-reflection and the hostility towards Workman, when Workman has done them all a favour. Have they ever wondered why they are at the bottom of the trust scale, trusted only slightly more than their political allies; the politicians they receive leaks from?
The natural state of affairs would have unravelled as it usually does, had Workman not had the bravery to smash the racket. Allegedly a media staffer working for the Liberal Minister for Employment (I say allegedly as Minister Cash claims the staffer acted without her knowledge), tipped off journalists to be on the ready when the offices of the Australian Workers Union were raided by the Australian Federal Police on behalf of the Minister’s latest publicly-funded-union-bashing organisation, the Registered Organisations Commission.
The plan was to have plenty of juicy footage of union staff looking nervous, while grave-faced AFP officers carried ‘evidence’ out of the union. And of course the political journalists delivered this in spades, being their usual obedient little selves when it comes to helping with any campaign of union bashing, or Labor bashing, that drops in their lap through their speed-dial tip-off-line.
No doubt the vast majority of news-watching public, as journalists are aware, aren’t across the intricate details, nor willing to do the follow up necessary to see what this raid was actually about. If journalists had chosen to frame the raid not as an allegation towards the union (allegations on the nightly news equate to guilt in the minds of the public), and instead a political witch-hunt against a union who has done nothing wrong, the story would have looked very different. Would the public mind that the union helped fund the establishment of GetUp? In fact, the AWU’s association with GetUp, I believe, works in their favour. GetUp is a grassroots organisation that the public have embraced, and continued to fund through small donations over ten years, counting on them to expose political wrong-doing and to educate the electorate about policies during election campaigns. Ironically, GetUp fills the void left by political journalists who would prefer not to embarrass the hands-that-feed-them-tipoffs. And is it really news to anyone that the union donates to the Labor party? I’ll give you a hint: unions are labour movement organisations, Labor is the political arm of the labour movement, so, um, yeah, that seems fairly legit to me!
But this isn’t the angle the journalists went with. Even when, the next day, an ROC spokesman admitted he might have mistook AWU for a different organisation, as AWU hadn’t refused to hand over documents, which the union said they would happily email through if asked. Even when it was revealed that the ROC apparently acted from an anonymous tipoff about AWU documents being destroyed, even though these documents had already been provided to the other publicly funded union witch hunt Royal Commission. So, the union was actually the victim here – raided because someone at ROC has a bad memory and can’t do their job properly (apparently). The union is left with their reputation in tatters, with most journalists unwilling to correct the record.
The point is, Alice Workman saw this situation is wrong. It’s not a complicated moral argument to explain why some sources should be protected, and others should be exposed as the opportunistic conspirators that they are. Sources who are without power, who are taking on those with more power (such as Ministers in the government), who are at risk of being punished for this bravery, should of course be protected. Whistle-blowers. For instance, staffers in the political system who see something unethical occurring and believe the public have a right to know. Again, ironically, in this case I would call Alice Workman a whistle-blower. Don’t believe me? Here’s a former insider saying the same thing. Workman knows the conventional operations of the Press Gallery, the daily modus operandi, is to use leaks from within the political establishment and to report them in a way that damages the opponents of those groups. By questioning this, by outing where the AFP raid came from, Alice was speaking truth to power. Truth to the powerful editors of the mainstream news media who dictate that unions and Labor should be bashed, workers should be hurt because of it, and that the Minister for Employment can weaponise the news cycle to help her political fortunes, and most of the time, can feel safe in the knowledge she won’t be caught out.
It’s time journalists in the political media asked themselves what their job really is. Is their job to help the powerful political establishment build campaigns of mistruth against their rivals? Or, is it their job to work in the little-guy’s interest, in this case in the interest of the workers the union represents, and to speak truth to power? This is a wakeup call. The members of outlets struggling to convince the public of their value, struggling to make enough money to sustain their operations, would be wise to listen.
Amongst credible economists and political leaders (so, not including Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison), it is universally accepted that Australia, like most other developed economies, has a wealth and income inequality problem. There are books and essays being written and read every minute about why this problem exists, but let me simplify in the words of a writer, not an economist: the people who own the capital (the business owners, shareholders and executives) are keeping profit from their investments for themselves, rather than dividing it amongst the people whose labour contributed to the return. This behaviour explains why company profits were up 40% to March this year, yet wages were only up 0.9%.
Before I go on, just a quick word about the behaviour that led to this outcome. You will often hear company executives and business journalists using passive language when talking about company profits and the way they are distributed amongst shareholders, executives and workers. Investments apparently ‘flow’, like water from a tap, as if nature intended shareholders to get a better deal than the workers who created the wealth. Anat Shenker-Osario makes the excellent point that this language erases responsibility for the actual decisions that led to these outcomes. Business owners and executives don’t stand in the hallway of their office and watch money flow to various stakeholders in imbalanced proportion, coincidentally, much of it into their bank accounts. They choose to make this happen.
If we, workers, are concerned about this situation of growing wealth inequality, we need to do something about the culture of what is accepted behaviour amongst business owners. We need to reassess our own language and culture around the relationship between what we do for a living, and with those in control of how much we get paid.
Another caveat here. The business owners should also be concerned with flat-lining wages and the resulting growth in inequality. Who is going to buy their products if no one has any money left after necessities? As this article points out, 60% of Australia’s economic growth is consumer based. Those consumers are, for the most part, the very same people who work for a living – who sell their labour and who haven’t had a meaningful pay rise in four years. Business owners and leaders don’t seem to fully understand this fact; no doubt they hope everyone else gives their workers a pay rise, but they’re safe not to do the same. In the long term, this selfishness is clearly to everyone’s detriment.
So what is a worker? It’s time we talked about this question, because I fear there are far too many of us who don’t fully comprehend what it means to sell our labour. I know a union secretary who has been told by members of his union that they don’t want a pay rise as they’ll be priced out of the market. These are workers who are qualified and experienced trades people. Yet, they have drunk the neoliberal-kool-aid that their bosses have been serving up forever which makes them fear that more pay will make them a bigger liability for their boss and they might be got rid of.
Let’s just get something straight right now. The boss doesn’t hire someone to do work for them out of the goodness of their charitable heart, and they don’t keep them employed because they’re nice people. I’m not saying aren’t good person, and are purposely trying to screw over their workers. But what I am saying is that people who are paid to do a job need to understand that without them doing that job, their boss couldn’t run their business, couldn’t produce profit, and would have no return to show for their investment of time and money. The boss needs the worker just as much as the worker needs the boss. The resulting compact between a worker and a business owner goes something like this: the business owner invests in setting up a business, contributing capital such as an innovative idea, market knowledge, physical resources and money. If they can’t create profit with their own two hands, they need people to do work for them to co-create profit from this investment. It really is as simple as that in pretty much every boss/worker relationship. Yet, somehow workers have become so brow-beaten by economic and job-insecurity, and so convinced by the neoliberal trickle-down promise, that they have been made to feel like they should feel lucky to provide their labour to a business owner, and that they do anything to displease the giver of luck, such as expecting to be fairly compensated for the labour they provide that contributes to the profits of the business owner, their luck might be taken away.
Workers need to stop believing their boss when they say tell them they can’t afford a pay rise. Workers also need to start demanding more from their boss, such as requiring that they be told how much profit a company has made. If the boss wants to deny a pay rise year in and year out, they need to look the worker in the eye and tell them how much the business owner, executives and shareholders have received for their input into the business (investment), so that workers can compare this to how much they have got for their input; their labour. Workers need to understand what we are and what our role is in profit creation. You saw it coming and here it is: to do any of this effectively, takes collective effort. Workers need to unite together in their demands to have their labour input respectfully remunerated. And the best way to do this is to join together IN A UNION. IN SOLIDARITY.
To be a right winger these days, you have to be good at playing the victim. Victim-playing defines the behaviour of right wingers from the Prime Minister and his in-fighting colleagues, throughout the right-wing business world, all the way down to the rank and file right-wing-trolls on social media. This is not just an Australian right-winger thing – but rather a worldwide movement. Play the victim. Take responsibility for nothing. Zero self-awareness. Here are some examples:
Men’s rights activists. I’ve watched The Red Pill. The men in this documentary claim that men are victims of society, more so than women. They provide evidence for these claims that include that men undertake more dangerous professions, and when there is a plane crash, women and children get saved ahead of men. They say this is evidence of society treating men as dispensable, a form of discrimination against poor, weak, underprivileged men. These men have massive gripes about family court custody decisions (which last time I checked are designed to benefit the children) and obsess about the problem of male suicide. I’ve got no issue, by the way, with men campaigning for more attention to be paid to male suicide. But I don’t see why they need to talk-over, and put down, feminists campaigning for less sex-discrimination, more gender equity, and less violence against women by claiming MEN are the victims of society. Ever tried to talk about domestic violence and had the discussion railroaded by men who claim that ‘not all men are violent’ and therefore they are the victim of any action to stop women being hurt and killed? Clearly women have much more reason, overall, to fight societal status quos which keep us from achieving life-equity with men. If this situation changes in the future, I’ll be the first to celebrate.
Speaking of male suicide, this issue was also used to back up Liberal Mark Paton’s bizarre claims of victimhood for ‘heterosexual, white men over 30 with jobs’, who are apparently victims because ‘they’re not included in anything’. The ‘anything’ Paton is speaking of referred to policies such as the one being discussed in the ACT Assembly when Paton made his outrageous claims – programs to improve inclusion of women, gay and lesbian people, refugees, Indigenous Australians and vulnerable members of the community. Not content to agree that these groups are the victims of marginalisation, discrimination, inequality and systemic disadvantage, Paton wanted the subject changed to talk about his preferred group of victims who apparently don’t get enough of the victimhood pie: middle aged, economically comfortable, white men. The men who dominate and run every institution in the country. What the fuck? So desperate to be the victim, and to reject any claims of privilege, right wingers are resorting to satirising themselves. And by the way, since when is victimhood a pie? Can’t men be disproportionally the victims of mental illness leading to suicide, and not have to take this victimhood away from other just-as-worthy discussions of other victimised groups in society?
Let’s look at Malcolm Turnbull. Have you noticed how he can’t talk about any policy for which his government is responsible, a government that has been in power for four years, without blaming all his obvious problems, contradictions, failures and inadequacies on the previous Labor government? That’s right – Turnbull, the man who threw in over a million dollars of his own pocket money to help himself get the top job, plays the victim card at every possible opportunity. It’s revolting really. And all his colleagues do it too. Whether it be energy and climate change policies (who exactly did cancel the Carbon Price which was working to cut emissions?), school funding (the Liberals have adopted a less-good version of Labor’s Gonski policy), employment (let’s not forget who told the car manufactures to leave the country) and any other policy you can think of – nothing is Turnbull’s responsibility. No, he will whinge and whine and cry and play a tiny violin as he begs to be the victim.
This behaviour has become endemic in right-wing politics. Donald Trump is the master of the victim card. Look at his Twitter feed and see all the things he complains about; painting himself as the poor-hapless-victim-of-other-people’s-nastiness. Recently he complained that people were writing books about him who didn’t know him. The President of the United States. Everyone in the media (except his friends at Fox) are out to get him and are making things up about him – poor little down trodden him. And, just like Malcolm, anything that is wrong with America is NOT HIS FAULT – it’s all Obama’s fault. But, conveniently, everything that is going well is all thanks to him. Amazing how he takes responsibility for only one side of the ledger. Typical card-carrying-victim, teaching all his followers how it is done.
The loony right in Australia make a living out of victimhood. Recent examples abound, but include Cory Bernardi claiming a charity drive where school students wear school tunics to raise awareness of the importance of female education is, apparently, evidence of a plot to do away with gender. You seriously couldn’t make this shit up. Pauline Hanson wearing a burqa to parliament to raise awareness of how she feels victimised by multiculturalism, in an act of religious intolerance and blatant bigotry, is my new definition of hypocrisy. The strange thing in all this is that those doing the discriminating – those exhibiting text-book racist, bigoted, homophobic, intolerant, aggressive, freedom-squashing discriminatory behaviour – are painting themselves as the victim. The victims, obviously, are those being discriminated against. Not the villains doing the discriminating. Apparently, this is not obvious enough to right wingers.
Same goes for those voting ‘no’ to marriage equality – who are all over social media grabbing every victim card in site – who claim to be the ones suffering from the yes campaign. Tony Abbott’s alleged headbutting is just one example. The Trolls are on-message, claiming to be bullied about their discriminating ideas. Poor, silenced Lyle Shelton, head-spokesmen for the no campaign, who has been given more media opportunities than the three leading yes campaigners put together, claims that no campaigners like him are being bullied and intimidated.
My message to these people, who are literally campaigning to encourage no voters to reject the rights of gay people to do what non-gay people are allowed to do, and are campaigning against gay peoples’ rights in unrelated areas, such as their right to have children, and their right to feel safe in educational environments, is this: you are not the victim. The victims are gay people. And there’s more. Those blocking the rights of gay people are the villains of this story. If you don’t like being called the villain, if you don’t like being called homophobic, racist or bigoted, stop being these things. And stop claiming to be the victim, claiming to be bullied, when it’s pointed out to you that your behaviour is bad. The person in the wrong, like any 5 year old knows, is not being bullied when they’re told to stop misbehaving. This is a very simple idea which seems to be so easily muddied by right wingers, you’d swear their holding training workshops to show people how it’s done.
The business community. Those people who have managed to achieve a 40% increase in their profits over the last four years, while, coincidentally, also managing not to give their workers a pay rise, are represented by the chief whingers, otherwise knowns as business lobbyists. This week the Business Council of Australia were whinging that they want stability in energy and climate policy because uncertainty is bad for business. That’s right. The very same lobbyists who refused to accept Labor’s Carbon Price policy, who campaigned against it alongside the Liberals and a complicit media for three years, are now say they are the victim of instability in climate policy. Seriously folks, you couldn’t make this shit up. Have the business owners and ridiculously over-paid executives ever wondered how their workers cope with huge household power bills when their household incomes have remained stagnant for years. Have they considered the victims of climate change? I get it – there’s no time for sympathy when you’re busy playing the victim yourself.
I’m fed up with the lot of them. Right wingers need to grow a spine, stop whinging and trying to find ways that they are the victim, when, in almost every case, it just so happens that they are not an innocent bystander, but are actively engaging in villainous behaviour. Progressives need to get better at calling out right winger’s false claims of victimhood as we go about our core business of making things better for the real victims in society. Victim-playing is a potent strategy of right wingers to deflect blame away from their actions, and it’s time we stopped letting them get away with it.