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  • Aug, 2012

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    The Big Foot of Unions Fits A Smaller Slipper

    Judging by the fear-mongering, anti-union rhetoric spilling out of the mouths of business and the Coalition, you would think that unions are a massive power, with a majority presence in every corner of the workforce. But, the intensity of the rhetoric only tell us one thing: how determined anti-union forces are to destroy the basic standard of living of every work.

    What brings this to mind this morning is a column by Ross Gittins on the Fair Work Australia decision in the Qantas dispute. While I do not agree with Gittins’ conclusion that the Transport Workers Union’s actions were, in his words, “bloody-minded”, he does make a much more cogent point on the hysteria coming from the anti-union quarters:

    Read too much of their stuff and you come away thinking the union movement has risen from its death bed to pose the greatest threat to our continued prosperity. Remember, union membership is down to 18 per cent of the workforce (from 50 per cent in 1982) and 14 per cent of private-sector workers.

    Another figure to keep in mind when you read about the union monster poised to eat the economy’s lunch: more than 80 per cent of enterprises don’t have a union presence.

    Two labour lawyers, Dr Anthony Forsyth, of Monash University, and Professor Andrew Stewart, of Adelaide University, note in their submission to the Fair Work review that ”the concerns about union activities that so animate certain employers in the resources, manufacturing and construction sectors are very far removed from the issues confronting businesses in other parts of the economy”.

    Truth is, many more workers are covered by collective agreements than are union members—but employers overstate union power for political gain. The real issue is: bosses can’t have it both ways—either the unions are weak or an irresistible force. Make your choice, fellow.

    So, when you hear the anti-union forces pontificating about the huge power of unions, remember that really this is a cover for a different agenda: business and the Coalition wants to destroy unions as a force and to extract every dollar possible from working people and put it in the pockets of the elite.


  • Aug, 2012


    Who’s On Top?

    This is a head scratcher. Is Ross Gittins living in the same world as the rest of us?

    This morning, Gittins, who doesn’t hail from the Fantasy Review (better know in the banker world as the Financial Review) world of seeing things, wrings his hands about the review of the Fair Work Act, ending with:

    My guess is a few big, militant unions are taking every advantage of Fair Work to make unreasonable demands. And they’re being vigorously opposed by a few equally militant, unreasonable big businesses.

    But we shouldn’t allow people with a vested interest in conflict to misdirect us. The real problem with Fair Work is that it’s not doing as much good as it could be at a time when bosses and workers need to pull together.

    Actually, as I pointed out last week, the key part of the review found:

    After considering the economic aspects of the Fair Work Act the panel concludes that since the Fair Work Act came into force, important outcomes such as wages growth, industrial disputation, the responsiveness of wages to supply and demand, the rate of employment growth and the flexibility of work patterns have been favourable to Australia’s continuing prosperity,” it says. It also criticises Work Choices. ”Of the four bargaining frameworks over the last 20 years, Work Choices is least like the others. Its period of effective operation was relatively brief and during that period it was significantly amended.” [emphasis added]

    It’s fine to call for employers and workers to “pull together”. But, when you have the Empty Suit, leader of the Coalition, leading a full-throated assault on basic working conditions and wages, the balance of power is not equal. It is, indeed, a false equivalence to pit unions fighting for members rights versus corporate leaders trying to preserve their own huge pay packages and profit margins. They are not the same.


  • Jul, 2012

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    Labor’s Woes

    If you offer people two options to choose from–vote for a lite version of political ideology or the real thing–most people will vote for the real thing. It’s an emotional reaction–not entirely rationale. And, therein, my friends, lies a big problem faced by Labor.

    I thought about Labor’s problem this morning after reading a fine column by Ross Gittins, entitled, “Prejudices rule when judging Labor”. I think Gittins misses, or under-emphasizes, two very important points. But, let’s start with what he gets right:

    The conundrum is why so many people could be so dissatisfied when almost all the objective indicators show us travelling well: the economy growing at about its trend rate, low unemployment, low inflation, rising real wages, low government debt – even a low current account deficit.

    That is correct. We got it good here (see: US unemployment above 8 percent, for example). Hang on to that thought for a moment…


    Similarly, only the one-eyed could believe an Abbott government would have much better policies. It’s likely to be less populist in government than it is opposition but, even so, Tony Abbott is no economic reformer.

    Yup. The Empty Suit, leader of the Coalition, is vapid, entirely void of anything to say that is either true, new or useful about the future.

    It gets even more bizarre. The Empty Suit, and his shills in business, are so craven, they resort to the Big Lie, as Gittins observes:

    So, for instance, a favourite commercial tactic at present is to search for, and give false prominence to, all stories that portray our almost-dead union movement as a threatening monster about to engulf big business.

    Boosting productivity equals making industrial relations law more anti-union. End of story. [emphasis added]

    Ah, yes, the Big Labor fear campaign. Again, The Empty Suit is fully engaged with the American Disease–the Big Labor threat figures prominently in the US where Republicans use it at every turn, even though “Big Labor” is, representing 7 percent in the private sector and maybe 11 percent overall, more like “Big Labor”.

    The Prime Minister also has a host of other issues, not the least of which is sexism in politics–there is always a higher barrier women have to leap over when it comes to the judgement of the chattering media and know-it-alls (see: Hillary Clinton–after all, though she may have actually believed in it, her vote for the Iraq War was, at least, partially driven by the conventional wisdom that, to run for president, she had to look “strong” i.e., appear to be willing to spill blood like a man…well, that didn’t work out too well but I digress).

    But, Gittins sidesteps two really fundamental points. First, remember where we started? That given the choice between ideological “lite” and the real thing people opt for the real thing. So, for example, if you run around harping, stupidly, about the need to have a balanced budget, which Labor is doing, you sound just like The Empty Suit.

    For the love of God, there is no friggin’ debt crisis or even a serious debt problem–as Gittins points out. The end result of sounding like The Empty Suit–government spends too much and needs to cut back–is that (a) it leads to bad policy and people losing their jobs because of an obsession with cutting public sector jobs and (b) voters actually start believing the nonsense.

    And voters are inclined, then, to vote for the real thing–because The Empty Suit, and his chorus of ideological midgets, actually hate government.

    Second, and to the bigger point–and a bit wonky. People vote not based on reason, but emotion.  It is a huge–fatal–mistake to hang on to polls that say Labor’s actual policies are supported. That is a path to defeat.

    May I suggest people read “The Political Brain” by Drew Westen. Here is the upshot:

    In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role. Westen shows, through a whistle-stop journey through the evolution of the passionate brain and a bravura tour through fifty years of American presidential and national elections, why campaigns succeed and fail. The evidence is overwhelming that three things determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven’t decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates’ policy positions.

    The political types, and the wonky types, might not like that. But, if you ignore what people emotionally feel, you are dead politically. And, it seems like this is what Labor is banking on to save its bacon–once people focus on how great are policies are (see: carbon pricing), all will be good.


    Twitter @jonathantasini

  • Jul, 2012

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    Hello? Context, Please–Housing Is Not a Pretty Picture

    I’ll bet this happens to every person at least, say, once a week: you read something in the newspaper (that’s the thing that you actually hold in your hand and leaf through–I’m just practicing an explanation I’ll need to use with young people in ten years) but it bears no relation to what you see happening in YOUR real life. If you are aching for that feeling, you only need read most coverage of economics–as in a column today in the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Ross Gittins, who I hasten to say is relatively sane compared to the free market, knuckle-draggers who write about economics and business over at The Australian and The Fin, muses about housing prices today. Here are his two key points:

    FOR years when people at dinner parties worried about houses becoming too expensive for the younger generation to afford, I used to tell them not to worry: it was logically impossible for prices to rise to a level no one could afford. Why do I remind you of this? Because it’s starting to look like I was right.

    And, then, at the end:

    I take the present small falls in house prices as a sign the limits to affordability have been reached, and won’t be exceeded.

    As a matter of supply and demand, Gittins might be right: prices may not be going dramatically higher. But, c’mon, “limits to affordability”? You got to be kiddin?

    The real world is explained by our friends at the Australians for Affordable Housing. To wit:

    • Almost one in ten households is in housing stress
    • On any given night over 105,000 people in Australia are homeless
    • Both house prices and rents have risen well above inflation. For people on low incomes this means that housing costs are eating up more of their income and leaving less for the other essentials in life. [emphasis added]

    So, my problem with Gittins’ column is really context. It’s a bit misleading to wax on and on about how terrific it is that housing prices aren’t skyrocketing without balancing that with an insight into the real life people face trying to actually find housing, whether buying or renting.

    Context, context, context!!!


  • Jun, 2012

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    The Empty Suit and Carbon Taxes

    The Empty Suit has been using the carbon tax scare as a key part of his assault on the government–an assault this is devoid of integrity…oh, why even bother to use that word? But, sometimes lies work wonders.

    Ross Gittins makes a useful observation in his column today:

    But with the carbon tax taking effect from this Sunday, the moment of truth approaches. Soon enough it will become clear that, for consumers and the vast bulk of businesses, the dreaded carbon tax will have an effect much smaller than the GST. The retail prices of electricity and gas will rise by about 9 per cent, but the increases in other prices will be very small.

    Julia Gillard and her supporters have been hoping against hope that as soon as this reality dawns on a fearful public, as soon as the magnitude of the Liberals’ hoax is revealed, voters will switch back to Labor in droves.

    I don’t see it happening. It rests on an unrealistic view of the lack of self-delusion in human nature.

    Political parties and their cheerleaders don’t like admitting they’ve been dishonest – even to themselves. And you and I don’t like admitting we’ve allowed ourselves to be conned by unscrupulous politicians and shock jocks.

    So, the point is The Empty Suit will continue to spread fear about the carbon tax because, well, fear works. Integrity is so yesterday.