The problem with attacking consumers at Christmas time

Christmas and the holiday season is a time of anxiety, frustration and guilt for a lot of people, and in countries like the US, it is more so in 2011, as the economic crisis hits and people’s lives become a lot harder, with wages being pushed down and prices being pushed up.

And what makes me angry and frustrated at the moment, aside from the impact of the economic crisis, is the conventional response by people who call themselves progressive, essentially attacking workers under the guise of anti-consumerism, especially around Christmas time.

I have written around this issue before but it seems to be more of an issue this year round, stemming in part out of the more conservative sections of the Occupy movement, and I’d argue, that the anti-consumerist ideas and tactics actually push the Occupy movement and the Left away from the 99% and fall into line with the agenda of the 1% seeking to maintain the exorbitant gap between the minority of rich shits with millions and the millions struggling to get by.

A quite common example this year is the image below, pitting starving people in the third world with ordinary workers in more developed countries, such as America and Australia.

The conclusion meant to be drawn from such an image is that the reason there is mass starvation in Africa is because of the ‘greedy’ desire of consumers, particularly around Christmas time, to buy ‘unnecessary items.’ I would argue though that these two groups, despite the obvious disparity in living standards, are in fact on the same side, are both denied higher living standards by a group that earn much more and spend much more than a mother wanting to buy her kid a few toys at Christmas time.

A website that makes a similar argument to the image above is globalrichlist.com which asks you to enter your income into the box before it situates you on the rich list against the rest of the world. And basically, it says anyone earning over $47,500 a year, US, is in the top 1%. I hope I’m not the only one that immediately questions the statistics and calls ‘bullshit.’

The point of the website is to argue that most ordinary workers are ‘rich’ and that we should stop complaining. But the website misleads and lies in order to make it’s point. Firstly, it calculates this based on income, which is different to overall wealth that can also include assets and money in the bank.

Counter to the stats of globalrichlist.com, the Boston Consulting Group found, as of May 2011, that the world’s millionaires, representing 0.9% of the global population control 37% of the world’s wealth and that those with over $5 million of overall wealth, representing just 0.1% of the world’s population, control 22% of the world’s wealth. These statistics point out that more wealth is concentrated in far fewer hands. The problem I would argue is these people and not workers in the developed world with far less wealth.

But the main problem lies in looking at inequality along a sliding scale of wealth. Just working out how much people are worth does not reveal how someone ‘earned’ or accumulated that wealth. Those at the top of society, ‘the 1%’ as Occupy calls them, accumulate their wealth, not through work, but the exploitation of the workers who these anti-consumerist ideas seek to blame. In the developed world, workers produce a far greater amount of the wealth, but are paid much lower than the value they produce. So the rest skimmed off the top is profit for the 1%, who already control a massive amount of wealth and assets through the cunning method of being born into a rich family.

When we look at redistributing wealth, for instance, after a revolution to overthrow capitalism, it is the wealth of the 1% that will need to be taken and redistributed, meaning that the vast majority of humanity will see their living standards increase, from those in the third world to workers in the developed world.

In this respect, there is something fundamentally wrong about seeking to blame a worker and ignoring the capitalist class that control billions of dollars. The ridiculous wealth of the 1% is either spent on luxury goods that make iPads and Christmas gifts look like junk, or their wealth sits in banks, accumulating more wealth through gambling it on the stock market.

But I’d also argue that the working class striving for better living standards, to buy ‘luxury’ goods to make their lives better, is a good thing and part of that project to redistribute the wealth and cut into the fortunes of those who control most of it.

Where as strategies to redistribute wealth by workers consuming less leaves more wealth in the pockets of big business, driving down wages, affecting the whole global labour force. And it’s not as if when better off workers consume less, that the leftover wealth is then given to those in the third world. It’s incredibly naïve to think that the 1% wouldn’t keep it for themselves especially in times of crisis, beyond tokenistic charity efforts to save their own consciences and increase their PR rating.

These arguments are especially important in the context of the economic crisis. In the US and Europe, especially, wages are under attack and prices are rising, making it a lot harder to barely live, let alone comfortably. The scenes of parents rushing around shopping centres madly trying to find bargains, so often attacked by anti-working class people far more comfortable than the shoppers they attack, stem from this downward pressure on wages. The problem is that workers don’t earn enough, not that they spent ‘too much.’

And to argue otherwise, sides with the governments and corporations trying to maintain their own wealthy position in society, by driving down wages and making it harder for us to get by, whilst pitting sections of ordinary people against each other. Instead, we need to place the blame with the real wealth section of society and take our wealth back, rip it from their greedy hands, and redistribute so we can all live far better than we are now.

Baiada workers not chickening out of a fight

Wondering where I’ve been recently? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Since about Wednesday, I’ve been spending a lot of time on a picket line down in Laverton, in Melbourne’s outer Western Suburbs supporting the Baiada workers in one hell of an inspiring fight not only for a decent standard of living, but for respect and safety in their workplace.

Baiada Poultry is a chicken processing factory that supplies a major percentage of the nation’s chicken including to major supermarkets and fast food outlets, and since last Tuesday, not one chicken has been killed in the Victorian plant. It makes millions, processing something like 180,000 chickens a day when it’s running, but its workforce see hardly any of the profit.

Issues at hand include some of the workforce working for cash in hand wages of as low as $10 an hour, being hired as contractors and having to provide your own WorkCover and Super, and the extremely unsafe work practices. Last year a worker was decapitated after being forced to clean a machine whilst it was still processing chickens. And the racism toward the mostly migrant workforce means that workers have, until now, been under confident about raising these concerns.

But the industrial dispute has seen a real shift in their confidence. And this is the first time I’ve been on an old school picket line, actually blocking trucks for a long, stopping scabs from getting in etc. And on Friday, the police tried to break it up, driving a wedge through hundreds of workers and community supporters to try and get in the scabs, but it was the defiance of the workers, including a group of Vietnamese women, that actually pushed the police back, forcing them to retreat.

The significance of this industrial dispute cannot be overestimated. These workers are not just fighting for themselves, but inspiring other workers on how to win. Since Friday, a crowd of community supporters have constantly been on the picket, swelling to hundreds at crucial times when there are rumours of attempts to break the picket line.

Now the chicken section in supermarkets Coles are short on chicken or empty, citing industrial action as the reason. The action is really hurting Baiada. And we hope to keep it up, calling on more community and union support. Other unions set up scaffolding this morning outside the front gate and unions such as the MUA, NTEU and the ASU have rostered themselves on to send members down to help guard the picket.

There is also a solidarity action/stunt in the city tonight, Tuesday night, meeting at City Square at 5.30pm. It’s going to involve chicken suits so it should be fun and I’m bringing my video camera.

I’d urge people in Melbourne or even Victoria, to get down any time to Pipe Road, Laverton, to offer support and soak up some inspiration on how to fight and win.

Greece in Revolt

From The Guardian:

“All of us are angry, very, very angry,” bellowed Stella Stamou, a civil servant standing on a street corner, screaming herself hoarse, a block away from where the bank had been set alight.

“You write that – angry, angry, angry, angry,” she said, after participating in one of the biggest ever rallies to rock the capital since the return of democracy in 1974. “Angry with our own politicians, angry with the IMF, angry with the EU, angry that we have lost income, angry that we have never been told the truth.”

These are some of the most inspiring words coming from Greece now as workers resist the government’s attempt to make them pay for a crisis caused by the rich in society.

A crisis caused by corporations gambling with investments funded by loans because they can’t make enough profit. A crisis of profitability, not the ability to produce things. The ability to run society, feed, clothe and house people, still exists – it’s just that bosses have lost their bets, can’t pay each other back and can’t make enough profits to satisfy their greedy hunger.

Workers shouldn’t pay to keep these guys at the top.

It’s inspiring to hear BBC journalists tell of the Greek government scared that protesters could storm parliament and physically stop politicians from voting for austerity measures that would devastate working-class people in Greece.

I’ll be following the events in Greece closely to see if workers can win because it has important ramifications for the rest of the world, whether or not governments will be confident to try and do the same and whether or not workers are confident enough to fight back.

Postal Strike: Who's Selfish and Who's Side is Rudd On?

Postal workers in Victoria will go out on strike for half a day today to attend a mass meeting and rally to call on Australia Post to negotiate a fair deal for postal workers. I will attending the rally in my lunch break and fully support workers in their fight for better wages and conditions.

The media have gone constantly demonised the strikers, going on about the disruption their causing to ordinary people and quoting people complaining. This is no real surprise. Indeed, lots of people I work with have been complaining as well, mostly managers who would have no idea what’s it like to try and get by with the wages and conditions postal workers have to get by on.

I’m an ‘ordinary’ person and can put up with a bit of delayed mail if that’s what it will take for Australia Post to be forced to offer the workers a fair deal. Get over it. People call the workers selfish but I think it’s the people that think of themselves and their mail that are the selfish ones.

Kevin Rudd called for calm and of course didn’t side with the workers saying, “Therefore, I really do think it is time for calm heads to prevail both on the part of Australia Post on the one hand and the unions on the other.”

This could be interpreted as not taking a side but Australia Post clearly have the power in this situation and the workers need support. They’re not going to get it from Rudd. Rudd’s Fair Work Australia that was meant to get rid of WorkChoices but instead did the same job by banning the pickets last week.

Strikes: Why We Need to Defy Rudd's Workplace Laws

For over a decade or more, instances of strikes and industrial action have steadily declined as government’s around the world strangle workers from the right to strike, legal systems make it so hard for actions to be ‘approved’ and union leaderships cave in and refuse to break the law to take a stand.

But this week has shown that short and unexpected spikes in action are still possible and we need to be ready to come out in full support of workers fighting for their rights and better living standards.

Australia Post workers have been negotiating for over 3 years for a fair deal that doesn’t mean having to trade job security and safety for a decent pay rise. They’ve wanted to strike for ages, even tried sending out unstamped mail instead in order to avoid disruption, and this has really been the last straw.

I went down to the picket on Wednesday night and found their stand inspiring even though they had stopped blocking trucks from entering due to, as I reported for Socialist Alternative, Rudd’s new workplace laws being used to ban strike action.

And in Britain at the moment, their Labour government seems to be lending a helping hand to British Airways in their attempt to smash the union and restore profitability to the airline by banning a strike around Christmas time of flight attendants. Bullshit legal gibberish and bureaucracy meant that even though over 90% voted to strike, they couldn’t.

Right-wingers always go on about democracy and pickets infringing on people’s right to work, and this myth about having the choice to work (work or starve is not a choice) but always have a problem when masses of workers exercise the right not to work and walk out on mass.

As the case of Australia Post and British Airways show, the State (the government, police and court systems) do not take an impartial and neutral position in these disputes between bosses and workers.

And Rudd is certainly not on the side of workers and protecting their right to strike but instead, unless there’s a mass movement threatening their rule, the State always protects the interest of business in forcing workers to work, will not protect workers in their democratic right to refuse to work, and will actively send in the cops to smash up picket lines.

So unions and workers need to defy Rudd’s laws, not work with them, in order to wage successful industrial action. The union leadership won’t do this of their own will because they’re tied up within capitalism and mediating between workers and bosses, so have an interest in not rocking the boat too much and giving workers a push to destroy the system once and for all.

The push to defy pro-boss union laws needs to come within the rank and file of the union itself, from ordinary members and then we can show capitalism that the power and wealth lies in the working class and we don’t need bosses to run society, but we can run it democratically and humanely our bloody selves.

Why I Support the Postal Worker's Strike

Postal workers in Australia have gone out on strike, causing massive disruption during the busy Christmas time. And the dispute has been described by some in the business elite as the most significant industrial action in Australia since the Waterfront workers dispute in 1998.

This is a good thing and the workers should be supported in their fight for better wages.

Previously they tried to target profits without disrupting mail by sending out unstamped mail, but management disrupted this and threatened to dock worker’s pay.

After years of negotiating, greedy management have refused wage rises whilst CEO salaries continue to rise. And their greed is again shown that whilst they can’t give workers wage rises, they unsuccessfully tried to increase the price of stamps yet again. I doubt that workers would’ve seen that price rise reflected in their wages.

Business as usual means more profits whilst workers get nothing more for their hard work. That is why they need to disrupt things, and make management see that the mail doesn’t get sorted or delivered without workers. Management can turn up to their bullshit meetings but that doesn’t get anything done.

People can complain about their lives being disrupted, their mail not being delivered, but workers are not greedy or selfish for doing this, for going out on strike. They deserve higher wages. The blame should be directed squarely at the greedy and stubborn management that live well off whilst refusing every attempt for workers to gain a better standard of living.

The Communications Division of the CEPU released a statement in which they said, “It simply beggars belief that the senior management team at Australia Post take home $8 million a year in pay yet fail to prove their worth in sorting out workplace disputes of this magnitude.”

I proudly support the postal workers and all workers on strike and hope that management concede and give them their hard earned wage rise. I will support the workers fighting until they do.

Update 3.51pm: ABC News is reporting that a scab truck nearly ran over 4 picketers outside the Sunshine site and The Age is reporting that Australia Post is taking the union to Federal Court to seek an injunction because 4.1 million mail items are undelivered, contradicting earlier bullshit that the strike wasn’t having any effect.

I’m going down to the Sunshine Picket after work to lend my support and solidarity. Lucky I brought a camera with me to work today.

Refugees: Show Your Support for Tamil Asylum Seekers!

It’s been almost two weeks since Rudd diverted a boatload of Tamil Asylum Seekers to Indonesia. They need to be brought to Australia now.

This issue continues to anger me to no end. Rudd is so disgusting and racist in his approach to immigration and I will continue to repeat this until he changes. I support the asylum seekers refusing health checks and refusing to leave the boat. I support their hunger strikes.

The latest news is that Rudd will not rule out forcing these people off of the boat. This violence and force and brutality must be condemned outright. Rudd cannot do this without a fuck load of noise being made in opposition.

And it’s good to see the union movement condemn Rudd with National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union saying, ”I didn’t join the Labor Party to discriminate against the most vulnerable people in the world,”

Bring these people to mainland Australia now!

Please come and publicly show your support for the Tamil Asylum Seekers.
Melbourne: Saturday, 31st October, 2.00pm – Federation Square
Sydney: Monday, 2 November, 12.30pm – Immigration Department, Lee St (Railway Square end of Central Tunnel), City.