Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Labor has a detailed strategy to fight for fairness. This matters

In the wake of the Brexit vote, a lot of Australians are asking: how did it come to this?
The media is now recording the phenomenon of “Regrexit”: that’s “leave” campaign voters taking to the internet to disavow their nation-changing decision. Suggestions by leave campaigners that EU membership fees would be reinvested in the beleaguered National Health Service have been exposed as a lie. There are decisive leave-voting towns now waking to the realisation that their economies were sustained by EU investment, and begging for protection that’s unlikely to come.
From an intercontinental distance, watching the new British misery of a collapsed pound devaluing trillions of UK investments in pensions and threatening British jobs is confounding. A look at the results map exposes that the communities most vulnerable to these economic shocks and collapses voted leave.
Why did traditional British Labour voters in working class areas vote for Britain to leave the EU? How could they?
I lived in Britain for 10 years, and like any curious international who lived anywhere out of London, I can tell you the answers are obvious, and economic.
Britain has deregulated its labour market more than Australia has. The central tenets of Thatcherism were not reversed by Labour successor, Tony Blair. Others have explained:
Blair’s programme for the 1997 election confirmed all Mrs Thatcher’s free-market reforms of a deregulated, non-planned, largely privatised economy with a flexible labour market, marginalising the trade unions and local authorities.
The manufacturing industries Thatcher smashed were not revived. Low-paid service industry jobs proliferate, minimum wage is shockingly low, staff protections are tiny. Zero-hours-contracts – where you are not guaranteed work but you must turn up to work whenever your boss calls you in or lose your job – are everywhere.
And compounding the misery of work is a society stripped of its most basic infrastructure. “Austerity” just means cutting funding to things that conservatives do not like: universal healthcare, welfare, public education and all other means to equalise society. British prime minister, David Cameron, has made plenty of economic excuses to slash funding to these services for the past six years and everything from libraries, to community centres, to homeless shelters even to covered markets, have been stripped, sold off or shut.
What’s been done to run down health, education, welfare and community development have left entire communities of exploited, low paid or unemployed workers to fend for themselves.
When you are presiding over the piece-by-piece privatisation of a beloved health service, the reduction in funding to local schools, making universities inaccessible to all but the rich, and allowing workplace exploitation, in order to head off electoral defeat, you need a scapegoat.
So for the past decade and a half, the Tories and their allies in the press have seeded a demonisation of “immigrants” and the “foreigners” who make decisions in the European parliament in Brussels as the source of Britain’s woes. While only 6% of the British workforce are those who’ve travelled there from EU countries, their mere difference to the locals is enough to render them an easy target for blame-campaigns run by politicians and tabloids who don’t want British workers to identify the real problem: cushy industrial relations laws for rich British capitalists who themselves soak up tax concessions, exploit workers and who personally have the cash to pay for health and education so have no care if it’s taken away from others.
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. Like maybe a Liberal party election launch on Sunday, where Malcolm Turnbull invoked the spectre of refugees, asylum seekers, boat arrivals, border security, yet again, while advancing his detail-starved “plan” to hand $50bn in tax cuts to Australia’s richest corporations at the direct expense of health funding, education and the very shared fabric of our society.
Or DON’T stop me, stop Turnbull, as more of Turnbull means more of the same conservative politics, the same pursuit of conditions here that have divided Britain into a country that’s eating itself. Out campaigning for his Liberal mates on Monday, former prime minister John Howard has helpfully reminded everyone of the obvious: that the Coalition has not ruled out proceeding with more labour market deregulation after the election.
Attacks on unions. The smashing of independent workplace tribunals. The “flexibility” of supply chain contracting, more outsourcing, cuts to penalty rates and easier mass retrenchments. An insistence that black is white, up is down, and a plan to outsource Medicare piece by piece is somehow not a process of privatisation. Listen to the rhetoric of “flexibility” and a “new economy” suggested by Turnbull but never explained in his economic “plan” and then look how happily he and Peter Dutton and the rest of them will ramp up the rhetoric about refugees, or terrorists, or any other code word for “brown people” they can find.
The good news that Australians must recognise in this election is that Bill Shorten is not Tony Blair nor Jeremy Corbyn, nor is he Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard. For the first time in too long a time, the Australian Labor party is advancing an articulate, outright alternative to the economics on offer from the other side.
It does, actually, make a difference that Labor is fighting not only for the funding of Medicare, but for its value to us as a nation. It makes a difference that their economic vision is one where investing in an education system for all children is the means to foster invention, creativity and entrepreneurialism. It is a crucial difference that they are pursuing overdue fairness mechanisms in the taxation system, a royal commission into activities of the banks and it means everything that they are going to election with nuanced, detailed strategy to fight – actually fight – against the exploitation of Australians in the workplace.
I understand the result of the Brexit vote because for all my degrees and fancy education, circumstances compelled me into in the hard and miserable low-wage economy when I lived in Britain. I got out because I could come home, and it’s to protect this home that I write this now.
Ahead of our own momentous decision this week, please imagine your own life in a Turnbull future of unprotected wages and conditions, run-down infrastructure, tax cuts for the rich and no hope for anyone without wealth, and then you tell me you wouldn’t seize at any vicious, mad, self-defeating action if it just let you enjoy, whatever the consequences, having someone – anyone – to blame.

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