This year, the prize’s overarching theme is New collectives, old struggles. What does unionism mean to people today? What should be its objectives? How can we come together to make real change, now and into the future?
The material below, mostly written or produced by National Union of Workers members, should be considered by those submitting stories, essays, poems or cartoons in the 2018 Fair Australia Prize. It’s not intended that entrants incorporate all of this information into their work. Rather, the competition seeks innovative and creative responses in work that engages in some way with these themes.
‘Hoping against history’ – Godfrey Moase, Overland
A projection of the current trend gives us a date when Labor can no longer claim to be the major party in any progressive coalition-forming government, let alone attempt to govern in its own right. That date is 2032.
‘Absorbing Corbyn’ – Godfrey Moase, Overland
More and more people are deciding that a future filled with student debt, insecure work and overpriced rent is just not good enough. They want a different future, one with strong communities and a sustainable and just economy – the sort of economy which puts a solar panel on every roof, and a roof over every head.
‘The case for a universal basic income’ – Carina Garland, Shirley Jackson and Godfrey Moase, Overland
If a UBI isn’t part of a broader strategy to create a fairer society, however, it can entrench traditional gender roles. If responsibility for caring duties is passed from the state to the citizen through the move to a UBI, arguably it will be women who will become charged with performing these. And while a UBI may offer women choices and freedoms via having their own money and being able to make decisions about how to spend this money, it can end up reinforcing gendered divisions of labour. People (overwhelmingly women) currently performing domestic work at home would at least be offered a wage for their duties, but there is a danger that women will be discouraged from participating in the traditional workforce.
‘Unions and workers need to be part of the solution’ – Tim Kennedy, Sydney Morning Herald
The recommendations, and now the government policy, seem to show a misunderstanding of what unions do. Unions play a crucial role in any proper functioning and free democracy. Unions are the means through which ordinary people are able to affect change in their lives, to influence political representatives to legislate for change and to transform Australia into a fairer country. There have been countless achievements that prove this such as annual leave, the eight-hour day, the minimum wage and superannuation.
‘Labor in the age of climate change’ – Stefania Barca, Jacobin
For much of its existence, labor environmentalism focused on the workplace and the living environment of working-class communities, linking occupational health and safety with the protection of public and environmental health.
In the 1990s, labor environmentalism began embracing the concepts of “sustainable development” and the “green economy.” More recently, as climate change has intensified, “just transition” (JT) has become the idea du jour. JT is based on the notion that workers shouldn’t bear the brunt of the shift to a low-carbon economy, whether in the form of job losses or destabilized local communities.
‘Sustainable labour’ – Tim Kennedy, Overland
Just as we cannot have a sustainable economy without transitioning to an economy that takes climate action seriously, we cannot have a sustainable economy without secure jobs now and in the future. Well-paying and secure jobs will drive a decent way of life for every citizen.
‘Our race towards climate disaster is like a scene from the movie Speed’ – Godfrey Moase, New Matilda
Capitalism is incompatible with a safe climate. Our current economic system depends on capital’s continuous and exponential expansion – without it there is no profit. And as capital grows so must we give up more of ourselves and our planet to serve this insatiable system.
‘Defending Australian Labor’ – Godfrey Moase, Jacobin
Meanwhile, the federal government has slapped 101 workers with a $10,800 fine, claiming they engaged in an unauthorized work stoppage. Their crime? Having the audacity to attend a union meeting in July 2013 to talk about their wages and rights at work — apparently more egregious than lax safety regulations that kill workers and even sometimes members of the public. The more than $1 million cumulative fine dwarfs that handed out to one of Australia’s largest construction companies, which is facing a penalty of just $250,000 for a worksite accident that killed three pedestrians.
‘A couple of questions for Joe “Good Job” Hockey’ – Gary Maas, New Matilda
While it is commonly understood that social and community responsibility does not necessarily form part of the decision-making for corporate giants such as Woolworths, this is still an unsettling fact for many of us. When things like this happen – we still think, that’s just so unfair.
‘Woolies are bullies and you can help do something about it’ – Gary Maas, New Matilda
Woolworths is one of the country’s largest retailers. A publicly listed company with a rising share-price, it also employs some 200,000 people nationally.
The company brought in a staggering $62 billion in revenue just in the last year. It wields tremendous power with governments, with its clients and its customers. In short, Woolworths occupies a very privileged position in Australia.
‘The case for a 30-hour working week’ – Godfrey Moase, Overland
Think about your own life. What would you do if the full-time working week was reduced to 30 hours? That amounts to an additional 8 hours per week – over 400 hours per year – to have the freedom to live your life. Imagine the changes you could make. You’d have more time to find meaning in nurturing close relationships, engaging in community service or pursuing long-neglected hobbies. Your wellbeing would significantly improve.
‘Slaving Away’ – Four Corners episode and background
‘Food-sector workers weighed down by supply chains’ – Tim Kennedy, The Age
You might be shocked to learn that the fresh food brought into homes across Australia is routinely produced by workers being paid below the legal minimum wage, who work long hours and are exploited by their employers.
The ABC Four Corners program this week detailed the grim reality of fresh-food supply chains in Australia, and there is no doubt that viewers will be disgusted to learn that a form of slavery exists in this country.
‘Our meat market for workers’ – Godfrey Moase, New Matilda
Labour hire contractors forcing workers to live with 29 other people in a regular suburban home is not the sort of behaviour we should accept in Australia. And by the International Labour Organisation’s measures, making workers live in particular housing, as a condition of employment, is an indicator of forced labour.
What once was genuinely seasonal casual work is now a way of life for millions of workers in Australia – it is estimated that 40 per cent of all those in the workforce are currently employed on zero-hours contracts.
‘Build up workers’ rights to halt exploitation’ – Mark Zirnsak and Heather Moore, The Age
More than 300,000 people are in Australia on temporary work visas (with another 374,570 people on student visas with work rights) and they face the greatest threats of exploitation. Some speak little English, some have had their passports taken away, while others have been promised skilled work yet find themselves working at menial jobs.
Lead image by Alex Proimos (via Wikipedia Commons).