Friday, October 17, 2008

Private provision is a public menace

Ben Spies-Butcher presents a persuasive case that the increased weight of private provision of "superior goods" of health, education and retirement incomes, along with housing, is overall costly and damaging. More public provision in these areas is socially beneficial, and less costly as well as being better for low income people. His critique describes the government decisions that have driven this shift, and their effects, without looking at the reasons why governments have pursued a set of policies which can only be considered irrational on the basis of the evidence in the article. Ben S-B does however point out that this policy approach invariably favours the most well-off, both as consumers of the services in question, and in making profits out of their provision.

The issues that Ben S-B leaves me pondering are:
1. Since this policy shift has been so detrimental and irrational considering the interests of the majority in a democracy, why is there not a more coherent and vocal challenge to this policy?
2. Funding public provision - most of the revenue is raised federally, as are most of the tax rules, policies etc which favour private provision. Most of the responsibility for public provision (except for retirement incomes) is state. So even IF a state government wanted to return to favouring public provision over private, it could not reallocate the funding to enable this to happen. Just read the public hearing into NSW Education and Training estimates, and the savings that the NSW Government is demanding from teachers to get an idea of the budget challenges to public education.
3. How can the advocates of public provision come together with people who would most benefit from an increase in the weight of public provision, to develop demands to achieve it?
4. What are the reservations people have about public provision, and how can they be addressed? I think that one legitimate reservation is the difficulty of having complaints addressed and problems solved in a bureaucratic public system. Accountability is as important an issue as funding.
Now the "market" is clearly failing as a system for managing production, maybe now is a good time to get people thinking more about the ideas raised in Ben Spies Butcher's article - "restocking the economic toolkit".

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quality child care should not be a market risk

Watching Insight on SBS - Holding the baby - there seems to be general agreement amongst the researchers that almost all parents would rather not have their babies in care at under 6 months, and amongst the child care workers present that a ratio of 1 carer to 3 children would be ideal up to the age of 2 years. Unfortunately I was interrupted before the end of the discussion on how to fund childcare - but I did hear one audience member advocating that all funding go to individual parents as cash for them to spend as they wished. I couldn't disagree more - this only fosters private provision for profit. Standards are better enforced if community based care is publicly funded to provide it and supervised by parents on democratic governing bodies. Then parents advocating improvements in centres are advocating on behalf of all children, rather than behaving as paying customers/consumers pursuing only their own interests - and only having the power of changing centres, disrupting their child even further if they are dissatisfied. Work based and family day care could also be funded, but cash to parents to spend in the market does not produce quality, in the most important aspect - reduced ratios. It would be a shame if the market had to be discredited by collapses and scandals in child care the way the financial market is currently being discredited. The market is too risky to care for our kids.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Who will do a better job than the bankers?

How can we answer the question WHO will do a better job than the bankers and lenders who have caused the economic crisis? First I think we need to understand WHY does credit / capital get allocated where it does? Why do the prices of currencies, credit and real estate bounce around so much? Why should they send production into a spin, when the productive resources - labour, machinery, land, buildings, raw materials, etc are there just the same?

So WHO are these people deciding where to make production happen, what kind of production it should be? And why do THEY get to decide? If their decisions can be so bad for everyone else (and even themselves in some cases) - then who else could decide? And how? How more democratically?

If democratic economic decision making would take a lot of time - think - how many people are employed in finance, accounting and management to make those decisions? Share their hours around the workforce, and we could all be paid at least 1 day a week to take the time to participate in planning and deciding...

And if the loss makers are to be in effect nationalised, why not nationalise the lot - losers and profiteers? It would simplify and streamline the regulation of the financial system, and give a lot more flexibility to what voters could demand of governments (including tackling climate change, more public transport, renewable energy) and a lot less income to the excessively rich!

It's very frustrating to see these powerful people messing up, and even if a few of them get into trouble, really they are causing a lot more trouble and suffering for workers losing their homes, losing their jobs... people who just want to live their lives without having power over other people. But if we don't organise to take their power away and run things differently, then they'll just sort out the mess on their own terms, and rerun the show again...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Renewing Labor locally

An excerpt from Darcy Byrne's inaugural address upon his election to Leichhardt Municipal Council.
"As a Councillor I am determined to contribute to the renewal of a Labor Party that
is grass roots in structure, radical in intent and unwavering in its commitment to
fighting for equality...

I am proud to have put forward positive policies during the campaign and I will be
working hard as a Councillor to implement that agenda.

We need a big increase in sporting fields for our kids, a new parking system for our
residents, to build new affordable housing for our workers and pensioners and to
find practical ways to strengthen our sense of community by bringing all our
residents together.

I will continue to get out into the community to put these ideas forward because the
only way to represent the community is to be part of the community and I look
forward to seeing you all along the way. "

Darcy's address silent on a couple of major points of local opposition to the NSW government - saving Callan Park from take over by Sydney Uni, and the planned construction of a $150million extra bridge over Iron Cove. What about light rail and public transport? If Darcy cannot bring himself to unequivocally oppose the unpopular policies of the state Labor government, then I don't think he will make much progress in renewing labour as a grass roots radical force. His concern with equality is however a refreshing and welcome one. Let's see.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It will take more than the Wall Street crash to end capitalism

The Wall Street crash had to come, with the USA's extraordinary triple balloon of debt - household real estate debt (working class debt), government debt (in the trillions and rising to pay for the Iraq war) and the balance of trade deficit. There is a sudden wide opening for making the case for socialism, for democratic working class planning of the economy. This article explains it well.

"Capitalism is a system which works by way of periodic economic and social tsunamis that leave in their wake tremendous destruction in many millions of lives. A manic-depressive system which, like its equivalent in individual psychologies, plunges from crazy heights to destructive, paralysing depths.

'The Market' has been elevated to the place in the social and economic theology of the ruling class occupied in religion by God. It is a harsh and relentless, and sometimes a very cruel and destructive, God, to be sure; but also one who essentially looks out for human beings and continuously bestows a tremendous stream of gifts on us."...

"One of the great lessons of the 20th century is that there is no such thing as an insoluble crisis for capitalism. Given time, given the chance to hold on tight, given the lack of a politically coherent alternative to itself, it recovers. Economic devastations, immensely tragic for vast numbers of people and even for individual capitalists, can, paradoxically, clear the way for capitalist economic revival. The manic-depressive system climbs out of the trough and begins a rise to peaks from which it will again, in time, plunge down. The cycle goes on." Unless a socialist movement is built to stop it! There is another pressing consideration which socialists, anti-capitalists need to integrate into the critique of the crash, and that is the inability of the "market" to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

So - now we look for the points at which working class people could see that collectively we could assert more rational, beneficial decisions for humanity if we had the power, and not the system that allows capital and traders of capital to gamble with our future.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Of which stories am I a part?

I first came across this question posed in a book called Leadership for social change. Alan Johnson quoted A MacIntyre, who I have since discovered is a Scottish philosopher. Here is a paraphrase of this part of MacIntyre's view, which is consistent with the meaning Alan Johnson gave it - "So basically, to answer the question of what I as an individual should do, one must first know of which stories I am a part, and what my roles in those stories require. Hence, the conception of an individual's good is embedded in the histories in which the individual himself is embedded. The narrative unity of a life, then, is the unity of the narrative which is an individual life. MacIntyre writes: "To ask 'What is the good for me?' is to ask how best I might live out that unity and bring it to completion." Only this way can my life as a whole be intelligible, and only thus does it constitute a unity."

This seems to me a powerful help in understanding why not many people are choosing to be socialist activists in Australia right now, and why people who do begin to engage in left politics might decide on the path of careerism rather than democratic mobilisation. As less people live out a socialist tradition, a rank and file working class tradition, the story is less visible, the practices and values that comprise it are harder to learn, and harder to share. I just came across Teo-lohi's post here and explanation of MacIntyre adds depth to the original reference I read. Teo-lohi also explains the connection of the story with practice and values. MacIntyre may well not be writing about dissent, rebellion or revolution (feminists have criticised him for not recognsing the power behind certain practices) but I would argue that dissent, self-organisation against power are also practices, with values, and stories, a conception of history or at least historical possibilities. In fact this helps me to make more sense of what are referred to as internicine and sectarian differences on the left. These differences actually reflect different stories, about humanity, history, the path to liberation and the role that each group sees for itself in that history/ narrative, though these differences can be difficult to make explicit, transparent.

MacIntyre may hold completely different values from me, see himself in a different story, but he does see the individual as part of a collective story - a person in a human, social, collective context. To me that is an important clue - how as socialists can we bring to life the story that people could be part of, without clutching at horror stories as the Stalinists have, of USSR, China, Vietnam, fantasy stories Cuba, Venezuela etc, or being stuck in very old stories unlinked to any current continuing practice - Paris Commune, 1917, Barcelona, Hungary 1956, etc.

MacIntyre also throws another light on meaninglessness of post-modernism. How are people to see themselves as part of a story, if there is no more narrative / history to be part of, and to change?

Why not give a proxy for the NRMA AGM - CO2

The NRMA makes an attractive offer "You will go into the draw for the chance to win one of 40 Caltex StarCash cards worth $500 each just by;

* appointing a proxy to attend and, if required, vote on your behalf if you are unable to attend the meeting, or
* by attending the 2008 AGM in person."

The more I think about it - the worse this seems, so I wrote to the NRMA...

"I want to appoint a proxy. I would appoint a proxy if I could find out other NRMA members apart from the Board Members who will be attending, and who are making a commitment to represent concerns that correspond to mine. The MyNRMA website is sufficiently advanced, with a member login system, to provide members an online forum for stating the concerns that they would raise at the AGM, and offering to represent members via their proxies, but I cannot find this on MyNRMA website. This would be the democratic way to promote a higher level of membership participation in the AGM. A possible petrol voucher to persuade me to give my proxy to a current Board member (it's pretty impractical for me to find anyone else with any clout to give my proxy to) on the other hand is not democratic - more a bribe with a tiny bit of largesse from those who already run the NRMA and control its resources.

And the concerns I would like to have raised? Although I am a motorist and NRMA member, I don't WANT to be a motorist to the extent that I am. I am rather a citizen who needs to travel, and who is concerned about many issues, especially the urgent matters of global warming, environmental sustainability and inequality. I would rather see the NRMA advocating better transport in general, including public transport and bicycle transport, and making the case for much, much more investment in public transport, instead of prioritising advocacy of measures to make it easier for the driver of the private vehicle to continue making more use of a private vehicle. Greener private vehicles yes, but public transport would make a much bigger difference to CO2 emissions.

Until I can find a suitable proxy, I will not be appointing one."

Policy before position would be ideal in local politics

Last weekend’s local government election reminded me of the debacle of the previous Leichhardt Council mayoral appointment. I talked to Labor Councillor Robert Webb outside the Orange Grove booth on Saturday. I told Robert how outrageous I had found it when Labor kept the Greens out of the Mayor's position 4 years ago, by doing a deal with the Liberals (and Community Independents). Why didn't Labor share the Mayor with the Greens, I asked. Oh they were impossible to negotiate with, we tried, he said. At the Council meeting to elect the Mayor 4 years ago, I had also asked Green candidate for Mayor, Jamie Parker - what are you proposing to Labor? Why don't you stand up in Council and make a last open appeal? He didn't. I asked Robert - why were the terms of the negotiations not made open? It would help the voter, such as myself, to make sense of what was going on? He shrugged and said that the Liberal Mayor couldn't do anything that Labor didn't want in any case. I said that wasn't the point.

I left the conversation with Robert with a dawning realisation - the negotiations between the parties over Mayor had most likely been negotiations over position, not policy. Who would get the position for how much time? If the negotiations had been over policy - then it would have been easy to make them public. If the negotiations had been over policy - it would be a break from what appears to be current standard ALP practice. If the negotiations had been over policy, then voters would be able to make informed choices about who to support, on the basis of policy.

It looks as though the Greens may have the numbers to be Mayor this time, unless it gets drawn out of a hat against them. And it may be that they feel very keen to get pay back from last time. It may be redundant to be trying to work out how Greens and left Labor Councillors, such as Darcy Byrne, might work together on LMC this time round.

However - it is clear that Greens are winning supporters from amongst traditional Labor voters.

I think there are 3 reasons for this
- Labor Governments at both levels, are running policy agendas that are barely distinguishable from the Liberals, they do not stand up to capital and privilege for working class people, the social good, the greater good.
- the role of mobilised trade unions, and social movements, is weak and even more weakly reflected in the ALP as an independent force from Labor Governments (with the exception of the electricity privatisation issue in NSW, and an ambiguous Federal result from the anti-WorkChoices campaign, in that Labor was elected, but provisions of WorkChoices continue to be used, and Gillard’s new draft IR provisions are anti-union and anti-employee).
- the Greens are not beholden to justifying the unjustifiable acts of any serving governments or ministers.

I think the most productive pathway for left ALP members in relation to the Greens, is to engage in open policy dialogue, actually seeking to build local movements and activism in alliance with Greens, and to attempt to defuse competition among councillors for positions, and "bureaucratic level" (as it were) hostilities. What the ALP has in its favour over the Greens is that it has an organised working class social base - but this is being eroded on many fronts, and is an advantage that can only be preserved if that activist base is rebuilt, reengaged by leaders who stand for policy and principle. Competition for positions is a secondary concern to rank and filers who care about social progress, and is a central part of the turn off from politics by young people, in my opinion.

The Greens appeal because of their apparent policy commitments. The weaknesses in the Greens policies are many, especially on the economy, capital and class, in my opinion - but the weaknesses are not so obvious because the Greens are not in a position to enact policy, and because they are not engaged by anyone from the left, in policy debates that explore these weaknesses.

I think that the strengths of the Greens and the strengths of left Labor COULD combine to rebuild a progressive movement and a renewed left IF the movement of the rank and file, and policy and principle were the guiding motives, and issues of position, organisational and factional allegiance were subordinated. (Gary Moore's 15 Sept letter to the SMH expressed a similar caution). It would be hard work - it wouldn't be smooth - but it is a project that I could commit to if there were others also committed to it. I think that John Kaye's work in NSW Parliament on electricity privatisation, and the co-ordination between his efforts and Power to the People are the example of a positive way for left/rank and file Labor and Greens to relate. Where there are Greens who do not have John Kaye's instincts, then it should be possible to make open proposals to try to draw Greens in that direction so that Green supporters can see the limitations of some of their representatives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rights at work for construction workers

Sign up for rights on site - . Not too many people have high expectations of the Rudd Government getting rid of anti-union laws. Construction workers fighting for their rights need our support. If there is a future for an active workers movement in Australia, that can buck Labor conservatism, then this campaign could be one of the catalysts.