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"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" John 8:31

THE ABSURD BATTLE OVER WAGES

by Jeremy Lee.

For the best part of the 20th century Australia staged a regular courtroom battle between two contenders - trade unions versus employers. Union advocates argued - rightly - that rising costs justified increased wages for workers. Employers argued - rightly - that wage increases made industry less competitive, forcing further price increases that negated any benefits. The government hovered between the contending parties, estimating the electoral effect of taking sides. On the whole the ALP sided timidly with its working electorate. The Liberals opted for the industrial and corporate base that funded its machine.

The Trade Union movement was born in the worst period of the Industrial Revolution, when new technology was debasing the value of manual labour. Men, women and children worked impossible hours in shocking conditions for the price of bread. The idea that this should never be allowed to happen again was the main ethos of the Unions, which won increased benefits and safeguards for working men and women.

Remorseless competitor

But the real competitor with manual labour - technology - remained unscathed by either side. The background pre-occupation in Trade Unions from the sixties on was not so much wage levels as redundancy. What to do about the avalanche of technology that replaced humans in the workforce? The greater the demands for higher wages, the greater the shift by employers from human labour to machines, robots and computers. The result is a scandal which the Unions have evaded. They'll fight for a worker's rights while he still has a job, but once made redundant, he slips from the Union's screen. He becomes part of the hidden un-represented that can be found in every industrial workforce.
We have no such thing as "The Unemployed Workers' Union". "Sorry, mate! You haven't got a job? You're on your own."

The nearest government has come to recognizing and solving the problem is to increase taxes on anyone working or producing to hand a dole to those without employment. This increases resentment between taxpayers and tax receivers. The term "dole-bludger" has its equivalent throughout the West.

Polarising society

The old middle class in Australia - farmers, small businesses, Australian-owned manufacturers, contractors - has changed shape and shifted to the top or bottom of the spectrum. The Middle Class has been 'hollowed out'. Trade Union leaders must, by now, have realized that every time they succeed in obtaining a wage increase across Australia, they are putting more of their mates out of work. We now have the added problem of jobs being shifted electronically overseas, or manufacturing industries relocating to low-wage Third World countries.

The latest battle over Qantas, where management says the company can only survive by cutting the workforce, reducing wages, moving from permanent to casual staff, increasing the proportion of part-time jobs and outsourcing as much of its operations as possible to low-wage countries outside Australia, is all symptomatic of the general problem that faces industries throughout the country.

The government's reaction is twofold. Firstly, it advocates lower wages as the solution to the competition for jobs in the global economy. Secondly, it hides the real truth about unemployment behind a jumble of manipulated statistics to mask the real dimensions of the employment crisis.

Lies and damned lies

To claim, as the government has just done, that Australia's unemployment rate is 6 per cent is a travesty, which can only be reached by lumping all part-time workers, plus those on work-for-the-dole, into "fully employed". Everyone knows, including the politicians, that the figures given have no connection with reality. But we keep on pretending, because leaders don't know, or are too frightened to face, the needed alternatives.

Mike Steketee, writing in The Australian on June 6, gave a more realistic picture:
"A revolution in work in Australia has left fewer than half of employees working a standard Monday-to-Friday week and has seen a dramatic growth in casual and low-paying jobs, according to new research…..full time permanent employees made up 74 per cent of the workforce in 1988 but only 61 per cent in 2002. Casual jobs accounted for two-thirds of the increase in total employment during the 1990s. Almost nine in 10 of all new jobs created during this period paid less than $26,000 a year and almost half less than $15,000…."
The social effects .. George Megalomenis, writing on job insecurity in The Australian on June 12, gave this picture:
"… Workers are twice as likely to move from full-time to part-time work from one month to the next than they were 20 years ago, when Australia began the long march to deregulation. The Reserve Bank of Australia says that 4.4 per cent of full-time workers became part-time workers in the March quarter, compared with 2.3 per cent in the same period in 1983. This form of job insecurity is felt most keenly by the middle class because two incomes is the price that couples must pay to be members of the nation's bricks 'n' mortar centre.
In every mainland city, a worker on average earnings of about $49,000 a year would fail to qualify for a mortgage to buy the typical house. A second wage is needed to impress the bank, so any reduction in working hours is hard to stomach …."

The result, as many can now see, is that 'full employment' has become a sort of lottery increasingly manipulated by large and powerful corporate employers, where a full-time job is simply the luck of the draw, the attainment of which demands steadily increasing hours; while all the time the threat of redundancy raises stress levels to those of acute anxiety. Meanwhile, a steady attrition in the number of full-time jobs speeds a race to the bottom wherein once secure workers and their families are dislocated, impoverished and dispossessed.

Facing reality

Isn't it time leaders at every level acknowledged a few realities? Firstly, that the avalanche in technology has continually diminished the number of useful, creative paid jobs; and, following on from this, that some other means must be found to distribute sufficient incomes to allow the distribution of production. Simply taxing the "lucky" employed to pay the "unlucky" redundant cannot solve the problem. The attempt to do so must divide the community into an ever-widening gulf. Deregulation and globalism have already made that gulf visible, and it is threatening the stability of societies.

Full employment in the accustomed sense of the word, is a thing of the past. The 'curse of Adam' has largely been lifted from the back of humanity. But without an alternative means of living other than "having a job and a wage", the benefits of the technology we have developed is turned into a hideous parody of reality, rendering more and more into a life of poverty in the midst of plenty.

The shareholder idea

This is why the Social Credit - as opposed to the Social Debt - concept is the idea whose time has come. It depends on changes to the accountancy mechanism we call finance. It starts by saying that the huge bank of technology now available to all societies is in reality a workforce in its own right, the benefits of which belong to us all, whether or not we are still employed. It adds that this accumulated heritage should result in a financial benefit allowing the distribution of an adjustable dividend to each man, woman and child entirely separate from 'employment-earnings'.

This would not replace the need for some employment, but would mitigate the penalties and stress the current situation attaches to it. It would provide greater choice, would improve quality as opposed to quantity, and would introduce a proper environment for individual creative choice. Phrases such as "Get-big-or-get-out", "Work-or-starve"; and "Export-or-Perish" would become relics of a black past.

What would be the source of this dividend? Certainly not taxation. It would require changes to the money-creation process. By way of example, Australia's money supply is currently expanding at the rate of $100 million every 24 hours - all lent into the economy at interest. The change would require accountancy appraisal, a national balance-sheet, and the creation of the ascertained money-supply increase to be distributed as a credit rather than a debt. Like the people in Alaska, Australian men, women and children would receive a cheque regularly, depending on the audited performance of the nation as a whole. There would be no means test. It would go to all as a natural birth-right, whether employed or not.

Taxes would be vastly reduced. Leisure would increase. Pork-barrelling by politicians as to what they would do with tax revenues would largely cease. And the impossible gap between rich and poor would narrow in a general and shared atmosphere of prosperity, freedom and security.

Warnings

We might well consider the warning given by the Chinese delegate to the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000. He frankly asked why western industrial nations would welcome China's entry into the World Trade Organisation in a globalised, free-trade regime. "Don't you realize that China will cut your economies to pieces?" he asked. "Our wage rates are thirty times lower than yours." Nobody answered him. But he was merely confirming the findings of Mikhail Gorbachev's State-of-the-World Forum in its 1995 San Francisco Conference, which agreed that the consumer needs of an imminent world would require no more than 20 percent of the global workforce. The rest would live in grim, hand-to-mouth poverty. Surely, Australia can do better than that?

© Published by the Australian League of Rights, P.O. Box 27 Happy Valley, SA 5159