Posts Tagged Union movement
I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’
It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.
I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)
It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.
Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE
Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.
This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.
Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:
Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!
It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:
My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!
Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE
It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.
Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:
Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.
Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.
Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive
I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.
I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.
Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE
So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.
Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.
The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.
That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.
Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’
Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.
At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.
I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).
From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.
What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.
Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:
In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …
Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.
Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.
“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”
Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.
Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.
The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.
This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)
So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:
Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?
I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)
Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?
I am shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.
Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves. It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.
The term “Orwellian” seems to be attached to anything vaguely misleading these days, but I genuinely believe that it can be applied to Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite’s defence of the Fair Work Act (FWA) – Labor’s industrial relations legislation that was introduced to replace the Howard government’s Work Choices policy and came into full effect in mid-2010.
When extolling the virtues of the FWA, Thistlethwaite uses what I can only call “doublethink“, Orwell’s idea of telling “deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them”. Just look at the “facts” that he was using:
A simple measure of unsuccessful bargaining in workplaces is the number of days lost due to industrial disputes. Since 1991 the number of days lost to industrial disputes has been falling. In 1991 the average days lost during the year was 239.4 days per 1000 employees.
To compare, last year the figure was 15.9 days lost per 1000 employees. This is a significant drop. There has been an average reduction in days lost to industrial disputes almost every year for the past two decades.
For a few reasons I am no fan of the FWA, but I am also able to change my mind in the face of solid evidence. I was curious about what he was saying and decided to investigate a little further. I did not need to go very far; Thistlethwaite’s own figures came from the ABS Industrial Disputes, Australia report on industrial disputes up to September 2011. Looking at the report, there was a dramatic spike in disputes that began in the quarter ending September 2010 – exactly when the FWA came into full effect.
Also note: the major industries where most working days were lost were construction, mining and education/healthcare and NOT in transport – nothing to do with Qantas.
Another point I noticed: remember how he was lauding the fact that the number of days lost per 1000 employees had dropped from 239.4 to 15.9 since 1991? Well a couple of paragraphs later:
… The Howard Government had more than 105 days lost to industrial action per 1000 employees in 1999-2000. This figure represents the first four years of the Howard Government’s initial industrial regime, a policy that turned the screws on working people.
There seems to be more to it than he is telling, but the ABS did not have a graph showing the trend in the data going back decades. Luckily, I could do this myself:
The red line is a moving average over the previous four quarters.
Strange, to me that looks like the 1999-2000 period happens to have been an anomalous spike in what was otherwise a consistent decline in industrial disputes during Howard’s term. Meanwhile, he conveniently did not mention the 1985-1991 period under the Hawke Labor government where industrial disputes were actually increasing (albeit not significantly).
After Keating took over, there was a drop, but then disputes started rising again until Howard started “turning the screws on working people” in 1996, when they began to drop again and did so more or less consistently, aside from the spikes in 1999-2000 and 2003-2004. Note in particular that the number of hours lost dropped under Work Choices (2005-07) and then have been slowly rising since Labor took over in 2007 and have risen sharply since the FWA came into full effect.
I was a little disturbed by this, but I did give Thistlethwaite the benefit of the doubt at first. After all, no one looking at this data with any remote mathematical competence would arrive at the conclusions that he did without very carefully and deliberately choosing only the parts that prove their argument and ignoring everything else.
Well, lo and behold, this Thursday was another Thistlethwaite piece in The Punch on the FWA:
The recently negotiated Holden Enterprise Agreement shows that the Fair Work Act equips employers and employees with the tools to produce high quality, mutually satisfactory agreements.
The link that he points to says this:
Today’s stories about Holden signing a new EBA are premature.
The EBAs covering engineering and manufacturing employees have not been signed and the coverage today is misleading and takes a very one-sided view of negotiations.
Now I kind of feel like he’s doing this on purpose. This must be an Easter Egg. There is no possible way that someone would actually try to argue that their industrial relations scheme is working because of a protracted negotiation over salaries by a company that’s about to get a $300mln bailout and then back that up by linking to a press statement from that company saying that no agreement has actually been reached. I mean, that just seems silly.
Since 1991, wages have increased from $929 to $1287 per week in real terms. That means even once cost of living increases over the past two decades are taken into account, Australians are now $358 better off per week. Over this 20-year period, combined real wage growth was 33 per cent, an average increase real in wages of 1.7 per cent per year.
Since the introduction of the Fair Work Act, real wages have increased by 2.8 per cent, an average of 1.4 per cent per year. This is consistent with real wage growth trends seen over the last 20 years and shows that real claims about wages breakouts are grossly exaggerated.
Hold on a second, did he just argue that the FWA has maintained real wage growth using figures showing that, under the FWA, growth has been 18% lower than average? I had to make sure, because it definitely looks like he did that.
It does make sense that the FWA would lower wage growth and cause more industrial disputes, seeing as it effectively takes Australian IR policy back to the pre-Keating era, when this was the norm:
The labour market regression started with the FWA’s repudiation of Keating’s concept of enterprise bargaining. But it went a lot further; it abolished individual contracts and non-union collective agreements, made bargaining more difficult, bolstered the centralised system, returned to and reinforced the concept of arbitration, put agreement-making back into the tribunal thereby undercutting the involvement of employers and employees, brought the unions back into virtually every agreement, expanded the right to strike and reinvigorated the awards system. It widened union access to business through right of entry provisions; it broadened unfair dismissal provisions, changed anti-discrimination rights and gave the tribunal more jurisdiction.
… Under the FWA, all agreements are, in practice, union agreements because if, in any business, regardless of its size, there is even only one union member then the union with coverage becomes the default bargaining representative. The employer is not allowed to know the identity of that member. And the union member is not consulted.
That last point is particularly sore for me. Less than 20% of Australian workers are members of Unions. Note that I capitalise the “U” – this is because the Union movement in Australia today is not the trade union movement of the past. These are no longer grassroots organisations formed by uniting workers to demand better conditions; they are now large, opaque and corrupt institutions, which, as their membership numbers show, are becoming increasingly irrelevant with every passing year.
It is an absolute disgrace that there would be legislation forcing Unions into negotiations between employers and employees who are not Union members. Who is the Government to tell Australian workers who should be representing them? Especially when they have made a clear choice that they do not want to be a part of the Union!
But then I guess this is apparently a Government who can only defend the policy with proof that it isn’t working. That, right there, is straight out of Orwell.
It seems that I’m not the only one to notice the huge disparity in education outcomes between countries spending roughly the same amount of money on teachers’ salaries (amongst other things). Diane Ravitch has written a two-part essay in the New York Review of Books contrasting the which-achieving Finnish education system with the retrenched American one.
Her argument was compelling overall, although there were one or two things that I take issue with. I’ll start on a positive note:
In recent years, elected officials and policymakers … have agreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “no excuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency without regard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be held accountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.
Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officials who determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation.
Much of her essay is on this theme: everyone in the US — Bush and Obama, State and Federal — are far too focussed on standardised test scores as a means of determining the proficiency of both students and teachers. Having suffered the NSW HSC, I can definitely relate to the problems created by forcing teachers to “teach to the test” with an extremely inflexible syllabus. As regular readers will know, I am also highly in favour of holding both district leadership and elected officials to account.
That said, Ravitch may be overlooking the most important distinction between the USA and Finland: culture. In fact, she actively argues against Finland’s homogeneous ethnicity being a determinative factor in its academic performance.
Detractors say that Finland performs well academically because it is ethnically homogeneous, but Sahlberg responds that “the same holds true for Japan, Shanghai or Korea,” which are admired by corporate reformers for their emphasis on testing. To detractors who say that Finland, with its population of 5.5 million people, is too small to serve as a model, Sahlberg responds that “about 30 states of the United States have a population close to or less than Finland.”
Firstly, Japan, Korea and Shanghai are not exactly struggling -– especially compared to where they used to be. Also, the ethnic homogeneity of Finland may have a lot to do with what Ravitch does identify as a very important factor in education outcomes: the esteem in which teachers are held.
Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted. There are no alternative ways to earn a teaching license. Those who are accepted have already taken required high school courses in physics, chemistry, philosophy, music, and at least two foreign languages. Future teachers have a strong academic education for three years, then enter a two-year master’s degree program…
In the second essay, Ravitch argues that were the US to impose similar standards on their teachers, this would improve the public image of teachers and so would improve the quality of applicants and the culture of teachers into one where teachers teach because of their “intrinsic motivation”:
Like other professionals, as Pasi Sahlberg shows in his book Finnish Lessons, Finnish teachers are driven by a sense of intrinsic motivation, not by the hope of a bonus or the fear of being fired. Intrinsic motivation is also what they seek to instill in their students. In the absence of standardized testing by which to compare their students and their schools, teachers must develop, appeal to, and rely on their students’ interest in learning.
It seems to me that Ravitch is confusing cause and effect. The ethnic and cultural homogeneity of Finland is a key factor as this is obviously a culture that takes great pride in education. I would hazard a guess that in a country like the USA that clearly does not do so overall, there are still areas and communities with a Finnish-like attitude to educating their children and these communities show disproportionately strong outcomes despite functioning in exactly the same system as everyone else. That is certainly true of the Jewish community in Australia.
She unwittingly presents more evidence in favour of this theory, both when arguing for more Union involvement in education and when arguing that education does not solve poverty:
Finland’s success confounds the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) theorists, because almost every teacher and principal in Finland belongs to the same union. The union works closely with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education, and it negotiates for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions for educators.
… Schools are crucial institutions in our society and teachers can make a huge difference in changing children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot cure the ills of an unequal and stratified society. Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty.
The lesson from Finland’s union is not that Unions are necessarily beneficial for education, but that everyone in Finland is more or less of the same mindset. Similarly, the anti-education culture in impoverished communities could go a long way to explaining why children at the same school will have worse outcomes if they have impoverished parents. However, as I have often lamented, culture is off-limits for criticism.
The final point I will raise is on the subject of teacher conditions. Ravitch observes that there is a very high turnover in the teaching profession, leading to a lack of experienced teachers:
The teaching profession in the United States is a revolving door. It’s easy to enter, and many teachers leave—up to 40 to 50 percent—in their first five years as teachers. The turnover is highest in low-scoring urban districts. We do not support new teachers with appropriate training and mentoring, and we have a problem retaining teachers. No other profession in the United States has such a high rate of turnover.
… corporate reformers have shown no interest in raising standards for the teaching profession. They believe that entry-level requirements such as certification, master’s degrees, and other credentials are unrelated to “performance,” that is, student test scores. They also scorn seniority, experience, tenure, and other perquisites of the profession. Instead, they believe that a steady infusion of smart but barely trained novices will change the face of teaching.
Ironically, while Ravitch is condemning American “corporate reformers” (actually public servants pretending to take a corporate approach) and praising Finnish Unions, in this instance the Australian Unions have gone the way of the American pseudo-corporates:
Here, as elsewhere throughout the world, teacher unions wield enormous power … Their power has had three effects on education.
The first is the bulk of additional funding for education has gone into hiring more teachers instead of paying existing teachers more.
The second effect is that … in Australia the starting salary for teachers is relatively high by world standards, but salaries for experienced teachers relatively low.
The third effect of a heavily unionised workforce has been that up until the past few years there was minimal accountability and performance measurement of teachers.
Those first two points seem to be exactly what Ravitch is discouraging – incentives for young people to go into teaching for a few years and then leave to pursue other ends, meaning that smaller and smaller classes are being taught by increasingly poorly trained and inexperienced teachers.
Maybe Australia does need to take some lessons from Finland:
- Stop concentrating so hard on getting more teachers and focus on keeping the ones we have.
- Stop adding new education courses at uni and improve the ones we have.
- Start looking into ways to combat “tall-poppy syndrome” in schools. If there is one thing leading to underachievement in Australia, it’s this – can we at least talk about it?
- Throwing money at a problem does not solve it.