Temporary migrant workers in Australian agriculture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 8:07am in


Blog, Labour, Migration

The agricultural industry throughout the world has great trouble recruiting and retaining workers drawn from the local population and has become reliant on temporary migrant workers to undertake work which is low paid and arduous. The viability of many of the industry’s branches, and especially horticultural and vegetable cultivation, harvesting and packing, is contingent on the employment of these workers. Interest in how this reliance shaped the dynamics of the industry in different locations was the subject of a collaborative research project jointly funded by the University of California Davis and the University of Sydney. Several of the papers presented at the UCD-USyd forums have now been published in a special issue of The Journal of Australian Political Economy. These papers are primarily focused on the analysis of the extent and character of temporary migrant work in Australia’s agriculture industry.

The recourse to temporary migrant workers is a relatively
recent phenomenon in Australia compared with say North America, Europe or South
Africa. This is in part a response to the difficulties of recruiting from local
rural communities. Depopulation and the ageing of these communities has eroded
a traditional source of labour, and the relatively low rates of remuneration
and arduous nature of farm work discouraged younger workers from considering a career
in agriculture.

While there are no definitive figures on the number of
migrant workers employed in agriculture, probably half or more of the
industry’s workforce is drawn from overseas, and a distinguishing feature of
Australia’s temporary labour migration policies is the number of programs that successive
governments has established. The most numerically significant cohorts are those
who have been issued with a Working Holiday Maker visa or a Work and Holiday
visa, which offer these workers the opportunity to extend their stay in
Australia for up to three years if they work for a minimum time in agriculture.
The Seasonal Worker Program invites Pacific Islanders to work for up to nine months,
mostly in horticulture, while the Pacific Labour Scheme seeks to attract
workers for low-skilled and semi-skilled occupations. The Safe Haven Enterprise
visa provides refugees with employment rights in rural areas. Temporary skilled
workers can be recruited under the terms of the 482 visa, and the Designated
Area Migration Agreement enables the recruitment of migrants to work in a range
of occupations in specified regional areas. These migrant worker cohorts are
supplemented by a growing workforce of unauthorised migrant workers.  

This internationalisation of Australia’s agricultural
workforce can be considered as one manifestation of a more general structural
transformation of the industry. This transformation is increasingly bound up
with its global reorientation. The industry is endeavouring to consolidate its
standing as a food bowl for Asia and beyond, expanding exports into
international markets under the aegis of free trade agreements. Agribusinesses are
developing a more substantial presence and this structural shift is being
reinforced by the increasing aggregation of farms, which is being underwritten
by the growing interest of pension, investment and sovereign wealth funds
looking to spread their risks by diversifying into agriculture. In the process,
they are bidding up land values and the cost of water as it has become a
tradeable commodity.

In a classic example of how the impacts of structural transformations
can unfold differently across industry, the detrimental effects of increased
input costs – of land and water exacerbated by the long drought – on the
profitability and viability of agricultural enterprise have been particularly
felt by small and medium farms. The pressures have fuelled industry calls on
government to relieve labour market pressures by introducing further relief
through the establishment of a designated agricultural worker visa.

This call for a more flexible migrant labour visa for agricultural work has proved to be extremely problematic because of the industry’s less-than-salubrious employment record. As is the case in agriculture across much of the world, the employment of temporary migrant workers has been darkened by a history of workers being subjected to a raft of exploitative and abusive conditions. Underpayment, wage theft, unsafe working conditions, evidence of bonded and forced labour, poor and unhygienic accommodation and exorbitant charges are prevalent.

In Australia, this is a history that has been the subject of
several government inquiries, with next-to-no legislative initiatives designed
to bring an end to the exploitative practices. Indeed, with the exception of
labour migration programs that institutionalise these practices, the federal
government has been reluctant to intervene to regulate the industry’s labour
markets. In 2016 the government established the Migrant Worker Taskforce led by
Allan Fels and David Cousins. They were commissioned to explore the plight of
migrant workers across several industries, not just agriculture, and to develop
a ‘whole of government’ approach and recommend measures to do what has not
occurred to date, viz., to bring an end to exploitation and abuse. Their
reflections are published in the special issue of the Journal. They
conclude with the observation: “The Taskforce was able to generate new ideas
and suggest both changes in policy and administrative and enforcement
practices. It achieved agreement on a significant package of reforms that, if
(my emphasis), should have a significant impact over time of
reducing under-payments.”

In March 2019, the federal government delivered its
, signalling some legislative initiatives and that it would
consider or examine other recommendations, including whether wage theft should
be treated as criminal offence. Yet nearly a year later, the government has still
not acted, exploitative practices continue to be regularly reported, and in the
meantime it has relaxed some of the regulatory oversights governing the various
temporary migrant worker visas and eased some of the restrictions on the
duration of their employment. The collection of articles in this latest issue
of JAPE highlights the nature of
the problems, some of the ways in which workers try to cope, utilising social
media to alert others of their experiences. The studies also emphasise the need
for greater scrutiny of employment practices and for strengthening compliance
with employment standards and exposing the vested interests that continue to
oppose reform.

The post Temporary migrant workers in Australian agriculture appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Some in Labour really do need to think about what it is doing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 7:59pm in


Labour, Politics

I note that Politics Home has reported that:

Labour leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer should "stand side" to make way for a woman, the party's chairman has declared.

Ian Lavery, who is backing Sir Keir's main rival Rebecca Long-Bailey, called on the Shadow Brexit Secretary to quit the race so the party can pick its first-ever female leader.

I know quite a number of women who are leading thinkers on the left. Without exception all that I have spoken to on this issue object to the idea that Lavery is suggesting. They feel it deeply patronising. The idea that a woman can only win by having a man stand aside is deeply offensive to them. And such an approach will also fundamentally undermine any leader elected in this way in the eyes of the public whilst providing opponents with endless opportunity for attack.

Some in Labour really do need to think about what it is doing.

Lead Us Not Into Oblivion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 10:00am in

W Stephen Gilbert The simple response of course is to blame it all on Corbyn. Let’s face it, no more comprehensive bogeyman has ever been offered to the British electorate. An extreme, hard left, unreconstructed Marxist, surrounded by ruthless Bolsheviks, he was a hater of Britain and of freedom, a friend of terrorists, an anti-Semite …

What “community standards” did this comment breach? #25

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/01/2020 - 3:00pm in

The following comment – sent in to us by a reader – was censored by The Guardian. Which of the well-publicised CiF “community standards” did it breach? Removed comment, posted under the Guardian story on the most recent by Andy Beckett, on January 11th 2020: Since the comment is quite long, and the image possible …

Globalization and Labour in the 21st century: Reflections on Verity Burgmann

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/01/2020 - 6:07pm in


Blog, Labour

Verity Burgmann has produced an excellent, broad coverage of different instances of resistance by labour movements from around the world in her book Globalization and Labour in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2016). It includes accounts of occupied factories in Argentina, opposition to privatisation of oil facilities in Iraq, as well as anti-austerity struggles in Greece amongst many others. It covers private industries as well as public sectors and explores the potential of new social media for resistance. In this blog post, I will provide some critical reflections on this major account of labour movements’ potential role in the 21st century.  

Burgmann’s positive assessment of labour movements’ resistance to capitalist exploitation around the world is driven by an autonomist Marxist perspective, privileging the agency of workers over capital as well as structural constraints. ‘Autonomism reverses the relationship between capital and labour that emerges in economic determinist Marxism, explicitly refusing to emphasize the dominance of capital and its accumulative logic as the unilateral force shaping the world’ (P.18). Instead of capital’s innovative dynamic, it is labour’s refusal to work which forces capital to establish new production relations. In short, it is the power of labour, which underpins capitalist development with capital being constantly on the defensive.

Transnational production depends on the smooth flow of good across borders in order to fulfil the tight schedule of just in time production systems. Hence, German employers in the 1990s ‘were more dependent than ever on stable relations with labour at the plant level and more vulnerable to overt industrial strife’ (P.36). Transnational organisation of production, rather than being a source of structural power for capital, becomes a weakness. Another example is the situation of precarious workers. Burgmann points out how this group of workers, often perceived to be the weakest of the weak, have found a new voice in collective struggle. They ‘are often fighting against their circumstances by establishing new unions, sometimes of an anarcho-syndicalist bent’ (P.165).

This is an important message, providing hope where there is often resignation. And yet, there are a number of questions I would like to raise.

First, I am sceptical about the key assumptions of autonomist Marxism, emphasising the power of labour. Of course, the power of capital is often unduly asserted, making resistance appear meaningless and thus undermining working class efforts. Yet, to argue that workers are really driving capitalist development overlooks a number of key structuring conditions, which often limit labour’s agency. As capitalists have to reproduce themselves through the market in the fight for market share with other capitalists, they are forced to innovate constantly, which makes capitalism such a dynamic system. Nevertheless, capitalism is also crisis prone as more goods are produced than workers are actually able to consume. Hence this constant pressure of outward expansion in the search for new markets and cheaper labour. Of course, workers’ agency does play a role in shaping the form this outward expansion takes, but they never struggle ‘in conditions of their own choosing’.

Perhaps autonomist Marxism’s optimism is misleading? Celebrating resistance is important, but successful struggles need a clear assessment of the overall balance of forces. Acknowledging the structuring conditions of capitalism does not have to imply falling into a structuralist trap with action perceived to be futile (Bieler and Morton 2018: 36-50).

Second, there is an undue focus on production in my view, overlooking the sphere of social reproduction. At times Burgmann acknowledges how struggles go across both spheres, such as in Chapter 8 where she discusses the protection of the public or in Chapter 9 in her assessment of anti-austerity struggles in Europe. Here she does argue that ‘assessments of labour movement resistance to austerity in Europe broadly agree that the labour movement needs now to be understood as including more informal groups as well as trade unions’ (P.230). At the very end of the book, she however retreats again into a productivist analysis. ‘The red-green sustainability project on which the future of the planet rests might ultimately depend on working-class power at the point of production, on the withdrawal of labour from continuing complicity in capitalism’s environmental irresponsibility’ (P.242). An engagement with feminist Social Reproduction Theory would tell us here that the withdrawal of labour not only in production, but also equally in struggles in the sphere of social reproduction such as health care or the care of the elderly is important in the resistance against capitalist exploitation.

Third, the emphasis on production also implies that the labour movement is often too narrowly defined as the agency of trade unions. Burgmann does criticise the role of established trade unions such as in Greece, but then reverts to the role played by new, more radical trade unions as the main progressive actors. Other social movements hardly feature in her assessment. Broader alliances are identified as important when it comes to the Fight for $15 at McDonald’s in the US (P.45) and the BlackLivesMatter movement is mentioned in this context (P.49). Nevertheless, these other groups are not further explored and they are not regarded as potential leaders of struggles against exploitation. As a result, experiences of resistance by other types of movement, especially also from the Global South such as the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, are not taken into account.

These critical points for reflection should not, however, make us overlook the significant contributions of Burgmann’s volume. The detailed overview of working class strategies of resistance across different countries and sectors provides a wealth of empirical information. I may be sceptical about the autonomist Marxist, production based, workers and trade union focused perspective, but this does not devalue the overall significance of the book. A must-read for anyone reflecting on labour’s potential to shape the 21st century. I highly recommend this book for reading.

First published on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring

Cover image: Worker recovered Forja factory, Argentina

The post Globalization and Labour in the 21st century: Reflections on Verity Burgmann appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Keir Starmer needs to get up to speed on economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/01/2020 - 6:43pm in


Economics, Labour

Over the weekend The Guardian reported that:

Keir Starmer appealed to the Labour left to back his bid for the leadership on Saturday as he denounced the “free-market model” as a failure and backed higher taxes on the wealthiest to pay for better public services.

I had two immediate thoughts. One was that the comment on tax showed that Starmer does not get modern monetary theory. His comment implying we need to tax the wealthiest to pay for public services proves that. But that is an issue for another blog. The matter of concern here is his suggestion that the “free market model” is a failure. A number of thoughts flow from that.

The first is that it is surprising that this is contentious. Or that it is considered left wing. It isn’t. The Financial Times has declared that the model of capitalism that we have had for forty years is in need of radical reform. So too has the American Business Roundtable that is made up of about 180 of the most influential US CEOs. It’s a fact: capitalism  as we have it is not working. The climate crisis is evidence of that. So too was the 2008 crash. it really should not be seen as radical to state an obvious fact  that business knows to be true.

Second, then, why does this need to be said? I suggest that this is because the model of so-called free market economics is still taught in almost every university as if it is a) true and b) without alternative when c) it is based on assumptions that any rational human being will realise are completely absurd. There remain true believers in this fantasy. Most of them have never been near a real business. Their worldview is decidedly limited. They are either academics, or right-wing think tank wonks, or the politicians drawn from the ranks of the last group, in particular. This is where this issue becomes political: right wing politicians promote belief in an incredible creed, and it appears radical for the left to challenge it.

Third, the left does not help itself by promoting a vision of the economy that is hostile to the private sector. This makes no sense. As a matter of fact we live in a mixed economy. In effect, almost every person in the UK has always done so. And any effective (in the sense of likely to be electorally successful) economic plan the left is going to put forward now is  going to have to embrace that fact, for fact it will be.

And yet what we have forgotten to do is sing the mixed economy’s  praises, and note the fact that it works until undermined by dogma and the anti-market abuse which far too many right wing politcians and large companies promote in the name of supposed free markets when what they are really seeking to do is suppress competition to deliver monopoly profits to a few at cost to most in society.

I wrote  in praise of the mixed economy in my book The Courageous State, in which I made it clear that any such state would promote the conditions in which genuine markets could flourish where appropriate whilst at the same time suppressing abuse by requiring the state run or regulate natural monopolies. I described the mixed economy using the metaphor of a cappuccino as follows:

A cappuccino economy is the mixed economy that exists within society (the cappuccino cup) with the state being represented by the strong black coffee that underpins the whole edifice, while the private sector is the hot frothy milk that is added to that coffee to work in combination with it to make the final product. The luxuries paid for out of our limited disposable incomes that add the gloss to the private sector are represented by the nutmeg or chocolate that float on top of the hot milk which represents the private sector as a whole. The spoon represents democracy that determines the mix between the coffee and milk, with sugar representing the sweeteners necessary to ensure that almost all accept the eventual outcomes determined by government.

The metaphor can be pushed a lot further: the saucer represents the welfare state that stops people falling out of society; the barista has the skills society needs and must perpetuate, the coffee-making machine and indeed the coffee shop in which most cappuccino is drunk are both representative of the infrastructure that is essential in any society, while the recipe is based on our wisdom and tradition of accumulated knowledge. The fact that cappuccino is very often drunk in a social environment is indicative of the fact that it is the exchanges within society that actually fulfil us as people and are the way in which we understand our purpose.

Most people I have ever described this metaphor to can instantly relate to it: this is the world in which many people live and it is the world that they understand. And yet there is no economic theory currently in use that describes this economy. And that, I suggest, is the real problem we face right now, and is the reason why we are in a mess.

I am still of that opinion. We still need an economics and an ethos that actually relates to the merits of the world of compromise in which balance is created in which we can and must actually live.

Keir Starmer looks to be the most likely person to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. In that role he most certainly needs to say, time and again, that the Tory myth that free markets work is complete nonsense. But he must be careful not to suggest that the alternative is state ownership and control of all activity. What is required is proper regulation of the markets that we need to ensure that abuse does not take place, appropriate taxes are paid and monopoly power is curtailed. That is a policy that all should be able to endorse. It is the way for Labour to go, I suggest.

Labour’s federal plan for Scotland is very bad news for anyone with an interest in a prosperous Scotland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 8:07pm in

The Guardian has reported that:

Scottish Labour is considering backing a second independence referendum in a dramatic reversal of policy by the party leader, Richard Leonard.

Party sources have told the Guardian that Leonard will raise that possibility at Labour’s Scottish executive committee on Saturday, where it could also discuss demands for it to split formally from the UK Labour party.

Leonard told his shadow cabinet on Monday he wanted to hold a special conference in May to decide Scottish Labour’s position on a fresh independence referendum, where he would present proposals for Labour to back a federal UK.

Let's just discuss the politics of this, and not the rights and wrongs of independence, per se.

First, given Labour has exited Westminster for all practical purposes as far as Scotland is concerned, this makes sense. Scottish Labour as well now concentrate on Scottish politics, where it still has some representation.

Second, given how dire Labour's result was for Scottish Labour to think to it can do better with its own policies might also make sense. Even Richard Leonard has got as far as reading the runes correctly on this.

Third, this is a spoiler by Labour. The Tories say no to independence. The SNP says yes. So Labour triangulates and says the middle ground looks like an option. It's classic stuff.

But the question is, will it work?

The fear for the SNP is it might: in a three-way vote federalism might win.

The hope for the Tories is it might let them cut the SNP largely out of Westminster and cut the block grant but let Johnson say he kept the Union together.

The gain for Labour would be hard to assess: they reduce their chances of forming a government at Westminster and nothing right now is going to get them back into office in Scotland, nor will that change for a long time to come, I suspect.

So what for the people fo Scotland?

People often opt for compromise. Labour is playing on that hope. But this will be a dire compromise for Scotland. Economic policy would remain with the currency in Westminster. So whatever else is said, Scotland will not have its own central bank, or its own currency and its own control of its own economic and fiscal policy. Under federalism Scotland will remain a glorified council. And as a result federalism will offer no gains to Scotland at all. The chance of prosperity that indp0ednence would bring is lost. Instead, all it offers is a downside: Scotland will be treated as responsible when it will not be, and marginal, which it will become to an even greater extent than at present.

As pure politics go there is only one winner in this, and that's Labour. They help the Tories on the way.

For Scotland this looks like very bad news. By and large Scotland has realised that this is what Labour is for it. I hope that they will appreciate that this is the case here as well.

Long-Bailey’s pointless struggle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/01/2020 - 7:48pm in



I wrote yesterday suggesting that Rebecca Long-Bailey got her approach to the Green New Deal right when launching her bid to be Labour leader in Tribune magazine. I am now writing to suggest that she got almost everything else wrong.

The reason is quite straightforward. What is apparent is that Long-Bailey has no clue about what people expect from a leader of the Opposition. In that regard she is, of course, the true heir to Corbyn. In a key line she said:

You’re as likely to see me on a picket line as you are at the dispatch box, and you can trust me to fight the establishment tooth and nail.

Maybe she does not realise that being Leader of the Opposition is to be part of the establishment.

And maybe she does not realise that being Leader of the Opposition means you aspire to be prime minister. It does not get more establishment than that. And nothing she says and nothing she does will change that: this is the way liberal democracy works: there is, inevitably, a power structure. The purpose of democracy is to hold it to account. But she is aspiring to be part of it, whether she likes it or not.

I could analyse this further, but Andrew Purkis, whose work I much like, has done it already. As he has noted:

So what is the establishment against which we should be declaring war or fighting tooth and nail (quite  violent expressions, even as metaphor)? For many of us, the British establishment includes prominently the royal family and all the Lords Lieutenants, the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, the House of Lords, the senior judiciary, the leaders of our armed forces, the senior civil service and Foreign Office, the Captains of Industry, the Vice Chancellors of  our universities – just to name a few.

He adds:

I assume Long Bailey means “establishment” in a different sense, which is those people who supposedly have a stranglehold on power and wealth in our society. The problem is that this sort of analysis is vague and contestable. Are bankers and financiers a monolith, is Industry a monolith, are the media a monolith, conspiring together with those with inherited wealth and privilege to increase inequality and feather their own nests at the expense of the people? Are all elites to be condemned as neo liberal and self-seeking, and the enemy, or is there variety within them? If there is no monolithic conspiracy, who are we supposed to be warring against, and who might be spared?

In this context I rather liked a letter in the FT this morning:

Bill Michael, chairman of KPMG, says he wants to stamp out the “corrosive” mentality that making large amounts of money trumps good behaviour (report, January 6).

“That mentality has existed for years across the whole market,” he says.

No it hasn’t.

Mark Bogard Chief Executive, Family Building Society, Epsom, Surrey, UK

Bogard is right. Of course there are issues to address. Many of them. But crude stereotyping does not work. It ill becomes the Labour Party to go down this route.

As Andrew Purkis concluded:

I suspect most British electors are peaceable people who are not specially attracted by warlike metaphors. If we are being asked to sign up to tooth and nail warfare against a group or groups of our fellow citizens, even very fortunate and privileged ones, please can we be told more clearly who they are?

I might add, can we also know why we are at war, what the end goal is, how we will know when victory can be declared, and what will the real spoils be? Politicians are very bad at stating any of these for real wars. It seems that they are no better at it when seeking leadership. and the Green New Deal apart (which requires cooperative working, not war on the establishment, or it cannot happen in time) Long-Bailey offers no clear vision for her outcomes. It's all struggle, but no ends.

I admit this does not work for me.

I suspect it will not for many people.

Rebadged work

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/01/2020 - 7:05pm in

Ian McCluskey describes himself like this on Twitter:

I mention this because this morning he has posted this, with reference to Rebecca Long-Bailey making the Green New Deal core to her campaign:

And this:

I stress, the Green New Deal is not all my work, even if I admit that Colin Hines did more than most to keep it alive from 2010 to 2018. So the credit is not all mine. But I don't write just for fun. I write because I want things to change. Ian spotted a theme that I had not.

Rebecca Long Bailey says it’s all about the Green New Deal. On that, at least, she’s right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/01/2020 - 6:57pm in


Economics, Labour

Rebecca Long-Bailey launched her campaign to be Labour leader with an article in Tribune, published overnight. It was better than her false start in the Guardian, but that would not have been hard. And, right from the outset she made clear what she means to campaign on:

Labour’s Green New Deal, our plans to radically democratise the economy and to renew the high streets of towns across the country are the foundations for an economic transformation that will combat the climate crisis and hand back wealth and power to ordinary people.

What is immediately apparent from the piece is that the crass description of Labour’s programme as a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ has been dropped. I decried this recently, saying:

Let me be precise as to my criticism. First, no one else but Labour is talking about a Green Industrial Revolution. So it must be something different from the Green New Deal most people think we need.

Second, that difference would appear to arise because Labour do, indeed, see this as a bit of industrial policy. In fact, they see it as an excuse for a bit of post-Keynesian investment-led growth.

And, third, that’s not remotely what the Green New Deal is.

Long-Bailey clearly agrees. She continued, saying:

It is true that one reason we lost the election was that Labour’s campaign lacked a coherent narrative. But this was a failure of campaign strategy, not of our socialist programme. Labour’s Green New Deal is the mostambitious agenda for tackling climate change of any major political party. And throughout the election it was tragically undersold.

Not only did it provide a compelling frame for our entire economic programme, it was most popular in those deindustrialised regions where we suffered our most devastating losses: the North West, the West Midlands and the North East. The popularity of our Green New Deal bridges the divides in our electoral coalition, with huge support in the cities and marginals in the South East too. It should have been a core part of our offer: this is how Labour will help you take back control.

I stress, I am not saying as a result I am endorsing Long-Bailey. But she is clearly going to be influential, and the bookies have her second in this race right now (not that coming second did Owen Smith any good). What is important is the change in emphasis. We do not need some post Keynesian growth. We need a Green New Deal. I hope the rest of Labour now gets it and the McDonnell / Corbyn line is dropped.