minimum wage

The Independent path to effective democracy, and survival

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/11/2019 - 3:28pm in

[Published at Pearls & Irritations, 20 Nov]


Helen Haines and Voices for Indi

A way to break us out of the ossified and toxic parliamentary culture and the fearful stupor of the electorate. A way to restore fluid and functional governance.

Both John Menadue and Michael Keating make strong points, as insiders, about Australia’s increasingly undemocratic politics. Perhaps an outsider’s perspective can reveal deeper causes and issues that clarify the situation, and offer a way forward that does not depend on begging the powerful.

A key theme of Menadue’s is that oligarchs have corrupted our parties and politics for their own benefit. He identifies ‘unchecked capitalism’ as a prime source of our problems. I can only agree, but where did this unchecked capitalism come from, and what is to be done about it?

A key theme of Keating’s is that our society is fragmented by intersecting fault lines, creating many constituencies at odds with each other and making demands that cannot be reconciled. He even calls some issues intractable. A deeper analysis suggests these groups have more in common than that, and a clear strategy with well-pitched messages might pull many of them together, and even ease some of the ‘intractables’.

Keating indicates that progress can be made if Labor will recognise that better wages, action on the climate emergency and a healthy economy are not incompatible. Labor shows little sign of having or gaining the requisite understanding, let alone the courage to act on it.

Menadue on the other hand proposes a set of reforms that, if enacted, would do much to improve the health of our political system. But who will enact those reforms? Not the present parliament, nor the old parties.

We can no longer wait for slow reforms. The police state is closing in on us and the possibility of retrieving a safe climate is diminishing by the day. We don’t know if it might already be too late, but we can only hope it is not and keep trying. 2019 was supposed to be ‘the climate election’. 2022 (or sooner) must be the climate election, and it must result in a major national effort to clean up our act.

There is a way forward that does not require any changes in rules or institutions. To be effective it needs to be backed by a good diagnosis with effective treatment at hand. To succeed it needs to rise above old tribal loyalties, old political labels and unproductive adversarialism.

The electorate of Indi has now elected two Independents in succession, Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines. They did it by holding a lot of grass roots conversations about what people wanted, and by identifying capable candidates with good values and a willingness to represent their people.

Zali Steggall won the Warringah electorate using similar methods, though with less time, more star power and a particular issue (the incumbent) to unite people. Kerryn Phelps came close to holding Wentworth as an Independent. We might also note Independent Andrew Wilkie from Tasmania and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie and Senator Rex Patrick, who are unconstrained by the old parties and ideologies.

Disillusionment with old politics has been growing steadily. The coming summer, already upon us ahead of the official season, may see critical shifts in many attitudes. It takes time to organise a national political party but we don’t need to. If, say, ten or fifteen quality Independents were elected to the House it would shift the political dynamics. By ‘quality’ I mean people with experience in community affairs who share the values of their electorate, as distinct from the reactionaries, fruit loops and zealots we have seen too many of lately.

You might be inclined to pin old political labels on people like Haines, Steggall and Phelps, but they explicitly want serious action on the climate emergency. You can work with people like that. You can’t work with the deluded ideologues of the Coalition, nor with an ALP gridlocked by factions, dragging old policies and blinking in the glare of a hot new world. You can’t work with the thoroughly corrupt.

So I propose that we move beyond the toxic adversarial habit and put people in parliament who want to represent and govern.

The first decade of Federation was one of minority governments and shifting alliances, but a lot was accomplished. The Gillard minority government also accomplished quite a lot. But why stop there? Why not hand government to someone supported on supply by a majority of Independents in the House? Shocking as the thought may be, the old parties and the old toxic ways are comprehensively failing us and we need to contemplate their demise.

Of course alliances would soon form among Independents. The point here is not to abolish alliances, it is to break us out of the ossified and toxic parliamentary culture and the fearful stupor of the electorate. The point is to restore fluid and functional governance.

What would a sensible government, minority or otherwise, do? Higher incomes for the unemployed and low-wage earners would immediately stimulate the economy because they would spend the money on necessities instead of on unproductive asset speculation. Force the big corporations that want to operate in Australia to pay taxes, it can’t be that hard, we just need the will. Spend on productive infrastructure, there is a huge backlog. That will also stimulate the economy. We can get over the misguided obsession with balancing the Federal budget and notice that Government spending enables private saving, as well as anchoring our whole monetary system.

During the postwar decades governments governed for full employment and unemployment averaged 1.3%, with inflation averaging a moderate 3.3%. GDP growth averaged over 5%. The neoliberal era has never come close to that ‘beautiful set of numbers’. There is no reason we can’t control foreign investment and regulate the banks as they used to be – by that old socialist Bob Menzies.

Supporting employment security instead of attacking and undermining it would relieve a lot of needless and destructive anxiety. Using the budget and other powers to reduce a wasteful labour force underutilisation around 14% would give people a fair shot at the decent jobs they want. The ‘intractable’ issues referred to by Michael Keating tend to be exacerbated by poverty and alienation, so we should be able to ameliorate them by giving people a fair go.

If the battlers find their lives noticeably improving they will be less resentful, less combative and more inclined to appreciate who is responsible. Some of the present ‘fault lines’ might be bridged. If everyone sees a government intent on governing and focussed on improving the lives of the many (for a change) they will be more inclined to support it.

I was in the United States during Jimmy Carter’s term, and pundits were saying the US was becoming ungovernable. Then Reagan got in, with a clear story and a strong program, and he governed, though it was much to the detriment of the world.

We have known for decades how to address the climate emergency, we just need to get on with it. We can create a workable smart electricity grid, adding strategically scattered pumped hydro storages (not Snowy 2.0!) and incentivising efficient buildings, clean transport and clean industry. There should be no new fossil fuel mines or exploration and the workers should be helped to transition into clean work, which many may prefer to do anyway. As Ross Garnaut is only the latest to point out, there are large opportunities for Australia in clean energy.

Regenerative agriculture is developing rapidly in Australia and it sequesters carbon, retains much more ground water, minimises pollutants and allows the natural world to thrive around it. We don’t need trashed habitats, blowing soil, dead fish, dry rivers, waterless towns and sick seas to make a living, as if we could for long anyway. This shift can also be actively supported.

There is much more we can do, but this conveys the flavour and direction. The underlying truth is that neoliberalism has been a disastrous failure that has generated great economic and social division. It was always snake oil and was never going to succeed. Its failure was clear twenty years ago. The ‘Keynesian’ approach was not broken, it was disrupted by quadrupling oil prices and Nixon’s reckless spending on Vietnam. Restoring some of the postwar social democracy would be a good start, and we could do even better if we set about it.

The oligarchs, including the media, will of course squeal that the sky will fall if we so much as think about any of this. Well hello? The sky is already sagging and we need to do something about it. Networks of people can go around the old media, as they can go around the old parties and habits.

Perhaps all of this seems like a big ask, but times are changing. What will Australia be like by the end of this summer, let alone in three or five years? Perhaps my outlined policy agenda is ambitious and not yet widely understood, but it’s the sort of thing you get to if you go beyond the market-fundamentalist nonsense and look at what used to be done and what might be done.

Only that kind of ambitious thinking will give us a chance of having a recognisable Australia come 2030.

The ‘I’ on Labour’s Manifesto Policies

Thursday’s edition of the I, for 10th October 2019, carried an article by Nigel outlining Labour’s election promises. The article ‘What will be in the Labour Party election manifesto’, stated that ‘Jeremy Corbyn aims to target areas for radical change’. These were itemised and described as follows

Brexit

The plicy issue likely to be at the heart of the election campaign. One in office, Labour would spend three months negotiating a new Brexit deal with Brussels to enable Britain to remain in customs union with the European Union and be closely aligned to the European single market.

It would then organise a referendum within six months, offering voters a choice between Labour’s deal and remaining in the EU. Labour would hold a special conference to decide which side it would endorse in the referendum.

Taxes

Labour says its tax-raising plans would only affect give per cent of taxpayers. It is currently committed to increase income tax rates to 45 per cent for salaries over £80,000 and to 50 per cent for salaries over £123,000.

Cuts to corporation tax would be reversed and the rate would be fixed at around 26 per cent. 

Infrastructure

Labour is pledging to spend £250bn on upgrading the UK’s transport, energy and broadband infrastructure. Another £250bn of capital would be provided for businesses and co-ops to “breathe new life into every community”.

Nationalisation

Labour would bring the railways, Royal Mail, the water companies and the National Grid into public ownership so “essential services we all rely on are run by and for the public, not for profit.”

Minimum Wage

Workers of all kinds would be legally entitled to a UK-wide minimum wage of £10 an hour. LOabour says the move will make the average 16- and 17-year-old in employment more than £2,500 a year better off.

Free Personal Care

A new National Care Service would help elderly people in England with daily tasks such as getting out of bed, bathing, washing and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care, and provide better training for carers. The £16bn annual cost would come out of general taxation.

Free Prescriptions

Prescription charges would be abolished in England. They are already free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

More than 80 per cent of English prescriptions are already issued free of charge, but in other cases patients pay £9 per item.

Boost Doctor Numbers

The number of GP trainees in England would rise by 50 per cent to tackle a recruitment crisis. Labour says it would mean an extra 27 million GP appointments per year.

Scrap Tuition Fees

One of the party’s most popular policies at the last election, Labour is committed to scrapping university tuition fees in England and Wales, which currently stand at a maximum of £9,250 a year.

It would also cancel existing student debt, which the party says has reached “unsustainable” levels.

End Rough Sleeping

Labour would end rough sleeping in five years by allocating thousands of extra homes to people with a history of living on the streets.

Outlaw Fracking/ Increase Renewables

Fracking would be banned “once and for all”, with Labour putting its emphasis on developing clean and renewable energy.

The party wants 60 per cent of UK energy from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030 and would build 37 state-owned offshore windfarms. it is pledging to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a Green Industrial Revolution.

Scrap Ofsted

The schools inspectorate, which the party claims causes higher workload and stress for teachers, would be abolished and replaced with a two-stage inspection regime.

A Four-Day Working Week

Labour would cut the average working week to 32 hours within ten years, but with no loss of pay. It would end the opt-out from the European Working Time Directive, which lets firms sidestep EU rules on limiting hours to 48 a week. Zero hours contracts would be banned.

Overturn Union Legislation

Margaret Thatcher’s union legislation would be scrapped as a priority, and moves begun towards collective bargaining in different sectors of the economy.

Reverse Legal Aid Cut

Labour would expand legal aid as a priority with help focussed on housing cases and family law.

These are all policies that this country desperately needs, and so you can expect the Tories, the Lib Dems and the lamestream media, not to mention the Thatcherite entryists in the Labour Party itself, to scream ‘extremism!’ and do everything they can to stop them.

And you can trust that the party is absolutely serious about honouring these promises. Unlike David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris Johnson, all of whose promises about restoring the health service and reversing cuts, bringing down the deficit and ending austerity, have proven and will prove to be nothing but hollow lies.

Democrats on the Issue(s) in the 2020 Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/10/2019 - 4:37pm in

Democrats were poised to wage a substantial campaign based on the issues against Donald Trump next year. The likely front runner at this point, Elizabeth Warren, has a plan for everything. These are issues that most working Americans care about, like the minimum wage and healthcare. But now that they’ve decided to impeach Trump, the odds of those issues getting any serious play have all but evaporated.

Bernie Sanders Is the Best on the Minimum Wage and It’s Not Near

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/09/2019 - 4:44pm in

On the issue of the minimum wage, no top contender for the presidency has been as aggressive as Bernie Sanders. But for workers, that’s not nearly enough. For the last six years, Sanders has been pushing a $15 an hour minimum wage. That’s a major improvement over the current rate but it’s not nearly enough to keep up with inflation. Even under Sanders, workers would, at best, fail to lose more ground. They wouldn’t gain anything. Just another case study of how capitalism is not reformable.

Ten things to know about this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget

The Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) is an annual exercise whose working group consists of researchers, economists, and members of civil society (full disclosure: I’m the Editor). Our general mandate is to create a progressive vision for Alberta to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality. This year’s document was released today, and here are 10 things to know:

  1. The NDP government of Rachel Notley government made important advances with respect to childcare, but much remains to be done. Specifically, the Notley government introduced a $25/day childcare pilot project and increased the provincial childcare budget by 27% since taking office. However, gender equality and women’s labour market participation in Alberta could be improved even further with universal childcare. This year’s AAB proposes that important steps be taken to get that done by investing an additional $1.65 billion in childcare over the next year.
  2. More than 80% of Alberta’s Kindergarten through Grade 3 classes currently exceed the provincial government’s own class size targets. What’s more, almost half of the province’s Grade 4 through Grade 12 classes exceed the government’s class size targets. And in high schools across the province, roughly half of all core subject classes exceed the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL) targets set in 2003. The AAB therefore recommends substantial increases in spending on k-12 education while also recommending that Alberta’s provincial government reduce funding for private schools (which are currently subsidized at higher rates than those in any other province).
  3. When it comes to gender and public policy, Alberta has a long way to go. Women in Alberta face the largest employment gender gap of any province. They are over-represented in lower-paying careers and their hourly pay for full-time work is only 80 cents on a man’s dollar. Further, Alberta lacks pay equity legislation. The AAB recommends that the annual budget of Alberta’s Ministry for Status of Women be increased by 30%, and that the provincial government create a pay equity task force to both investigate the reasons and propose solutions for the large gender pay gaps across industries and occupations in the province.
  4. There are nearly 6,000 reported cases of wage theft (i.e., unpaid wages) in Alberta each year. Further, in 2017/18, only 41% of wage-theft complaints were resolved within 180 days. And it’s generally accepted that formal wage-theft claims represent a small fraction of all instances of wage theft. The AAB therefore proposes that 75 additional employment standards officers be hired in the province, in order to prevent and remedy wage theft.
  5. One in 5 Alberta workers will be injured on the job this year; one in 11 seriously. This year’s AAB will therefore invest an additional $70 million in enforcement of Alberta’s occupational health and safety laws in order to make workplaces safer.
  6. Tuition fees as a share of university operating revenue have roughly tripled in Alberta over the last 30 years. The Notley government did freeze tuition fees in 2015, and recently introduced legislation that would tie tuition fee increases to inflation; but those measures alone don’t cut it. The AAB proposes a five-year ‘phase out’ of tuition fees, starting with a 20% reduction in tuition fees for all post-secondary students, including international students.
  7. Alberta still has, by far, the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any province. Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio for 2018-19 is projected to be 6.5%. The next lowest is British Columbia’s, which stands at 15.2%. Though Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio has risen quite quickly since the slump in oil prices, it’s hard to make the claim that the province is living beyond its means.
  8. Albertans collectively are taxed less than residents of any other province. According to Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, if Alberta’s provincial government adopted a tax structures similar to the next lowest-taxed province in the country (British Columbia), Alberta would generate an additional $8.7 billion in annual revenue.
  9. Alberta remains the only Canadian province without a provincial sales tax. The AAB Working Group estimates that the implementation of a 5% provincial sales tax in Alberta would generate approximately $5 billion in new revenue annually. What’s more, even after the implementation of this tax, Alberta would remain Canada’s lowest-taxed province!
  10. This year’s AAB further proposes that a new provincial sales tax be harmonized with the federal Goods and Services tax. The federal government already collects a 5% sales tax in the form of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Following the lead of several other provinces, we propose that Alberta introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which would allow the province to generate its own share of the revenue collected by the federal GST. Introducing a 5% provincial portion of a HST would still leave Alberta with a combined HST of 10%.

In Sum. In addition to providing a costed-out public policy alternative to the status quo in Alberta, each AAB chapter also provides a primer on the public policy topic in question. I think the document makes for excellent reading for researchers, educators, students and non-profit leaders. The media release, along with a link to the full document, can be found here.

MEDIA RELEASE: Alberta should increase social spending; cuts are not the way to go

(June 24, 2019-Calgary) With Alberta’s economy still facing challenges and vulnerabilities, the Alberta government should not be doling out tax cuts or cutting social spending, according to the Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) released today.

“Alberta still has, by far, the lowest
debt-to-GDP ratio of any province,” says Nick Falvo, editor of the report. “We
are in a good position to increase spending on education, invest in affordable
child care, offer free dental care to Albertans under 18 years, and support
other programs that would help Albertans facing unpredictability in the job
market.”

The AAB is an annual exercise whose working
group consists of researchers, economists, and members of civil society. The
AAB  aims to create a progressive vision
for Alberta to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality.

Today’s report calls for the introduction
of a harmonized sales tax to reduce Alberta’s reliance on profit from energy
markets, that have always been volatile. Under the previous government,
important steps were taken to stabilize the economy through diversification and
social spending.

“The UCP government has already cut close
to $6 billion in provincial revenue by cancelling the carbon tax and cutting
corporate taxes, and this is the wrong direction,” says Falvo. “Instead,
investing in programs and infrastructure is what is needed to foster a vibrant
Alberta.”

Download the report.

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Contact: Nick Falvo, falvo.nicholas@gmail.com, 587-892-7855