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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole
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Sick kids and paying upfront

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Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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Bill Shorten meets Donald Trump on highway 457

Bill shorten has announced a crackdown on 457 visas to protect ‘Australian jobs’ against, shock horror, foreigners.  This is Labor’s attempt to re-engage rhetorically with its working class base after 33 years of neoliberal neglect marrying the fear of the other with workers’ fears about job losses and rotten pay.

First, what are 457 visas?  As the Western Community Legal Centre says in its recently released report Migrant Voices Must Be Heard these are the visas where ‘a person … has been sponsored by their employer to work for up to four years. Only workers with skills listed on the Skills Occupation List are able to access this visa.’

Who gets them? As Uma Patel from the ABC says, there are 94,890 people on these visas, and the number has been falling year one year since2013 when Labor restricted their availability. Patel goes on to say:

‘There are a range of different occupations on the [Skilled Occupations] list from different salary levels and different education backgrounds, including neurologists, midwives, cabinet makers and lift mechanics.

‘In the last financial year, the largest amount of visas were granted to cooks.’

The primary visa holder can also bring their family. These family members can be granted secondary 457 visas with a right to work or study in Australia. In March 2016 there were 79,624 such secondary 457 visa holders.

The Australian ruling class, and the Labor Party, have a long history of othering foreigners. From the White Australia Policy in 1901 to Keating locking up refugees in 1992, and Labor governments and Labor oppositions since then engaged in a race with the conservatives to the bottom of the cess pit on demonising, de-humanising and torturing refugees, Labor’s history is among other things a long slow dance with sometimes crude, sometimes sophisticated, racism, xenophobia and othering.

Labor’s proposed crack down on 457 visa holders is a more sophisticated version of othering. It has down this before. In 2013, before it lost government, and in an attempt to keep some of what it perceived to be its voting base onside, Labor tightened the 457 requirements and this led to a fall in the number of holders over the years since then. Grant Wyeth explained the reasons for Labor’s 457 bashing in the run up to the September 2013 election well when he said:

‘Foreigners are always a great group to bash come election time.

‘Hardheads in political war-rooms think only of votes, and so those without a vote can be routinely abused, regardless of the positive contribution they make to the country.

‘With the Coalition having a firm hold on the vilification of asylum seekers, Labor have had to go looking for a different group of foreigners to disparage. ‘

Nothing has changed. Labor today hopes its crackdown will appeal to two, sometimes overlapping, constituencies – workers worried about jobs and poor pay and racists who blame the other for all the problems of the world, including job losses, falling wages, unsafe work conditions and the like.  It is the strategy of Donald Trump. It is also in capitalist terms economic nonsense.

John Howard introduced 457 visas in 1997 to address specific skills shortages. There are two elements to this. Historically Australian capitalism has been built on the import of capital and labour. For much of its history that importation has been regulated. For foreign capital for example that has been behind tariff barriers and oversight or outright banning of some forms of capital investment like foreign banks setting up here. For ‘foreign’ labour the regulatory framework was the White Australia policy.

The post war reconstruction and nation building program of both Labor and the Liberals saw some loosening of the restrictions to allow immigrants from Southern Europe to emigrate.  The integration of the Australian economy into the global economy, begun under Hawke and Keating, further relaxed both entry rights for foreign capital (including allowing in foreign banks and floating the $A) and ‘foreign’ labour.

Then there is the skills shortage. It has always existed, in part because of Australia’s history as a settler colonial state. Today there are not enough skilled people in Australia in a range of industries. This is in part a result of underfunding of education (including skills training) in Australia. This has been made much worse in recent years by both increased attacks on the Technical and Further Education sector and its quasi-privatisation.

Of course there are major problems with the way 457 visas operate. Giving effective life and death control to employers over workers through linking the visa to employment with that boss is one. So too is the requirement to pay at least $53,900, a seemingly positive measure.  That pay is meant to ensure the skilled worker has enough pay to survive on. However it has not changed since 1 July 2013.  Secondly, and keeping the minimum pay of $53,900 in mind, employers must pay the worker ‘the equivalent to that which would be paid to an Australian worker, performing the same role.’  Evidence of such compliance include awards. The problem is that although enterprise agreements are also evidence, if there is no equivalent Australian employee, or they are not on an enterprise agreement, the award will be lower than the pay rate in the enterprise agreement.

Many of the workers do not speak English or have poor English skills, do not know of their legal rights and have no access to advice or to unions.

There is more open rorting going on, with one worker describing the conditions as being like forced labour camps, like slave labour.  Underpayment, long hours with no overtime, renting hovels and paying for food from the employer at exorbitant rates, sexual harassment if not abuse, getting sacked for raising questions about pay or hours or rotten living conditions … The list goes on.  Getting sacked, or the threat of it, keeps many workers in line since they lose the 457 visa if they are not working for the employer who sponsored them to come to Australia.  If they do leave the job or are sacked many become undocumented workers on low pay and rotten conditions.

This image from a great Fairfax report by Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker on the abuses in the fruit picking industry captures the reality for many migrant workers.

 

L-NP MP George Christensen, a speaker at a Reclaim (white) Australia rally, has, in between criticising Shorten for hypocrisy, called for an end to 457 visa holders working in the Central and North Queensland regions, to ‘create’ Aussie jobs.  Pauline Hanson has claimed Labor’s crackdown on 457 visas has been inspired by One Nation.

None of this should surprise us. Nationalism and racism are bedfellows.

Of course Labor says its 457 visa crackdown does not discriminate against anyone. But what they are doing is setting ‘Australian’ workers against foreign workers.  And some Australians will see Labor’s crackdown in black and white terms. Inspired by Trump’s success, but unlike his fog horn, Labor is dog whistling.

Most 457 visa workers for example come from China or India.  Australia’s cruel refugee policies are not discriminatory either. Except of course white tourists who come by plane and overstay their visas aren’t locked up in concentration camps like boat people are.

A few years ago the building union, the CFMEU, held a community picket of a site to support poorly paid Korean workers on 457 visas in Canberra.  They have employed people with various language skills to relate to workers on building sites.

Labor thinks it is on a winner with its Australia First propaganda. Expect to see much more Aussie jobs rhetoric and dog whistling from the ALP. Of course, like Trump, most of this will be verbiage without action.  Where was Labor for example when the car industry was shutting down? Nationalisation anyone? Workers taking them over anyone?

Labor, rather than dog whistling about foreign workers, could make some real changes to industrial relations law in Australia. The first one would be to enshrine the right to strike at any time in legislation. The second would be to allow unions access to all workers to explain pay and conditions, and in the building industry and other dangerous workplaces, to enforce safety standards. Third they could develop a vision for a green and jobs creating revolution across Australia, committing to move to a fully renewable energy society by 2016, along the lines for example of something Beyond Zero Emissions Stationary Energy Plan proposed – $400 bn over ten eyars to make Australia a totally renewable society.  Finally how about Labor propose taking over major industries collapsing and urge workers to take over those car and other plants and turn them into areas that produce socially useful products like solar plants, solar panels, wind towers, buses, trains and the like as part of a vision for Australia for jobs for all who want to live here and protect the environment at the same time.

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Comments

Comment from Lycaon
Time November 17, 2016 at 7:43 pm

John,

Your policy proposals for the Labor Party here sound very much like a warmed over Corbynite dish of reformism in a single country. These policies may have been tolerated and even encouraged here and there by the ruling classes during the post-war decades up to 1973. Today, as you know any such policies as you propose will be quickly crushed by capital flight and investment strikes: simply recall what happened to the last social democratic prime minister of Australia in November 1975, or consider the events of 11 September 1973.

Given that you are aware that reformism in a single country is fantastic and will to lead to nothing but political defeats for the working class, why are you actively proposing such a programme? Do you regard your audience not sufficiently intelligent enough to digest a rigorous critique of reformism and laborism?

Or perhaps your proposals are part of a cunning plan to politically dupe the working class by hiding revolutionary wolf under reformist sheep’s clothing? I can well believe that is what Jeremy Corbyn’s self proclaimed Trotskyist shadow Chancellor John McDonnell believes he is doing.