NAB: $6.6 Billion Profit, 6000 Jobs Axed
Stop Rich Bosses Slashing Jobs
to Leach Even Greater Profits
If the Capitalists Can’t Run the Economy
in a Way That Ensures Jobs For All Then
Working Class People Should Take Control of It All
15 April 2018: Last November, the NAB (National Australia Bank) CEO, Andrew Thorburn, was gloating with smug delight. He announced that the bank had increased its annual cash profit to $6.6 billion. Yet, for NAB workers this was very bad news. In the very same announcement of the huge profit, the company boss declared that they would be cutting the jobs of 6,000 workers over three years. Having leached fabulous profits from the hard work of their employees, the wealthy big shareholders and executives who control NAB want to grab profits at an even higher rate by dumping more than one out of six of the very same workers who made them their fortunes. For many of the workers being axed the pain is not only the big financial hit that they and their families will suffer as a result of being retrenched. It is also the demoralisation that comes from not being able to utilise their skills and labour, the loss of self-esteem as well as the social isolation for many that results from not interacting with co-workers at a workplace. However, the suffering of the retrenched workers means nothing to the big shareholders benefitting from their misery. To the big end of town, workers are just a “cost” on an account ledger needing to be minimised. So who are those bigwigs set to benefit from the misery of the axed workers? The big shareholders are mainly ultra-rich local Australians. Their exact identities are hidden as they direct their holdings through wealth management and other investment firms. However, one can be sure that several of the 200 richest Australians – whose combined wealth is a filthy $233 billion (http://www.afr.com/leadership/afr-lists/ rich-list/financial-review-rich-list-2017-20170525-gwcvr6) – have major stakes. Many of the corporation’s executives are themselves significant shareholders. CEO Andrew Thorburn alone owns over $8 million worth of NAB shares. Meanwhile, he rakes in a fat remuneration package that last year alone was worth over $4 million. No doubt the directors will be rewarding him with an even greater package for his “cost cutting” – i.e. his ruthless axing of 6,000 workers’ jobs! Meanwhile, even as NAB owners were “forced to” axe 6,000 workers, they could still afford to pay former NSW premier Mike Baird almost $900,000 in just his first five months employed as an executive at the firm. What a racket! Baird took up this lucrative position just six weeks after exiting the NSW parliament. In employing Baird, NAB’s directors no doubt want to strengthen links with the mainstream political parties to ensure that these parties continue to aggressively serve the bosses’ interests.
NAB’s jobs massacre shows the fraudulent character of “trickle down economics” – the claim that in order to have more jobs and higher wages one has to first ensure that the very wealthy and the corporations that they own first make larger incomes. It is the right-wing Liberal party that most openly espouses this deceitful “theory.” The Turnbull government uses it to “justify” its drive for still greater tax cuts for the richest corporations. Yet, as the NAB bosses’ action showed, higher corporate profits can actually mean less jobs not more!
The social democratic ALP has won some respect from their working class base for at least opposing the new tax cuts for the rich pushed by the Liberal-National government and Pauline Hanson’s racist One Nation party. Yet, while opposing the latest planned handouts to the ultra-rich, the ALP’s platform is only about maintaining the current, blatantly unfair, status quo. Thus, the ALP does not in the least challenge the “right” of the likes of the NAB bosses to axe large numbers of jobs whenever these capitalist exploiters calculate that this can bring them still more obscene profits. The ALP also accepts nearly all the existing laws restricting union industrial action and organising – laws that hamper workers’ efforts to take the kind of action needed to stop company bosses taking an ever greater share of the fruit of workers’ labour. The status quo that the ALP upholds allows billionaire bosses to throw workers out of their jobs like used packaging while, officially (and these figures grossly underestimate the problem), approaching two million people are either unemployed or working less hours than they want to and nearly three and a half million workers endure insecure employment as casuals.
Who NOT to Blame for Unemployment
NAB’s jobs massacre highlights the reality of who is to blame for unemployment, underemployment and the shortage of permanent, secure full-time jobs in Australia; and that is the big end of town business owners. In Australia’s capitalist system, the factories, banks, mines, agricultural land and media and communications infrastructure are owned by a small class of wealthy individuals. They make decisions about what, how much and how to produce solely on the basis of what ensures them the greatest profits. If that profit imperative means scaling back production or provision of services in order to slash “labour costs” or if they can get away with slashing jobs and then forcing remaining workers to toil faster for the same pay, they will not hesitate to throw onto the dole queues the workers from whose labour they had derived their wealth. However, because this class of bigwigs is very small relative to the masses whom they exploit, they are fearful of the working class masses uniting against them. That is why they and their mouthpieces seek to blame others for the unemployment, casualisation of the workforce, lack of affordable rental accommodation and stagnant wages that they and their system cause. Most notably, the media that the capitalists’ own, the mainstream political parties that serve their interests and sometimes the capitalists very openly themselves – like in the case of racist multi-millionaire Dick Smith – seek to push the blame for unemployment onto migrants. “Migrants are taking Aussie jobs” is their open or implied message. Typically, reinforcing White Australia racism, they single out – either openly or through implication – migrants from East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the South Pacific and Africa. The claim that migrants are the cause of the shortage of secure, permanent jobs is a complete lie. Six thousand NAB workers are not being thrown out of work because of immigration or because their jobs are being replaced by migrants! By taking part in work life and then paying taxes and spending just like those born here, migrants create as many jobs as they occupy. It is worth noting that in the period when Australia had by far its highest rate of unemployment, during the 1930s Great Depression, there was very little immigration and none at all from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
It is not just the conservative Liberal-Nationals, the racist One Nation Party and still more extreme far-right forces that are seeking to blame migrants for unemployment. The ALP – and on occasions the Greens too – play into these myths, in particular by blaming joblessness on temporary migrant skilled workers (these workers used to come under the 457 visa program but that scheme has been abolished and replaced by two smaller visa categories). Last May, the Labour Party released a video promising that a future ALP government would “Employ Australians First” with visuals where
nearly all the Australians shown were white Anglos. The ad with its unmistakeable racist message – that white people had to be supposedly protected from having their jobs taken away by non-white people – was rightly condemned by many. Like all claims that migrants are “taking Aussie jobs,” the ALP’s campaign against visa workers is based on racist myths. One of these deceptions is to greatly exaggerate the number of guest workers in the country. The reality is that the number of temporary skilled migrant workers in Australia is tiny (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-1115/what-is-a-457-visa/8026280) – they make up just a mere 0.7% of the workforce. Put another way there are twenty times more people who are either without a job or working less hours than they want to than the number of temporary skilled migrant workers in Australia. Yet the ALP, the Liberals and sometimes the Greens join Pauline Hanson’s fascistic One Nation in blaming these workers for joblessness in Australia. The corporate high fliers who really do cause unemployment are left unscathed, unbothered and laughing all the way to the bank!
When the advocates for the big end of town aren’t trying to shift the responsibility for unemployment onto migrants and guest workers, they condemn the unemployed themselves. This blaming of the victim is done through spreading various myths. Governments, morning TV talk shows and radio shock jocks disgustingly insinuate that the reason that unemployed workers are out of a job is that they “have suffered a loss of work ethic” and need “tough love” to be “re-schooled in habits which make them employable like getting up on time in the morning.” So following this “logic” of the political poodles for the billionaires, the hundreds of NAB workers who will end up long-term unemployed as a result of the savage job cuts “lack a work ethic” and need to be “trained in adapting to work life.” How insulting!
As part of blaming the unemployed for their own hardships, the ruling class is constantly making life harder and harder for job seekers. That is as if inadequate welfare payments, a shortage of low-rent public housing, being bullied by privately owned, profit-seeking job agencies and being forced into semi-slave labour, work-for-the-dole schemes is not bad enough! Governments have introduced in two areas on a “trial basis” – in Ceduna, South Australia, and in the east Kimberley in Western Australia – a “cashless welfare” card. Under this scheme, welfare recipients are not allowed control of 80% of their own money which must be, instead, spent through a cashless debit card which can only be used at certain retail outlets. This draconian scheme will simply make life more miserable for those already suffering the hardships brought by paltry welfare income. They will need to now spend far more time doing basic shopping since jobseekers will have to travel often large distances to get to a cashless debit card-approved retail outlet. As is often the case with measures aimed against the masses, the racist ruling class is first implementing this “cashless welfare” scheme in areas with high concentrations of Aboriginal people. Similarly, the government has rolled out a particularly cruel form of work-for-the-dole targeting Aboriginal people called CDP. CDP requires welfare recipients in remote Aboriginal communities to work up to 760 hours more a year for the same basic payment as people in non-Aboriginal majority urban areas. All these paternalistic programs especially targeting Aboriginal people are inevitably the thin edge of a wedge that is intended to be shoved into the heart of all the poor and working class. In February, the conservative federal government with the support of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – and in a deal with the Nick Xenophon Team (now rebadged as the Centre Alliance) – passed legislation extending the cashless welfare trials at Ceduna and east Kimberley for a further year. The new law also allows for the extension of the scheme to the Goldfields region in WA. The capitalist rulers say that “cashless welfare” is aimed at stopping welfare recipients spending their payments on alcohol, drugs and gambling. The truth is that it is just another means by which the rich ruling class can blame low income people for their own plight and make their lives harder in the process.
In a further blow to jobseekers, last month the federal government with the support of the racist One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and other independents passed its draconian Welfare Reform Bill through the Senate. The new measures will impose ever more cruel restrictions and punishments on welfare recipients. Those who have been laid off will now have to wait longer before receiving payments. Jobseekers will also now be still more harshly hit with cuts to their payments for allegedly not meeting “job search” requirements for non-existent jobs! In short, many of the most economically vulnerable people in the country are going to have yet more hardships imposed on them while those newly unemployed reeling from the pain of being retrenched – such as the many axed NAB workers who will not quickly find new jobs – will be made to suffer greater financial stress. Meanwhile, the business owners whose greed has thrown the unemployed workers onto the dole queues will, of course, receive no penalty!
Even if one were to believe that the government is sincere in wanting to push the unemployed into work, the claimed rationale behind their harsh measures against welfare recipients is completely baseless. There simply are not enough available jobs. Indeed, on average, for every job vacancy there are 18 job seekers! One cause for this is that federal and state governments themselves have been slashing public service jobs as they underfund schools, hospitals and universities, slash TAFE and cut back on other services that working class people need the most. The main reason that there are not enough available jobs is that the rich company owners who run this country don’t hesitate to throw out workers when that is what it takes to boost profits. Moreover, in times when unemployment does fall, bosses become more and more reluctant to hire any more workers as remaining jobseekers will require greater training – training which greedy business owners simply don’t want to pay for – and because competition between bosses to hire the remaining workers means that they must put up wages. Thus, under the capitalist system there will always be a large number of unemployed people – both those “officially” counted as unemployed and the many more people who are either barely employed because they are getting far less work hours than they want or have given up a fruitless search for work and are, hence, not even counted in the statistics. This means that even if Australia’s rich people’s regime was truly interested in making people more intensely look for work, their cruel measures supposedly aimed at doing this would make no significant overall difference to unemployment levels. When all jobseekers look more avariciously for work then this simply increases competition between jobseekers for the same number of few, available job placements. The same overall number of people will remain without work as before!
However, the Australian ruling class’s real reason for bashing welfare recipients is something more sinister than a poorly thought out policy. Apart from shielding their corporate mates from deserved blame for job slashing, their main motive for implementing ever more cruel measures against unemployed workers is to make life so miserable for those looking for work that it will drive many to accept positions with especially poor wages and conditions. It will also pressure already employed workers, fearful of being thrown into the harsh life of the unemployed, to accept lower wages and worse working conditions from their bosses. Meanwhile, the prospect of a terrible life if one becomes unemployed acts to deter some workers from standing up to their exploiting bosses or to join in unions to fight for their rights at work. All this is why it is in the very interests of the union movement and the whole working class to oppose the every crueler attacks on unemployed workers. No to cashless welfare! No to waiting periods for newly unemployed workers! No to the punishment of jobseekers! For a big increase in unemployment payments!
Who is Really to Blame for Unemployment and Underemployment
Given how much that attacks on unemployed workers helps the capitalists to increase their rate of exploitation of existing and new workers, some big time capitalists have used their wealth and influence to directly push the campaign against welfare recipients – rather than just leaving it all to their representatives in parliament as they often do. Thus, the cashless welfare debit card is actually the brainchild of mining magnate Andrew Forrest, Australia’s sixth richest person. Forrest made introducing cashless welfare a key recommendation of his August 2014 “Creating Parity” report on indigenous employment which he was commissioned to produce by the former Abbott government. Last year, Forrest’s “philanthropic” Minderoo Foundation funded advertisements promoting the cashless welfare card. Having leached a personal fortune of nearly $7 billion from mining on stolen Aboriginal land, Forrest is a high-living tycoon who owns a $53 million private jet. He’s probably thinking how many extra private jets he could buy if expanded cashless welfare helps to drive down wages throughout society and, thus, helps to further boost the profits of his Fortescue Metals Group (FMG).
Media groups owned – and, therefore, having their political outlook shaped – by billionaire moguls have also been at the forefront of pushing measures against unemployed workers. True to form, the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – like The Daily Telegraph and The Australian – have run frequent diatribes against unemployed workers. Meanwhile, Channel 7’s Sunrise morning show has engaged in vilifying the unemployed by running stories such as “Australia’s worst dole bludging areas named and shamed.” On September 8 last year, the Inner West Sydney branch of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union held a lively rally against Channel 7’s hate speech against the unemployed – a protest that we in Trotskyist Platform also participated in. Channel 7 is owned by tycoon Kerry Stokes who has a nearly $3 billion fortune and is famous for owning extravagant mansions and cruising the world in his luxury yacht.
It is telling that the capitalists who have been at the forefront of vilifying the unemployed have been among the harshest in throwing workers out of their jobs whenever their profit “imperative” demands it. Thus, four years ago, one of Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group subsidiaries, heavy machinery supplier WesTrac, retrenched 630 of their workers despite Seven Group having made a $486 million profit the previous financial year. And then Stokes’ Channel 7 has the hide to vilify unemployed workers as “dole bludgers.” A year after Stokes’ job massacre at WesTrac, none other than Mr Cashless Welfare himself, Andrew Forrest was spearheading the slashing of hundreds of jobs at his Fortescue Metals Group. Forrest cried poor as his excuse for the jobs slashing … despite his company extracting a $435 million profit that financial year! Indeed, while Forrest was so “poor” that he “had to” throw hundreds of workers out of their jobs, he was not poor enough to stop him buying, just months after his jobs massacre, a $21 million mansion in the Perth seaside suburb of Cottesloe – just metres away from another mansion that he owns!
The axing of workers’ jobs that Andrew Forrest, Kerry Stokes and the NAB bosses are prosecuting is being done by many other business owners throughout the country – whether they are big corporate heavies or small business owners exploiting just a few workers. Telstra bigwigs last year threw 2,800 workers out of their jobs despite making a massive $3.9 billion profit last year and an even more obscene $5.8 billion profit the year before. In February, they flagged even more job cuts because the poor devils had only made a half-year profit of $1.7 billion! Meanwhile, last August, Cadbury announced that it would be slashing 50 jobs, or more than one in ten of its workforce at its Hobart factory, after having axed 80 workers two years previously. This, despite Cadbury’s owners, Mondelez International having made a whopping $US 3 billion profit last year.
In recent years, company bosses have sometimes given automation as their reason for cutting jobs. However, automation, AI and advances in technology need not, in themselves, lead to job slashing. Improvements in efficiency could be used to increase the amount of training time for workers, to reduce employees’ working hours with no decrease in pay or to broaden customer services. Instead, when capitalist companies use automation to slash jobs this is often associated with a decline in the quality and flexibility of service to consumers and customers. Thus, a month after beginning to implement its jobs massacre, NAB announced that it would close seven bank branches in the rural Riverina area.
The recent obsession of the media and economic “experts” to blame automation and robots for unemployment and underemployment is yet another means to get wealthy business owners off the hook. It makes out that job slashing and casualisation of the workforce are part of some kind of unstoppable historical trend driven by technological progress. However, decisions to axe workers’ jobs are not made by robots! They are made by greedy business owners who will do anything to maximise profits. Their profit obsession and the profit imperative of the capitalist system leads them to use any labour time savings from automation not to increase workers’ training time and working conditions or to expand the quality of services for customers but to slash workforces. In a humane, workers-run society automation and technological advances would not lead to any less jobs at all but to a trend towards higher skilled and better remunerated positions requiring greater degrees of training. So let us not be fooled by corporate bosses who express “regret” that they were “forced” to axe workers’ jobs because of automation. When these ultra-rich business owners throw out of their jobs large numbers of the very workers whose toil made them their own fortunes it is for the very same motive that capitalists have always had for slashing jobs: the motive to organise production and employment levels in a way that maximises their own private profits. It is all about the corporate bosses being able to leach ever greater wealth so that they can afford those additional holiday homes, that extra Ferrari and a quicker upgrade to their private jets.
Build Union and Working Class People’s Action to
Stop Companies Slashing Jobs and
Force “Money-Making” Businesses to
Increase Hiring at the Expense of Their Fat Profits!
We don’t have to accept business owners slashing jobs at will. Through mass action, especially union strike action, we can force bosses to retain jobs. Such action can threaten company owners with far greater losses in revenue than the extra profit they would gain through axing workers jobs. Right now solid strikes of workers at any one of the corporations where job slashing is taking place – such as at NAB, Telstra and Optus – backed up by solidarity industrial action at other workplaces could force the bosses there to cancel their job axing programs.
When the union movement starts stopping business owners from retrenching workers whenever these capitalists’ profit imperative demands it, this will also greatly boost the struggle for higher wages. Currently, even as profits are ballooning, workers’ wages are not keeping up with price increases. Whenever our unions demand a pay rise, the bosses respond that they will be “forced” to cut jobs if wages increase. They use this to deter our struggle for decent wages. However, they will only cut jobs when wages rise if we let them! If through action we can force the bosses to retain jobs then higher wages simply mean less profits for the capitalist business owners and a greater share of the fruit of our labour going back to us workers.
As well as industrial action to stop job slashing at private corporations, we need similar struggle to stop layoffs at public sector workplaces including at schools, hospitals, Australia Post and public transport. We must also mobilise action to oppose any privatisations – such as the NSW Liberal Party government’s sell-off of STA public buses in Inner West Sydney to a private company, Transit Systems. Such privatisations inevitably mean job cuts and attacks on working conditions as governments outsource job slashing to private firms and, thus, avoid the political cost of being the ones responsible for throwing workers out of their jobs. Transit Systems, which is owned by the wealthy Australian Francis, Leishman and Smith families, are slated to take over the Sydney Area 6 buses from July onwards.
Unfortunately, all workers are not employed by big enterprises like STA buses, Telstra or the big banks where it is relatively easier to build industrial action against job cuts or jobs-threatening privatisations. Many workers also toil in smaller workplaces and businesses where it is harder to organise workers into unions. To help protect these workers as well from job slashing, we need to fight for laws that ban all profitable businesses from cutting the size of their workforce. We will only be able to win such laws by fighting for them since all governments in capitalist Australia – whether Liberal, ALP or ALP/Greens coalitions – have proven that, ultimately, they only serve the big end of town. Governments administered by all these parties accept the “right” of business owners to only retain as many workers as makes them the greatest profit. Therefore, to win a ban on profitable businesses slashing their workforce will take a huge campaign of strikes and mass protest actions. Importantly, such struggle would inevitably bring together unionised workers toiling for larger companies with unemployed workers and workers in smaller workplaces, enabling the latter to be drawn into the class struggle and giving impetus to the fight to organise workers in smaller businesses into our unions too.
The demand that all profitable businesses be stopped from cutting jobs is not the be all and end all of the fight for jobs. Actually, regardless of whether they are currently making a profit or copping a loss we do not give any capitalist – who hires workers for the sake of trying to exploit their labour for profit – the “right” to retrench workers. However, the call to stop profitable companies slashing jobs is crucial at this time because it shows to the working class that their jobs are being axed not out of “necessity” but because of the greedy pursuit of ever greater profits by wealthy business owners. Organising around this demand, thus, has the potential to kickstart a badly needed, class struggle fight for secure jobs for all workers. Furthermore, it helps to undercut the divisive myth that the way to save local jobs is to reduce immigration or to put “Australian workers first.”
As our struggle intensifies we need to emphasise still more stringent demands on the capitalist enemy. Not only should all profitable businesses be banned from cutting their workforce, we should also demand that any loss-making firm able to afford to pay any director or executive above a certain salary – say, more than ten times the annual wage of the lowest paid employee – also be prevented from cutting jobs. Moreover, a presently loss-making firm should be forbidden from cutting their workforce if they have made an overall profit over the previous, say, five years. In other words, the capitalist business owners should be forced to sell off, say, a luxury yacht or two and a couple of their holiday homes – i.e. some of the things they have bought from the profits they had previously leached from their employees’ labour – to enable them to cover the losses their business is currently making in order to continue operating with its current workforce levels. For those companies making a profit, we should demand that they not only be prohibited from axing jobs but be forced to increase hiring by at least a certain minimum level in proportion to their profits. For example, we could demand that firms must increase their wages bill by at least 10% of their profits. That means that NAB bosses, after making a $6.6 billion profit, would instead of being allowed to cut 6,000 jobs be forced to increase their total annual outlay for wages by $660 million. If we, probably somewhat optimistically, assume that the annual cost to them of each worker – including super and insurance – is $100,000, then that means that they would be forced to increase their workforce numbers by 6,600 full-time equivalent positions (if they do not provide existing workers with a pay rise). The capitalists will scream that they should not be forced to hire workers for positions that don’t exist. However, positions only “don’t exist” because the capitalists are being allowed to organise their operations in the way that maximises their private profit. If they were forced to increase hiring they would be impelled to – in order to make use of the bigger workforce – improve services for customers, for example by opening more bank branches in remote areas if they are a bank like NAB; or, if they are a manufacturing business, to increase production and then reduce prices to sell the additional output. They could also use any excess labour-time of each of their employees for community service projects – the type of work that is currently being performed for virtually free by jobseekers forced into work for the dole schemes! If any of this were not feasible, company owners would end up being compelled to increase training and professional development time for each worker or to reduce work hours per worker with no loss in pay. In summary, the fight for jobs is a fight to force capitalist bosses to maintain a workforce larger than that which is most profitable for them – it is a fight for more jobs at the expense of the profits of the business owners.
So it really is possible to win permanent jobs for all jobseekers through class struggle. Unfortunately, in the face of chronic unemployment, the growing casualisation of the workforce and fears about automation, many people are resigned to there always being a high level of unemployment and underemployment. Reflecting this, many advocates for the rights of jobseekers and the disadvantaged have advanced the call for a minimum living allowance for all. This demand has been taken up by the Greens who have associated it with analysis that claims that in several years automation will lead to a large number of people being unemployed and that there is a seemingly irreversible, steady trend towards underemployment. We certainly must demand a massive increase in unemployment payments, the disability support pension, the old age pension and other welfare payments. However, the problem with emphasising the call for a minimum living allowance – especially when used in the way the Greens are as an answer to unemployment and underemployment – is that it is defeatist. It accepts that the capitalists will be able to get away with maintaining high levels of unemployment and with forcing increasing numbers of workers to accept working far less hours than they want to. What is more, it plays into the false narrative that technological development and automation will in themselves lead to increased unemployment and under-employment. This again gets the capitalist bosses off the hook … and let’s never forget it is they and not robots that make the decision to axe workers’ jobs. Thus, while we should demand a massive increase in welfare payments, to emphasise the call for a minimum living allowance can end up as a diversion from the necessary class struggle fight to force business owners to increase their number of full-time, permanent employees. In terms of the overall interests of the working class, a minimum living allowance is a poor substitute to secure, fulltime jobs for all jobseekers. For one, the allowance will never end up matching that of paid workers. Moreover, as social beings who are driven to want to contribute to society, being given the guaranteed right to participate in social labour is important for our mental and social happiness. Most importantly, being brought together at the point of production is what gives workers the ability to unite and collectively organise to challenge the whole present system of exploitation and insecure jobs.
If the Capitalist System Cannot Provide Secure Jobs for All
Then Let it Perish!
Once a class struggle fight against job slashing gains momentum, we need to bring to the fore the demand for an across the board reduction in work hours – to share the available work around – with no loss in workers’ pay. For example, we can demand there be a 30 hour normal work week with workers still receiving a weekly wage as they are in a 38 hour week. The exact amount of reduction in the work week will depend on how many jobseekers or underemployed people need to be brought in to secure, full-time jobs. The capitalists will, of course, shout in response that such a sliding scale of hours is “impractical.” They will yell that the higher per unit labour cost this will bring and the resulting loss of profits will drive many of them out of business. Indeed, some struggling business owners will as a result end up going bust but the increased hiring that will be forced upon profitable firms will more than soak up any jobs lost. Furthermore, when business owners scream that being forced to hire more workers and pay higher hourly wages will lead to a collapse in investment and economic ruin – as they inevitably will scream – we must respond that: if you capitalists cannot run the economy in a way that guarantees secure, full-time jobs for all then we working class people need to take the economy out of your hands. By placing the key means of production into our own collective hands, we, unlike you capitalists, will ensure that millions of workers are not left to lead an unhappy, stressed life without secure work.
Calls to force bosses to increase hiring and for a sliding scale of hours are transitional demands – that is, a type of demand that communists have long used to unite and mobilise the working class to fight for their needs while simultaneously helping to show to the toiling masses the necessity for the struggle to go all the way to the revolutionary seizure of state power by the working class and its allies. Indeed, the demand for a sliding scale of hours was part of the Transitional Program raised by the Trotskyist Fourth International in the period of capitalist crisis preceding the outbreak of World War II. As the Transitional Program famously stated: “If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.”
Unemployment and underemployment not only causes misery to those affected by it but is also a terrible squandering of human resources that makes all of society materially and culturally poorer than it could be. Under capitalism this wastage of human potential occurs because decisions of what and how to produce are not based on satisfying society’s overall needs but according to the profit drives of the competing capitalist bigwigs. Socialist, collective ownership of the economy will guarantee jobs for all not only because the working class in power will ensure that the system meets the basic need for jobs for all but because the system’s successful operation demands that all available human resources are brought to bear for society’s benefit. That is why even in periods during its life when the capitalist world was undergoing deep crisis – such as during the 1930s Great Depression or the 1982-83 recession when Australia had double digit official unemployment rates – the socialistic former Soviet Union was able to maintain full employment. This was despite a mid-1920s bureaucratic
degeneration that weakened socialistic rule and opened the way to the eventual 1991-92 collapse of the Soviet workers state under the weight of massive capitalist pressure. Similarly, despite being squeezed by the most crippling economic sanctions imaginable and despite being burdened by its own bureaucratic distortions, the DPRK’s (North Korea) socialist, planned economy is today still able to ensure jobs for all its workers. More significantly, in the world’s most populous country, China, socialistic rule has ensured that unemployment has been kept at comparatively low levels – even when the capitalist world was being mired in the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis or the late 2000s-early 2010s Great Recession. The same can also be said for the other socialistic states: Vietnam, Cuba and Laos. If China, Vietnam, Cuba and Laos do still have some level of unemployment it is only because, while socialistic state-owned enterprises dominate the strategic economic sectors in these countries, a capitalistic private sector and market allocation of some resources exist side by side with the socialist-led economy. In other words, the triumph of socialism is far from fully accomplished in these countries and there remains an intense political battle over the future direction of these lands.
Whether it is the battle to maintain socialistic rule in the existing workers states or the fight to overturn capitalism in the capitalist ones, the conflict between socialism and capitalism – which boils down to the clash between the working class masses and the capitalist exploiters – is in good part the struggle between a future where every person has the guaranteed right to contribute their labour and talents for society’s benefit and one where large numbers of people will be consigned to the poverty and demoralisation brought by unemployment and underemployment. It is, thus, also a conflict between a future where an economy based on common, i.e. socialist, ownership and guaranteed jobs unites the different races of the world in a beautiful harmony and savoured diversity versus one where the scapegoating of minorities for joblessness and insecure work leads to ever greater racism; and opens the gate to the triumphant march of more hard right-wing Donald Trumps, Marine Le Pens, George Christensens, Pauline Hansons and Peter Duttons; and eventually to the ascendancy of mass murdering, Hitler-style fascism. And as the recent brutal Western imperialist missile attack on Syria foreshadows, the struggle between socialism and capitalism is the struggle between a future where shared ownership and an internationally planned economy lays the basis for a world of everlasting peace and equality between nations or one where the more powerful capitalist countries will make up for the economic crises at home by still more cruelly subjugating the ex-colonial nations and – eventually – by going into a cataclysmic war between imperialist powers themselves.
Advancing Towards Working Class Rule
For the working class to advance its struggle towards socialism – and indeed to even effectively fight against attacks on its jobs and wages – its most determined layers need to understand that the existing capitalist state machine is its enemy. That means we must understand that the various organs of the state – the courts, police, military, commissions and top bureaucrats – have been built up to enforce the rule of the big end of town over the toiling masses. This remains the case whichever party is administering the government. For the organs of the state are themselves connected by thousands of veins to the capitalist exploiters. It follows that we can never wield this capitalist state or its various organs to further the struggle against the exploiting class. Illusions in the possibility of utilising the existing state or its individual organs – especially when administered by an ALP government – is one of main things retarding the class struggle. For such illusions make the masses believe that there is a road to salvation other than through the difficult path of militant social struggle.
We need to keep all the above in mind in our fight against job slashing. We must ensure that we are careful to wage the struggle in a manner that teaches the masses to always distrust the capitalist state rather than a manner that reinforces illusions in it. This is especially the case because when we call for a ban on profitable companies slashing jobs or for an enforced reduction in the work week with no loss in pay, we are actually making this demand upon the capitalist state. This is permissible as it is a demand for an economic concession from the enemy – much like we demand pay rises, reductions in work hours and bans on asbestos use when we launch industrial action against individual capitalists. However, we should never make positive demands on the capitalist state – that is, demands that portray the state as having the ability to use its discretionary power in a way favourable to the working class or ones that increase the reach and power of this bosses state. This should be an absolute rule! For example, just as any genuine socialist would never call for the Australian imperialist state to intervene abroad to supposedly “liberate” any oppressed people overseas, we should never call for this state to be given special emergency powers to “fight unemployment.” For not only would making that demand breed illusions in the potential of the capitalist state to act in the masses’ political interests, it would be downright dangerous. The special powers would inevitably end up being used to break strikes and drive down wages – which is the capitalists’ favourite “remedy” for unemployment. Similarly, we would never call for a state inquiry into the problem of unemployment or for a commission to act against it, since these too would – in keeping with the class allegiance of capitalist state institutions – recommend and enact wage freezes and “more flexible” working conditions. In contrast, when we demand a ban on profitable companies slashing jobs or for a sliding scale of hours we are not calling for the state to use its discretion to act in a way favourable to workers’ interests but are rather making a very specific demand for an economic concession from the enemy. Like when we have in the past called for a restriction in the working week to forty hours or demanded a ban on asbestos use or called for increases in minimum wages, all such demands, in one way or another, amount to a demand for the bosses to be forced to accept a lower profit and for a greater share of the fruit of our toil to go back to us.
Nevertheless, as well as calling for militant class struggle to stop job slashing by individual firms and to compel the bosses state into the concession of enacting laws to force capitalists to increase hiring, we also need to organise other independent actions and workers’ organs to advance the struggle for jobs for all. In this way we help the masses to trust only their own united efforts. This becomes especially practical over the question of enforcing any concessions we may win from the capitalists and their state. Today, concessions we have won from the capitalists are often simply ignored by them. And even as their state sometimes enforces these concessions in order to avoid enraging us – which would threaten their interests in a more serious way – they often also allow individual bosses to get away with violating the rights that we have won. Take, for example, the minimum wage. Currently there are hundreds of thousands of workers in Australia – mainly casual, young and sometimes migrant – receiving far less than the minimum wage. A Facebook campaign started by a female University of Wollongong student in August 2016 created a storm after it exposed the extent to which young casual workers in the hospitality and retail sectors are being underpaid – some getting as little as $10 per hour. Therefore, alongside demanding bans on profitable companies slashing jobs etc we need to demand the right – and when possible simply assume the right – of our unions and workplace committees of workers to inspect all the bosses’ account books. Even as they talk up their prospects when they want to get new investments, bosses always cry poor to workers in order to “justify” keeping wages low and cutting jobs. We need to see their true position: how much of the fruits of our labour they are actually stealing, how much of their actual profits they are hiding by giving themselves spectacular corporate bonuses and fringe benefits or by siphoning off company resources to their own personal business accounts. Should any companies be found to violate any legal concessions we have won – for example, on minimum hiring requirements – then we should use the cover of enforcing these laws to put these businesses under the control of workplace committees. Eventually these workers committees can link up and elect higher committees to coordinate the operations of the different firms that have been put under workers’ control. In this way workers get a taste of administering power in their own interests and of the need for our class to take over economic and political power entirely.
For A Workers Leadership That Truly Believes That
The Workers United Will Never Be Defeated
In the struggle for jobs for all, the social power of our trade union movement is crucial. Unfortunately, while our union leaders have expressed anger at job cuts in the likes of the NAB and Telstra they have not actually mobilised any opposition to this job slashing thus far. This is because it is the program of the ALP that currently dominates our union movement. This social democratic program, while seeking greater benefits for workers within the current social order, accepts the “right” of capitalists to determine how they should organise production and, thus, how many workers they should retain. Consequently, many of our unions only take a strong stand against job slashing when they believe that axed jobs are being sent overseas or replaced by guest workers from abroad. However, this does little good to the fight to win jobs for all because although there are phone helpdesk and IT jobs that are being sent abroad, the number of jobs that are offshored are comparatively few and even less are replaced by guest workers. For example, none of the 6,000 jobs being slashed at NAB are due to offshoring or replacement by guest workers.
Indeed, the obsession of many of our union leaders with the supposed “export of jobs” and with the entry of guest workers is worse than useless. For it diverts workers from the necessary fight to force the greedy capitalist bosses to increase hiring at the expense of these bosses’ fat profits. Instead, it channels workers into squabbling over jobs with their overseas working class sisters and brothers. This inevitably creates racist sentiments which harm workers’ unity and further undermine the possibility of the needed class struggle fight against job slashing.
Now, of course, the capitalist exploiters are always seeking the cheapest sources of labour and always trying to undercut working conditions. They do this by not only hiring some guest workers but also when they hire many young workers or apprentices. However, in those cases where bosses are actually offshoring jobs or in the fewer cases where jobs are given to skilled overseas workers that could go to locals, our slogan should not be the divisive one to give the jobs to local workers instead of overseas ones but the simple demand to stop any job losses here and for increased hiring of workers. And the way to oppose attempts to use the entry of temporary skilled workers to undercut working conditions is to demand that all these workers (formerly known as 457 visa workers) be paid at the same rates with the same conditions as local workers and be given the full rights of citizens so that the threat of deportation cannot be used to intimidate them. Most crucially, our unions must energetically and sympathetically organise these working class sisters and brothers into our unions.
More left talking union officials will disguise their nationalist opposition to the entry of 457 and other visa workers by expressing concern at how badly these workers become exploited. And, indeed, many of these workers can be severely exploited. However, true solidarity with these workers means fighting to win them equal pay and conditions, union protection and the rights of citizens … not trying to kick them out and prevent them getting a livelihood! The argument that we are saving guest workers from exploitation by excluding them has a parallel to racist Australian governments’ claims that they are saving asylum seekers from drowning by locking them up if they make it here! Unfortunately, in this overall wealthy country surrounded by lower income people, the strength of a selfish, rich country-type nationalism is so strong that even many of the Far-Left groups in some way buy into it. This was seen most starkly in July 2012 when there was the largest demonstration in Australia to keep out foreign workers: the “Local Workers First” rally in Perth. The Socialist Alliance group, Socialist Alternative and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) all backed this divisive, national-chauvinist march.
Being leftists, those socialist groups that buy into anti-overseas worker campaigns advocate a “clean” “local workers first” policy which rejects conscious dog whistling to racism. These groups are torn between healthy internationalist impulses to solidarise with overseas workers and a pull to capitulate to the nationalist sentiments bred by pro-ALP union bureaucrats. For example, in the editorial in the 1 November, 2017 edition of their newspaper, The Guardian, the CPA correctly called for “an end to all forms of racial discrimination” and for visa workers to be given the same wages and conditions as local workers, for temporary visa workers to be given permanent residency and for them to be organised into the unions. However, the editorial also stated that: “Temporary visa workers are used to break solidarity, pit worker against worker in a race to the bottom. It creates fear and divisions, fosters racism and xenophobia, as workers who lose their jobs or cannot find work in one country see the foreign workers being brought in as ‘taking their jobs’.” This is rather rich given that the statement refused to oppose the pro-ALP, union leaderships’ nationalist campaign to keep out these workers. It is not the entry of visa workers that is fostering racism and xenophobia but the demands to keep them out. To argue otherwise is like claiming that the entry of migrants in general, rather than anti-immigrant agitation, is to be blamed for fostering division and racism. However, even as the CPA editorial rightly stated that, “Temporary visa workers are not the enemy of the working class in Australia. They are part of the international working class and must be welcomed”, the CPA itself fosters anxieties about guest workers “taking local jobs.” Thus, an article in the 30 August 2017 edition of their Guardian (http://cpa.org.au/guardian/2017/1792/06-457-rises. html) has the fear-mongering title, “457 rises Phoenix-like.” The article expresses shock horror over Thomas Foods in Tamworth bringing in twenty 457 Visa workers. It favourably quotes the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) leadership divisively asking: where was the genuine, independent local labour market testing that showed New England somehow needed even more foreign workers while unemployment is so high? Feeding into the national myth that joblessness is caused by 457 visa workers, the article concludes by positively quoting the AMIEU leadership’s statement that: “All Australians should be deeply concerned about the future of Australian jobs under Malcolm Turnbull. The 457 Visa program is far from dead, but Turnbull has no problem killing off the future of young Australians ….” The fact is there is no such thing as a clean “local workers first” policy! Any policy that calls for putting the interests of (mainly white) Australian workers over (overwhelmingly coloured) lower paid workers from “Third World” countries will inevitably appeal to and reinforce White Australia xenophobic attitudes as well as “First World” arrogance. And all such demands divert workers away from the struggle that is actually needed – the one against the job-slashing capitalist exploiters – while pitting local workers against their natural allies: the working class people of the world.
This is true, too, also for protectionist demands that call for tariffs, local content policies or other measures to favour local capitalists over overseas producers. Where such measures lead is very apparent today: to Donald Trumpism! In other words, protectionism is associated with racist hostility to ethnic and religious minorities. Meanwhile, as the masses are distracted by seeing the non-existent enemy abroad, the local capitalists will savage workers’ rights at home: in Trump’s America’s case by gouging the funds needed for social services by giving a massive tax cut to the rich. Meanwhile, as Trump’s incitement of a trade war is showing, protectionist measures bring no net savings to jobs as overseas countries retaliate with their own measures. In the end all that happens is that working class people are divided and the possibility of class struggle against job slashing is, thus, undermined. Meanwhile, protectionism also weakens class struggle by promoting the notion that more profits for the bosses are what is needed to get more jobs for workers – basically a variant of the claims of trickle-down economics. Yet as the recent mass sackings announced by NAB shows, more profits for the capitalists can actually mean less jobs!
The fight for jobs for all workers, which means a struggle to force bosses to retain more workers than they wish to, is indeed a struggle to force the capitalists to produce in a way that is less profitable for them. Put simply: the interests of workers are counterposed to that of the capitalists. We need our union movement to be dominated by this understanding – not hamstrung by the ALP social democratic myth of common “national interests” between local workers and Aussie bosses. A union leadership infused with a class struggle understanding will mobilise the militant industrial action needed to win secure jobs and improved wages for all workers. Given that the capitalists have created laws to prevent nearly all the kinds of strike action that can actually win gains for us, our unions need to be prepared to flout these unjust laws. This was starkly seen when the Fair Work Commission outlawed the then impending January 29 strike by Sydney rail workers. The pro-ALP leaders of the RBTU union caved in to this ruling and obeyed it. They did not have the program to defy the laws and then deter them being used by upping the ante through deepening the planned strike action, calling out for solidarity strikes and actively building community support. However, there were many rank and file, rail worker unionists and elected delegates who were outraged at this decision to obey the no-strike ruling. These most determined militants from throughout the toiling masses must cohere themselves into a workers party based on an unalloyed class struggle and internationalist program. This is the instrument by which these most active, militant layers can win broader sections of the masses to join a class struggle fight for jobs, improved wages, public housing and all the services that working class people need the most.
Such a revolutionary workers party would oppose all “local workers first” and protectionist demands that divide us. Instead it would positively work to foster the working class unity and internationalist spirit crucial to class struggle by fighting to win the workers movement to champion the rights of guest workers, refugees, Aboriginal people, the unemployed, women and LGBTI people. The interests of the working class of all ethnicities and that of all the downtrodden are, indeed, the same and we face the same capitalist enemy. It is notable that the same billionaire Kerry Stokes who threw hundreds of workers out of their jobs at his Seven Group’s Westrac subsidiary and whose Channel 7 vilifies jobseekers is the same capitalist tycoon whose Channel 7 Sunrise breakfast program last month outrageously called for a renewed push to steal Aboriginal children from their families.
Uniting all sections of the oppressed, a revolutionary workers party would include all sections of the working class especially its lowest paid, most downtrodden sections including “coloured” ethnic workers, Aboriginal workers, women workers, young workers, casual workers and unemployed and underemployed workers. Rejecting the myth of “common interests” between local bosses and local workers, this party would within our unions popularise demands to force the capitalists to retain more workers at the expense of their profits. Through promoting such demands and in the course of waging struggles to win public housing, crush fascists, oppose racist oppression, advance the emancipation of women and oppose imperialist tyranny, a revolutionary workers party will show the masses the need to sweep away the cruel capitalist order and usher in a workers-run society. Such a society will finally guarantee that every single person has the secure job, free quality heath care and education, free housing and lasting peace that we have all longed for.