27 July 2018

On Inequality

They asked for anyone with questions to state their Name and Union. This was an introduction to the new President of the ACTU and a session on Inequality. I didn't ask a question, but those comfortable with this convention did, eg, "[Name], CPSU Retired". It amused me. As did the ongoing convention within the Union movement of using the term "Comrade". It jangles to my ear and dates the movement but it's obviously a tradition of note for those within. But those are trivial issues. The main matters were to meet Michele O'Neil, the new ACTU President (of one week) and inequality. I warmed to her. She smiles easily; she speaks well and with conviction; she has a Canberra connection and friends (lived here 15 years from age 8). She talked of her time representing the Textile and Clothing workers, well known for their poor treatment - working from home; paid low or under-minimum wage; no conditions or paid leave; poor treatment - and of their Union's response. And interestingly, of the similarity of their plight and the nature of the current gig economy. Then on to the session on Inequality. The chair spoke very strongly and deeply personally of her experiences (from Iran, including the death of her father while medicines were not available due to sanctions). Then Emma Dawson of Per Capita think tank on relevant stats and John Falzon (CEO of St Vinnie's) on listening to the people, inequality as "not an accident" and the secret weapon of "solidarity". Michele reprised some of her earlier introduction and added more on wage theft, homelessness, working poverty and responses: structural change and a rebalance of power for workers through winning the argument with the public and government. There were questions on economic mobility, UBI (not popular with this group), the Union movement, engaging young people, CDP, benefits of work. I could only agree about the core issue of inequality (not alone there) and warm to social democratic responses. I could accept this is a time of transition in technology (I add, end-times for climate) so ructions are inevitable. I can easily question the unbalanced approaches to capital(-ism) and individuality and worry of our politics and its influences and distribution of power in society. But at the same time, I'm in two minds that the traditional Union movement is the response. But then, the Greens can be pretty blind to class and there's lots of self-serving wealth out there to unduly influence politics and a very limited media to inform us. So the Unions may remain our best path. However it happens, it's clear we need change, massive and quick. So best of luck to Michele and John and Emma ... and us.

Michele O'Neil, Emma Dawson and John Falzon spoke at an Inequality forum organised by the CPSU.

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