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Faith without work(ers) is dead


4 July 2020 at 9:00 am
John Falzon
To slash JobSeeker and kick people off JobKeeper is not an act of faith, it is an act of unmitigated viciousness, writes Dr John Falzon, who says it’s time we reaffirm the connection between people and the economy.


John Falzon | 4 July 2020 at 9:00 am


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Faith without work(ers) is dead
4 July 2020 at 9:00 am

To slash JobSeeker and kick people off JobKeeper is not an act of faith, it is an act of unmitigated viciousness, writes Dr John Falzon, who says it’s time we reaffirm the connection between people and the economy.

The prime minister must have a deep faith in markets. You’d have to really believe with all your heart in their healing power if you were going to scrap JobKeeper and slash JobSeeker in October and still believe that things are going to get better. You’d have to have an irrational faith in markets to believe you can strengthen the economy by scrapping workers and slashing their incomes.

Faith in markets, no matter how evangelical its zeal for a market-led recovery, is dead precisely because it is built on a vision of the world that has no place of respect and dignity for workers. To take a little poetic license with the biblical saying (from James 2:17), which I am sure the prime minister is familiar with, faith (in any ideology) without workers is dead. When we talk about workers, or the working class, we’ve got to avoid the pitfalls deliberately set up by the purveyors of neoliberalism whose job it is to prevent the unity of those it despises. We’ve got to unequivocally recognise that workers, the working class, means everyone outside that elite group who control and profit from the ownership of the bulk of capital and the purchase of labour power. This includes members of the working class who are in paid work as well as those who are not. It includes people who happen to be valued and paid well for their skills at a given time as well as those who are considered expendable. It includes people who have full standard employment rights (such as annual leave and sick leave) as well as those who are “self-employed”, contractors, gig-workers, workers in the informal economy and workers engaged in unpaid work. It includes people in relatively secure work as well as those in work that is completely insecure. It includes people who have been residualised (literally scrapped) by the labour market (whether during the pandemic or a long time before) or structurally marginalised by an economic framework that, for example, does not recognise or place a value on the work of caring, overwhelmingly performed by women. 

This is not an outright rejection of market mechanisms. It is, however, a call for a complete reframing of markets, so that they are used as a means of serving the needs of workers, of being of value to society, rather than narrowly serving the desires of those who traditionally benefit from the Golden Rule (“Whoever owns the gold, makes the rules”). 

In displacing markets from the position of key object of adoration, we might regain our common sense belief that there is more than a minor role for government. Government, in fact, should play a central role in ensuring that no one is going without while others have way, way more than they need. 

You’d have to have incredible faith to believe that markets can pull us all through when you’ve got an underutilisation rate of over 20 per cent of the workforce. You’d have to have incredible faith to leave it to the market to give people jobs, a gobsmacking faith when you consider the government’s recent axing of public sector jobs at the ABC and the CSIRO, let alone the disgraceful Qantas job cuts.

Government should do what markets cannot. But when you’ve got this dogmatic faith in the power of the market to do everything, well you’re most likely going to relegate government to the back seat, even when you’re the one heading the government! You’re going to be at peace with the dogma that markets can do pretty much everything so government’s chief job is to get out of the way and let them or, better still, intervene on their behalf against the interests of the people you’re meant to be serving. 

Even though the prime minister is used to miracles since his election win last year, he’d be really pushing things if he goes ahead and actually builds the cliff so many of us are going to fall from. It is not an act of bravery when it’s someone else who carries the can for your folly. 

To slash JobSeeker and kick people off JobKeeper is not an act of faith. It is an act of unmitigated viciousness. To axe public sector jobs instead of creating more of them is economic vandalism. 

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has proposed an Eight-Point Plan to rebuild the economy. This includes sensible measures such as the creation of two million new secure jobs and the halving of job insecurity. 

Forcing people into a life of austerity, whether or not they are in paid work, is not only unconscionably cruel, it is economically destructive. It’s time we reaffirmed the connection between people and the economy. You don’t build a strong economy by attacking the lives and livelihoods of the people. You don’t create an economy for all by only looking after the interests of some, a small elite who are accustomed to receiving the protections and privileges conferred by neoliberal governments across the globe.

We will not be willing to fight for the future if we and the people we care about are erased from the present. If the prime minister wants us to believe in the future, then it needs to be a future in which workers are respected. A future in which government accepts its responsibility to provide jobs, especially when the private sector does not. A future in which job creation is not simply code for a program of wage-cuts and tax-cuts. A future in which government is the means by which we, as a society, look after each other, including those of us who are not in paid work. A future in which we, as members of the working class in the broadest sense, are served by the economy rather than the other way around. A future in which we actually have a planet to live on. A future in which the irrational faith in the market is replaced by a collective belief in ourselves. 

About the author: Dr John Falzon is senior fellow, inequality and social justice at Per Capita. He is the author of The language of the unheard (2012) and a collection of poems, Communists like us (2017). He was national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society from 2006 to 2018. He is a member of the Australian Services Union.


John Falzon  |  @ProBonoNews

Dr John Falzon is senior fellow, inequality and social justice at Per Capita. He was national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society from 2006 to 2018.

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