By Christian Marx
Australia now has its worst unemployment figures since 1942. Contrary to the
official (read bogus) government figures of 6%, our real unemployment rate is 11% and rising. Compounding this, a staggering 19% of the workforce is either unemployed or underemployed. (Roy Morgan, 2016).
How did Australia get to this ridiculous situation? Below are the reasons:
1. Globalisation: The modern day workforce and state protection have been systematically eroded by the increasing lowering of import tariffs. This means that while third world countries are paying their workers peanuts, many multinational companies have no qualms in sending all manufacturing overseas. This is wonderful for their bottom line. Gone are the days when tariffs protected local jobs (by putting high taxes on manufactured imports). These protective measures have been systematically watered down by both sides of government.
2. Corporate Control of Government: Pre 1980, national governments had greater power than multinational and large local corporations. This meant that capitalism was regulated and the needs of society were not compromised by unchecked greed. The judicial system, the government apparatus, and strong unions ensured that corporations were largely regulated and monopolies were kept in check. The government was largely protected from corporate hegemony.
Unfortunately, the past 35 years has seen a persistent weakening of government jurisprudence and independence from predatory corporations. Both sides of politics have encouraged this. Politicians are now bribed via dinners, VIP seats at functions, and of course the promised high paying job with said companies, post politics.
3. A Corrupted Media: Media is now controlled by fewer organizations than ever before. The US has just 6 companies controlling the entire media system in 2016. 40 years ago there were more than 50 individual owners of US media. Australia does not fare much better, with a staggering 65% of our news services controlled by one individual! These companies are extremely conservative and push the far-right neoliberal agenda. This ideology consists of selling and privatizing state run assets, attacking unions, weakening social services, and attacking wages and workplace health and safety while enriching the very wealthy at the expense of the majority. Added to this, they push divisive rhetoric deliberately in order to weaken and cause division and distraction.
4. Weakening of Unions: Since the late 1970s, unions have been systematically weakened. This has happened in a number of ways. Firstly, the rank and file never seem to run unions or have any legitimate power. Instead, corporate apparatchiks, such as Bill Shorten are placed in positions of power. Secondly, many of the current union leaders today are groomed by corporate interests and serve as merely corporate mouthpieces for big business. True they may offer a few crumbs for the workers, but generally they will not offer any radical changes to the system.
5. Casualization of Jobs: With the weakening of unions has come the push for increased part-time work and massive casualization. This is a boon for big business, as in the case of casual work, they do not have to pay annual leave, super or sick pay entitlements. Part-time work also means that employers can avoid paying workers paid lunch breaks (since a four-hour shift does not require a break). This is great for business because if they want an 8 hour shift, they just put two part-timers on. This negates the need to give one hour lunch breaks, which they would be required to do if they had one person working an 8 hour shift.
6. Technology: This is sadly going to make more and more jobs redundant. Some researchers estimate that as much as 40% of the American workforce will be automated by 2030! Not just low skilled jobs either. There are now already programs in place for automated computer run solicitors. A case is put into the computer, and the algorithms work out the best case scenario for legal issues, from the millions of cases in the computer’s hard drive. Even some surgeries are now being done by computer operated robots.
The future of a nation with even two thirds of its workers employed is increasingly unlikely. Many are now advocating a universal income stream, which is being trialed in some Scandinavian countries.
Karl Marx predicted the demise of capitalism over 150 years ago with his prophetic words and writings. How can an economy continue to function when many cannot afford to buy the goods and services produced?
Radical change is going to be necessary if we as a nation – and indeed as a planet – are going to reverse inequality. The above points all need to be tackled to varying degrees … but above all the failure of neoliberal economics must be acknowledged and government/media autonomy and independence must be restored, free from corporate corruption.