A Spoonful of Sugar: Childcare, Work and #Budget2015

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Where is the proletariat? The proletariat is everywhere, just as the boss is.

(Negri 2005)

 

On 10th of May in the lead up to the Budget the Federal government announced fundamentally interlocking changes to the subsidies to childcare and the provision of paid parental leave. Less money will be given to parents and more money will be given to childcare and early childhood education providers. These changes reflect an attempt by the state to address multisided and interrelated problems of the social reproduction of capitalism and do so in the historical moment of dwindling economic fortunes. These interlocking problems are: the rising costs of social reproduction in the context of falling revenue, the size of the supply of labour and the care and raising of children. The changes mean the intensification of work – in the broadest sense – for the class on a whole and for women specifically, especially mothers. Indeed both the cuts to paid parental leave and the increase in the subsidy to childcare are aimed at having the same impact: to reduce the time that parents, and this will usually mean mothers, spend out of paid work and at home caring for their children. This means in practice an intensification of both waged and unwaged labour and their concurrent stresses and challenges.

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Not with a bang but a whimper: The End of the Mining Boom and the next Budget

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Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion

                                                -TS Elliot

On the 12th May Treasurer Joe Hockey will present his second budget. The budget lies at the heart of the state’s efforts to reproduce capitalist society; thus understanding what is in the budget plays some role in interpreting the terrain in which we contest capitalism on. His previous budget was the centrepiece of a clear vision (a Plan A) to address the challenges facing capital accumulation in Australia and it lies pretty much in ruins. Facing the end of the mining boom and thus a drop in growth levels, profits, wages, rises in unemployment and Federal debt, the budget aimed to reduce spending on social reproduction and increase stimulative spending on infrastructure. The latter was to be financed in no small part through asset recycling (privatising state assets and reinvesting the funds). This was sold as a response to a ‘budget emergency’, a narrative that over-emphasised the size of Federal debt for political effect (just as the Left/social democratic narrative denied its existence). Added to this were efforts, coordinated on a state level, to disperse points of social contestation: the construction unions, ecological protests and community opposition.

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Is that it for the Plan A for Capital?

It’s now pretty clear the Campbell Newman’s LNP  has lost the Queensland election due to opposition to the ‘leasing’ (the effective sale) of state assets to raise funds to pay down debt and stimulate accumulation through investment in infrastructure. These two things are key parts of what I have argued is the Plan A to ensure the accumulation of capital in Australia as the mining boom fizzles out.
How many other state governments will proceed with asset sales now? And the Federal legislation to encourage this asset recycle remains stalled and unable to pass the senate.
How then can the investment in infrastructure be financed? And what are any of the alternatives for capitalism in Australia?
Whilst elections have little to do with our struggle for emancipation this result makes it clear that the current malaise of bourgeoisie politics and the general soft refusal of large sections of the population to sacrifice for capital means the state seems unable to act effectively  for the best interest of capital – and all this in the context of a bleak global economy.
As the end of the mining boom begins to bite will this layer of refusal hold? Can vast expenditure on infrastructure be financed any other way? What could possibly be a Plan B for capital? And what shape will our struggles take in this period of crisis, decline and malaise?

Short notes on the failures of Capital’s Plan A

Far from being the essence of socialism, planning is a typical feature of capital as it reaches hegemonic maturity (Negri 2014, 295).

Last year I argued here on this blog that capital in Australia had a ‘Plan A’ to deal with the end of the mining boom: a vast wave of investment in infrastructure.[i] My core argument was that this plan would see the rise of an ‘Infrastructure State’ (in the tradition of Negri’s (2005) ‘Planner’ and ‘Crisis’ states) that would enable and often fund or help finance infrastructure spending, shift some of the costs of social reproduction off its books and onto the wage and into the home, and work to dissolve points of opposition. There is a clear alignment between organisations such as the Business Council of Australia and Federal and state governments. Indeed since writing the original piece the volume of arguments for just such a plan have increased. As the government argued in the Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook:

 A key component of this Strategy is the continued roll out of over $50 billion of infrastructure investment. These investments have already begun and include major

projects across the nation that will reduce congestion, improve productivity and create jobs. The Government’s investment in infrastructure also includes incentives of

$5 billion through the Asset Recycling Initiative, which will catalyse over $38 billion in new infrastructure. In total, the Infrastructure Growth Package will lead to over $125 billion of new productive infrastructure over the next decade.

(Commonwealth of Australia 2014b, 11)

On a global level both the G20 and the IMF are looking to infrastructure as the solution to flagging demand (International Monetary Fund 2014 , G20 2013). The secretary of the Treasury summarised the logic for infrastructure spending committed to at the Brisbane G20 Leaders Meeting as follows:

G20 members focussed on supporting investment in infrastructure as a means of managing  the short and longer-term challenges of promoting growth while undertaking fiscal  repair. In this regard, they noted the benefits of investing in expenditure are threefold:

  • it supports aggregate demand during construction;

  • if done well, it augments the economy’s supply capacity and boosts                         productivity for the long term; and

  • if priced appropriately, it may even help the fiscal position in the     medium term (Martin Parkinson 2014, 7)

However it now seems that governments on both Federal and state levels has significantly failed to implement this plan – despite the above claims in the MYEFO.[ii] In August it was reported that none of the major planned infrastructure projects which were meant have been started within one year of the Coalition’s election were ‘shovel ready’(Duyn 2014).

How much is this due to the crisis of political authority due to the antipolitical condition of the present (to draw on the work of Left Flank)? How much is this due to the struggle of the class – even if this takes most often sullen and silent forms (to draw on the theoretical legacy of operaismo)?

 

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Building the Infrastructure State: Plans, Anti-Politics and Sullen Refusal

 

poster-hm-australasia-web-1Below is the text of my paper that I presented at Historical Materialism Australasia 2014. I haven’t had much time to generate much new research so this paper serves two roles: it is a summation of the argument made in Roads to Nowhere – Capital’s Plan A and it introduces a new problem. This problem is that despite an existing and clear strategy for stimulating capital accumulation, a plan shared by many of the thinkers and political forces of capital, the state has not been able to effectively realise it. Key legislation hasn’t been passed, opposition to privatisations remains high and it appear that the East West Link is stalled and may possibly fall over.

 

This might mean that as capital accumulation in Australia continues to slow the main solution to its problems becomes inoperable. What then for our ability to assert our collective autonomy against and beyond capital’s domination? This will probably be the direction I will try to take in my research over the coming months.

 

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Roads to Nowhere – Capital’s Plan A

Australia will be quite different in a few years’ time…
-Tony Abbott(2013)

The tendency is a general schema that takes as its starting point an analysis of the elements that make up a given historical situations. On the basis of that analysis, it defines a method, an orientation, a direction for mass political action (Negri, 2005, p. 27)

What does it mean to think in the conjuncture?(Althusser, 2000, p. 18)

(I have been working on this post for many months now. It has been slow going as I have only been able to commit small amounts of time to research and writing as some pretty major – and excellent – developments in my life have distracted me from my computer: namely the birth of my son who is without a doubt the major focus of my time and energy. I have been eking this piece out in half-an-hour lunch breaks at work and this I think has added to its troubled narrative. Also since becoming a father my ability to successfully construct long sentences has diminished. Perhaps this change will be seen as ‘punchy’ rather than moronic…. I also think since so much of the research of this piece has involved stepping on the terrain of dominant mainstream thought and summarising it that some of the radical elements of the critique of political economy have become muted.
Readers will probably find this piece fairly dry, structurally incoherent, and laborious but I hope useful and I intend to use it as background for more work here and political interventions published at The Word From Struggle Street.
As usual there remain far too many typos for me to be happy about but I wish to get this out in a timely matter.)

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‘Addressing these challenges requires ambition’: The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting

Originally posted on The Word From Struggle Street:

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…money only has one face, that of the boss.

                                                                        (Negri, 1991, p. 23)

Over the last few days a number of important meetings of the G20 have been held in Sydney. The main meetings have been the Finance and Central Bank Deputies meeting #2 (20th to 22nd February) and the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting (22nd to 23 Feb) but there has also been a joint round table between the B20( the Business 20) and G20 on Infrastructure and the launch of an OECD report Going for Growth as well as we can assume countless photo-ops, corridor conversations and long lunches – noticeably Christine Lagarde from the IMF is in town. All this should emphasize to us how the Leaders Forum is only one element in what seems to be a now year round series of events, meetings and discussion that work to constitute the…

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Contradictions of Accumulation in Australia

Edited 25/2/14
In December 2013 I received criticism via twitter from ‪@redlizthompson‬‬ and ‪@Mitropoulos_A‬‬ for my participation in Historical Materialism Australasia 2013. Readers should obviously read this criticism directly if interested but to summarize it runs as follows: since I participated in the conference which was subject to a withdrawal due to the presence of speakers from Solidarity an organization whose National Committee had recently released an internal statement supporting the Socialist Workers Party UK’s cover-up of rape and sexualized violence then I either directly supported the behavior of the SWP/Solidarity or at least my public quietism on the question meant that in practice I supported it whatever my actual thoughts. The absence of a public statement critiquing the SWP/Solidarity effectively meant public support.

Also I was criticized for having friendships and political collaborations with then current members of Solidarity.

I am in two minds about this assertion about the necessity for a public statement. On one hand I find it odd. The vast majority of my political thoughts and opinions are developed with and shared within a very small network of close comrades and friends. The idea of making some general statement to some kind of public seems weird at best. My written work that does exist on the internet is most often an attempt to follow a very specific project or intervene in specific debates largely focused on Qld. In the past I certainly commented on everything and anything but I have tried to reign in this practice as I slowly realized I was often commenting on things I knew little about.

However supporters of the call to withdraw from HM have pointed out that public silence on questions of sexualized violence reproduces the split between public and private that is so bound up as part of the gender relations of the society we live in. That’s a hard point to argue against and I can’t.

Also when I posted the original post bellow I referenced the HM debated but made no statement of my thoughts. This I think was a mistake as the post itself is a public artifact and I should have taken the time to clarify my position on the issues. I don’t believe however that such a need to address the public applies to other HM participants on a whole.
So my thoughts:

• The behavior of the SWP was appalling. It is more evidence for that decades old feminist argument that Left organizations not only continue the patterns of violence and inequality around gender which is part of broader society but organizational cultures often entrench power-relations that facilitate abuse. The following ‘crisis’ is more evidence of the need for feminism to be an integral part of any revolutionary project.
• The statement of Solidarity was horrible and shows how loyalty to a political brand can be so destructive and pathetic
• I don’t and didn’t agree with the withdrawal– It seemed off-target. If the problem was Solidarity why not call for a boycott of working with them in all forums until certain criteria were met? Why call for a boycott of conference in which they were participants but no other spaces they work in? On the basis of these objects I didn’t participate in the boycott.
• Finally I expressed my critique of Solidarity’s statement to my friends and comrades that were at the time members. I didn’t make my friendship with them conditional on them doing anything about what I said. Nor should I have.

Below is the (edited) text of the paper I presented at Historical Materialism Australasia. This year’s conference happened in the context of a serious disagreement around sexual violence prompted in part by the SWP crisis. You can find some material on this here and here.
The below paper is fairly limited and suffers from conceptual and structural problems. However in the spirit of With Sober Senses I am happy to make it available as it functions both as a marker of the progress of my research and also as a fairly functional summary of my work so far.
In the discussion three major issues came out for me, and I thank those who contributed.
1. So far I still conceive of the public service/ state provision of reproduction as being too separate from capital accumulation proper. They are deeply and complexly intermeshed on the molecular and molar level.
2. More work is needed to further investigated how capital ‘thinks’ on the level of society
3. This kind of research needs to be careful that it doesn’t collapse into being a Marxian plan for a better capitalism – there is a tendency to do just that.

For capital there is no problem: restructuring of the system is the condition for the stabilization of the regime, and vice-versa…The interests of the proletariat, are quite the opposite. The proletariat aims at a critical seizure of the nexus between stabilization and restructuring, in order then to attack it.(Negri, 2005, p. 232)

So what I want to do here is fairly simple: I want to trace out what I think are some of the major barriers of capital accumulation in Australia in our present conjuncture and I will do so with a pretty broad brush – apologies to the details and the devils they may contain. I do so because I think these barriers are some of the deep fault-lines of class antagonism in Australia. This will be a summary of the research I have been doing over the first half of this year for the blog With Sober Senses.

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Incomes, Inequality and Class Composition – ( still a bit drafty)

Firstly I would like to apologise to those of you who read my blog for the long time it has been since my last post. It is a difficulty finding time to even read systematically at the moment let alone write. I don’t mean this as just a simple whinge –because I think that it is symptomatic of one of the problems afflicting the possibility of class organising right now – we need the time in our lives to think about what is happening to time in our lives. More broadly, unlike perhaps workers in much of Europe who face the impact of rising unemployment, workers in Australia labour under a condition of too much labour – at least at the moment (though of course any amount of wage-labour is really too much wage-labour). It is too early to tell if the proposed closure of the Ford plant and the entry into voluntary administration of Swann Services  are anomalies and growth will continue or signs that winter is coming (since I have written this lines the first time it was become far more clear that with the decline of  the rate of growth of industrial production in China that the mining boom, which has underscored growth in Australia for 20 years, is ending).  Marx quotes the Congress of the International Working Men’s Association ‘ We declare that the limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive…’(Marx 1990, 415). Now I don’t know if the IWMA was thinking about having the time to write and discuss but perhaps they were. I must admit that I am not sure how an effort like this blog actually fits into the process of class recomposition because I am not sure what the role of ‘ideas’ really has in the messy processes of struggle. I am sure that it has some role but what that is I am confused about (and welcome comments and debate.) But if the attempts to theorise the world we live do play some part in the self-emancipation of the class then it is clear that the lack of time we have to engage in this activity (snatched between moments of work, time with those we love, socialising and resting, acts of political militancy) is contributing to just how outgunned we are in relation to capital. Reading The Poorer Nations (Prashad 2012) I am struck by the huge size and financial capacity of the intellectual apparatus capital has to think, theorise and popularise its understand of the world. Even in Australia it is a struggle to find the time to read the reports that come out of the Productivity Commission, the various business groups and economic think tanks let along attempt to think them through and write about them. (Thus my outrage that the Qld government wasn’t going to release the 1000 page Queensland Commission of Audit quickly turns to dread when they decide to – ‘oh my god I have to read a 1000 page report!’)
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withsobersenses:

In my last post I mentioned the need for militant research and workers inquiry. Here is a great example carried out by Common People at the recent strike at the University of Sydney

Originally posted on The Golden Barley School:

These videos contain images and interviews from the picket lines at a recent strike at the University of Sydney.

Our approach here is to generate more conversation between workers across areas of the university, to trace where our common experiences lie and contribute to a collective understanding of the effects that our working conditions have on our lives.

Part I is about conditions at work, part II is an extension of this, with focus on casualisation and the future of the sector.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a4ckb3X3Zs

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WwaIilRLGo

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