Making the news lately is our beloved government's latest case of taking care of its people, the removal of penalty rates. That is, business owners in retail and coffee shops all over Australia will no longer have to pay an extra to the employees that do their bidding during the weekend.
In case you are wondering what the sense of cancelling penalty rates is, the answer is obvious: our government is truly caring for its people. The only problem is, “its people” are the people with the money, not the people doing the labour; our government could not care less about the latter. They, the people with the money, stand at no risk of ever having to work a weekend their entire lives. Why should they care about those lowly pests that have to run around them and satisfy their consumption needs for the sake of being able to bring food to their table?
My argument is that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to this attack on labour. It was a decade or so ago that our government stopped differentiating between part time work and full time work when it comes to official unemployment statistics. The latest episode in penalty rates is just one of numerous steps taken by the ruling class to subdue the lower classes through the casualisation of work.
Penalty rates are just a little part of the greater war on the working class. The biggest part is actually the disappearance of permanent positions and the change towards short term contracts, where the employer can get rid of employees whenever it feels like. At first it was presented as an advantage to the employee: the pay was higher, the flexibility was an attraction. Nowadays, however, when the bulk of employees are short term contractors, that is no longer the case. The pay advantage is long gone, but the benefits we used to take for granted - annual leave, sick leave - are gone.
Those of us lucky enough to stumble upon a permanent position stand to find that what used to be regarded as a position of a certain grade is now recruited as a position of lower grade. Why? Because they can. Because when each advertised vacancy attracts hundreds of eager (desperate?) applicants, the employer can dictate the terms. You might be able to land a permanent position, but it won’t land you as much money as it used to.
What we are seeing here, overall, is a pivotal transition in the economy. Whereas we used to live in an economy where labour was the primary source of wealth, that role is now leaning more and more towards capital.
Think about it: the people our society looks up to, the folks we consider to have “sorted” themselves out, are not people that work for a living. Instead, they are the people that managed to wiggle themselves out of working so that they have some arrangement or another that generates money for them "automatically".
Think of the Apple app economy, only in people: Apple has established the App Store, but Apple does not write the apps. People labour to write the apps and sell them, which is when Apple comes in to reap its 30% surcharge. Now, cut and paste Apple with your average investment property owner, and you get the point.
The real question is where are we heading for from here. And I think the answer is, sadly, blood, sweat and many tears.
Automation will mean that many if not most of us will lose their job within a decade or two. The income from labour pool will vastly diminish while the number of people seeking to make an income from labour will rise. [By the way, if you look at the Philippines, you will see what happens when this scenario takes place a the country level; however, what I am talking about here is a global level.] Eventually, the kettle will pop and the pressure will be released through a wave of violence that will eventuate in a solution along the lines of a universal pay allowance. As in, everybody will get paid regardless of whether they have a job or not.
There really is no reason for us not to be there already. We are more affluent than humans ever were, yet we choose to spend our lives locked inside an office and wasting the best time of our lives doing the whim of the ruling class. Until, that is, that ruling class no longer needs us.
In the mean time, the same ruling class is gearing up for the struggle to come, for those waves of blood, sweat and tears. Have a look at the Land of the Free™ and check out its police forces: these have been militarised from head to toe, using the War on Terror™ as an excuse. Yet, it has also been made very clear that this new military force is there mostly to enforce the class divide on the lower classes (e.g., Black Lives Matter).
The same army will “defend you” the day you decide that push came to shove. The day you realise you can no longer supply your basic needs through work. Maybe, on that day, you will lament the slow erosion of worker rights we all did little to stop.