Parliamentarians are grossly overpaid. A backbencher gets paid more than twice median income, and that's before adding allowances, generous superannuation, free air travel for life, etc. The PM gets double that: $330,356 (before expenses and perks). Last year, and the year before, the pollies awarded themselves a 7% pay rise while average wages rose 3.8%, putting the recently announced parliamentarians' one-year salary freeze into perspective.
But there's gross and there's grosser. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 18, the chief executive of Macquarie Bank earns more in a year than the entire federal parliament! The 226 overpaid members of federal parliament will receive $32.4 million collectively this year. "The outgoing chief executive of Macquarie Bank, Allan Moss, received a $33.5 million salary and bonus package last year. His successor, Nicholas Moore, earned $32.9 million," the article reported. These people pay themselves more than 600 times what most people earn.
Last year Australia's top 10 CEOs, on a collective $125 million, gave themselves a 28% pay rise and last week they firmly rebuffed any suggestion that their pay should be frozen "to help fight inflation". A spokesperson for Telstra boss Sol Trujillo (on almost $12 million) said curtly: "CEO remuneration is a matter for the board", according to the February 16 Daily Telegraph. The other CEO's chorused with the same tune.
Grumbling about the Rudd government's one-year freeze on pollies' pay, National Party senator Barnaby Joyce protested the vast chasm between the pay of politicians and that of corporate CEOs. "There's no such thing as bargain basement talent," he said, deploying the old "you pay peanuts you get monkeys" argument. But Joyce proves that even if you pay more than double what most of us earn, you could still end up with a monkey.
Enough of this obscenity! How about implementing the marvellous principle that the citizens of Paris introduced when they briefly took over and ran that great city (with a population of two million then) from March to May 1871 in the heroic Paris Commune? Every delegate to the Council of the Commune, the first ever people's power government, would receive no more than the wage of a skilled worker.
The 92 Council members, who were accountable to — and subject to immediate recall by — their electors, not only passed legislation but had to work to help implement them. They also had to do their duty on the barricades to defend Paris. No fat cats there.
What about the fatter CEO cats? The Paris Commune made them increasingly redundant as numerous cooperatives that were set up to meet social needs continued to thrive and cooperated with the Commune. School children were provided with free clothing, food and school materials were provided free, three schools were taken out of the hands of the church and an orphanage was established. Ordinary workers managed to take on the responsibilities of administrators and bosses, who fled to Versailles, the centre of the conservative forces who later bloodily crushed the Commune, slaughtering up to 30,000 Parisians, imprisoning 50,000 and sending 4500 to exile in the Pacific island of New Caledonia (Kanaky).
Three decades later the discovery of a body from the crushing of the Commune, buried in the Paris Opera House, inspired Gaston Leroux to write The Phantom of The Opera.
Green Left Weekly boldly invokes the political ghost of the Paris Commune in response to the gross income inequalities in society today. We are fighting for the egalitarian and cooperative alternative that is possible if we unite in common struggle.
Like the plucky Communards, our readers and supporters rolled up their sleeves and last week collected $4,066 towards the $250,000 Green Left Weekly Fighting Fund. This brings the total raised so far this year to $32,573.
We need to raise another $9,095 by the end of February to keep on target. If you can help, consider making a deposit to: Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 901992. Alternatively, send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007, phone it through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia), or donate online at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php