One law for them and another for us

Cartoon: Shane Tholen
February 25, 2017

With the decision by the misnamed Fair Work Commission to slash the take home pay of some of the lowest-paid workers, it is worth restating that all wealth in our society is created by workers and not capitalists.

Profits come from the difference between the value of the goods and services created by a worker and what they are paid for their work. Some of this "surplus value" is invested back into production, but the rest is siphoned off as profit.

Capitalists claim this is not a fair analysis. After all, they say, "we bring the capital to the table, without which there would be no mines, shops, factories or warehouses". However, today's capital is just yesterday's surplus value, which was also produced by the worker.

The big capitalists, despite the mythology of the self-made millionaire, mostly inherit their wealth. But if you thought they would be content to just sit back and cream off the wealth created by working people through the production process, you would be wrong.

They are always on the lookout for ways to increase their profits by cutting productions costs — including wages — pushing their costs onto society or the environment and through taxpayer subsidies.

To draw on the biggest public subsidy they can, there is no manipulation of the law and government that is beyond their imagination. The recent community campaign against the Perth Freight Link freeway project that gripped Perth's southern suburbs is a text book case.

The saga began when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott side-stepped Infrastructure Australia, whose function is to plan and coordinate infrastructure projects across Australia. Instead, he called on the civil construction industry to tell him what projects they thought the country needed.

For an industry coming off the boil with the end of the construction phase of the mining boom in WA and Queensland, this was Christmas on a stick.

The CIMIC Group — then known as Leighton Holdings and a significant donor to the Liberal Party — proposed Perth Freight Link. Hey presto — without community consultation or anything approaching a benefit-cost ratio analysis, the project was announced.

About 200 members of the community have been arrested resisting the construction of the freeway. The massive police presence around the site is reportedly costing $40,000 a day.

Meanwhile the state government has smoothed the way for the project by removing Aboriginal sites of historical and cultural significance from its own register without consultation, systematically breaching its own environmental guidelines and likely breaking the law by its failure to remove dumped asbestos from the construction site. 

No surprise then that the project has been shrouded in secrecy. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information application show Main Roads estimates for the cost of Stage 2 of the project to be $5.8–$8.5 billion, not the $2 billion that the public has been told.

This revelation shows what we always knew: Perth Freight Link is a frantic attempt by the Liberal Party to shovel as much debt-funded public money to construction industry multinationals as they can before the election. Most freeway-centric transport expenditure across the country fits the same purpose.

Far from exposing this reality, WA's only daily newspaper is part of the problem, ceaselessly promoting the freeway. While it is a fair bet that the paper would have backed it in any case, it is notable that Kerry Stokes who owns the Seven Media Group also owns Westrac, the biggest Caterpillar dealership in the country.

With this wealth and power lined up against us we need our own media. From the fight to defend penalty rates to the struggle for sustainable transport solutions, we need media owned by us not the capitalists.

That is why we need Green Left Weekly. You can contribute to the Green Left Weekly 2017 Fighting Fund online. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

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