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More than one way to skin a cat...

Red Wombat has a comment on the new ABS figures which, when backgrounded by some doctoral research, confirm that many Australian workers yearn for the 'good old days' of the 8 hour day. There's even a monument to it somewhere -- them good old days of the 1850s.

The bitter irony is that the 38 hour week (yes there is/was such a thing)was a key component of the metal trades award in 1981 after a period during which workers in the industry campaigned hard and long for reduced hours. It was a core plank of the metal unions' industrial perspectives.

But historical footnotes are only part of the story. The Business Section of the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article this last week with the header Workers missing out on their fair share.

No, it wasn't an op ed by the Socialist Alliance. In fact the full title was to inform us of a secret: Psst...(it read )...Workers are missing out on their fair share. It's author, Ross Gittens, the SMH's economics editor, shared a few clangers (albeit quietly because it's all hush hush):
WHEN you divide the pie of national income between the share going to wages and the share going to profits, you find the workers' share keeps shrinking and is the smallest it's been.
Indeed, Gittens makes the point that since we're only talking about the workers' share no one is supposed to give a fig."Even the Opposition", he writes," hasn't wanted to talk about it - presumably for fear of being branded 'anti-business'. No modern Labor pollie wants to be that."

This is an article , by the way, that comes out the same week that Dean Mighell of the ETU was told to "wash his mouth out" (I think it was with soap but maybe it was with lye ) for being too crudely & rudely class aligned.

Gittens "Psst..." argument is that in 1999-2000, the share of national income going to labor was 70.3%, leaving the share going to capital at 29.7% But the December quarter figures for last year show that the wages share had fallen to 66 per cent, while the profits share had increased to 34 per cent. Gittens says that this is a "shift of a remarkable, unprecedented 4.3 percentage points in the space of just 6½ years."

So what is happening here? Aside from the fact that we are supposed to be enjoying the trickle down effect of a booming economy, lowish unemployment, and bottom level strike days lost, these statistics indicate that the shift in income is in full swing and that this, according to Gittens, is caused by two main factors:
First, changes in the "capital-labour ratio" - that is, the ratio of capital equipment to workers or, more accurately, hours worked.Second, how the proceeds from improvements in the productivity of labour are shared between wages and profits.
Gittens then plots the history of wages since the days of the Whitlam Labor government. He argues that there was a "blowout" of real wages under Whitlam and that it took until the Accord years of Bob Hawke to return the economy "to the wages and profits shares of the early '70s."

And this was done how?
Labor used its prices and incomes Accord with the union movement to reduce real wages.
Thankyou ALP! Now theres' something to think about as we approach the next federal poll.[So what has Kevin Rudd been telling the captains of industry when he's been a'calling on them recently? What's his angle do you think?]

Since the Accord years, there's been a major consolidation.
Labour productivity growth has been slower in the noughties(nineties?) but, if the profits share has risen, that must mean the growth in real wages has slowed by even more.
I own up to a touch of confusion here nd so too does Gittens in the end so he asks for more research.

But it strikes me that he misses a key point when he writes:
But the fact remains that, if the wages share is falling, workers aren't getting their proportional - their "fair" - share of productivity gains. Why not? Well, because it's been going on since the start of the noughties, it's not likely to have much to do with the effects of Work Choices.
So you have to wonder:what's Work Choices all about if labour's share of the national cake is falling anyway? Why force it upon an already losing proletariat?

I am reminded of Marx's explanation of the degree of exploitation of Labour-Power. --a factor, I would have thought,that was self evident. Put crudely, in order to exploit labour to increase profits, there is more than one way to skin a cat -- and individual wages ain't the be all and end all of it.

1 Com:

Jonh D | June 05, 2007

The whole thing about work choices has to be more than hatred of trade unions. There has to be substance in it that makes economic sense. If my wages go up but I work longer and harder then the 'productivity" from my sorry arse is going to go up significantly more than sharing my job with extra labour. Theres' a logic there that people aren't noting.In fact the spectrum of options massively increase under Wok Choices and AWAs as the boss can make a killing in those areas he is most concerned about rather then being restricted to industry wide awards.

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