May Day

It’s the May Day public holiday here in Queensland, transformed, like every other public event by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most obviously, there is no May Day march for the first time in many years (possibly since the first march in the 1890s, I haven’t been able to find out for share).

More significantly, ideas associated with May Day that seemed to belong to a distant past have suddenly become crucially relevant. The most important of these is the injustice, inefficiency and absurdity of a society where those who do the most vital work are underpaid and disregarded, while the biggest rewards go to a class that turns out to be of no use when it really matters.

There is already pressure to ‘snap back’ to what was seen as normal in the recent past as soon as, or even before, the pandemic is controlled. But the message of May Day is that a better society is possible, and that the achievements of the workers movement over the past century can and should be defended and extended.

Among the many changes we need is a push to reduce inequality through both predistribution (changing the way the market rewards work) and redistribution (taxation and transfer payments). In practice that means higher minimum wages, higher wages for those who provide us with the basic wages we all need, and better funding for public services of all kinds. For those at the top of the income distribution (including professors and the many senior administrators who outrank us) that implies lower market incomes, and forgoing the tax cuts promised (and legislated) for the future.

24 thoughts on “May Day

  1. Isn’t that where progressive taxation came from? Rather than trying to legislate income (from all sources) we simply taxed the income of everyone according to how much they got. The cliche “tax the rich, they’re the ones with money”.

    These days we should also be taxing wealth, including land, because the disparity is too great to be reasonably rectified by only taxing income (even the most devout equalitarian would likely balk at 150%-of-income taxes, let alone the level required to bring billionaires down to a more respectable level of wealth).

  2. Pay cuts for people who are doing the same job that they were doing in January of 2020 are an unfair idea. What is fair is hazard pay for people like bus drivers, and grocery store cashiers. That would of course be the same as a relative pay cut for others. But they are unlikely to notice.

  3. Of course school teachers and kindergarten, or daycare, workers should recieve hazard pay as well once these institutions reopen.

  4. Buttheads, complete Buttheads
    The main lesson that humans learn by studying history is that humans learn nothing from history. That is a quote from Auguste Comte as I seem to recall.
    Why do humans learn nothing from history? Well the main problem is that they really do not want to.
    The second big probelm is that the story of what actually happened does not get passed on very well.
    As you might recall I have written previously on how poortly the really important things about WW2 were never passed on. These important things were not the important things that happened they were the important things that DID NOT happen.
    Now for something out of the cold war. We teach history that the west won the cold war, and west Germany absorbed east Germany because the non communists were more effficient in transforming the potential of earth’s environment which means the labor and creative potential of the people in combination with the resources at their disposal in to human happiness.
    The case of the two Germanies is frequently used as the most relevent case study. But these case studies miss crucial relevent considerations. One of which west Germany was loaded with high quality coal, easy access to iron ore, and had the abiltity to benifit from low cost foriegn labor. East Germany was stuck with lignite as its main resource for powering an industrial society. East Germany was more interested in uplifting the labor of foriegn countries, and east Germans not only had to rebuild their own shattered society they had to help rebuild the shattered socities of eastern Europe.
    This lack of historical transparence is also very important in the competitive skull duggery that occurs between competing power factions. Things that are reported as accidents, such as the collapse of part the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Fransico a bit over a decade ago often get reported as industrial accidents when they are in fact sabotage. The so called facts of the story are really just the cover story so that the targets of sabotage do not recognize the sabotage for what it really is.
    And people in the west actually wonder why the security organs of the east German state seemed to be so paranoid.
    But the hisstory of the east German security forces is connected to another lesson of history. That lesson is that you can have to world’s best intellgence agency. But if you lack the capabilty to take advantage of that agency has learned the value of the agency is zero.

    ps Should Dan Brown’s next book, which should appear in July, be titled How to Create a Pandemic in 5 Easy Steps, or How to Create a Pandemic on $5 Dollars a Day, of Your Own Money?

  5. Curt, almost no-one is doing the same job as they were doing before the pandemic. Everyone is now modifying their work in response (I suspect you might find a few exceptions). And since our Prime Minister and his cabinet have all volunteered to cut their salaries for the duration I think the least we can do is ask the rest of the public service to follow suit.

  6. Moz,
    Almost no one? My definition of almost no one is less than 2% of everyone. The rest of public service should follow suit?
    The latest figures that i heard about what is afoot here in Germany is that the number of those working at home has risen from 12% of the work force to 25% of the work force. The number of unemployed has of course temporarily gone up sharply due to the closing of many service jobs and retail jobs. But how much? Has unemployment gone from say 5% to 15%? Also since countries are starting to reopen what ever the unemployment figure was for April it will be dropping in May. That still leaves over 50% of the work force doing what they have always done. Keep in mind that 12% working at home before the crisis is naturally still doing what they have always done. I imagine there are sitll a large number of public service workers in Australia that are doing what they have always done.
    Furthermore people make promises, (economic decisions) based on what they expect their near term future income to be. Now there are a heck of a lot of people who are not going to be able to fullfill their promises because of the crisis. She would make that problem even worse by making middle class people take a pay cut? Is taking a pay cut the only way that these middle class people can show their solidarity with those who have been financially harmed by the crisis?
    Pitting private sector workers, who often get screwed, against public sector workers, who have a bit more protection is a classic divide and conquor strategy of the conservative (neo-liberal) politicians in the western world.

  7. Curt, it’s about how narrowly “the same job” is read. For example, checkout operators are now expected to sanitise their workplace, monitor the health of their co-workers, help enforce distancing rules and so on. None of those tasks were part of their jobs before the pandemic.

    Also, the Australian Prime Minister has refused to consider the suggestion that he lead by example with a pay cut. Sorry, I forget sometimes that not everyone is deeply engaged with our local politics 🙃

  8. I agree, predistribution and redistribution – more benefits, more wages. And more public goods so more taxes – gladly borne. But what about production and increasing the size of the cake? I think this should be an important part of the story on May Day. Training, education, a more productive public, and private sector workforce that will support these initiatives.

  9. And specifically: as an employer staff are now spending time doing non-productive tasks and therefore should be paid less. Don’t think like a human being, think like a profit-maximising entity. In the same way that paying legislators to change the law can be cheaper than complying with it, paying staff less because their job has become more dangerous makes perfect (financial) sense.

  10. Well Moz I work in the public sector and am doing more. Why my pay should be cut to satisfy some ‘share the pain’ view is beyond me. Why don’t we all get infected so we can really share the pain?

    More generally, we don’t need to be talking about pay cuts for anyone (on a salary) given the macroeconomic situation and I am surprised Prof Quiiggin has made this suggestion.

  11. I do not see any suggestion for general pay cuts. It seems to me that the only thing prof. Q is saying is that there should be less inequality, and that payment should have a relation with the importance of the job. Who can disagree with that? Why should a hedge fund manager get 10 or 20 times (or more) what a nurse makes?

    It sounds strange now, but I can remember discussions about whether a pay difference of 5 times was morally acceptable.

  12. Historyintime : infecting everyone would kill an awful lot of people, so it’s worth avoiding if you value human life. Or like Australia to be somewhat organised, because the chaos of a mass outbreak would be significant. There’s a big difference between “maybe we should cut public service salaries” and “maybe we should kill thousands of Australians”. And perhaps you should get a pay cut because you needed to have that explained to you *again*.

    The good news for you is that Scott Morrison has refused to even consider the idea*.

    Also, why do you think it’s only people on salaries who shouldn’t get pay cuts?

    * possibly only in the specific case of the Prime Minister and cabinet, it’s not entirely clear and of course is subject to change if Our Rupert decides it’s necessary.

  13. The proposition that cutting public sector wages would be helpful is wonderfully 1930s. Otto Niermeyer would approve. More generally I have no idea what Professors are paid but would be surprised if it’s more than $200K. For that level of specialisation and learning I have no problen with it being 4 or 5 times more than a very basic unskilled job.

    But the real cut public sector wages stuff is not driven by any rationality it’s driven by crude right wing populism and ‘sharing the pain’ is indeed a strong and rather sadistic driver.

  14. I agree with Historyintime and Moz. Public sector wages, at least in jobs covered by the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) have been held back behind general wage rises since at least the first Howard government starting on 11th March, 1996. General wages in turn have been held back about since about that time in relation to productivity gains and business profits. It seems that no matter what kind of era it is (a boom or a bust), under neoliberalism it is ALWAYS the right time to hold back wages and especially public service wages. It is also always the right time, under neoliberalism, to load more duties on to workers for no extra pay.

    Much of this stupidity is ideologically justified by the doctrine that money is real, that it measures some real dimension of physical or social existence. It does not. Now, the claim is being that the economy is losing $4 billion dollars a day. This, in many senses, is a totally meaningless claim. Have we lost any housing stock? Have we lost any food production or even any electricity generation? I know housing is a stock and incomes are flows but this is still a fair question. If production of essential goods and services is largely unscathed or only partly attenuated then are we much poorer in real terms?

    But there’s no hairdressing! Oh, let us clutch our pearls and wonder how we shall survive! There’s no footy and no social grogging, (as opposed to home bingeing). Oh, let us commit suicide as Curt Kastens suggests (ironically I hope) because people (men mainly) apparently can’t survive without footy, betting and a beer with the mates. Yet all these are consumption activities NOT production activities. These are activities which consume our production and which involve non-essential consumption, as opposed to eating balanced,nutritious foods for example which is essential consumption and something actually worth producing for.

    That we count non-essential consumption which is anywhere from largely frivolous to actually harmful (to both humans and the environment) as part of our GDP and as economic “production” is plain perverse. COVID-19 is bad for humans. There is no question about that. The current shut-down of economically non-essential, wasteful, human destroying and environment destroying activities is on balance a good thing. It is almost a certainty that more lives are being saved by pollution reduction and accident reduction than are being lost to depression suicides by not being able to indulge in non-essential recreation activities.

    The problem lies in loss of income and socially meaningful activities by persons with few savings reserves and/or few psychological reserves and social supports . There, the right policy is to provide a social income and a sense of inclusion such they can feel all right and afford all the necessities and just a few of the luxuries (all non-essentials are luxuries) that they think the Jones next door are getting.

    We need to “Get real!” and dispense with the neoliberal drivel coming from all the usual suspects.

  15. ” More generally I have no idea what Professors are paid but would be surprised if it’s more than $200K. For that level of specialisation and learning I have no problen with it being 4 or 5 times more than a very basic unskilled job. ”

    Considering how many people get paid so much more for carreers that are far less merit based and require less education investment before, the Profs aren´t a particular good first target, but at the end of the day, they too earn too much. Also, the asumed salery for basic unskilled jobs sounds rather optimistic here.

  16. Pressure is mounting for a return to business as usual .Gigi Foster still wants to see the full cost benefit comparison between our current course and opening up/snap back – so would I ,but with everything on the balance sheet. Jeff Sparrow says that the death rate goes down during depressions. A friend from Yuendumu in the NT says doubling the dole has cured poverty there and another mate who works at the new non emergency police phone line (131444) office in Ballarat in Vic claims domestic violence is not up (hard to believe). The business council suggests bringing the unfair tax cuts forward, cutting more regulation and opening up – what a novel idea ,why dont we all just hold hands and jump off a cliff ! Josh Frydenberg says this is costing us 4 or 5 billion a day(or week ?) so why doesnt he offer to spend billions extra per week on climate change, education and health care if we open up ? that would still be a big net benefit in his terms .

  17. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that top incomes be reduced only in the public sector (or quasi-public enterprises like universities), or that this should apply only to wages. We need to compress the entire income distribution, reducing top incomes of all kinds, public and private, and raising lower incomes, both wages and benefits. Just saying that, as a high-salary public sector worker, I’m happy to bear my share of the adjustmentpublic and private, and raising lower incomes, both wages and benefits. Just saying that, as a high-salary public sector worker, I’m happy to bear my share of the adjustment.

  18. Ikon said “the right policy is to provide a social income”

    JQ said “Just saying that, as a high-salary public sector worker, I’m happy to bear my share of the adjustment.”

    Or. Just provide a ubi. Here is someone trying to cover all perspectives, tribes and arguments. A useful debate buillder for someone in JQ’s shoes.

    “The Accountant” below is the first in a series -4 completed;
    – The Accountant
    -The Realist
    – The Conservative
    – The Libertarian – which looks interesting, as seperate posts are to be written about a ubi from all these perspectives…

    “The sequence;
    Arguments for a Universal Basic Income.
    “Sequence of Posts
    I plan to post two per week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays). Links will be added when they are published:

    The Accountant
    The Realist
    The Conservative
    The Libertarian
    The Liberal
    The Socialist
    The Capitalist
    The Entrepreneur
    The Economist
    The Philosopher


    “This post is part of the sequence Arguments for a Universal Basic Income.

    “With just two numbers, 47% and £8,000, it was possible to define a tax code that is progressive, understandable and fairly similar to the existing UK code.  Furthermore, it is difficult to argue that this code is unfair, as it is not punitively targeting high earners with very high tax rates – both numbers apply to everyone, at every income level.”

    Hmmm… 47%? Our top tax rate -45%- equates to about 31.5% on $200,000 income. The ubi above would reduce the nominal 31% to about 28%. And reduce a raft of compliance and bureaucracy.
    (180,001 and over – $54,097 plus 45c for each $1 over $180,000 + medicare levy.)

  19. May 8th Day, Most of Alaska for China, An Alaskan size part of Tibet for India. A chunk of Kashmire for Pakistan. Really I do not understand why I have not been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In a world that had a reaonable number of reasonable people my proposal would bring an end to many potential conflicts. Oh boo hoo the Tibetians have lost their soverignty. Boo hoo I am a Tibetian boogeyman. Boo hoo the Yuits have lost their soverignty. I have robbed them of their right to decide whether or not Americans or Chinese log their forests.
    What non sense. A world full of non sense and people who think like sheep. Present company excepted. That is of course why I read what gets written here. But some things,such as the Brexit debate are just a waste of time.

  20. During my walk I realized that my proposal to solve some of the world’s conflicts was not fully developed. Does that mean that it was a half baked proposal? Well to polish it further I think that in addition to determining how big of a chunk of Kashmir that Pakistan has to get the Pakistani’s have to give something important up for it. I am not sure what that should be right now. But I do know who it should go to. It should go to Burma. And the nation of Burma is going to have to give something up for what ever it is that it recieves. And then Burma is going to have to give something important to Bangledesh. And then finally we will have gone full circle. The circle started with the USA making a sacrifice for the benifit of China to achieve world peace. So that means that the Bangledeshis are going to have to give something to the people of the USA. There is a reason that I inserted Burma in between Pakistan and Bangledesh. But I am not going to say what that reason is.

  21. Curt,

    Westerners have tried chopping up other parts of the world before. It has never worked out well. See the Sykes–Picot Agreement as an example.

  22. Yes, nothing ever works out for long. If we consider the past 5000 years easterners have been no less guilty than westerners.
    But there is a dfiference with my proposal. First off all something would be chopped off a leading western nation. (Second of all…..) Third of all this is neccessary in the face of climate change to increase the chances of survival for those who have been geographically disadvanted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s