21 Nov 2006, Comments Off on Looks a lot like the old city

Looks a lot like the old city

Author: Helen

According to the New City online mag, this is what your city will look like once the dreaded Greenies and Urban Elites have got to it.

I’m reading a website. It’s badly designed, oldfashioned, with a mishmash of fonts and red, white and blue as the main colour choices, with some horrible grey and bright yellow touches. It’s the sort of thing you expect of a rightwing US site of the Lyndon LaRouche / Bill O’Reilly type.

The articles in the main body text are editorials with the writer left unidentified (a committee?). Articles in the sidebar include Peter Saunders of the CIS, Bjorn Lomborg, Daniel Ben-Ami, property developer Hugh Pavletich, Ray Evans (Lavoisier Group), Alan Moran (IPA), Mark Steyn and Imre Saluzinsky, to name a few. The Links section, which is yellower than any links section oughta be, ncludes Quadrant, “Climatechangeissues.org” (lnked to Tech Central Station) and the Lavoisier Group. Cliches abound, with Latte, Latte Left, Tree-hugging, Chattering Classes everywhere.

Out of the many, many links on their front page I could only find three female contributors, pretty well buried, two of whose names were Shanahan and Devine.

So what’s this website? Some tinpot rightwing independent group?

Sadly, it’s a Labor site. Even more sadly (and I say this as a proud union member of many years), it’s a Labor unionist site.

It looks like primarily a Ferguson family project: Mar’n, Andrew and Laurie, with help from other apparatchiks from the Labor Right and the right-leaning unions such as the AWU and CMFEU.

According to the New City, the basis of Labor’s modern malaise is the replacement of “Routine workers” with knowledge and technical workers and the resulting hijacking of Labor by the inner city trendies and Chattering Classes (haven’t seen that one in a while).


Over succeeding decades, however, so-called knowledge workers rose to positions of power across the new services and information economy. Inevitably, their interests diverged from those of routine workers. By the mid-1990s, “Whitlam’s strategy” collapsed under the strain. Contemporary Australian politics are dominated by the consequences of that collapse…

….many knowledge workers seek to enhance their asset by resorting to a predictable type of activism. They will push the envelope on issues like uranium mining, climate change, nuclear energy, civil liberties and asylum seekers beyond the point that reasonable routine workers – a clear majority of the population – will follow. Naturally, these causes may also deliver more immediate benefits to inner suburban professionals, like career opportunities, tax breaks and improved property values…

You get the idea. Routine Worker™ good, tertiary educated “knowledge workers” / “Creative class” bad.


…we argue that if [Labor] is to change its policy spots, it needs first to look hard at its representative structure. “Rank-and-file preselection”, at least in NSW, is widely regarded (especially in the inner city) as a party memberís birthright. We are unconvinced that a few dozen overwhelmingly tertiary-educated social activists should effectively determine who gets what is often an extraordinarily cushy job for life. Itís not just wrong in principle;it tends to select the same types of people in these positions – graduates in the social sciences who move smoothly from university politics, to research jobs in unions or on MPsí staffs, to a safe seat in parliament. Once there, they invariably push for the sorts of policies and programs that create plenty of jobs for others just like them. There must be a better way.

So who are these champions of the routine worker over the tertiary-educated social activists?

Let’s start with the three editors. I couldn’t find much on Google about John Muscat, but he collaborated with Michael Thompson on his book Labor Without Class, which is kind of the New City bible. As John Quiggin points out, the book seeks “to combine cultural conservatism with support for economic rationalism”. Rolly Smallacombe also keeps a low profile, but he was a campaign office staffer for MP Michael Daly, MLA for Maroubra (formerly a lawyer for the motorist advocacy group NRMA). Jeremy Gilling comes up as a research officer into yoof issues for the Macarthur Region organisation of Councils and project manager for Skill Ecosystem, a national project on skill formation, uses of skills, workplace culture and related HR matters.

Nothing wrong with that. All three are also Online Opinion authors. Nothing wrong with that either – unless you’re pushing the line that membership of people with this type of background and skillset disqualifies you to speak for the Labor party.

Moving right along to the article writers and heroes of the New City: Martin Ferguson (University – research officer – union secretary – ACTU president etc); Peter Saunders (Emeritus professor, rightwing academic); Craig Emerson (Sydney University – ANU – economic analyst, advisor, politician); Hugh Pavletich (crusading land developer); Andrew Ferguson (degrees in Economics, Urban Studies and Law, general secretary of the CFMEU (NSW branch); Daniel Ben Ami (financial journalist); Bjorn Lomborg (internationally (in)famous professor of Statistics and global warming
denialist -and look, isn’t he cute/) …You get the picture.

These people are so not “Routine Workers”. In fact, if the New City editorial office, if one exists, had one of those electric eye systems like the ones in the library to detect those terrible knowledge workers and tertiary-educated social activists coming in, it’d be going off its nut continuously.

So what gives these knowledge-workers-and-tertiary-educated-social activists the right to lecture the rest of us, whose opinions on the public good are different from theirs, on our unworthiness to speak on behalf of the Routine Worker™, when they are further from being routine workers than most of the people they criticise? Obviously they must have some special mojo, which not only renders their university degrees and professional white-collar status harmless, but renders their egregious hypocricy invisible. It’s obviously only available to a select few.

Using this special mojo, you can write articles attacking the “types of people…graduates in the social sciences who move smoothly from university politics, to research jobs in unions or on MPs’ staffs, to a safe seat in parliament…push(ing) for the sorts of policies and programs that create plenty of jobs for others just like them…” while being exactly that kind of person, without your brain exploding, or at least registering any shame.

I must endeavour to find out about this special mojo, because it’s obviously pretty good stuff. In the meantime, Paul Norton at Larvatus Prodeo and Tim at Road to Surfdom have been there before me and have written interesting posts on the topic, with lively comment threads. Recommended, especially if you’re contemplating voting Labor in the coming election.

Comments (0)

  • Mark says:

    It has to be the mojo. How else can someone like Martin Ferguson, who was dropped (like a bomb) into the ALP safe seat of Batman after Brian Howe retired, get away with such crap. But he was ACTU President! Of course, he’s a real working man.

  • zoot says:

    We’re stuffed

  • Bernice says:

    I sorta thought it was the tactic of attacking the very thing that could be used to undermine your own credentials – ie you CAN”T really be a dinky-di Labour person because you’ve a professional apparatchik with about as much connection with the grind of working day life as John Howard. So in a desperate bid to lavish upon oneself the appropriate anti-intellectualism, you run about attacking those who can’t so easily deny their status as either middle class or declasse.

  • Helen says:

    Zoot, concise but I can’t but agree.

    So in a desperate bid to lavish upon oneself the appropriate anti-intellectualism, you run about attacking those who can’t so easily deny their status as either middle class or declasse.

    But, but, but, surely the fact that you can easily google these guys and find their multiple law degrees and their “knowledge worker posts” makes it more obvious than, for instance, me and the people I know who are relatively lower rung “knowlege worker”. I mean, most ofthese guys have their own Wikipedia pages. They’re SERIOUSLY white-collar!

  • kate says:

    It really bugs me that they engage in this anti-intellectualism, instead of celebrating the successes of previous Labor governments, and the more socialist/progressive moments of previous Liberals. One of the reasons these guys have law degrees (and they often are the first generation of their family to have them) is that they took advantage of free education (Commonwealth scholarships included) to demonstrate that education should be available equally to all kids, not just the Bailleus.

    My Dad didn’t work so hard at his manual job so that we would do the same on principle – he worked so that we could afford to stay at school, get through uni, and get those knowledge worker jobs. Not that either me or my brother is raking it in, if we’d dropped out in favour of an appreticeship we’d earn more, have more job security, and have no debt.

    The problem with the unions is that they’ve failed so comprehensively to embrace knowledge workers and to represent us – even though we’ve signed up and paid our dues.

  • One shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but those guys, as far as I can see it’s all guys, should do something about the web design.

    It’s hard to take it all in but it seems they are yearning for a return to the good old days when all workers checked in their brains at the door and management made sure they were all union members by automatically deducting union contributions.

  • david tiley says:

    To adapt a phrase:

    self-hating socialists.

  • Helen says:

    I think of them as Brownies*, because they have some kind of social equity component in their thinking (VERY diluted of course, now that they’re admiring people like Peter Saunders**, but they think the only way to achieve that is by ditching any environmental concerns. I can see a kind of internal consistency in that.

    Not everything about them is consistent though. As Paul Norton points out on the LP thread, they link to all kinds of global warming denialist stuff while pointing to nuclear as a magic bullet for climate change – talk about having a bob each way!

    *No offence to Brownie of Bacchus Marsh.
    **The right wing Peter Saunders, not the social democratic academic of the same name, who must have a permanent case of the shits with people mixing them up.

  • ThirdCat says:

    “especially if you’re contemplating voting Labor in the coming election”

    sigh

  • Helen says:

    I’m in a rock solid Labor seat, so after voting green-green-green-green below the line in the upper house form, I actually put the liberal candidates before the labor ones, as well as on the small form. I went over to the dark side to punish Steve, and what effect did it have? Zilch.
    OF course I put FF last.
    Steve can go on throwing schools the occasional bone and he thinks we love him.

    Yes – sigh

  • tigtog says:

    My recently deceased great-uncle, who was both a school principal and an ALP Branch Secretary for many years, would have torn strips of these guys if their paths had crossed.

    What a bunch of two-faced tossers.

  • Mikhela says:

    I’m just trying to figure out how my activities for refugees & environment stuff have given me ‘tax breaks, career opportunities and increased property values’…

  • R.H. says:

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    . Drty rttn dtntn cntrs (lvly rfgs).
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    3. Drty rttn rcsts (lvly drks).
    4. Drty rttn mnrchy (lvly rpblc).
    5. Drty rttn J. H. (lvly P.M. wh dn’t lk lk rt).

    t jst hppns tht ths wh d drty wrk fr lvng r n dffrnt plnt t ths. nd th Lbr Mvmnt, whch bgn, nd cntnd fr dcds prtctng lw ncm wrkrs frm mprtd cmpttn fr lw- pd jbs nd chp hsng dsn’t cr dmn bt t nymr. Jst s ’scl cnscnc’ mddl-clss trnds r n lngr cncrnd bt pvrty nd njstc – nlss t’s rfg, brgnl, r hm.

  • Helen says:

    RH, darls, i’ve had to disemvowell you. Your language is just a bit too fruity for this here blog. I know this will send you into a major sulk and you might not be back for ages, but I’ll just have to risk that sorrowful outcome. You might like to talk to someone about these iss-yews you have.

    please note: If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I tolerate energetic disagreement, but. Extreme racist and homophobic comments WILL be disemvowelled.

  • genevieve says:

    The disemvowelling is a new idea, is it? very neat.

    These people link to the Australian Family Association – are you sure this whole website isn’t some kind of Liberal front? seems completely peculiar to me. They should just go join the Liberal party and be done with it.

  • . We started the website in large part because we wish to elevate the debate on the Left above ad hominem abuse to actually dealing with the issues. Sadly, your blog further demonstrates what a herculean task we have set ourselves.
    . This point is perfectly illustrated in your treatment of the ‘routine versus knowledge worker’ issue that is, we argue, at the heart of Labor’s philosophical and, at the Federal level, its electoral malaise. In a nutshell, we’re saying that (contrary to many commentators’ claims) the workforce shares of the two groups are little changed since the 1970s, even though the nature of work that each group undertakes has changed beyond recognition. Labor’s philosophical and policy commitment should be – as it historically has been – to the former group and their families, but for reasons that we explain at length through several articles and links, this is decreasingly the case. This in turn largely explains John Howard’s electoral success.
    . It concerns us deeply as committed ALP members that routine workers and their interests are less and less represented in the party’s forums. Why the fact that two of the three of us are tertiary-educated knowledge workers should preclude us from voicing this concern – that it is in some sense ‘hypocritical’ of us to do so – is beyond our ken.

    Jeremy Gilling, John Muscat, Rolly Smallacombe, co-editors, The New City

  • Helen says:

    Why the fact that two of the three of us are tertiary-educated knowledge workers should preclude us from voicing this concern – that it is in some sense ‘hypocritical’ of us to do so – is beyond our ken.

    Because, sunshine, you are constantly asserting on your website that those of us who want different solutions (social democracy, looking after the environment, public transport etc) are unable to address the problems of the so-called routine workers, who are all presumed – wrongly as JQ points out- to uniformly oppose these things – by virtue of our being “knowledge workers”, “creative class” or whatever.

    I want to know how that special mojo works whereby you guys can go straight from being a MP’s advisor or academic or law graduate to speaking for the Routine Worker™ and we can’t.

    Is it some kind of pill, or a kind of tin hat with wires going into it and a large machine-o-tron?…

    Your remark about ad hominem is kinda rich, considering the froth you get into abusing the “knowledge worker/creative class/latte sipper/inner city elite”. it’s all very personal.

  • Helen says:

    we wish to elevate the debate on the Left

    You are not the Left. Lomborg, Saunders, Shanahan, Pavletich, Ben Ami – far, very far right.

  • lynn white says:

    I just LOVE the statement that rank and file preselections are bad because we get the knowledge worker class – how many genuine rank and file preselections do we ever get?

    Labor’s philosophical and policy commitment should be – as it historically has been – to the former group and their families

    I would argue that this is true, but not the exclusion of the teachers, lawyers, academics, small business people, doctors and pharmacists that have traditionally given the party life. Ask any ‘routine worker’ what they think a good job for their kids might be. Most of them will say a knowledge worker’s job, or a lucrative skilled trade (nothing routine about that). We’ll keep losing elections if we stamp on people’s dreams for themselves and their kids.

  • Helen says:

    Ask any ‘routine worker’ what they think a good job for their kids might be. Most of them will say a knowledge worker’s job, or a lucrative skilled trade (nothing routine about that). We’ll keep losing elections if we stamp on people’s dreams for themselves and their kids.

    Very good point Lynn. Also, it was the dreaded Whitlam and his free uni education who put more people from the working class suburbs and occupations in politics, academia and the professions. I don’t see what th Howard government’s approach to education (two tier, private excellence and public squalor) is doing for routine workers.

  • kate says:

    I resent the idea that ‘routine workers’ and ‘knowledge workers’ needs, in a broad political context, are really that different. These guys are setting up a false division that doesn’t help us get anywhere. We all need medical care, schools, childcare. We all need an environment that’s well-cared for enough to live in, and we need the ALP to stick up for those things. They don’t. Which is why I don’t vote for them any more.

    They’ve also stopped demonstrating any sort of imagination or generosity when they write their policies. I’ve given up being cross about it, I’m not even sad any more, I’ve given up.

  • Helen says:

    The idea that white collar or creative work is better remunerated and more “elite” than trades or “blue collar” work is a throwback to the time before microchips and neoliberalism changed the way we work – or even earlier.

  • R.H. says:

    It won’t matter to you, but it matters to me to say, that what you’ve done is the worst. You could have deleted my comment, but chose to spit on me instead. I’ve as much reason as anyone to get angry sometimes, but just hope I never have breakdown, total surrender; a hatred like yours.

  • Helen says:

    Indulge in racist, homophobic hate speech, and you get disemvowelled.

    My blog. Your choice.

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