Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- In the context of Scotland's referendum on independence, Polly Toynbee reminds us why fragmentation can only serve to exacerbate inequality - a lesson worth keeping in mind as the Cons look to devolve responsibility for taxation and public services in Canada:
What’s to be done? The answer from all sides is “localism”. Westminster’s monstrous hegemony must be broken up with devolution. If Scotland goes, rump UK will be bereft and depleted. But if Scotland stays, monumental home-rule promises made in the last week’s panic will offer Scotland immense tax, spending and borrowing powers that, says the London School of Economics’ Tony Travers, England will rightly resent. Already the Barnett formula gives the Scots more per capita, but look what happens now: under Osborne austerity, whatever extra Scotland spends or borrows will come out of the Treasury’s UK total – and that means less for the rest. Good to break Osborne’s unnecessarily extreme cuts planned for after the election, but cities, regions, counties, all will want equal freedom from Treasury handcuffs biting into local leaders’ wrists.

At first sight, how attractive it looks for each locality to raise tax and spend its share of national income as best suits local circumstance. Localism sounds comforting. It is indeed high time to give back powers Margaret Thatcher stripped out and replace the millions of council homes she sold. Labour would give local health and wellbeing boards some NHS powers. Schools and further education should be returned too. Borrowing to build, councils should sell bonds.

But alarm bells ring when groupthink grips all parties. For social democrats there are as many dangers as opportunities. Unlike more equal federal countries, England is so grotesquely unequal in geography and class that London and the south-east make all the money, the rest take it. Redistribution from the south must limit the scope for local tax-raising.
I don’t know the answers to these conundrums, but dashing for devo is dangerous. The deepest recession of our lifetime was bound to rouse anti-politics wrath. The idea of Britain is hollowed out by 30 years of selling everything national (with even Royal Mail gone), trashing the public service ethos, sacking public staff, letting predatory capitalism rip while wages fall, pricing everything and valuing nothing. The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals.
- Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lee Ford-Jones writes about the emergency of a million Canadian children living in low-income homes - signalling that there's an awful lot of work to be done to fight poverty on a national scale.

- Trish Hennessy looks at the positive spillover effects of a $15 federal minimum wage. And Angella MacEwen discusses how greater bargaining power for workers is ultimately a must if we want to build a more fair society:
Workers' bargaining power has been restricted in two ways. First, workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker program are tied to a single employer. Second, many are not allowed to unionize. If a worker is unhappy with the wages or working conditions of their job, they can neither band together to demand better, nor walk across the street to a better employer.

The result is that employers do not have to raise wages to attract and keep workers. If there is a sufficient supply of vulnerable labourers, then current non-TFWP workers may be easily disciplined with the treat of being replaced by a willing temporary worker.

Limiting the pool of workers whose bargaining power is restricted may improve the situation of non-TFWP workers somewhat, if it means that they are less likely to believe the threat of being replaced. But it does nothing to improve the situation for temporary workers.

If there is a need for more low-skilled workers in Alberta, then Alberta should open up temporary and permanent immigration for low-skilled workers. But all workers should be allowed to move between employers, and to bargain wages and working conditions through the union of their choice. The best way to enforce employment standards is by giving workers the power to stand up for themselves.
- Nick Cohen observes that more and more of our political and social culture carries an entry fee which most families can't afford - turning the arts, journalism and politics into domains of privilege rather than public participation. And Paul Krugman laments that a top-down push for austerity is leading much of the developed world back toward stagnation or recession.

- Finally, Mike De Souza reports that the Cons have given up on even the facade of consulting about greenhouse gas emissions for the tar sands - signalling that a change in government is an absolute must if Canada is to become anything other than a climate scofflaw.

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