[Update (September 1, 2020) : BadEmpanada has published a vid (August 30) titled ‘Why Friendlyjordies and Labor Are Attacking the AUWU’; Hamish Taylor has published an extract from a Friendly vid in which Jordan downplays an alleged sexual assault by former NSW Labor leader Luke Foley.]
Look, I wasn’t gonna, but …
tl;dr : After a skirmish on Twitter, YouTube personality Jordan Shanks (AKA Friendly Jordies) has recently denounced the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) as, inter alia:
a merry little band of self-hating pale-as-axolotl toffs LARPing-as-Che-Guevara for the avocado-and-toast generation.
More specifically, a few weeks ago (August 16), journalist/ex-Buzzfeed hack Cameron Wilson tweeted about the appearance of Bill Shorten on ABC’s ‘Insiders’: Former Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten calling Prime Minister Scott Morrison a simp lmao.
To which Jordan replied: [email protected] called @ScottMorrisonMP a simp… and pissed off gross ex buzzfeed hacks whilst doing it. He would make a great PM… oh yeah and he designed the NDIS.
So far, so Twitter.
(Note: Jordan is not. a. fan. of Buzzfeed.)
Over the course of the next day or two, Things Escalated, with Jordan’s hostility to various other meeja sheeted home to a supposed rejection by SBS — a claim Jordan denies. In any event, Jordan offered some further thoughts on the AUWU in a podcast (August 23), and finally promised to fully expose the union in a subsequent video.
In terms of the podcast, Jordan claimed that inter alia he’d privately conferred with Bill Shorten staffers about the AUWU, reckoned that the AUWU has pushed out good comrades from the union movement and claimed that leading AUWU members enjoy many privileges, come from wealth, and enjoy a wealthy and well-fed lifestyle as a result of their involvement in the group.
In his subsequent ‘Apology’ on YouTube (August 28), Jordan elaborates on why the AUWU is bAd, corrupt, not-a-union, and best abandoned by its membership. Below is an account of the main allegations he makes in the video. Note that some details (available in the original video) have been omitted, the reasons for which should become clearer upon reading.
To begin with, Jordan highlights the fact that — despite having supported the AUWU by MCing and speaking at several of their events in 2016 — Van Badham was subsequently denounced on Twitter by Thomas Studans, the NSW co-ordinator for the AUWU. So too Emma Dawson, who co-authored a submission to a Senate inquiry into employment services by the AUWU and her organisation Per Capita in 2018 (see : ‘Working It Out: Employment Services in Australia’, AUWU & Per Capita, September 2018).
Secondly, Jordan makes claims based on grievances aired by a former President of the AUWU, Hayden Patterson. The other person named in his video, Imogen Bunting, was allegedly expelled in order to prevent her from regaining office as the secretary of the Brisbane branch of the AUWU.
Thirdly, Jordan contrasts the claim by the AUWU that it has thousands of members with the fact that as an incorporated association it claims just 42. Further, as the union is not affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), it cannot be considered a ‘real’ union. Finally, Jordan reckons that the fact that the last annual report — showing that the AUWU had a budget surplus of approximately $30,000 — is evidence of hypocrisy and moral corruption on the part of the group: a ‘union’ that had real concern for starving workers simply wouldn’t have such a massive surplus. For this reason, he describes AUWU member Jeremy Poxon as ‘a monumentally hypocritical piece of shit’ given his authorship of an article in Junkee in May 2019 titled ‘What Good Are Billions Of Surplus Dollars When People Are Starving?’.
(Note: Jordan is not. a. fan. of Junkee.)
After some further unkind commentary, Jordan draws attention to a number of other tweets by Studans, including one in which, in response to comments about an increase in applications for bridging visas (“Why has the minister allowed for the large blowout in bridging visas and airplane people under his watch?” Senator Keneally asked in the Senate on Tuesday), he accuses Kristina Keneally of being a ‘dog-whistling racist piece of sh*t loser’. In some other tweets, Studans uses the term ‘n*gga’ (seemingly in reference to various hip-hop lyrics).
Fourthly, Jordan cites an un-named person who alleges that the AUWU leadership made a number of serious and unfounded allegations against her, such that, inter alia, her job was put at risk. Further, more recently, Thomas (or ‘the AUWU leadership’ in Jordan’s terms) accused another Twitter user of being a ‘pedo’. Jordan also accuses the AUWU of doing the same thing to him on one of his (other) social media platforms.
Next, Jordan provides an account of the AUWU helpline and its apparent failings. Thus Jordan claims that Hayden stated to him that the first call he received when operating the helpline was from a woman in severe distress. According to Jordan, Hayden then attempted to have the helpline shut down, but was over-ruled. Subsequently, many calls went un-answered, generating a months-long backlog, and contributing to a tragic outcome for one caller. Note that, according to the AUWU’s 2018–2019 annual report:
[In April 2019, there] was a backlog of callbacks and emails dating back to September 2018. Thanks to the enormous efforts of both Tracey and Owen Bennett (among other advocacy volunteers), every single email, form, or voicemail was followed up on and apologies were ensured. From then on, the new Advocacy Working Group team (Tracey, Gene Saraci as Online Advocacy Coordinator, and other advocates) have ushered in a new era for AUWU advocacy services and have done so with a degree of professionalism and energy that any AUWU member would be proud of.
Jordan further claims that he received many accounts of bad behaviour by the AUWU from anonymous sources too scared to go public, their anonymity ensuring that they can avoid the prospect of (another) campaign of ‘savage and targeted harassment’ by the AUWU leadership. According to Jordan, this ‘destructive abuse’ has, in fact, ‘been orchestrated by Alex North, Jeremy Poxon, Owen Bennett and Thomas Studans’.
The main target of Jordan’s apology is Thomas Studans, who according to Jordan has unfairly attacked and smeared a number of people on Twitter. Two sources are named: Imogen Bunting and Hayden Patterson; other sources remain anonymous. The AUWU is not a union, but rather a corrupt, un-democratic gang responsible for seriously harming others.
The AUWU gang has yet to formally respond to Mr Friendly.
A little history …
These guys are the union for the unemployed. Who are they demanding rights from?
Leaving aside the more specific allegations about the AUWU made by Jordan, it’s worth asking: what’s a union?
The single most important criteria, according to Jordan, is whether or not a group is affiliated to the ACTU. All appearances to the contrary, the Retail And Fast Food Workers’ Union (RAFFWU) is therefore not a union. Rather, like the AUWU, it’s a ‘corporation’. Nonetheless, the RAFFWU has been dubbed a ‘rogue’ union by Clayton Utz, which notes with concern the possible emergence of similar organisations, ones which might challenge ‘traditional unions’ (in this context the SDA). In any case, the licensing of unions by the state can be a powerful weapon against worker organising and industrial militancy, including by Labor governments: the de-registration of the Builders Labourers’ Federation in 1986 and that of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) in 1989 being recent examples.
Of course, a more expansive definition of ‘union’ would obviously include not only bodies not affiliated to the ACTU, but also those not formed on the basis of a particular trade or industry. The Union of Australian Women, for example, describes itself as follows:
We are workers, wives, care givers, mothers, cleaners, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs and much more. We do the vast majority of unpaid work. We are particularly badly affected by health, education, social security, aged care and housing cuts. We are badly impacted by the industrial changes. We are being attacked by State and Federal governments.
In the same camp could be placed squatters’ and tenants unions, and a range of other economic, political and social organisations.
Writing about political agitation by unemployed workers, Philip Mendes (‘From Protest to Acquiescence: Political Movements of the Unemployed’, Social Alternatives, Vol.18, No.4, October 1999) notes:
Regardless of the varied definitions and levels of success or failure, unemployed movements faced severe obstacles such as:
1) The indifference of much of the trade union movement. Dominated by laborist views which emphasize the wages and working conditions of wage and salary earners rather than a broader redistribution of income that alters the basic structural inequities between rich and poor, Australian unions have historically displayed little interest in the protection of those outside the workforce. During the depression, the union movement, whilst expressing sympathy for the unemployed, with some exceptions, generally made little attempt to organize the unemployed or to lobby on their behalf for adequate unemployment relief. As noted by historian, L.J.Louis, unemployed workers quickly became isolated from the mainstream union movement. Union ambivalence or outright hostility also tended to be the case elsewhere.
2) The psychological impact of unemployment which left many individual workers isolated and demoralized.
3) The inability of the politically powerless unemployed to initiate economic sanctions such as strikes to win their demands.
4) Political violence and political repression.
Broadly speaking, in 2020 indifference (1) remains the position of the trade union movement in Australia, leavened by occasional expressions of sympathy and support. By the same token, even as union membership has plummeted over the last few decades, and industrial militancy has all but vanished, a more expansive definition of the purposes of trade unions — sometimes dubbed ‘social unionism’ in the Anglophone worlde — is also largely absent. Leaving aside the brief heyday of the Wobblies and some Communist-controlled unions, in the post-WWII era those unions which have adopted a progressive agenda and attempted to intervene in broader social issues have generally been the more radical, with the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation of the 1960s and ’70s probably being the best and most recent example. Changing such attitudes, policies and perspectives is no easy thing, but unions of the unemployed can at least support their members, and by doing so mitigate the negative psychological impact (2) capital imposes upon this segment of the labour market in particular. Strike action (3) too, is possible, but is likely to succeed only with broader public support. As for political violence and repression (4), that’s surplus to requirements at present, and assumes far more subtle forms than it did in, say, the 1920s and ’30s.
See also : Don’t join, Organise: On the limits of employment law, Freedom, May 11, 2020 | Ross Martin, Trade Unionism: Purposes and Forms, Oxford University Press, 1989 | The Labour Movement: My Part in its Downfall, Tim Lyons, Meanjin, Spring 2016 | Jobactive virus kickbacks top $500 million, Rick Morton, The Saturday Paper, August 29, 2020.
So, someone responded to my posting a link to this piece on Twitter by directing me to them saying (Cutting out hashtags and such): “AUWU’s blood money sponsor Panthera is run by Nick Greiner former Liberal Premier, made $10 million from Robodebt to illegally squeeze $1.7 billion from unemployed, paid AUWU $20,000 to shut up and even got sacked by NAB for being too rough with collections”…
In May of this year the AUWU received a donation from Reveille Strategy, who established a gofundme for that purpose.
Among those who donated was the Panthera Foundation, ‘established in late 2018 by the Founding Directors of Panthera Finance Group, Mathew and Jamie Hough.’ Panthera Finance is a Brisbane-based debt collector/’Australia’s leading debt purchase and debt collection company’. According to Crikey (November 2019):
The donation by Reveille came with no-strings attached.
Why would… I don’t get it.
Thanks Andy, this is helpful. Especially useful is the bit about the definition of the word ‘union’. There have been some facile tweets arguing that a body like the AUWU cannot be a union, because e.g. there’s no employer to represent its workers to, it has no workers to represent, etc. These are just stupid word games that are more usually favoured by the dills of the right wing. You’ve provided lots of examples of groups of people coming together to advocate for the benefit and rights of their members. You could call them ‘unions’ or ‘advocacy groups’, whatever.
On the indifference of unions to the unemployed: unions will be happy to keep taking your dues if you are not employed, but advocating for unemployed members will be a low priority. Unions are also not great at advocating for casual, part-time and fixed-term employees. I saw an ugly example when a branch meeting of one of the higher education unions of the time voted overwhelmingly to pursue pay increases for full-time permanent staff at the likely detriment to casuals and fixed-term staff. I’ll still keep joining unions, but they’re going to keep losing members if they don’t start taking better care of casuals, part-timers, and fixed-termers.
Some of FJ’s criticisms are cherry-picking to assemble a scattergun attack on the AUWU, which is the FriendlyJordies style. The complaint about the 30K holding is trivial, it’s not wrong for a non-profit to hold some money for operating and contingencies. It would be best if the AUWU’s trollishness stopped, but it seems to me to be a good idea to have a group to advocate for the unemployed, especially when the normal labour unions won’t. If they do have ugly internal politics, that’s a real concern and they need to fix that.
The other thing in Jordies’s ‘Apology’ is his repeated lionisation of Bill Shorten for instigating taking RoboDebt to court in a class action. This lionisation has been floating around on the web being pushed by ALP cheerleaders like Dee Madigan. Firstly, this totally steals the credit of the real heroes here, Deanna Amato and Vic Legal Aid, who won in court against Centrelink and finally made a class action look winnable to Slater and Gordon. Note that in 2017 S&G declined to work on a class action. Secondly, while those of us in the grass-roots movement who fought against RoboDebt in all the years since 2016 welcome Bill Shorten’s involvement in 2019, he didn’t do much about it before the Amato case. The best voices in parliament were Rachel Sievert, Murray Watt and Linda Burney. They deserve more credit for keeping the pressure on RoboDebt than Shorten.
Unions have a number of definitions: Webster’s dictionary defines ‘excellence’ as the quality or condition of being excellent; a ‘union’ as something formed by a combining or coalition of parts or members, and a ‘labor union’ as an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.
But a dictionary is only the beginning of wisdom, not its end.
In this context, I think the denial of ‘union’ status has more to do with the idea that granting the AUWU this status confers upon it legitimacy, ie, if it is indeed a union, then for all intents and purposes it should be accorded the same status as the AMIEU, the AEU, the AWU, and so on. From a labourist perspective, and leaving aside the fact that, even if it wanted to, there are legal and procedural obstacles to the AUWU joining the ACTU as an affiliate, this makes a certain amount of sense. But I’m not a labourist, and the ACTU is not my guiding light when it comes to unions, the labour movement, or the class struggle, so this perspective is not one I share. To me, what’s more important is the role of organisations and communities of workers in bringing about radical social change. In this respect, I think the words of Solidarity are germane:
That said, as some of the links suggest, there’s a long history of unemployed workers organising in Australia, including by way of ‘unions’, and whether or not the state, or employers, or the trade union movement, deem these as being legitimate or not is in my view secondary to their actual activity and effect. Finally, I’d suggest that the embrace or rejection of unemployed workers as constituting a legitimate base for political struggle depends to a greater or lesser degree upon the adoption of a more holistic approach to such questions, and the ways in which employment status constrains the ability to recognise the jobless as significant political actors. Also, that feminist struggles for recognition of the unwaged is germane (see, for example, Wages for Housework and similar campaigns).
I agree that ‘unions are also not great at advocating for casual, part-time and fixed-term employees’, but I also think there’s good reasons for that beyond, say, bloody-mindedness or ‘bad politics’, and these can best be understood by examining the political economy of unions and the union movement. Workers with stable employment and incomes are ideal candidates for union membership. Unions don’t run on sentiment but, like most everything else, money. They’re also enmeshed in an elaborate legal system which requires technical specialists, typically lawyers, to successfully navigate. These also cost money …
I mean, I could go on, but I take a lotta stuff as read, and there’s already a very large body of literature on unions and the labour movement in Australia, in which these and many other related matters are canvassed, so anybody who’s interested would be advised to read it. Oh and I haven’t even bothered to engage with the left critique of unions as such!
Later and more.
I assume that the AUWU is flawed, has made mistakes, and could improve. But I don’t know of any organisation of which that could not be said. I think the more relevant question is: is the AUWU so flawed it should be abandoned? On that point, I don’t find FJ convincing. The thing about the 30K is a bit daft in my opinion. To begin with, if you inspect the annual returns of, say, unions, you’ll find that they too sometimes run surpluses or, on occasion, debts/shortages. So what? If that surplus was then spent on, I dunno, cocaine, yeah, it’d be a problem. As it stands, it’s neither here nor there. And I’d dissect his comparison to the federal budget but I think it’s too obviously flawed to bother.
Finally, re Bill ‘RoboDebt’ Shorten: if, as is the case, he helped to bring about a legal action which may have temporarily stalled the program, and forced Centrelink to refund the money it unlawfully stole from recipients, that’s to his credit. But yes, the legal action was preceded by a grassroots campaign involving many others, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be acknowledged, or used as an opportunity to denigrate the AUWU.
Great article – Linked to you from here – https://dingo.news/voice/2020/09/19/labor-sic-their-pet-attack-dog-jordan-shanks-friendlyjordies-onto-the-unruly-auwu-untermenschen/
anyone who speaks up on the rotten corruption that is taking place with these useless so called job service providers which is the AUWU is okay by my books and my opinion for this friendly jordies obviously some rich politicians child or nephew neck deep in political opinions not a care in the world so obvious