Language of Austerity (Ben Tre)

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”


The deconstruction of the welfare state is looming with a breathtaking but completely predictable tempo. Speed is everyting. The left had not yet reeled from the post-electoral fuck-up (Janković) and the electoral rout (everyone else on the left), while the civil society is still bemoaning the defeat on the Family Code referendum. Thus the labout unions, what little authority they have left after stabbing Pahor‘s government in the back, are in fact the only ones left (sic!) standing. But for how long? The right wing (correctly) sensed a window of opportunity to reshape this country way beyond anything we’ve ever imagined possible.

Urgency and instability

As pengovsky has shown, “austerity measures” are nothing short of a raid on this country’s assests as well as a showdown between the government of Janez Janša and the labour unions. The PM said as much earlier tonight during a TV interview when he said that his government will not kneel before the unions. He was also – as per usual with him – quick to introduce two key elements: urgency and instability. Janša said that time is of the essence and that cuts in public spending must be made this year, while revenue side of the budget (new and/or higher taxes, mostly) can only come into effect next year. Additionally, rumours are being floated by key SDS people that the government is likely to step down should austerity measures be nixed. With this Janša is threatning a full-blown political crisis only four months into his term. Remember, speed is everything.

Additionally, the minister for ideological apparatus of the state Žiga Turk is telling teachers’ unions that austerity is the only was to go, that they will have to “do more with less” and basically suck it up, regardless of the consequences. Speaking of consequences – only yesterday the minister issued a memo instucting schools and kindergartens to take care of any children which might show up on the day of the strike. Effectively, the minister instructed teachers to work (albeit in a reduced capacity) during the strike. Which isn’t exactly a placating move, if you catch my meaning. Policemen, for example, are required by law to perform their duties even while on strike. Not teachers, policemen. And speaking of cops, the minister for the repressive apparatus of the state (part of it, anyway) Vinko Gorenak just issued a revised set of instructions for police to follow if a state of emergency is declared.

Ben Tre

Do you see the pattern? The PM says we’re out of time and that it’s “my way or the highway”, threatning political crisis. One of his ministers then dictates the terms of the strike to the unions, while the other one slips the phrase “state of emergency” into the media stream. Add to that the fact that the right wing astroturf movements already took aim at abortion and prescription contraceptives while the Catholic Church decried vilefication of private eductaion by the unions, because “private schools are already cheaper for the state from the financial point of view“. You need further proof that this is about privatisation and deconstruction of the welfare state? How’s this for proof: The PM said that “auserity measures are necessary in order to save the welfare state“.

In other words, we have to destory the welfare state in order to save it. Sort of like in ‘Nam

May whatever god they believe in have mercy on their souls…

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Slovenes Reject Menial Work, Pollsters Miss By A Mile

In what appears to be an overwhelming defeat for the government of Borut Pahor, Slovenians today rejected the law on menial work by an 80/20 vote against. The turnout percentage was in the very low thirties, which makes it one of the more attended referendums in recent history (save the Arbitration Agreement referendum). That is in itself a sad fact, but there you go.

Lost. Ministers Katarina Kresal, Aleš Zalar, Ivan Svetlik and PM Borut Pahor (source: RTVSLO)

Politically, this is a slap-in-the-face for PM Pahor and his government that will hurt more than they will be willing to admit. True, the upcoming referendum on the pension reform is much more important and – if rejected – could even cause the government to step down. However, the law on menial work was a key part of labour market reform which will now still see plenty of tax evasion and companies which exploit students full time without guaranteeing them any social security whatsoever.

PM Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik played down the result saying that people apparently are not yet aware of importance of reforms. On the other hands, there are calls for the PM to step down (even over at the wonderful Drugi dom blog, which generally gravitates to the left). Predictably the opposition, spearheaded by SDS of Janez Janša are interpreting the result as a no-confidence vote for the government, even though this time around the opposition just tagged along in what pengovsky still maintains was an unholy alliance of special interest. Anyways, there’s no reason for the government to resign. Elections are a year and a half away and even if the government resigned today, elections could not be held sooner than in autumn this year, not to mention that we’d probably have to go through a period of extended political crisis, since the MPs are about as likely to recall the parliament as they are likely to, say, ratify Slovenia becoming part of Croatia. Point being, that resignation of the government would most likely cause more problems than it would solve. Especially, since the other guys are not even close to being ready to take over. In fact, despite their vocal calls for Pahor to back his bags, the current situation suits them just fine, because they have yet to substantiate their claims of 50+ result in 2012 elections.

This is also yet another defeat for pollsters. Public opinion polls did in fact forecast victory for the no-vote, but no single poll detected a 80/20 distribution. Not one. Sure, it was a beautiful day today and with low turnout the margin of error increases substantially, but how the fuck don’t you detect an electoral freight-train coming in your direction? But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they did detect it but no-one published it, since the law forbade it. Days ago, the Constitutional Court ruled that this particular provision is unconstitutional and in the future we can look forward to last-minute polls on Friday nights :).

The way things stand now, people with ideas don’t have the authority, and people with authority don’t have the ideas. Expect turbulence ahead. We’re in for a bumpy ride…

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Fear and Loathing of Menial Work

This Sunday Slovenia votes on referendum on menial work, courtesy of student organisations backed by the unions. The law, which is primarily aimed at reforming student work in Slovenia had seen some well organised and stiff opposition both from the student organisations and the unions, who were joined by the right-wing parties of the opposition, thus creating an unholy alliance of special interests aimed at shooting down whatever reform attempts this government undertakes. After the law on menial work we’re up for a referendum on pension reform and as of yesterday Janez Janšas SDS and Zmago Jelinčič‘s SNS teamed up on the law against black market labour.

Last year’s violence makes any argument against menial work null and void

But we’ll deal with those in due course. Today we’re three days away from a vote where campaign brought us a shitload of misinformation, fear-mongering and outright lying on the part of those who oppose it and (it needs to be said) a somewhat lacklustre campaign on the part of the government. In case you haven’t done so yet, it is high time for you to pop over to drfilomena’s who put together an awesome post on the issue (Slovene only) and you can see why, despite certain drawbacks, we’d all be better off if the law were indeed enacted.

Going biblical on their asses

Having said that, pengovsky has a couple of axes to grind. First and foremost: if all were good and fair in this world, after what happened on 19 May last year when the anti-menial-work demo went bad, student organisations and everybody who assisted them in that sordid enterprise (unions included) would be hiding under a rock somewhere.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who indulges in senseless violence and destruction has no legitimacy whatsoever to be a part of the public debate. I honestly don’t give a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys if last year’s demonstration just got out of control or whether the three-hour-long rampage was premeditated and planned. Organisers and supporters of that particular rally failed to assume responsibility for the mayhem with people in charge actually fleeing the scene. Without a sincere apology and financial and/or legal consequences, any and all arguments against menial work are null and void. If those who oppose the law cannot face the consequences of their actions, they are in no position to judge actions of others.

But since going biblical on their assess is of little use save venting off some extra steam, let’s look at the reasons for this unholy alliance forming in the first place.

Special interests

As things stand now, student work is in fact unfair competition to regular labour market. Being a student entitles you to work within a very broad framework virtually without limit either in labour hours or monies earned (at some point you get taxed, but the ceiling is set so high no one really worries about that). On the other hand however, student work spiralled out of control and is becoming mainstream, not the “alternative” labour market. Given the near infinite supply of students workforce (which is performing even the most complex and responsible tasks), there is precious little incentive for employers to take on people full-time. Thus students find themselves in a viscous circle where they are actually forced to keep studying (at least formally) for as long as possible, since losing student status also means losing your job and only gets you a one-way ticket to the dole office.

And this is precisely the reason why labour unions are against the new law. Menial work disbands the student-only labour market and brings in pensioners and the unemployed, endangering the status quo that exists in the job market. Not that things are rosy in that department at all, but rather than being proactive, Slovene labour unions chose to defend the current (unsustainable) situation at all costs. And that includes the pension reform. Their goals are short term and so are their actions.

Student organisations, who in theory should have a vested interest in students finding jobs as soon as possible have instead become used to the substantial income from commissions on student work. They take a ten-percent cut out of all earnings students make under the current system. How that money is spent, no one knows, because there is no oversight, neither internal nor external. In fact Student organisation of Slovenia (the student umbrella institution) has so much autonomy that it can rightly be called a state-within-a-state. Obviously, they are keen on keeping the status quo as well.

And the opposition… Well, they follow a brutally simple logic: whatever is bad for this government is good for them, future of the country be damned.

The honest ones

Just about the only honest criticism of the new law goes long the lines that the new law fails to address problems of the existing system and will still enable abuse by some, forcing others to pay for those excesses. This post by Zloba (also in Slovenian) also writes to that effect. Personally, I think this is a flawed logic. Not just because the new law provides for a centralised database of who’s working where and for how long, but also because it imposes (in my opinion) effective limits both on duration and amount of menial labour an employer can engage. Anything above the limit and the employer in question will have to find other alternatives to get the job done, not just rely on cheap student workforce whose social and health insurance is paid for by the taxpayers.

Namely, under the new law people the time on menial work would count towards people’s retirement age and provide them with social and health insurance as well as additional stipend funds, all of which would be taxed off their income. Given the fact that it will no longer be a student-only labour market, this automatically means more funds for those particular ends.

What if…

However, there’s an alternative: if the law on menial work is rejected on Sunday, the government might just as well abolish the student labour market, forcing students to either make it on their allowances and/or stipends or compete in the real job market, working on contracts or as private entrepreneurs with full benefits and taxations thereof. The current situation is unbearable and is in fact working against students’ interests.

Politically, there is a lot riding on this. The few polls that were made on the issue suggest, that the law will be rejected on Sunday. Should this really happen, it will be a substantial blow to the already beleaguered government of Borut Pahor which again got only about 20 % approval rating. The possible rejection of the menial work will not bring down the government, but it will be a bad omen for the upcoming and way more important referendum on pension reform. Should that particular piece of legislation also be rejected, then Slovenia will really find itself in deep shit. In that case pengovsky would not be surprised to see PM Pahor tender his resignation.


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Pension Reform Awaits Landmark Ruling And/Or Referendum

I know this is starting to look a bit like Groundhog Day, but I’m afraid it cannot be helped. As of tomorrow Slovene labour unions led by Dušan Semolič will be collecting 40 000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum on the recently passed pension reform.

Wars are not won in the battlefields but in the temples – Sun Tzu (Constitutional court, source)

So we will have not one but two referendum bids, the other one trying to kill the law on menial work. While both laws are a part of “reform legislation” the pension reform is obviously crucial, which is why the government is doing everything in its power to impede this latest referendum. And with good reason too, as the unions made it abundantly clear that they will draw no punches in this fight. As a result both sides are now tangled into a complicated multi-sided tug-of-war where a whole lot of players who have their own agendas might get sacrificed as pawns in a much larger game called The Relative Stability of Public Finances.

In fact it is quite possible that some sacrifices have already been made. The one thing PM Borut Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik must avoid at all cost is to make the referendum on pension reform a referendum on the current government. Which is precisely what labour unions leaders are aiming to do. Should the succeed, the pension reform would be as good as dead, especially with the government’s popularity points being at an all-time low, barely reaching mid-20s.

So it seems (and I am being cynical here) that plan B, which is being implemented just in case, is to make the people vent as much anger as possible before the referendum on pension reform comes up and possibly make proponents of the referendum look bad for wanting the referendum in the first place. Case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia which PM Pahor basically fore-fitted and left minister of culture Majda Širca to fight her own battle. The same might very well go for the referendum on law on menial work, especially since both referendums will – should the proponents collect the necessary signatures – be probably held only a week apart, with a vote on menial work first and pension reform second, by which time the voters just might have vented enough. Combined with an effective PR onslaught the government might just barely make it.

So, this looks like plan B (if it exists at all, that is). What’s plan A? Not having a referendum in the first place.

Namely, the government has asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the referendum on pension reform is constitutional in the first place. The argument goes along the line of pension reform being necessary if Article 50 of the Constitution (the right to social security). In other words, if the pension reform is nixed on the referendum, then the state cannot fulfil its welfare role any longer, hence an unconstitutional situation would occur. Additionally, the state will also try to argue that the pension reform is a question of state budged, as the law on referendums prevents holding a referendum on several issues, one of them being the budget.

Obviously the unions will claim the above is not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys, despite the fact that they will be told that the government increased the minimum wage when crisis struck for real and that it should be the unions who should compromise this time around.

Can the government pull it off? Unknown. This will be a landmark decision by the Constitutional court. Should it side with the government, this will really take the wind out of unions’ sails and pave the way for a speedy adoption of the rest of the reform package (or whatever is left of it). On the other hand, should the court deny the government and the referendum goes fort, then the government is back to plan B (insofar it even exists) and then hope that people will vote against their instincts and support the pension reform.

And while we’re on the issue, many people – including some whose opinion pengovsky values – think that the reform, such as it was passed is not really a reform. Which is probably true. What we have here is a very watered down version of the original proposal which probably ensures solvency of the pension fund for the next decade or so (that’s two-and-a-half terms) and then the whole thing will start all over again. But maybe combined with everything else, this might give this country just enough of a kick to eschew falling down. Whether this will be enough to break the gravity pull and go for the stars? Well, things and projects are brewing, but they have little to do with welfare state. That’s more of a innovation thing.

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Referendum On The Law On Menial Work: A Case Of Assisted Suicide

As of yesterday the Student organisation of Slovenia is collecting 40 000 signatures needed to hold a referendum on the recently passed Law on Menial Work. Yes, another referendum is looming, the second in as many months and god-knows-which in the entire history of this country. This is the same law that sent students (and pupils) to streets on 19 May last year and produced the final proof that on the whole they are a bunch of irresponsible brats who generally can’t tell their ass-hole from from their ear-hole. Case in point being the said referendum which is a) un-fucking-believable and b) stupid.

Student protests gone sour in May 2010 (source: the Firm™)

Starting with a) I’m amazed at how leaders of the student organisation have the balls to do anything but sit quietly in the corner and do as they’re told. I mean, whatever clout they had with the “grown-up” politics and the general public, they’ve lost it last May as far as I’m concerned. There you have an organisation and its various branches and dependencies with combined yearly budgets of about 16 million euro (no, it’s not a mistake), there’s no real oversight and almost zero consequences in case of any wrongdoing. But then a demo goes bad and rather than trying to contain the situation they split the scene and blame everyone else. So much for responsibility and cojones. And yet, once the dust is settled and miraculously no one is even forced to resign (let alone charged with endangering public safety or something like that) those very same people go for a referendum? What is this? Some kind of a Vaudeville act?

But it does not stop there. Not only is this latest referendum bid (while perfectly legal) very dicey from an ethical point of view. It is also b) one of the more shining examples of shooting oneself in the knee we’ve witnessed in the past year or so. And with that in mind it is little wonder that the student organisation enlisted help of labour unions. Hey, why fuck yourself when you can get ass-rammed by others and be treated to a dirty sanchez.

Namely: The law on menial work (malo delo, link in Slovene only) will largely overhaul student work in Slovenia which has in recent years become more or less the only form of employing young people, especially in the private sector. The problem, which soon became common to tens of thousands of young people was, that despite having worked more or less full time for years on end, this did not officially count as experience, nor did it add towards their retirement age. Since the state paid for student’s social security, the pension fund was none better off and therefore student officially had zero years of working experience. And since most companies required at lest a couple of years’ experience even for entry-level jobs, you can see where this leads to: one big vicious circle, where young people can’t get a job, as a result can’t get regular income, as a result of that they can’t get a loan with the bank and are thus unable to gain any firm footing of their own, creating the unhealthy environment of ever longer stays at mama-hotels.

That labour unions are assisting the student organisation in their self-destructive enterprise is a deviously Machiavellian act which is aimed at maintaining the status quo, i.e.: keeping the students at bay, obstructing their entry into the real labour market as much as possible. In other words – while the student organisation is committing suicide on the students’ behalf, the labour unions are happily assisting. Though it may seem otherwise, students have no representative in this is debate. The only one who possibly cares for their interest is the government with this law, but one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of random act of human kindness. The law is a necessary element of shaking up the labour market and benefits it brings to the students are only a side-product of a larger enterprise.

What we have here is a situation where labour unions have long stopped representing “class interest” and are now only representatives of an ever-thinning group of people who want to retire as soon as possible, not caring about successive generations. Student organisations are also keen on keeping the status quo, primarily to maintain a cosy source of financing via “student agencies”, employment agencies dedicated exclusively to students, where they took a cut from every student’s income for “providing him/her with work”. If anyone is creating added value in this country, it is the high-skilled low-wage workforce (mostly students) but they are cannot expect any mid- or long-term rewards, thus only exasperating the problem of ever worse social security. But no one is speaking on their behalf, although everyone pretends to.

This is not an ideal law. Should it be enacted, the students will face increased job competition, because the unemployed and pensioners will compete for jobs previously held exclusively by students. However, the upside is that now the time spent working will count towards everyone’s pensions and work experience, students included. Furthermore, there will be no need to artificially extend student status (as was the accepted practice for the last twenty years) in order to be able to get work through “student agencies”, thus possibly radically reducing the amount of time people spend at the university. Right now it takes people seven-to-eight years on average to graduate in what is usually a four-to-five-year course.

So in general, students will be better of in mid- and long-term while they will quite probably be able to compensate short-term drawbacks by being better educated and more flexible than the competition of unemployed 45-year-olds or retired 65-year-olds, not to mention the fact that students probably wouldn’t touch the old farts’ jobs with a ten-foot pole in the first place.

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