A prominent member of Australia's upper class, Richard Pratt, is dead. The media are referring to him as the "second-richest" man in Australia, he was actually the third-richest* according to Who Gets What: Analysing Economic Inequality in Australia, by Frank Stilwill and Kirrily Jordan, but let's not get hung up on the details...
So, in summary: Huge media story. Plenty of comments about his "philanthropy", how he struggled up from nothing; little mention of his actual business practises, aside from his involvement in a price-fixing scandal. Isn't it useful to have a whole country's media essentially run by your mates?
Pratt ran Visy.
Visy is known for taking advantage of the WorkChoices laws to sack an injured worker.
In 2001 they became known for running a plant that was apparently rife with safety hazards, after a worker was killed by electrocution. (Nobody suggested that this anonymous dude get the Order of Australia, in case you were wondering. I know, it seems that they're using some other criteria, aside from "being dead". Go Figure!) By the way, April 28th is apparently the International Day of Mourning for workers killed on-site, according to Slack Bastard. Pratt chose a convenient time to f**k off.
In 1999 Pratt's company reputedly flew scabs in over a picket line using helicopters. During that dispute, they sacked workers who participated in union activity. (Those evil unionists! How dare they assert some form of control over their own workplaces and conditions!) They paid poor wages to people who relied on those wages as full-time employment, they ran dodgy shifts (up to 13 hours "straight" counted as one shift according to one employee), and worked to erode employees conditions.
And Richard Pratt died a multi-billionaire.
Hilariously, one of Pratts underlings, John Murphy, has called for a minutes silence from the workers that Pratt lorded over. Just to make sure everyone gets the joke, Murphy's memo apparently reads: "In keeping with what Richard would most surely want, please ensure that production continues unabated during this time." Comedy gold!
Another member of our ruling class, worthless** thug Lindsay Fox (a dickhead in his own right), referred to the ACCC (a consumer watchdog organisation) chief as "betraying" Pratt by daring to investigate him for illegal price-fixing. One wonders what sort of "betrayal" he means. Class betrayal, perhaps? Looks like Fox is making sure that the well-to-do know where they ought to put their allegiance. Not that they seem to need much reminding, as indicated by the glowing media reports, filed by news editors already lining up to suckle on Pratt's cold dead toes.
If you're still wondering why i'm so disgusted by such a darling philanthropist, allow me one last paragraph. Like most business leaders, Richard Pratt skimmed his billions from the wealth generated by the people working under him, at the same time as working against their interests and denying them the basic right to control the places where they worked. And, like many business leaders, he then laundered small portions of that wealth through charity to lessen the insult. He willingly and knowingly impoverished (physically and metaphorically) the lives of other human beings, because he wanted something from them (their work). Putting some of the ill-gotten wealth to charity doesn't make that okay. I'm sure some philanthropists really believe they're doing the right thing - maybe not Pratt, but some, somewhere; i'm also sure that what they accomplish is bullshit compared to what could be accomplished with a fairer tax system and a government that spent on social welfare; or with a fairer distribution of profits to begin with, or with a fairer economic system based on co-operatives/communes/democratized workplaces/unionized workplaces/whatever you want to call them. Philanthropy is but a sad apology for the relative absence of these sorts of things from our society.
*Journalists find it difficult to get these statistics correct because one of the people who owns them happens to be the richest: Rupert Murdoch, the man who left the country to get American citizenship, to take advantage of our dodgy (lack of) media ownership laws. I think Murdoch still ought to go on the list, because he takes money produced by Australians - just because he funnels our money out of Australia doesn't mean he's somehow no longer the richest leech in our system.
**Of course, i mean "worthless" in moral, not monetary, terms. The two often seem to be inversely correlated.
Various sources/further reading:
1) AAP article - the standard media cut-and-paste report that you probably read six or seven times before lunch today: http://www.tweednews.com.au/story/2009/04/29/tributes-flow-in-for-richard-pratt/
2) A July 1999 "world socialist website" article on some of the industrial disputes involving Visy: http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/jul1999/visy-j20.shtml
3) "Socialist Party" obituary: http://www.socialistpartyaustralia.org/archives/1803
4) "Minutes silence" cut-and-paste AAP story can be seen at http://www.thewest.com.au/aapstory.aspx?StoryName=569190
5) Who Gets What: Analysing Economic Inequality In Australia - ISBN is 978-0-52170-032-0 Australian Online Bookshop link