The art of protest, and protesting against art

Harold Thornton writes: Re. “Saville’s Shout: Balmain preselection … Biennale boycott stupidity …” (yesterday). Margot Saville denounces the artists’ boycott of Transfield at the Sydney Biennale.  According to Saville, “boycotts are worth doing only if it is possible to achieve a desired result”.

The reality, by contrast, is that it becomes possible to achieve the desired result only when boycotts become widespread. Each act of boycott is individually impotent; together a mass boycott movement can shift mountains.  Perhaps Saville is channelling the tormented ghost of the late Baroness Thatcher, who for years derided boycotts and sanctions targeting apartheid South Africa as useless and wasteful.  Except of course in the end they actually worked.

The long-suffering artists can’t ever win with critics like Saville — lampooned as juvenile if they do something, derided as hypocrites if they do not.

Last, Saville’s comment about how bus drivers, unlike artists, provide an essential service is misguided. Whenever the experiment has been run — in prisons, ghettos and internment camps all over the world — it turns out the arts keep starving and abused people alive. They can easily live without buses and snide, cynical journalists.

Richard Middelton writes: “.. in which artist He Yunchang experiences a doctor cutting into his flesh without anaesthetic .. ”

To Idiocy: A Poem

I am still amazed.
In no universe is this art.
Any taxpayer disagree?

Can I get a grant now?
I can also do it without anaesthetic.

Asking interns to pay to work for free

Colleen Chen, deputy director of Interns Australia, writes: Re. “Asking interns to pay for the privilege: charitable offer, or a bit rich?” (yesterday). I’m not surprised by the recent auction of work placement opportunities at Reuters. At Interns Australia, we hear stories every day, such as the UN internship that went on for auction at $22,000 last year in the United States. Furthermore, it’s unclear if these internships are breaching the Fair Work Ombudsman’s guidelines on unpaid work. Clearly more needs to be done to define and legislate how internships are used. Not only is it morally questionable to limit access to valuable learning experiences to student with greater financial means, it is also pretty bad to demand money from students in return for labour rendered by themselves.

Equal pay for equal value

Barbara Preston writes: Re. “Get Fact: do men make much more than women for the same job?” (Friday). It would help if Crikey reporters understood their topic (and I am not here defending the statement of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.)

It is not news that women doing identical work as men generally earn much the same (though often  a little less) until careers progress and families are formed, etc.

It is not “equal pay for the same work”, but “equal pay for work of equal value” that has been the complex but accepted principle that has been addressed in formal industrial relations arenas since 1969 and the commencements of what became the “Equal Pay case 1972” of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The principle has been returned to from time to time since, most recently by  the Fair Work Commission in its 2012 decision regarding the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Industry Award.

For Crikey to blame women for “choosing lower-paid careers” is an odd way to put it. Rather, the issue is why are those careers/occupations lower-paid? Why do engineers get paid so much more than those “employed in caring roles” that require equivalent levels of formal education, personal attributes and commitment? Why should a highly skilled and effective carer and manager of people be paid less than someone who does the same for the inanimate — or the nonhuman animal? Perhaps it is because work that is associated with women is paid less than work that is associated with men.  Maybe that just seems natural to Crikey … Like the classic from the long standing (but now revised) US Dictionary of Occupational Titles (thanks to Carol O’Donnell, in The Basis of the Bargain):

“Classified as the lowest skilled of all the thousands of listed jobs: ‘Foster mother: Rears children in own home as members of family. Overseas activities, regulating diet, recreation, rest periods and sleeping time. Instructs children in good personal and health habits …. Takes disciplinary action when children misbehave … May prepare periodic reports concerning progress and behaviour of children for welfare agency’.”

At a more skilled classification, and thus more highly paid and highly regarded:

“Horse pusher: Feeds, waters and otherwise tends horses en route by train.”

Things might be a little more subtle now, but from the Fair Work Commission case and its aftermath we know there is a long way to go.