A quick and clean exit

I was off social media for much of yesterday avoiding spoilers for the Royal Rumble (WORTH IT) and missed this rather, um, celebratory article at NBR about Wellington restaurant Five Boroughs’ “quick and clean” liquidation:

Popular Wellington diner Five Boroughs has moved across town into smaller premises after the company was put into voluntary liquidation, which the owners say give it greater opportunity to chase more profitable business.

[The company] owes $32,400 to employees in holiday pay, $27,000 to unsecured trade creditors, and about $360,000 to Inland Revenue, though that number is yet to be confirmed.

One of Five Boroughs’ owners has made an open statement on Facebook challenging some of the article, but it’s hard to argue with quotes like

“We could see ourselves on this slippery slope where we were basically just becoming a hamburger restaurant, and neither Elie nor myself really wanted that. It was sensible for us to move to a smaller site, where we could really get a handle on the product and the quality … We decided we’d get a handle on everything now and do it on our own terms.”

Other reports (from people claiming to be staff) indicate that the timing was deliberate – workers were given 4, 9, 11 or 13 days’ notice that their jobs were ended – and in my experience, employers sometimes schedule redundancy announcements around or before Christmas to avoid extra holiday costs (usually because they don’t understand how holiday pay works).

The fact that Five Boroughs’ owners owed $32,000 in holiday pay tells us the staff were employed on a casual basis, instead of permanent; which is common in the hospitality industry and generally exploitative [I’ve been corrected on this point; it’s also possible staff are owed accrued leave as permanent employees]. Sure, there’s sometimes a genuine need for casual or on call work, but knowing what the basic requirements of your operation are is business competence 101 – and you can, and should, hire permanent, decent-fixed-hours staff accordingly.

This is horrific for the people who have been essentially turned into disposable assets by their employers, and it highlights the wider issue of how fucking terrible New Zealand business owners and managers are.

We’re persistently fed this myth by rightwing politicians and lobbyists: the market knows best, businesses are more efficient than the public service, the profit motive encourages good, clean, efficient, smart behaviour.

Yet again and again we see businesses which are only able to be “successful” by shafting ordinary workers. By relying on poverty wages or tax loopholes to make the books look good. By making short-term cuts and bailing before the long-term effects are realised. By literally putting themselves out of business to make a quick cut-and-run to a more central, “slicker” venue.

There are good businesses out there. There are Living Wage employers, bosses who understand the benefits of having collective agreements, companies which see the huge advantages of engaging constructively with the people who make their operation successful.

I want to see other business owners get angry about this story. Tell us that this isn’t how you run things. Show that you’re not just exploiting loopholes and grinding people’s faces into the mud for a bottom line. Because we have too many examples to the contrary, and your self-appointed spokespeople like National, ACT, the New Zealand Initiative and NBR telling the world it’s just hunky-dory.

We cannot accept a situation where ordinary people – the people who did the work every day of preparing food, serving customers, cleaning tables – are left in the lurch, and it’s hailed as savvy business practice. We cannot accept the “wisdom” of a market which relies on bullshit and crossed fingers to make all the numbers line up on a spreadsheet and call it “growth”.

Success is when you make a contribution to your community, when you nurture and protect the people around you, when you create something good for the benefit of everyone.

This isn’t success. It’s greed. And greed is poison.

Taxes, greed and David Seymour

Fleshing out one of my recent Twitter rants, kicked off by this tragic bit of capitalist propaganda from the “leader” of the ACT “Party”:

Here’s the thing about taxes. Taxes are schools. Taxes are hospitals. Taxes are protecting our natural environment and biosecurity at our borders. Taxes support small business. Taxes support tourism. Taxes pay for the inspectors who keep our food safe and protect our export industries.

Taxes do all the important things “the market” won’t do because there’s no profit in it.

Parties like ACT exist to funnel money away from those important things via tax cuts, privatisation, and diverting public money to funding private organisations like charter schools.

That’s why they want you to think of tax as a burden, not the contribution we all make to keeping our society healthy and just. They want to pretend that “taxes” and “public services” aren’t one and the same thing. That’s why we have to change the frame on taxes. Not as a burden we need relief from, and not as the price that we begrudgingly pay for social stability and decent public services. Taxes are the way we all chip in to take care of the basics. Taxes are how we all share in building a stronger, happier, healthier, fairer country.

I’m a “net taxpayer”. And I love paying taxes.


And here’s the thing about the way David Seymour and the right glorify “net taxpayers”: it’s the clearest demonstration you need that what they truly value, in their hearts, is greed. They represent, and promote the interests of, people who already have plenty – have more than enough to live good lives – and who resent the contribution they have to make to society (because, as I had to explain to a “taxation is theft!!!” troll, we have democracy. We elect governments to pass laws, and you don’t get to opt out of them just because you’re selfish and narrow-minded.)

But this simply isn’t how the vast majority of human beings work. Look at the way lower/middle-income people give higher proportions of their income to charities, or give up their time to help local organisations. Look at the cultural importance we place on welcoming people, on hospitality, on caring for those who are more vulnerable. It’s not a bland calculation of disbursing surplus resources to guarantee returns. Many people who give their time and money to charity are struggling themselves, but are driven by wanting to support and care for others in even worse positions.

In contrast, politicians like David Seymour (who really has no grounds to complain about “net taxpayers” given where his pay comes from) belong to a bizarre fringe group who treat all human interactions as a cut-throat business negotiation: “what am I getting out of this? Where is the return on investment for this small talk?” This is not normal.

He must be great fun on dates.

People like Seymour don’t understand what a community is, so they refuse to see the benefits we all reap from supporting each other. They look at it like: I don’t have kids. Why should my taxpayer dollars go towards schools?

Because a well-educated population is happier and healthier and more stable and less likely to fall into goddamned fascism, that’s why.

That’s what betrays them as defenders of greed. It’s not ~enlightened self-interest~ or whatever marketing slogan they’re using these days. A strong civil society is in everyone’s self-interest! Whatever “extra” or “net” tax I pay is being returned to me in the ability to turn on my tap and drink clean water, or have proper roads for the bus to drive on to get me to work in the morning, or know that the food I buy for lunch is safe to eat.

It’s no surprise a lot of people buy into the idea that ~greed is good~ – that’s what decades of capitalist/neoliberal propaganda will do to you. But if there is a “natural state” of humanity, it is not the cold, jealous, suspicious attitude which the David Seymours of the world hold up as an ideal.

The right know this. That’s one of the reasons the ACT Party is still alive, aside from allowing National to distort the rightwing vote share in Parliament to hold on to power. ACT provide an excuse to National to bring in policies of greed like charter schools or letting property developers build slums on conservation land (just not in Epsom, because #epsomvalues). National knows it has to pretend to be friendly and relaxed and “just like Labour, only with a few tax cuts!”, because not even 1% of people vote for greed when it’s marketed honestly.

Tax is awesome. Greed is ugly. Let’s make that the conversation for 2017.