Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More fun and games with propaganda

OK, the previous post on this wasn't the last one after all. The activities of DPF, Whaleoil and Cactus Kate in running propaganda for the employer in the Port of Auckland dispute makes an interesting study and is worth posting about.

Their efforts have concentrated on promoting PoA's figure of $91,000 as the average "remuneration" for MUNZ members. It's a potentially risky line to take, as the amount the wharfies earn is completely irrelevant to the dispute and it invites comparison with the ridiculously inflated sums issued to the directors and CEO, but it serves two propaganda purposes that are very useful to the employer: it assists with forming a public impression of the workers involved as being overpaid and therefore greedy; and it assists with forming a public impression that the dispute is about money rather than casualisation of the workforce.

The figure itself is one I described in an earlier post as part of a list of "artful deceptions." It's worth having a look at how it's a deception and how that deception serves a propaganda purpose. NB: "deception" for propaganda purposes is not necessarily the same thing as "lie." To a great extent, propaganda is about carefully presenting factually correct information in such a way as to lead people to form opinions based on false assumptions. We're talking here about that kind of "deception."

The first thing to note is that the figure is an average, not a median. Anne Tolley used this scam quite effectively for propaganda purposes as well, with the claim that the average teacher earns $71,000. Here's the scam: most people are used to thinking of averages in terms of a normal distribution, a bell curve - ie about half the set will be below average and half above average. However, averages are easily skewed by a few outliers. For example, if you have a group of five workers, four of whom are on $50,000 a year and one on $100,000, the average income is $60,000 - however, most of the group earn well below the average. The median of $50,000 would be a more useful figure, but using the average makes the workers sound better paid than they actually are, hence PoAL issuing an average figure.

The next deception is issuing a figure for "remuneration," rather than wages. Most people are used to thinking of their income in terms of their wages or salary rather than "total remuneration." Many of us benefit from employer superannuation contributions, subsidised medical insurance etc but don't take it into account when we think about what our wage or salary is. The scam here is that people will assume the figure of $91,000 reflects wharfies' wages and falsely compare it to their own wage or salary.

The last one is including overtime payments in the calculation. Again, most people think of their income in terms of their base wages or salary, with overtime being extra, so the scam is to include the average overtime paid in the figure of $91,000 and most people will falsely compare it to their own base rate or salary.

It's a simple trick. The employers' volunteer propagandists promote the figure of $91,000 as a typical MUNZ member's income. You look at the figure, assume it represents the median base wage for those employees because that's how you're used to thinking about your own income, and conclude that those guys are paid way more than you are so must be very greedy if they're going on strike for more money (which is another artful deception, but that's for another post). Working out that it's a deception requires applying some thought to it, which means the scam is a fairly safe one to run.


Anonymous said...

Oh man I have a sore head from bashing it against the wall after reading that.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Milt, you're farting against thunder again.

I'll have you know that ALL the things you try to palm off as NOT income are in fact insurable income.

Employer super contribution
Employer medical contribution

It's all dollars no matter how much a desperate lefty might try to spin it.

The MUNSTERS union is doing a grand job of cementing in a John Key victory in 2014.

Psycho Milt said...

If I'd said it wasn't income, you'd have a point.

James Stephenson said...

I wish to fuck people would stop using 'average' as a synonym for 'arithmetic mean', it isn't.

Mean, median and mode are all methods of averaging.

/pedantic whinge.

Andrei said...

What amuses me is that the critics would see nothing wrong in themselves negotiating to maximize their income or return for what they do.

But decry it when others not of their class do it.

That being said the warfies have shot themselves in the foot - they may have negotiated themselves out of a job C'est la vie

Anonymous said...

"But decry it when others not of their class do it"

That's what it's really about.

As an aside, one has to wonder how much fatcat-Farrar is creaming it these days doing market research on the behalf of the government. Maybe that should see sunlight, too?

Anonymous said...

"...they may have negotiated themselves out of a job..."

One line of thought that was bandied about is that this is the whole idea because redundancy suited a few at the top.

If true is that another acceptable deception PM? I have no idea who holds the moral high ground here but my experience of unions makes me look sideways at them with a squint over my shoulder while holding my wallet firmly.

Anonymous said...

There was a post on a couple of days ago on a blog where the HR manager,POAL, explained the wages/remuneration issue very clearly- sorry, cannot find the post. What was clear is that you can toss the average/median out the window- there are such variations so the model of $91,000 is bonkers. And so are you SM

Blair said...

I stopped at the point where you said what they were being paid was irrelevant. No, it's the WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THE STRIKE!

These fellows are semi-skilled labourers. If they got paid half that figure for a 40 hour week I would consider them on a good wicket.

THey should STFU and get back to work and consider themselves lucky they don't work for a privately owned company that would simply fire their arses and get someone else.

Anonymous said...

Isn't inequality fabulous when it suits you Psycho?

gravedodger said...

40 x $15 = $600 x 52 = $31 200 and thats using the socialists promised min wage.
And they do not work 40 hours for what the are paid now
On Wed 11th Jan Keeping Stock among others gave a pretty revealing breakdown of actual pay of the strikers based on figures supplied by senior publicity manager for Ports of Auckland, Christine Etheredge. Her released information pretty much put the $91 000 in context.
Why are the Occupy people not down there protesting the obsenity of a semiskilled labourer receiving many times the minimum wage, oh hang on they are unionists arn't they.
Their wealthy union gives financial support to those luvly socialists dunnit.

Psycho Milt said...

One line of thought that was bandied about is that this is the whole idea because redundancy suited a few at the top.

If so, it's a very foolish line of thought that should embarrass anyone indulging in it.


If you're not very bright and know nothing about it but what you read on right-wing blogs, I guess.

40 x $15 = $600 x 52 = $31 200 and thats using the socialists promised min wage.

I appreciate that it's a dearly-cherished right-wing project to make $15 look aspirational for the nation's workers, but for some unfathomable reason the workers involved find it a difficult project to get enthusiastic about.


Psycho Milt said...

Further: any time it likes, the company could make public the median hourly rate paid to its workforce. Don't hold your breath...

Anonymous said...
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Psycho Milt said...

ChrisP: if you have complaints about my work, take them to my employer. You won't get to publish them on my blog.

If you have any comment to make about the post, feel free to do so.

Bogusnews said...

I don't agree their income is irrelevant. I think it is highly relevant. the fact is that POT seems to be kicking their butt in most areas, their business gains over the last few years have been staggering.

Not much growth with high accompanying wages would be a very important factor to me if I was in management.

Psycho Milt said...

That is the essential point of it - employers and employees have a basic conflict of interest, and both are pursuing their interest in this case. Thing is, we're seeing the effect of NZ employers' success in this conflict in the form of the pay gap with Australia and the disappearance of our skilled and semi-skilled workforce to those better pastures. Further success as wished for by right-wingers in this case only exacerbates the problem. As you lot keep pointing out, there's a market and people are free to make choices.

Anonymous said...

One could employ a gang of Indonesians or Thais to do the work. It would cost peanuts and be done better.

These union clowns are simply digging their own economic graves.

Anonymous said...

"That is the essential point of it - employers and employees have a basic conflict of interest,"

Shit ,you really are stuck in the 50's if you think modern business is like that today.Especially in NZ where the vast majority of busnesses are small for fewer than 10 staff.
They are both need each other and are in it together.
But hey let the Union continue to cut off its nose to spite its face. Its hilarious what amateur fuck wits they are.

Mark said...

PM my wife owns a beauty salon in a small Far North town and employs 3 staff. They all work together, get on with one another and strive toward a common goal. Can you explain to my obtuse mind how she is in a conflict of interest with them? (PS the staff are all on $18 per hour. My wife has yet to take any drawings as set up costs and outgoings are so high and she is too nervous to. Her employees have earned far more than she has so far. Those poor downtrodden workers eh?)

Psycho Milt said...

Are you two taking the piss or something?

Mark said...


Psycho Milt said...

I'm sorry, I just had trouble believing right-wingers need someone working in the public sector to explain basic economics to them.

An enterprise in which all are in it together is a co-operative, not a business.

In a business, the employer and employees all derive income from it, but the employer's income is what's (hopefully) left after everyone including the employees has been paid. Both employer and employees have a direct financial interest in maximising their return from the business, but those are conflicting interests - increasing the employees' share of the income will reduce the employer's profit and vice versa. This is the basis of pretty much every industrial dispute, so should hardly come as a surprise.

Mark said...

Employers aren't all just big bad corporations. Many small business owners are just trying to get by, get enough to live on. This is what fucks me off about Labour's talk about "the workers" and how hard they've got it when they totally ignore how fucking hard it is for small business owners. I'm not right by the way so don't make such a patronising assumption. We're just trying to get by.

Psycho Milt said...

Sure - in a small business that conflict of interest is dealt with in the usual ways that individuals deal with each other, for better or worse. However, the business I wrote about is a big company and the owners aren't involved with the actual work of the company at all. Which means the conflict of interest between employer and employees can't be resolved at the level of individuals talking to each other, it has to happen at a more abstract and structured level.