Friday, June 1, 2012

A winter's day in Northern Australia

I woke early this morning and walked the two miles or so alongside the Pacific Ocean to the Strand in downtown Townsville. I needed a cup of coffee bad.  Not that there's not coffee where I'm staying but I like the atmosphere of a nice coffee house.

It has been a beautiful morning here in the tropics.  The sounds are so different than back home in the SF Bay Area, the birds are at it non stop and they are birds I never get to see or hear normally.  It's winter here of course, warm and humid and there's been  fair bit of rain.

There's a nice coffee shop on the strand and I was there the other day.  I happened to sit at the same table as another American, a woman who said she has been working here for 11 years.  She's been working with youth, helping them.

"That's nice" I said, friendly as can be.

"Yes, we have been doing some good work with youth in Papua New Guinea as well" she added.

Townsville is closer to Port Moresby than Brisbane I think to give the reader some idea of where it is in relation to Queensland's capital city. But when she mentioned New Guinea I went in to red alert.

"You don't belong to a Christian organization do you?" I asked her.

When she replied in the affirmative I had to make a decision.  I came to the cafe to read the paper and hopefully get some ideas for a blog posting but now what to do.  Last time I came across this situation was in Ohare airpot in Chicago. I sat across a mother and her daughter who were on their way to Tanzania to teach English.  I figured they were peddling salvation as they looked too happy.

"Were going to teach in a Christian school" they told me.

"I would think that Africans have had their fill of Christianity by now wouldn't you?" I replied

That settled that.  But I decided this time to button my lip although these people make me angry, I didn't need the stress such tension sometimes brings.  I managed to relieve the anger when I got back home and my friend and I talked about it. "Why don't they leave these people alone" my friend said and I agreed, "If they want to help people, do it with no strings attached.

Anyway, no salvation peddlers this morning. 

Instead I had a nice chat with one of the waitpersons. She explained to me that I don't have to tip.

"Some people do, but it's not the normal thing here" she said.

We taked about it and she was aware that in the US you'd better tip as it would be reflected in your service in many cases.  We both agreed that its different in the US, a waitpersons wages are very much dependent on tips.

For that reason I do it, I told her but I really don't agree with it.  Firstly, I don't call it a tip, I call it an "employer's subsidy".  If an employer paid a wage that a person could live on, the consumer wouldn't have to subsidize the waitpersons income through tips. I realize that for many small employers they are either unwilling or unable to earn enough profit on their capital or their small business to pay a liveable wage. The approach the workers' movement should have to that issue is for another blog but in general it would be to subsidize small mom and pops through favorable fiscal and tax laws and also, as in the case of the US, freeing them from the clutches of the insurance companies and the burden of providing medical and other benefits.  For that we must build  a party of working people independent of the two capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats.

The other problem with tipping is that it creates competition between workers and bootlicking the customer in order to get the best tip. A customer should get good service no matter what. But creating this competitive environment is encoraged in capitalist society.  The laws of society are made by the ruling class in society and benefit the economic system of that class.  Just like the laws of feudalism were made to perpetuate that system of production and the class that governed it so the laws of capitalist society are instituted to advance and perpetuate the capitalist system and those that govern it. Individualism, selfishness and opposition to unity of workers through racist, sexist and religious division is part of their divide and rule strategy.

When I left Britain tipping was not a big deal.  Perhaps it has changed now.  The US is the belly of the beast as far as the capitalist class is concerned and unlike Britian or Australia, the working class has never had our own national political party there.  That does not mean the US working class has not had an explosive and rich history of struggle, in fact, being without an independent  political voice has ensured that our gains were won in the most heroic battles in the streets and workplaces against the most brutal ruling class of all.

On the way back home I met and talked with an Aboriginal guy who told me this was a day of celebration for the indigenous people for a famous court case that had to do with land rights.   He was interested in the US and we talked a bit.  I am hoping to go back as there is a festival and I hope to get to talk to him a bit more.

I put a picture of this caterpillar on my facebook page and share it here with the readers of the blog.  It is the larvae of the Cairns Birdwing butterfly.  It's under a leaf in my friends back yard so it's upside down.  About three to three and a half inches long and a half to three quarters of an inch in Diameter.

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