CARDIFF, UK – I would suggest that the disgraceful eviction of 2,000 people from the ATS settlement is merely the symptom of a Papua New Guinea 'disease'.
Namely, that over the last 100 years, hundreds of businesses have fastened onto the money-making teat that a capital city, in this case Port Moresby, always engenders.
That happy band of entrepreneurs, most of them unconcerned about how their labourers’ hands and brains eked out an existence to support the lives of themselves and their families.
It happened in South Africa even during the apartheid era when white supremacists were happy for a black woman to be a nanny for their babies while they banned the nanny’s family from living nearby and cared little about the condition of her home just as long as she was clean and reasonably dressed to wipe little Han's bum after he finished on his potty.
In occupied Palestine each day, Arab woman are victims of the same sort of regime. Some even at pre-dawn illegally entering the Jewish zone to wipe little Joseph's bum.
The disease that is evident in PNG, I suggest, is that capitalism cares little for the basic human dignity of labour.
There have been some notable exceptions over the recent few hundred years, such as the Quaker Rowntree family of York, England, who in the latter part of the 19th century were decades ahead of their time in improving the lives of their workers in an era when children as young as 10 were employed. Mine disaster casualty lists reflect the very young ages of some of the victims.
These wage slaves slowly saw improvement in the now unbelievable working conditions especially for women and children.
The 1833 Factory Act banned children from working in textile factories under the age of nine. From nine to 13 they were limited to nine hours a day and 48 hours a week.
The 1847 Ten Hour Act cut the hours of women and the under-eighteens to 10 a day and 58 a week.
Ironically, in the crazy Victorian era, the life of a child was obviously considered worth less than an animal. Hence the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was begun in 1824, 67 years before the -Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1891.
By 1943 the average working week for a UK manual worker was still 53 hours, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the European Union’s working time directive limited the amount of hours employees could be made to work in a week.
Yet almost 100 years earlier, in 1896, the five-day, eight-hour working week had already been introduced for Rowntree employees.
When managing a company in Kavieng in the late 1970s, I was disgusted with the accommodation the previous owners had provided for their workers who toiled from dawn to dusk.
The barrack style rooms comprised a single bed in a room three by two metres. The family would cook in that room too if rain stopped them cooking outside.
About six weeks after taking over the business we were inspected by a Labour official who demanded the immediate improvement in the two-seat toilet that catered for six families and the removal of the rusting remains of an old six-ton truck.
There was no mention of the size of the rooms by the official, perhaps because he was living in a slightly better low-covenant home in the town.
I wondered where he had been for the previous 20 years when the Asian family had been owners of the store.
At about the same time I heard the National Housing Corporation was opening some new blocks around town. I arranged for an interview with the manager and told him of the problem I faced in providing decent homes for my workers and that I wanted six blocks for key employees.
I hit the buffers. “Mr Williams we can only allocate one!”
I tried to explain that as the then third largest store in the town, I needed good homes for those vital staff, further explaining they would become permanent company homes for any of my workers' families while they continued to be employed by the firm.
Thus if any were dismissed for some malpractice in their employment, or indeed decided to return to their village homes on Lavongai, I would have a home to attract a replacement family. I lost my debate with the bureaucracy.
Housing is one of the most basic human rights and Seebohm Rowntree said, “If the workers are to cooperate in producing a high output of goods, which will compete successfully in the world market, they rightly demand, in their working lives, conditions which will enable and encourage them to give of their best.”
In the article, The disgrace of the ATC settler eviction, Nayahamui SuPowes senses that it would take that someone of standing with a legal interest to take this bigger picture issue of evictions to court: “Such persons of standing would be folk like the NCD Governor and the MP for Port Moresby North East.”
I suggest it is these elites, the so-called 'people of standing' and their predecessors who have failed the current victims over very many years by their idleness in catering for the needs of the capital's citizens without whom it could not function.
The lack of powerful unions for the labour sector of the economy allows the capital sector freedom to not provide adequate basic lives for employees.
A general strike for even a week would show how the lowliest paid are as essential to an economy as the dwellers on Touaguba Hill. I imagine the riot squads would attempt to stop the legal free right of association and marching to obtain better conditions.
Daniel Kumbon has provided some very apposite paragraphs from his forthcoming book, 'The Old Man’s Dilemma'.
I would also suggest the additional reading of 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' by Robert Tressel (actually Robert Noonan) first published in 1914 by Grant Richards. Wikipedia claims Richards removed much of the socialist ideology from the first edition. However an unabridged edition with Noonan's original ending was published in 1955, edited by FC Ball.