Mystery Morrison: The face of capitalist ‘local ownership’

John Morrison (left) at the opening of CallActive.

John Morrison (left) at the opening of CallActive.

By Ian Anderson (Fightback Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington)

Meet John Morrison, also known as ‘Mystery Morrison.’ With his moustache, strong eyebrows, and sports background, Morrison has the bona fides of a Pākehā, Kiwi bloke. He’s the sort of guy you could have a beer with, assuming you’re also the sort of person he would have a beer with (John Key, perhaps). In a word, he is ‘local’ – or, as ‘local’ as any non-indigenous person can be.

Morrison is also a capitalist, a business-owner. He began his career as a cricketer, earning the nickname ‘Mystery Morrison’ for his bowling style. While he was marginally successful at cricket, Morrison’s career since then – as a Wellington City Councillor, failed mayoral candidate, and now call-centre owner – has been more controversial. In an attempt to defend a comment that he’d like to join the women’s cricket team in the showers, Morrison reportedly commented at a candidate’s meeting:

“[I can’t] help it if the women’s team find me irresistible. After all, I’m a former international cricketer who’s so mysterious nobody, not even me, knows why I’m called ‘Mystery’ Morrison. I’m kind of a big deal.”

After his transparent sexism failed to win over Wellington’s voters, this man of mystery moved into the call-centre business. As reported on Stuff1, the timeline of Morrison’s involvement with CallActive is certainly mysterious:

TIMELINE

  • CallActive was incorporated in New Zealand on June 26, 2013 [with a $30,000 loan from the city council, approved by a board featuring none other than John Morrison.]
  • On November 13, 2013, it was announced that John Morrison had joined its business development team.
  • Morrison stopped working for the company [in 2015], before it shut down.
  • On November 12, 2015, the registrar of companies gave public notice of her intention to remove CallActive from the companies’ register.
  • On November 26, John Morrison and David Lloyd incorporated their own company, Plus64Connect, which was listed as a call-centre operation.
  • On November 27, CallActive staff say about 60 workers were left devastated when the Australian-owned call-centre operator folded.

Although many of these actions are strictly speaking legal, they also have a whiff of corruption. Morrison approved council funding for a business; worked as a manager for that business; left the business, and registered a new one a day before the first collapsed. Whatever happened at CallActive that triggered Morrison’s departure and the company’s collapse, it seems hard to avoid the convenience of Morrison’s decisions, and the lack of responsibility he took for their consequences. Morrison apparently knew what was coming months before most of the staff.

Morrison’s call-centres are in many respects typical of contemporary capitalism in the imperialist core. A growing service sector; precarious work conditions and declining real wages; networked communication, allowing greater flexibility. Call-centres contract to various industries, often internationally, with the workers often having little or nothing to do with the original company, and therefore facing abuse from weary customers.

Precarious work is often associated with dynamic, flexible arrangements that suit new information technology. However, precarity isn’t somehow necessary to the nature of any work – while construction workers lead precarious existences as contractors in Aotearoa / New Zealand, in Australia they are highly unionised with secure and well-paid work. Rather than being a function of technology, precarity is about power, specifically the power of bosses over workers.

John Morrison’s progression from CallActive to his new company typifies this side of precarity: the way economic insecurity fosters fear, division, coercing workers to compete, rather than struggling collectively. Morrison ‘allowed’ CallActive workers to apply for work at his new business. Considering the reduced staff, this amounts to forcing recently dispossessed workers to compete with each other for a shrinking pool of work. Morrison’s new company reportedly uses zero-hour contracts.

Some have characterised this strange sequence of events as a problem of ‘foreign ownership’, as CallActive was Australian owned. Yet while Morrison admittedly helped an Australian corporation take advantage of this country’s low wage economy, when that fell through he took advantage of the low wage economy for his own benefit. The shift from Australian to local ownership did nothing for the conditions of call-centre workers, only benefiting the owners, both Kiwis. Morrison demonstrates that local (capitalist) ownership is no guarantee of security or basic rights. Of course, not all capitalists fit Morrison’s exact profile, but that is precisely the point: capitalists must exploit for profit, regardless of gender, colour or nationality. Neoliberalism is not just an international system imposed on nation states: it is a project of the capitalist class, local and international.

Exploitation and oppression inevitably breed resistance. On hearing of their redundancy, CallActive staff reportedly walked out with laptops and company televisions. This is considered theft; however, it pales in comparison to the theft carried out by capitalist businesses. These atomised forms of resistance can change the world if fused collectively. In Auckland, Unite Union has made some inroads in organizing call-centre workers. Rather than local private ownership, we need collective self-organization, self-determination and socialism – which will mean taking power from people like John Morrison.

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