Written by: John G. on 21 April 2021
Covid deaths at other church homes in Sydney, the Dorothy Henderson Lodge run by BaptistCare and Newmarch House run by Anglicare, suggest these may not be aberrations but systemic failures. They also raise the issue whether behind this lies the entwining of religious enterprises in corporate capitalist systems of purchasing labour power and production and sale of care services.
If St Basil’s and the others are aberrant individual failures, then further regulation and a tight system of compliance auditing by competent independent inspection authorities would be the response, if one trusted a capitalist government and others to create such improvements for people. History identifies that such trust would be misplaced.
Where these are the product of systematic failures, even the supporters of this economic system accept solutions that require a rebuild of the system to effect necessary change.
Judgement of bad apple failure or systemic problem can only be made by examining the manner of service delivery by church run operations more generally than those of St Basil’s and Greek Orthodox Church.
Major religious institutions have extensive operational “commercial” arms. Most operate as Legal Trusts which provide no transparency as to their financial and operational affairs. Some are more centralised while others like the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches operate through thousands of separate operational enterprises. Their charitable arms sometimes provide public operational and financial reports. Below are insights into a couple of church operations and their nature gleaned from publicly published reports.
Wesley Mission’s Commercial Operations
Wesley Mission produces a public annual report.
Originally operating from one Sydney church it has broadened to a limited extent with 85% of its staff now Sydney-based. The public accounts provide an opportunity to look into this church’s operations as a service providing enterprise in this capitalist economy to see how much institutions have been drawn into capitalism. Relevant details are outlined here:
Wesley Mission’s operations, workforce and finance by the numbers
Wesley’s revenues in the 2020 financial year were just shy of $230 million, including income from sale of services of $117.5 million and government grants of $97 million. Donations and legacies were less than $8 million or 3.5% of the church’s total income, a tiny amount of church operations.
The cost of purchasing labour power directly was at least $163 million though the accounts don’t exclude that being larger. Surplus for the year was $9.6 million.
It has a huge asset base of $489 million, with liabilities of $269 million, the bulk of which is care residents licence agreements of $173 million. Wesley Mission’s net capital value is $220 million.
It had 2,251 employees, 813 full-timers and 938 part-time and 500 casuals, 73% women and engaged an army of 4,592 volunteers for 92,598 hours proudly boasting they saved $4,231,729 in wages. The voluntary labour represented just 2.5% of all labour power used by the church in their operations.
The figures involve the church operating service provision by purchasing labour power from 2,251 wage workers for $163 million supplemented by volunteer labour equivalent to 10 full-time staff. In addition, some ‘clients’ were employed in packaging and other industrial production,
The tiny portion of both income and labour derived by donations in all forms, as against the 97.5% of labour-power purchased for the provision (production) of services, reveals how deeply the church has been integrated into the capitalist system of production, purchasing labour power for its production.
The integration includes the alienation of the labourer from the product of that labour, the commodity of care.
Fundamentally the Wesley Mission is operating as a capitalist with 97.5% of its labour power purchased, employing wage workers.
Religions as Capitalists
There is no basis for expecting any difference with larger institutional churches. In fact the big bazookas of church capitalism are the Catholic Church with its extensive school network and its massive St Vincents operations across the whole country as well as Diocesan Trusts , the Anglican Church of Australia Trust Corporation, the Presbyterian Church of Australia Property Trust, Uniting Church Trust Association Limited, and other religious groups running schools and limited care services also ending up in capitalist relations purchasing wage labour.
Bosses luxury lifestyles accompany capitalist mode of production.
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