From Socialist Voice, July 2009

Nothing to apologise for?

Brian Cowen says he has nothing to apologise for, either as Taoiseach or as Minister for Finance during Ahern’s reign. This takes some brass neck, at a time when the air waves are awash with his back-up economists and media commentators trying to sell the idea that the misery being inflicted on us all will have to be shared.
     Almost every programme has its establishment economists and “experts” telling us that if we only understood we would agree with the drastic cuts they are inflicting on us, and that they have to get the public “onside.”
     The latest exchequer figures for June show the Government’s deficit to be €14.71 billion, and that further cuts in public expenditure will have to be made in the autumn budget. We are being prepared through the media for cuts in social welfare payments, pay cuts, cuts in public services, and a change in pension entitlements, taking away all the rights won by workers in hard struggles throughout the twentieth century.
     Employers are relentless in applying their slash-and-burn policies, with legal contracts being totally disregarded and the intimidation of workers en masse by calling them in and saying that if they don’t agree to abandon their contracts they will lose their jobs.
     Leading figures within the ICTU, especially from the public-sector unions, and in particular the general secretary, David Begg, instead of showing the strongest opposition that a united trade union stand could present have agreed a new programme of “social partnership” that would allow these policies to be included and give leave to the Government to implement these cuts. Nowhere will they use their considerable power to get coverage for putting forward the rights of workers, the fact that it is the workers who produce all the country’s wealth, and that wage “costs” are not the cause of the present crisis.
     No other organisation supposedly representing its members’ interests goes into battle armed with the opinions of the opposing side and announcing in advance that it will accept them.
     Prof. Brigid Laffan, former hack of the European Union, and Joe Durkan of UCD Department of Economics are doing the rounds of current-affairs programmes, doing the Government’s dirty work and telling the people that these cuts are necessary for our own good. How can cuts in public services, cuts in pay and poorer working conditions be good for us? The question is, who are these cuts good for, and why do they happen?
     It is not necessary to have a degree in economics or to be an expert to know that there are enormously rich people who are rich at everybody else’s expense, and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (and now the Green Party) administer the state on their behalf.
     The United Nations is now saying that punitive measures based on gross domestic product (GDP) are detrimental to the welfare of a country’s people, and that other measures should be used instead of the draconian policies of the International Monetary Fund that the Government is so keen to foist on us.
     It is widely accepted that it was the corruption of this Government, in encouraging rampant property speculation, that caused our particularly grim situation; but the bigger picture―of allowing our resources to be plundered and the development of an export economy based on transnationals and unregulated financial markets―is still being denied as a contribution to the present economic crisis.
     Current-affairs and news programmes are almost entirely made up of representatives of the elite: five or six panellists on one side and from time to time a token opponent, and a small few allowed a couple of seconds to speak in the audience to prevent RTE and TV3 from being brought to task for bias. A prime example of biased views by RTE is the promotion of Joe Lee, now a Fine Gael MEP.
     One exception is Vincent Browne, who is genuinely trying to examine the situation and to allow debate, albeit with the usual bias of five or six to the occasional one; but his questions are genuine and raise issues that, as far as other presenters are concerned, do not exist.
     People know that what used up public money is subsidies to property speculators and transnationals, tax concessions for landlords, public tribunals instead of prison sentences, junkets for quangos and advisers, and public money paid to private companies for operations that were formerly provided by state organisations. Now we have the banks’ debts landed on our backs and called “public spending.”
     Take out these tens of billions and we could have proper public services, with no need for social welfare cuts.
     Individually, the public know what’s what, but organised opposition is needed. The ICTU should be defending our rights and refuting the lies of the Government and media. The Labour Party has colluded for far too long, and any hope that genuine people had of influencing its policies from within must be seen as a failure by now. Anger has to be channelled by joining activist groups and parties that represent the interests of working people, at a time when change is possible for the first time in years.

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