From Socialist Voice, October 2009

There is an alternative

The two latest reports by the Economic and Social Research Institute, very conveniently pointing out that it has found a 25 per cent higher pay level in the public service compared with private-sector pay, need to be challenged on a much broader level than has yet emerged even from those combating it from the public-service unions.
     Engaging in fruitless comparisons and justifications is missing the point. If private employment pay is lower, and if we accept the methods of equivalence set by this biased set of economists (which we don’t), then the arguments must not be restricted to proving or disproving this point, as the media will be packed with hack economists, politicians and commentators who will argue against it—just as they did in the debate on the Lisbon Treaty.
     What must be emphasised is that for years public-service workers received pay that was much lower than that of the private sector. This is what benchmarking was all about, and no cries were heard from the economists and the media for this imbalance to be corrected.
     Anyone who worked for years in a low-paid public-service job will know the heartache of doing something worth while and getting no recognition for it. The concept of doing a public service went out in the 1980s with the neo-liberal teaching of the establishment.
     Secondly, if there is lower pay in some private-sector jobs than in public-service jobs, as alleged, then these economists and the media should be saying that the pay of private-sector workers should be increased so that they have a reasonable standard of living, if their motive is one of social justice.
     If the economic system in operation does not allow this, as they say it would “reduce competitiveness,” then the whole economic system must be questioned, as it is workers who produce the wealth of the world, while wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
     Unions must go on the offensive, show the value of being in a trade union and urge private-sector workers to unionise, as it is an established fact that unionised workers have higher pay. Workers who are unionised in the private sector must join with public-service unions to fight the lowering of pay in either sector. The strategy of pitting public-service workers and those in private employment against each other is the traditional method of divide and conquer.
     If the ESRI is so keen on equality—which would be a new-found ethos for it—then how about looking at the division between the wealthy at the top and the rest of the population. Let us have the figures for personal wealth and the income of company directors, shareholders, landlords, managers, consultants, politicians, television and radio presenters, judges, barristers, and solicitors, as against the wages of the different grades of workers.
     Vincent Browne’s proposal for reducing the salary of anyone earning more than €100,000, and Fintan O’Toole’s proposal for a reduction to 70 or 80,000, is sidestepped when raised. Of course it will be said that taxing the rich would only be a drop in the ocean, but let’s see just how much that drop is; and wouldn’t every little help?
     This is not a simplistic argument that everyone should be paid the same; but if we are to talk of a minimum wage then we should be talking also of a maximum wage. What should not be acceptable is a system that pays ridiculously high pay to a few while trying to cut the wages of people who cannot afford to eat properly, or pay health charges and essential household bills.
     Any discussion about this in the media harps on about “competitiveness” and makes comparisons with the minimum wage in Britain. They shamelessly compare two different currencies, and blatantly ignore the different cost of living in the two countries. Such a distortion of facts and the level of deceit and deliberate falsification would take your breath away; but what is worse is that it goes unchallenged by so-called experts in the media.
     How about pointing out how much transnational corporations are taking out of the country, as against the value of the work done by their workers, and clearly giving the figures for all the state aid they receive?
     The ESRI is not a neutral body: its function is to serve the Government and to produce figures to justify its policies. Economists in this country all come from the same small stable, endlessly producing the desired results, and it is falling into a trap to argue within their predetermined areas for combat.
     Throughout the country, people know how things really are, and they are angry, but unfortunately they get very little access to alternative views about what can be done.
     What is heartening, however, is that groups of radical economists are emerging who are challenging this cabal; and although they do not get access to the mainstream media, there are forums and web sites that are analysing and challenging the status quo.
     Ideas are spreading that are challenging the heretofore uncontested views of right-wing economists. Evidence that this is beginning to hurt is seen when the likes of Alan Dukes hurls abuse at the left but fails to answer the arguments.
     One area that needs analysing is the cost-of-living index and how it relates to people at the bottom, who spend all their money on a narrow range of goods and services. This is a very complex index but it includes items that the poorest never buy. The Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) and other groups point this out on the rare occasions on which they are allowed to voice their opinion, but it needs much more widespread and concerted airing and more analytical work.
     Now is the time for fearful workers to join a movement that gives them a say in how the wealth of the country is distributed. There is an alternative, and the larger the movement the sooner a stop will be put to this massive attack on workers by an elite group of politicians, bankers, employers, landlords, economists, and their massively overpaid lackeys in the media.

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