From Socialist Voice, April 2010

Recycled rubbish: Unemployment and emigration in Ireland

Issues such as this are rarely revisited by the mainstream media, for one reason or another, but it is recent coverage by the said media that made a compelling case for this article.
        Since the beginning of capitalism’s latest crisis the media have stuck to what they know, their collective “common sense,” if you like, resulting in journalists peddling the same line as has been used before without any real thought. With some rudimentary analysis it is pretty obvious that conditions are quite different from previous times of economic severity, like the 1980s, for example, which would suggest that there may be a different outcome this time.      Ireland has gone from boom to bust in a remarkably short period, and in doing so displayed starkly who really benefited most during that time. Even with the dramatic decline, people’s aspirations are greatly increased as a result of the boom years. Having a job was no longer seen as a privilege but a simple expectation, and many saw themselves living very comfortable life-styles indeed.
        Most people’s life-style “adjustments,” resulting from cuts, levies, taxes, and of course unemployment, are unprecedented in Irish society, on many levels. Even so the media continue to propagate the idea that we are entering an era of mass emigration once again, which so far is untrue, with relatively small numbers leaving the country compared with, surprisingly, the “Celtic Tiger” era.
        It’s not clear if this is a determined effort or shoddy journalism, but it’s obviously seen as the only solution in their eyes, ahead of really radical and outlandish ideas, like—let’s see—creating new jobs.
        It’s become apparent that the Government is making a real effort to force another generation to the four corners of the world by targeting the young with brutal welfare cuts in an attempt to make it unattractive and difficult to stay in one’s own country. The young have borne the brunt of this recession so far, with the Irish Times reporting before Christmas that unemployment among the under-25s was reaching 27 per cent, compared with 9 per cent for the rest of the population. For young men the situation is even worse, with one in three in their early 20s out of work.
        The major flaw in this traditional view is that, for now at least, the entire western capitalist world is in the midst of the very same crisis as we are, and Ireland’s traditional destinations for exporting its young, such as Britain and America, are in particularly bad shape.
        The European Union and the euro zone are not doing very well either and appear to be heading for more trouble, with the euro faltering and the re-emergence of market turmoil.
        This has led to serious speculation by some economists that we will see a further recessionary dip in the near future, with others warning that the EU’s economic future may now be decided on the streets of Greece.
        So where does that leave Ireland? It would appear that high levels of unemployment are here to stay, for a while anyway, and any talk of “turning corners” and “green shoots of recovery” is folly at best. It will not be until unemployed workers realise that the vast majority of them could be without work for quite some time yet that the trouble will begin, as most people have been led to believe that this is a short blip.
        In this scenario the young may become the problem, which could explain the Government’s actions, as emigration has served as a successful release valve for this state time and time again. Apart from the usual issues of anger, frustration and impatience generally associated with being young, they were promised much by a political class that has failed them.
        This is given credence by an opinion poll of young people in the Sunday Independent on 7 February that reported that “more than three-quarters of people say that they have no confidence in the political system to solve the economic crisis.”
        It’s easy to see why, with the Dáil reduced to a talking-shop and none of the parties within offering a viable way forward, happy to score points on people’s misery. However, this opinion poll didn’t question what they would like to see take its place.
        This is just an alternative view on mass unemployment and its potential effect on Irish society. Is it unreasonable to suggest that, faced with long-term unemployment, people will not become increasingly angry and frustrated? And that they may want to have their say and to change things dramatically?
        The question is realistically whether we will see dramatic change or simply moderate reform, such as a historic election result for the likes of the Labour Party, seeing them finally break the stranglehold of Civil War politics. Such a result would do much to alleviate the symptoms but not tackle the root problem: capitalism’s greed.
        Unemployed workers face great difficulties, regardless of elections, as it is only in organisation and empowerment that they can take control of their own destiny.
        Alas, few parties, including smaller leftist groups, are interested in this, as they see it as their job to represent people’s views rather than to organise and empower.
[BH]

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