From Socialist Voice, February 2011

“Asserting the interests of citizens”


The ICTU in its general election statement argues that trade unionists and their families “need people not just in Dáil Éireann but actually in Government who care about workers and who will strive to protect our interests in the difficult times which most certainly lie ahead.”
     “Vote Labour” is the subliminal message. To what end? The ICTU statement sees no problems with the 100 per cent dead certainty that the Labour Party will go into Government with Fine Gael in the new Dáil. Will that Government “assert the interests of citizens when dealing with the IMF, the EU and the ECB?” as looked for by the ICTU statement?
     Highly unlikely. Like the ICTU, it will probably huff and puff about the high interest rate that we have to pay for the “bail-out loan” that was pushed on the Government last November by the European Central Bank to help us bail out the Irish and European banking system.
     Just to be really macho, it might also look for more time to return to the fiscal rectitude demanded of members of the euro zone—maybe the equivalent of half a slice of bread extra per week for those over seventy to make the bread-and-water regime demanded by the euro-zone powers a little less severe.
     What the statement doesn’t even seem to realise is that the position of the country is a very weak one because of our membership of the euro zone, a policy that was supported by leading trade unionists, such as Billy Attley, Dan Murphy and others a decade ago—the same people whose uncritical love of the EEC, later the EU, led them to oppose the currency devaluation of 1993 that started the “Celtic Tiger” growth rates from 1993 to 2001. It is a tendency within the ICTU whose principal representative today is a signatory of the ICTU statement—one David Begg.
     Whatever about the ICTU leadership, it is becoming more and more obvious that joining the euro zone was the biggest mistake the Irish state ever made—followed by its second-biggest mistake: the blanket guarantee given by Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan in September 2008 under pressure, most significantly, from the governor of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, who told them that on no account should they let any Irish bank fail. Trichet feared that if that happened it would lead to big losses for German, British and French banks, which had lent vast sums to make money out of Ireland’s property boom.
     Last November the Government was again stampeded into agreeing the ECB-IMF loan, even though it had enough money to finance itself until the middle of this year, to “calm” the international bond markets so that this would lessen the pressure on Portugal and Spain. Again this action was not dictated in Ireland’s interest.
     As the Euro-fanatical Irish Times admitted, “Ireland’s weakness poses a greater threat to Portugal in the short term than it does to this State itself owing to the latter’s urgent need to continue tapping the bond market.”
     So the stitch-up has been for preventing bond market “contagion” spreading among the peripheral euro-zone countries and thereby threatening the future of the euro as a whole.
     Next month the European Council will finalise arrangements for an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty to set up a permanent “Financial Stabilisation Fund” from 2013, to which this country would have to contribute. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party are all agreed that this measure should go through without allowing the people to vote on it in a referendum.
     Maybe the ICTU could tell trade unionists and their families if this is another example of what they mean by “asserting the interests of citizens when dealing with the IMF, the EU and the ECB?”
     The ICTU has discovered what it calls a “reputational” element to the present crisis facing this country. Trade unionists and their families might reasonably take the view that the ICTU leadership itself has a “reputational” problem where there are concerns about defending the interests of workers “in the difficult times which most certainly lie ahead.”
     Certainly the analysis and advice in this statement does nothing to improve that reputation.
[CMK]

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