December 2011        

A tale of two cities

The 28th president of the United States famously declared many moons ago, “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” Perhaps our leaders need to adjust the volume control on their hearing aids.
     Ordinary people everywhere are repulsed by the savage cuts implemented by our governments against the people and planned and overseen by our political masters, the Troika.
     The coming austerity budget will once again target those least able to pay, while the greedy bastards who milked the boom and who now milk the recession continue to evade justice and the wrath of those they so royally screwed.
     Two recent rallies, one in Dublin opposing austerity measures and one in Belfast against pension cuts and attacks on public services, serve as a timely reminder that tens of thousands of citizens really do care what happens in their name.
     Two million people on strike in Britain on the day after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, admitted in his autumn statement that the whole point of the cuts and misery inflicted on everyone in Britain below the level of the rich and super-rich had failed miserably to aid recovery.
     Even the bloody Tories have copped on to the fact that austerity has not worked and will not work.
     Here in Ireland that realisation has yet to permeate beyond the gombeen politics of subservience to our European masters as our coalition government blindly continues its relentless assault on workers and low-income families since they came to power.
     In Belfast I was happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with public-sector workers against an attack on their pensions. I was encouraged by the defiant nature of the speeches and by the exuberant and colourful demonstrations organised by their unions.
     However, it really is a tale of two cities. I was surprised by how much more the Dublin event against austerity meant to me, as it pricked my sympathies towards the unemployed, social-welfare recipients, workers denied access to unions, the mentally and physically disabled, our young people forced to emigrate, and disgraceful schemes like “Jobs Bridge,” which forces people to work for their dole for transnational companies that can well afford to pay them.
     Workers alongside union leaders, alongside community activists, alongside parties of the left, and all speaking out in unity against the disastrous social and economic policies of austerity imposed by our government.
     Public-sector workers everywhere are right to defend public services; they are right to fight back against pay cuts and attacks on pensions; but they must also realise that the NIMBY (not in my back yard) approach is dangerous for society. Slashing social welfare and cutting the income of the most vulnerable in our society will have a severe impact on them and on the services they provide. Many will subscribe to that philosophy; but how many will be prepared to stand and fight to protect the most vulnerable at potential cost to them?
     The Croke Park deal is a good deal for workers in the public sector. It provides security and certainty in difficult times; but it has also served to quell the dissent of many public-sector workers, unions and leaders against draconian attacks on society’s most vulnerable.
     Unless union leaders in both the public and the private sector manage to find common ground and open their ears and minds to the “voices of the people,” acting in unity as one voice and the sword of justice against the oppression of society and the most vulnerable, their relevance and that of the union movement may be severely and irreparably damaged.
     Fidel Castro famously declared, “History will absolve me.” Will our leaders be able to say the same ten years from now?

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