March 2012        

Roll up, roll up! The great sale of state assets is now on

It was hardly a surprise when the news broke in February that the Government intends selling off numerous state assets. Their plans will see parts of An Bord Gáis and the ESB sold off, followed by the sale of Coillte and the remaining 25 per cent stake in Aer Lingus when “market conditions are favourable” for an “acceptable price.” They claim the money will be used to write down debts and for investing in job-stimulus schemes.
     This may not be surprising but is yet another deeply flawed and ill-conceived policy. The €3 billion expected from the sale of state assets will hardly put a dent in what has become a colossal debt.
     They claim it will help stimulate the economy. It will not. Privatisation will undoubtedly lead to the loss of jobs, increased prices, a worsening service for consumers, and big profits for those who purchase them. After all, why would investors invest if not for a profit?
     Of course the “jobs” angle is being used to soften up what is essentially the continuation of the failed neo-liberal agenda that fuelled capitalism’s latest crisis.
     Government policy for the past four years has been one of aggressive austerity, cutting government spending any way it can in an attempt to make the economic environment more conducive to private-sector investment. They seem to see their role more as managers of the Irish economy than as an authority. They tinker here and there, all the while diminishing the role of the state in the economy and opening it up to private capital.
     So far, private capital has appeared rather unwilling to play along and deliver the magic beans the Government seeks.
     On the other hand we have politicians who are only too happy to nationalise corporate debt and bail out a failed banking system into which they continue to pour billions. The taxpayers’ money may have been sacrificed, but nothing considerable has changed. The taxpayer essentially owns these banks, yet neither we nor the Government has a say in how they’re run, and there’s no sign of the Government being interested in changing this dynamic any time soon.
     Are Fine Gael and the Labour Party so naïve that they believe private investors will ride in to to save the day when the heartbeat of finance capital, the banks, required the state to step in and save the ailing system? Perhaps; but they are also driven by the ideology of cuts and privatisation.
     The Government should increase rather than diminish its role within the economy, invest in existing state and state-sponsored companies and establish new ones to provide real, meaningful jobs, rather than offering tax breaks to big corporations and job bridge schemes.
     This is only the beginning. It will be followed by future sales of state assets at the cost of further jobs, and future control over vital services and infrastructure will be jeopardised. It must be resisted, and it is time the trade unions stepped up, showed some leadership before it is too late, for them as well as the people of this state.

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