July 2012        

Revealing capitalism in Ireland

This month the Irish Times launched a special web site, www.top1000.ie, that, in its own words, “contains details on all these [top 1,000] companies with the capability to search by industry, company and key employees, and to sort the information by turnover, assets, profit and employees.”
     The companies listed cover both North and South and are judged according to their audited accounts from the last three years, covering turnover, profits, and number of employees, making the web site an invaluable resource in analysing the nature of capitalism in Ireland and the interests of the dominant section of the ruling class.
     Without meaning to, I’m sure, it serves to show how exposed Ireland is to the instability of monopoly capitalism, and how dependent it is on foreign capital.
     In essence, this list makes understandable the actions of the ruling class. They are not stupid, naïve, or weak. Their interests are inherently tied to the interests of the largely foreign monopoly capital that dominates our economy. They are not to be convinced of the error of their ways or the foolishness of their economics, because they are not foolish if you are part of the class that rules.
     When they impose pay freezes or pay cuts they are not concerned with how this affects domestic demand: they are doing it to reduce the cost of production and increase the profits of global monopolies. When they ensure that bondholders are fully paid they are not doing this to release capital to small businesses: they are sending a clear message to international capital that in Ireland you will be looked after.
     When they refuse to legislate for comprehensive collective bargaining, union recognition or the right to organise a union they are not doing so because the voluntary system has worked well for all sides: they are doing so to facilitate international capital in operating in a non-union environment.
     This web site reveals the extent of the dominance of foreign monopolies and consequently the reliance and subservience of the Irish state to these monopolies.
     Of the top 50 companies in turnover, 31 are foreign monopolies and 19 could be considered Irish companies. However, a closer examination of these “Irish” companies suggests that their interests are tied more to international operations than to a domestic market, meaning that their interests are aligned with those of their foreign monopoly friends.
     Take CRH, for example: the great majority of its 76,000 employees are employed in the other thirty-five countries it operates in, and its profit of €711 million last year is largely based on overseas work. Likewise DCC Group: its 8,868 employees generated a profit of €185 million last year but it boasts on its Irish web site that 68 per cent of its operating profit came from Britain, 18 per cent from the rest of the world, and only 14 per cent from the Republic.
     Where are their interests tied—to serving a domestic market and championing a strong independent Ireland? or serving overseas markets and championing a submissive Ireland that doesn’t rock the boat internationally?
     Smurfit Kappa, considered an Irish company, employs 38,373 people but only 800 in Ireland. Kerry Group employs more than 24,000 people and made a profit of more than €400 million last year. Again, however, operating in more than twenty-five different countries and with customers in more than 140 countries, Kerry Group’s interests are tied to monopoly capital globally.
     Likewise Ryanair: 8,500 employees, mostly overseas. Of United Drug’s operating profits, two-thirds were generated overseas: 41 per cent in Britain and 20 per cent in the United States. Its Irish business contributes a third of the company’s profits. And of its 4,500 employees only 750 are employed in Ireland.
     Kingspan, the construction and insulation company, is based in Ireland but has larger overseas operations in other parts of Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and Australia. It has a turnover of €1½ billion, made an operating profit of €77.8 million last year, and employs 5,800 people globally.
     Origin employs 1,415 people in its worldwide operations but only 100 of these in Ireland; it made a profit of €62½ million last year. Sisk, which has construction contracts all over the world, made a profit of €9 million last year, employing 1,132 people in Ireland out of a total of 2,000.
     Diageo, formed from a merger between Guinness and the British hotel chain Grand Metropolitan, had a turnover of €1.9 billion and employs 1,500 people in Ireland. However, production is for a global market. The company’s global brand teams, based in Ireland, develop sales and marketing strategies to meet the needs of the company’s international markets.
     Musgrave, one of Ireland’s most “successful” companies, began as a family shop in Cork in the 1870s. While still controlled by the family it is now a global operation, employing 55,000 people (34,000 in Ireland), with a turnover of €4½ billion, two thousand operations in Britain, and shops in Spain. The co-op IDB employs 4,000 people in Ireland but is driven by export need.
     The exceptions to the rule—those Irish companies among the top fifty serving a domestic demand and employing primarily a domestic work force—are Dunne’s Stores (employs 16,000), Boyle Sports (employs 1,100), ESB (employs 1,275), Eircom (employs 7,000), Aer Lingus (employs 3,500), BWG (employs 900), and Tedcastle (employs 400).
     So, of the nineteen Irish companies in the top fifty in terms of turnover, only six could be said to be interested in an Ireland with consuming, well-paid workers; the rest are more concerned with cheapening their production costs in Ireland or employing workers elsewhere.

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