October 2012        

Fine Gael firmly in the driving seat

While there has been much media coverage and ballyhoo about Róisín Shortall’s resignation as minister of state at the Department of Health and also from the whip of the Labour Party, in many ways this is only a sideshow to what is happening.
     Fine Gael is in control and is determining the thrust of government policy, with the Labour Party making up the numbers. The Labour Party’s talk of defending its “social agenda” is reduced to blathering on about the “constitutional convention” and the referendum on children’s rights. What is also becoming clear is that the Labour Party is attempting to mobilise whatever influence it has left within the trade union movement and in community organisations to use as a bargaining chip at the government table.
     A number of examples have emerged. One trade union has produced a twelve-point programme that is even a step away from the very weak ICTU response of “a better, fairer way” and moves dangerously close to the programme for government that the Labour Party is desperate to cling to.
     Another example is the statement by Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardo’s and former adviser to Dick Spring, a previous leader of the Labour Party. Finlay is still firmly within that camp. He believes the system of child benefit payments needs to be reformed because the money “does not always go where it is needed most.”
     But child benefits have already been cut in the previous budget, and the saving was not handed over to those on lower incomes: it was pocketed by the state.
     Here again the Labour Party is attempting to marshal its political forces behind the government’s strategy. Other issues include the question of pensions and the programme of “voluntary redundancies” in the public sector, with elements of the trade union movement linked to the Labour Party willing to co-operate with that party’s strategy in government in these areas.
     The trade union movement is doing itself no favours but instead is storing up even more problems for itself. It will continue to weaken and to undermine its own credibility and influence among workers and, most importantly, with the members themselves.
     Unions will become identified in workers’ minds with the government’s strategy rather than having at least articulated some alternative way forward. They are staggering to their own redundancy, and with no “statutory package.” Their clinging to the Labour Party in government is like a drowning person clinging grimly to a flat tyre.
     Meanwhile the policies that directly affect people, the economic and social policies, are firmly in the grip of Fine Gael, with the Labour Party in tow, committed to seeing them implemented (in the “national interest,” of course). This is a strategy that has seen
—unemployment growing,
—emigration reaching a new level,
—poverty spreading among new sections of the population,
—massive cuts in public services,
—the wholesale privatisation of public companies and services,
—growing ranks of the working poor,
—the number of mortgage defaults growing,
—priority given to repaying the debt over the well-being of the people.
     Shortall’s jumping ship is a consequence of her own opportunism, as she previously supported the government in the vote of confidence in the same minister for health, James Reilly. She has never been on the left.
     It may well be that, seeing how the ship of state is going, it was a case of “better get a life raft while there still is one.” But she would have to do a lot more than abandon a sinking ship. Will she, for example, help mobilise opposition to the forthcoming budget?
     This budget will be like the previous one: long on rhetoric but hard on the poor and on working people in general.
     The government continues to give priority to payment of the debt above everything else. The greed of financial capitalism needs to be satisfied: workers, the poor, pensioners and those on social welfare must continue to be fed into the grinder, to squeeze every last drop out of them.
     Recent statistics on emigration tell their own story. A total of 46,500 Irish people emigrated in the twelve months to last April—an increase of 16 per cent on the previous twelve months. 87,100 people left the Republic in this period, up from 80,600. Irish nationals were 53 per cent of the total.
     At the beginning of October the government handed over another €1 billion to unsecured AIB bondholders, on top of the €3 billion handed over to bondholders so far this year. In addition we will spend nearly €7 billion in servicing this socialised corporate debt.
     With mass emigration a fact of life, and families pulled apart and communities denuded of their youth and young families, as our children leave in droves out of desperation, hoping to find work somewhere in the world, who will pay this odious debt imposed upon our people?
     The effect of mass emigration, not only of Irish nationals but also increasing numbers of non-nationals, many of whom are skilled workers, will have a significant effect on the existing work force.
     This will only lead to a growing intensification of exploitation, harsher working conditions and practices, and growing exhaustion among an already exhausted work force battered by levies, new taxes, and cuts in services.
     What is also becoming more apparent is that there is now little or no discernible period between recessions and small spurts of growth.
     The central strategy of this government, in alliance with the EU and IMF, has been repayment of the debt and concentrating all government effort and resources to this end.
     But the wheels are now coming off the wagon. Economic growth is far off its target as the global recession deepens. Cuts in public spending cannot cover the massive shortfall. There is a limit to the extent to which they can plunder the wage packets of workers and pensions and remove medical support for the sick.
     Our people are facing a difficult future. There is no solution to our problems within this decaying system. No sticking plaster is big enough to cover the gaping wound being inflicted on the people.
     As a people we have a choice: either emigrate, starve, or resist. It is better to stand on our feet with dignity than to live on our knees in shame.

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