October 2012        

Privatisation: robbing the people’s wealth

Last month the Trade Union Left Forum published a very informative pamphlet on the politics of privatisation. The pamphlet is the result of a seminar on privatisation and a case study of the ESB and the effect of government policies over the last decade or more.
     The Trade Union Left Forum was established in 2011 to bring together activists from all levels of the trade union movement to discuss and debate issues facing the trade union movement from a working-class viewpoint.
     The Forum provides an opportunity for activists from different trade unions, from both the public and the private sector, in which to discuss and debate, bringing together their shared knowledge and experience and applying it to the crucial issues facing Irish workers.
     The ideas in the pamphlet take on greater significance as the government steps up the drive to privatise essential state-sponsored companies and further commercialise vital public services. As we know from the experience of other countries where privatisation has taken place, the result has been increased profits for the private corporations, and increased charges for the citizens. Reduced services and heavy job losses in the Republic can only add further to the deep economic crisis of the system.
     Many communities and families depend upon the state-sponsored companies as their only source of employment, and this has been the case for many decades. Public-sector companies such as the ESB, CIE and Bord na Móna have contributed greatly to the development of rural communities, creating greater social cohesion and a sense of solidarity. The training of skilled workers by state-sponsored companies earmarked for privatisation contributed greatly to developing the rich skills base of the Irish work force, which the whole economy has greatly benefited from over the decades.
     The pressure from the external troika of the ECB, EU and IMF, with the active co-operation of the internal troika—the main political parties in this state—has targeted these companies and services for privatisation.
     The majority of the wealth and the capital generated by the sale of these valuable companies and services will go to servicing the socialised corporate debt imposed on our people by the European Union, a debt that is not of the people’s making nor their responsibility. It is an odious debt that Irish people are being asked to bear. It is a very heavy burden in order to prop up European financial institutions and international banks.
     Working people will experience permanent austerity and decades of debt repayments. The EU and IMF have turned the Irish state into an ATM for servicing this corporate debt. They have first call on Irish workers’ wages. The payment of the debt has become the priority policy for the government, while working people experience savage cuts in services, health and education and a growing legion of charges of all sorts.
     The privatisation of these companies and services can only lead to greater dependence and further weakening of the economic and political sovereignty of this state, as experience shows they will be snapped up by foreign capital, whose only priority is making profits, and lots of it, leaving the Irish state even fewer tools with which to develop an effective economic and social strategy to end mass unemployment and growing mass poverty.
     These public companies are now, as in the past, central to any possible economic recovery. They can provide the backbone for a more sustainable economy and provide jobs for the tens of thousands now unemployed, for us and our children. They are important in expanding and broadening the industrial base of the country and lessening the emphasis on transnational companies setting up here for very transitory reasons.
     The struggle to prevent the privatisation of these companies and the further commercialisation of public services can be stopped only by linking up the workers in these companies and local communities.
     The struggle against privatisation can also revitalise the trade union movement and give an answer to the tens of thousands of workers who question why they should join a trade union at all.
     Together we can all make a difference; together we can wrest the future from bankers, speculators, corrupt politicians, and monopoly corporations. The struggle of today shapes our tomorrow, and the reverse is true: if we don’t struggle, the others decide our fate. We are many, they are few.

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