June 2014        

The compliant state

It is appropriate at this time, nearly a hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War, when there will be commemorations around the country glorifying the slaughter of workers from 1914 to 1918, that we bear in mind Lenin’s book The State and Revolution, written in August 1917.
      At a time when many socialists had lost their way, Lenin reiterated the Marxist view of the state:
The state is the product and the manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises when, where and to the extent that the class antagonisms cannot be objectively reconciled. And conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.
      Previous issues of the Voice have shown that the current campaign of austerity has been used to attack collective bargaining, diminish if not completely erode the right to strike by threats of litigation in the courts, reduce pay rates, lengthen the working day, and in general dismantle any progressive elements of Irish society.
      The proposed legislation on collective bargaining announced before the local elections was like a crumb from the rich man’s table, allowing the Labour Party to think it carried some weight in the Troika.
      The Action Plan for Jobs, 2013, endorsed by the OECD, gives the lie to any idea of pro-worker reform. Part of the Action Plan is to introduce what it calls “disruptive reforms.” Among these would be a Workplace Relations Commission, which will merge into two the five bodies that at present deal with work-place complaints under the Employment Equality Acts and Equal Status Acts. It is to be operational by the second half of the year and has the objective of “reducing costs and regulations for doing business in Ireland.”
      Ireland will be a low-cost, non-union, light-regulation economy, highly attractive to transnational corporations, especially American firms wanting access to European markets.
      The “Blueprint for a World Class Workplace Relations Service,” dated 5 April 2012, sets out the Government’s proposals for reforming the industrial relations machinery. This follows an earlier document published in July 2011, after which submissions were sought from interested parties.
      It should be emphasised that the changes are still at the proposal stage, and no actual legislation has been introduced so far. The blueprint clearly sets out the Government’s thinking on why the changes are required. According to the document, it is a Government requirement to “get Ireland back to work,” and it sees “harmonious relations” in the work-place as an important factor in “achieving lasting growth and creating and sustaining jobs.”
      The existing structure can be complex, it costs in the region of €20 million, and there are considerable delays in hearing cases and making decisions. In effect, the improvement in time and the processing of complaints through the system is one of its principal selling-points. This is to be achieved by having one form for all complaints, encouraging more on-line applications, and having a gatekeeper to monitor incoming complaints and to direct complainants towards early-resolution procedures. Essentially there would be a “one-stop shop” for industrial relations. The aim, according to the minister, Richard Bruton, is to “encourage the early resolution of disputes, the vindication of employees’ rights and minimisation of the costs involved for all parties—employers, employees and Government—in terms of money, time and work-place productivity.”
      The exiting industrial relations system arose over time. The Blueprint regurgitates the typical prejudices of capitalists, that workers are shopping around between different bodies and if not successful in one will try another. This is not true, as pointed out by SIPTU.
      Another capitalist prejudice is the idea of vexatious complaints: workers making complaints are just troublemakers and are costing capitalists profits. Again, no evidence is produced. (No mention of blacklisting, of course.) The Kilkenny Council of Trade Unions pointed out that if the employers were law-abiding it would reduce the number of complaints.
      If the provisions in the Blueprint become law, the most vulnerable sections of society, such as the homeless, will be excluded from any access to fair hearing. For trade unionists, the whole industrial relations machinery will be more expensive, more opaque, and definitely more “employer-friendly.”
      The Blueprint, if it is enacted in its present form, would be a return to a wage-slave economy, minimal public services, the erosion of a role for trade unions, and every obstacle put in the way of exercising employment rights.
      In other words, the type of economic environment loved by the free-market anarchists.

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