September 2015        

Lansdowne Road (the Haddington Road Extension)

Alan Hanlon

This headline sums up the proposed Lansdowne Road Agreement. Brendan Howlin and union leaders have been making a lot of noise about pay restoration and the end of the so-called financial emergency. It has been hyped in the bourgeois yellow press that civil and public servants would receive a pay increase of €2,000 per annum under the deal.
     Howlin and the Labour Party spin doctors have tried to give the impression that but for them the nasty Fine Gael party would have given nothing. This is nonsense. The Labour Party is a willing partner in the austerity programme.
     Even Danny McCoy of IBEC described the pay proposals as modest; and his main worry was that it might drive up pay for the low-paid! At present 26 per cent of the population, or 345,000 people, earn less than the living wage of €11.45 per hour, and 30 per cent earn less than Eurostat’s low-pay threshold of €12.20.
     In effect, as the Nevin Economic Research Institute has warned, low pay is becoming embedded in the labour market. The Lansdowne Road Agreement is part of this process and aims to copperfasten the pay reductions and extended hours of the Haddington Road Agreement to 2018 and to buy industrial peace until well after the election.
     The actual pay proposals come in two parts. The first is a reduction in the pension-related deduction (usually called the pension levy), which would come in two tranches in 2016. This levy applies only to civil servants and public servants. In total, the public sector suffered pay cuts of up to 17 per cent, staff reductions, and longer working hours. With a reduction in the pension levy of €1,000 (gross) there won’t be any effect on the total pay bill, merely a paltry increase in take-home pay after tax and USC.
     In 2017 gross pay would increase by €1,000 from the 1st of September, i.e. €333 gross. After tax this could mean as little as €128 in net pay. So much for the propagandists’ €2,000! It will be 2018 before salaries increase by €1,000 gross.
     In 2008 the government of the day reneged on its obligations under the “Towards 2016” agreement, on the grounds that it could not pay. From then, and especially under the present government, a series of agreements were negotiated with the purpose of counteracting any militancy from the public sector and restoring stability in the operation of the state.
     After the campaign of vilification conducted in the bourgeois media against the public sector in the years 2008–2011 and over a decade of “partnership,” public-sector union leaders had no appetite for industrial militancy. They also swallowed the austerity plan, hook, line, and sinker. The stability agreements enabled the public-sector union bosses to get back to the negotiating table and away from any militancy.
     In this environment Howlin, for the government, was able to achieve pay cuts, longer working hours and pension cuts and to introduce what in effect was a redundancy scheme in the public sector. Those aged over fifty were “encouraged,” or, some might say, intimidated, into taking early retirement. A recruitment embargo ensured that they were not replaced. Any vacancies that now arise attract thousands of overqualified candidates, some with masters’ degrees, for entry-level grades.
     While this is good news for the bourgeois vultures who would love to privatise the public sector, the problem for the public-sector unions is that existing members feel alienated, and potential new members fail to see the relevance of unions.
     Pat Rabbitte in a petulant response (Irish Times, 16 July 2015) to an article by Diarmaid Ferriter (Irish Times, 11 July 2015) summed up the bourgeois ideology of the Labour Party: “So great was the crisis facing this country in the winter of 2010/2011 that only a broadly based government would have held society together. I am convinced that a single-party Fine Gael government—the only viable alternative—would not have survived the first year. That first dismal year saw the new Fine Gael-Labour Government struggle to restore Irish credibility in the EU institutions, keep the troika at bay and contend with Mr. Trichet’s threat if we proceeded with burden-sharing, as unemployment exceeded 15 per cent. In helping to bring the country back from the brink, Labour had to take some decisions that in normal times it would never have done.”
     The Lansdowne Road Agreement, and the other stability agreements, are all part of this process of maintaining capitalism. The Labour Party needs no help from Fine Gael in being a bourgeois party.

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