July 2016        

More time bombs

Alan Hanlon

This Government is highly unstable. Following the victory of the working-class and community groups in the first stage of the attempt to privatise water, the current Government is frightened that the pay-by-weight bin charges will produce the same reaction.
     The attempt to privatise water is not over, but the bourgeoisie know they have a fight on their hands.
     The current Government, made up of a partnership between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and a motley crew of so-called “independents,” is nothing more than a cynical exercise by the right to try to hang on to power no matter what and continue the privatisation programme in some form.
     It won’t wash. Local authorities and public-sector plumbers have been effectively providing clean drinking water for more than two hundred years. Throughout Europe, where water provision was handed over to private operators, local authorities have had to take back control because of the inefficiencies of the private sector.
     If the Government was serious about protecting this national resource it would adopt appropriate by-laws and other measures to assist citizens in conserving water by way of tax breaks and grants. The fact that there are no moves to protect this natural resource through a constitutional amendment is proof positive that the current Government has every intention of continuing the privatisation programme once they can cobble together some sort of obfuscation.
     It is against this background that the minister for agriculture, Simon Coveney, wants to park the plan to introduce pay-by-weight bin charges for a year. Once waste collection was privatised it was inevitable that the companies involved would at some stage try to maximise profits at the expense of the common good. Most of these companies, it was recently revealed, have set up tax-avoidance structures by registering in tax havens. Consequently, the amount of profit they are making is opaque.
     There has also been an increase in fly-tipping, illegal dumping and other anti-social practices as a result of privatisation. This is likely to continue and to increase if these private firms are allowed to maximise profits with another form of stealth tax.
     None of this bothers Coveney. If bin charges become an issue like water, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, then Fianna Fáil would probably withdraw from the current partnership, and some of the independents would waiver.
     Coveney on “Drivetime” with Mary Wilson on RTE Radio (21 June 2016) stated that he wants to convince the public that pay-by-weight is good for you. What arrant nonsense! Pay-by-weight is a cash cow for the waste companies. If they manage to introduce the principle then they will have a free hand to increase charges. This is a measure that will damage the environment and simply encourage illegal dumping.
     All this is taking place against a more worrying undercurrent of unrest for the Government that is slowly gathering momentum. Back in March, Kieran Mulvey, then director-general of the Workplace Relations Commission, said the economy was “on a slow-ticking time bomb to September.” He was referring specifically to strikes in schools and colleges. However, other speakers on behalf of bosses at the same conference organised by Industrial Relations News referred to widespread unrest, with strikes or work to rule throughout industry and pay rises over 2 per cent being sought.
     At the time of this conference the Luas dispute was escalating. When workers at Transdev rejected a deal negotiated by Mulvey it was clear that the era of “partnership” was over. By the beginning of June, Transdev was forced to settle with the workers following twelve days of all-out strikes and the threat of further action.
     Transdev conceded the bulk of the demands, despite the usual anti-worker propaganda from RTE and the right-wing press. The workers won because they were organised, stuck together, and were willing to fight for just wages and conditions. In effect they won pay increases of 3½ to 4 per cent per annum up to 2020.
     The Government had expected the workers at Transdev to be defeated. Following the hammering the Fine Gael-Labour coalition received at the general election the Government does not want to face the electorate in the present climate.
     There is further bad news in the pipeline. The railway unions are also seeking pay increases along the lines of the Luas workers. Worse still is the fact that the three civil and public service unions have agreed to merge. This would create a union of 80,000 members in the civil service, HSE, local authorities, and VECs. These unions want to revisit the Lansdowne Road agreement and the savage cuts imposed.
     Worst of all, the Labour Court in June ruled that Freshways Food (a company that provides sandwiches to retailers) should pay its 170 workers a living wage of €11.50 an hour. This is €2.35 more than the minimum wage. Lidl, Aldi and Ikea also plan on paying the same living wage. Freshways does not recognise unions, so the Labour Court ruling may only apply to the sixty-seven union members. If this is the case then it could drive an increase in union membership.
     IBEC is unhappy with the ruling, and the Government is deeply worried at the increasing taste for militancy by the working class.

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