ICTU Congress Ennis 7th and 8th July – David Begg & ICTU should answer for his role on Central Bank Board‏

ICTU_david_beggs_Dec282009When the Irish financial system collapsed in 2008 bringing down the finances of the State with it there were plenty of people to point the finger at.

The banks who lent recklessly; the property developers who speculated wildly, the politicians for having encouraged and benefited from the bubble, the Regulator for having fallen asleep at the wheel, the Finance Ministry for having fuelled the fire with tax breaks, the auditors for having signed off on bankrupt organisations and sanctioning absurd valuations, the European Union for making us pay for  the bankers, the IMF for not warning about the danger, the economists who saw nothing wrong and assured everyone of a ‘soft landing’, the press and media for eulogising the Celtic Tiger miracle economy that fed it ever growing revenue from property advertising, and of course  the current Taoiseach Enda Kenny who told the people that they were to blame – “What happened in our country was that people simply went mad borrowing” he told the rich and powerful at Davos in 2012.


Have I missed anyone?

Well actually I have.

The following appeal was sent by a reader of the blog in Dublin.

“There is an opportunity to highlight the need to end the culture of collusion between full time trade union bureaucrats and Government/Troika at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions biennial conference on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. We the victims of austerity should let the bureaucrats and delegates attending know the collusion must end. They have sold out Irish workers.

It has been rumoured that David Begg former General Secretary of ICTU who sat on the Central Bank board for 13 years and never uttered a word of warning to Irish workers about what was happening will be receiving a send off as he retired last year. Mr Begg was formally representing ICTU on the CB board and crucially was chair of the Central Bank Audit committee during the crucial years of the boom and subsequent bust.  He’s due to appear before the banking inquiry on 22nd July.

Activists could leaflet delegates to demand that Mr Begg compile a report answering to Irish workers and their families for his failure to alert us about what was going on and for which we’re now paying. He and ICTU had a watchdog role on the CB and owe us an explanation for their failure in fulfilling that role. Some of the responsibility for water charges, cuts, misery, poverty, homelessness and plundering of resources falls on their shoulders because of their inaction in the years leading up to the crash and bail out.

ICTU have other questions to answer –Mr Begg’s role on the Central Bank board was raised on RTE’s Liveline, following the programme ICTU complained and RTE immediately took down the podcast of the programme and issued a disclaimer the following day.

Can ICTU now reveal what their role was in this episode of censoring entirely legitimate questions and debate on Mr Begg’s role on the Central Bank Board? Perhaps Denis O’Brien has just been following in their footsteps in demanding censorship. In case anyone wants to get in contact I have a page Stop Union Sell out which I’m promoting and would be more than happy for you to post on it.”

Austerity and Sinn Fein

sfdownloadThe strike by public sector workers in the North of Ireland on March 13 was significant because the two major parties, including Sinn Fein, were a target of the strike, whether Sinn Fein or even some of the strikers liked it or not.  Sinn Fein obviously didn’t like it because it damaged its posturing as an anti-austerity party and trade union leaders didn’t like it because their strategy is to persuade the parties responsible for austerity to change their minds and try to get more out of the Treasury in London.

The latest multiyear budgetary programme of the Stormont administration is the second austerity programme which Sinn Fein has jointly authored while in office.  The first did not see the job losses witnessed in England, Wales and Scotland but it did see a reduction of around 14,000.  Pay and pension entitlement for public sector workers were also cut.  Along with almost every other public sector worker I have suffered two years of a pay freeze while inflation consistently exceeded the supposed target of the Bank of England and my pension contributions increased, while my benefits were reduced and I will have to work longer to get them.

The much vaunted protection of welfare in the new budget, whatever coverage it eventually has, will come from money taken from other public services, including cuts to education.  As one local newspaper columnist put it – these will include an end to free books for pre-school children, making Northern Ireland the only part of the UK that will not have the scheme.  This will save £250,000 a year, or one third of the £750,000 that 36 Sinn Fein politicians at Stormont paid to a party research company that was unable to show any research.

As also remarked, Sinn Fein’s often boasted politician’s salary at the industrial wage includes industrial scale expenses.  Widespread cynicism exists in ‘republican’ areas at the rise to riches of leading figures identified with the movement.

The much vaunted financial deal that saved the Stormont administration, before the latest crisis, was hailed for delivering an extra £2 billion to the Northern Ireland budget, except that it didn’t.  Only a third of it could be called new, which spread over 10 years is less than a third of 1% of what is spent each year.

The rest is loans or ‘flexibility’, which means that money that is for capital investment can be incurred on day-to-day expenditure.  You don’t have to be an accountant to realise that relying on loans and investment funds to pay for on-going expenses is not sustainable.  Further expenditure is allowed if funded by asset sales, which again is not sustainable, and raises a green light for privatisation.

Such privatisation would leave the lefty credentials of Sinn Fein wearing even thinner.

Not all the capital money will be spent on recurring expenses.  £700m can be spent (in fact must be spent or it won’t be spent at all) on paying off around 20,000 public sector employees through a voluntary exit scheme.  This is a major plank in the opposition of the trade unions but it is not clear that many workers themselves will not take the money and run.  Unfortunately the old union maxim that the job is not yours to sell is long forgotten.  It is obviously completely unknown to Sinn Fein who talk of losing only ‘posts’ as if this is not what is actually wrong about what they are doing.

It is claimed that there will be no compulsory redundancies but the NIPSA trade union has drawn attention to advanced plans to cut 50 jobs, or over half the workforce, from the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO).  As NIPSA points out, when NIACRO works with prisoners on release reoffending rates drop from over 50% to less than 25%. This has all the hallmarks of the stupid and counter-productive cuts often condemned by Sinn Fein.

The claim to be protecting the vulnerable now doesn’t look so strong.

An amount of £350m will go to capital investment in integrated education, which at least sounds progressive until it’s understood that this doesn’t involve Catholic and Protestant children being educated in the one classroom but actually often means two sectarian-denominated schools being put on the one campus.  The move towards a shared campus simply reflects the fact that sectarianism is becoming expensive.

Rather than signalling the end of sectarian schooling it shows the lengths that will be gone to in order to preserve this apartheid system.  But the sectarian education system also has the support of Sinn Fein.  It would appear that apartheid can be supported in this case if the justification  given for the original South African variety – separate but EQUAL – can be adhered to.

This isn’t even progressive never mind left wing or socialist.

That the new deal means no rejection of the previous imposition of reactionary Tory-Lib Dem policy is shown by the fact that the fines of £114m that had to be paid for not implementing the welfare cuts in 2014-2005 must be paid now, and the £100m loan required to balance the books in the same year must also be paid.

Last but not least the new financial arrangement allows the local administration to lower corporation tax, once again supported by Sinn Fein.  Their thread bare justification for this is the harmonisation of an all-island economy.  In fact, along with many republicans’ support for Scottish independence, it involves mutual competition of small states in a race to put more money into the fat pockets of mainly US multinationals.  Were the policy to succeed the London Treasury has stated clearly that the Stormont regime will have to pay it for its losses.

All of this passes Sinn Fein by.  It clings to its claims to be anti-austerity purely on its partial opposition to cuts in welfare benefits.  Its populist politics is revealed by its approach that workers are victims and its most vulnerable members should be given some form of protection by a benevolent state.

The effect of privileging one section of the working class above another is always to undermine and weaken its potential political unity.  In this case the potential unity of the working population and those on benefits, who are always the subjects of divisive attack by right wing forces.   By limiting its proclaimed anti-austerity agenda to support to some on benefits it plays into the divisive claims of these right wing forces.  Sinn Fein appears happy to see austerity delivered to those in work while proclaiming great concern for those who are unable to or cannot work.

The interests of the working class as a class and as a political force independent and opposed to the state are alien ideas to a purely nationalist movement.

Unfortunately it is also alien to the leaders of Ireland’s trade unions and their new proclaimed support for Sinn Fein is proof of this.  At the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis – that is even before Sinn Fein’s renewed expressions of concern for welfare claimants – the Irish Congress of Trades Unions President, Jack Douglas, extolled Sinn Fein’s adherence to the union cause.  That is after the austerity budget the Northern unions were calling a strike against!  A week or so earlier the leader of Ireland’s biggest union SIPTU, Jack O’Connor, hailed Sinn Fein as a potential partner of the Labour Party in Government. The same Labour Party that has been implementing the Troika austerity agenda it was elected promising to oppose.

The performance of Sinn Fein in office in the North is a stark warning of its future role in the South but the record of Sinn Fein in the South is ample demonstration itself.  It was Sinn Fein who voted for the bank bailout that made the debts of the speculators the millstone round the neck of the workers.  Its ‘leading role’ in the resistance to austerity today is to identify itself with the campaign against water charges while seeking electoral advantage from it.  Beyond seeking votes from the campaign it has no strategy to make the campaign a success.

A couple of weeks ago an economist from Goldman Sachs claimed that the biggest threat to the Irish economy was that Sinn Fein would keep its promises on its opposition to austerity.  He needn’t have worried.

I remember around twenty years ago attending a meeting in Conway Mill on the Falls Road during which time Sinn Fein was trying to get into talks with the Unionists, who were refusing to engage. I asked Gerry Adams what he expected to achieve from such negotiations when the Unionists wouldn’t even talk to him.  A United Ireland he said.

Well we all know how that worked out.

Racism and anti-racism in Belfast


DSC_0117“Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.  Enoch Powell was a prophet, he called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened.”

When a Protestant minister in North Belfast’s Metropolitan Tabernacle Church declared that Islam was “satanic” and “heathen” and compared “cells” of Muslims in Britain to the IRA the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, who is known to have attended the church, was widely called upon to speak out.

Oh dear.

When he did, he said that Pastor McConnell had been demonised, that it was the duty of any preacher to denounce what he described as “false prophesy” and said he would not trust Muslims either, particularly with regard to those who had been involved in violence, or those who are “fully devoted to Sharia law, I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance”; however he would trust Muslims to “go down to the shops” for him or to deal with a number of “day-to -day issues”.

Cue lots of people with their heads in their hands, especially those considering the Northern Ireland administration sponsored trips to the Middle East to promote trade and investment.


A newly elected unionist councillor for Belfast had that week been found to have tweeted a year earlier that “I’m so sick of the poor Catholic b*stards they make me sick I wish they would just go down to Ireland . .” but she was young and sectarianism is hardly news in the North of Ireland unless someone in the media decides to make it news.

But racist attacks, especially by loyalist paramilitaries, have already been in the news and have increased by 43 per cent over the year, twenty seven per cent of them in North Belfast.  Having been called upon to comment in order to denounce racism, Robinson was then called upon to apologise for his own offensive and insulting remarks.

Anna Lo, the Hong Kong born local politician, had just received some racist harassment herself and called upon him to resign if he did not publicly apologise, vowing to leave Northern Ireland because of local racism and  sectarianism and stating that she would not stand for election again.  One Democratic Unionist Party councillor then called her a “racist” and was dropped by that party as its candidate for mayor of Newtownabbey, which is adjacent to North Belfast.  Other ministers and unionist politicians backed McConnell and claimed Christianity was being persecuted.

Two Muslim men where then beaten in their homes in the north of the city and stated that their attack was connected to Robinson’s statement – he had “lit the fire”.

Some in the press and other unionist leaders attempted to minimise the impact of the insult by claiming he was just clumsy.  Michael Nesbitt, leader of the Unionist Party, claimed that “we say things we don’t really mean or express them in ways that perhaps we could have thought through better.”

Robinson then made a private apology to some prominent local Muslims, except it wasn’t an apology.  He didn’t admit to being wrong, did not withdraw the remarks and did not say he was unconditionally ‘sorry’.   What apparently he did say was that “If” anyone thought he had said anything derogatory “he would be hurt” and he would apologise, but he didn’t because he didn’t think so.  He had been ‘misinterpreted’.

So he might be the injured party in this episode and it was everybody else’s fault for not understanding him.

But still the calls for a public apology raged and eventually Peter Robinson did publicly apologise – except the apology wasn’t public.  It was one of those occasions when the media reports something and you look to see when and how it happened but you can’t actually find any evidence of it having happened, and when you look closer it appears that it hasn’t actually happened.  Yet most assume it has because it has been reported and before you now it it has happened because, well, that is how it has been reported.

In such cases this can only occur because everyone with any power to get across a media message has decided it’s in their interests to go along with the concealment.  For the unionist parties the interest involved is obvious.  Any gain in stature among its racist, sectarian and lumpen base has been achieved, while the reality of selling local business to Saudi Arabia etc. cannot be ignored so the controversy has to be closed down.

The British Government especially would be happy for the story to die no matter how this might happen and they showed no intention of doing anything that might shine a light on the bigoted character of their local political settlement, sold to the world as a model to be admired and to emulate.

But what about the nationalists, including Sinn Fein?  The second dog that did not bark was the failure of these parties to call upon Robinson to resign, as – to her credit – Anna Lo did.  Had such remarks been made in Britain by a leading member of the Conservative Government their feet would not have touched the ground as they headed for political exile and extinction. But not here.

What we got here was a bland resolution sponsored by Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Assembly opposing “racism, discrimination and intolerance of any kind, wherever it occurs”  but for God’s sake don’t mention that the First Minister has promoted all three.

What such resolutions reveal is not the willingness of Irish nationalism to oppose racism and bigotry but its willingness to avoid doing so, to avoid identifying and condemning it in reality, to replace lofty, banal and meaningless condemnations of racism in general for dealing with it in concrete reality.

Sinn Fein is setting itself up to be in Government North and South in 1916, 100 years from the Easter Rising that saw the beginnings of an attempt, that failed, to achieve Irish independence.  To do so it must ensure that there is an administration around in the North for it to be a part of.  Since this requires unionist participation no provocation or act, irrespective of how outrageous it is, will be allowed to threaten the political structure in the North no matter how rotten, dysfunctional and bereft of credibility it may prove itself to be.

In this way a political settlement based on sectarianism demonstrates its bigoted logic by ensuring that the most offensive statements can be made without fear.   In this way, but not only in this way, Irish nationalism becomes complicit in feeding the bigotry on which the Northern state rests, even while it self-righteously insists on its own non-sectarian character and its supporters continue to be the main victims of the bigotry.

What the Government parties are called upon to do, unionist and nationalist, is to deliver another document on “building a united, shared and reconciled community “, another piece of paper reviewing Stormont’s ‘Unite Against Hate’ campaign and together parrot inane promises from within ”its clear commitment within the Programme for Government.”

So if nationalism cannot provide an opposition to racist bigotry who can?

In a demonstration of thousands called quickly over social media a trade union spokesmen could only say that it was organised “in response to a worrying increase in the number of racist attacks in recent weeks, a situation which has been exacerbated by inflammatory comments by some religious and political leaders.”

Once again the identity of these racists couldn’t be stated.  Throwing a punch in mid-air takes the place of landing a blow on the real bigots who are allowed to continue to disclaim responsibility through the connivance of the media, political opponents and cowardice of others.

What political leaders are the racists?  How can you oppose something when you cannot even name it?  How are their excuses and non-apologies to be challenged?  How is the collusion of others to be highlighted and exposed?  How is their hypocrisy to be demonstrated?  And what is your alternative?

The trade unions bemoaned “the absence of the promised Racial Equality Strategy and the lack of coherent political leadership from the Northern Ireland Executive” as if pieces of paper are a solution and coherent racism would be better.

This hasn’t worked before and it’s not going to work now.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International and the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic minorities called a second demonstration today and got a good turn-out given the bad weather.  Again however there was no call for Robinson to resign despite his remarks and his non-public public apology that retracted nothing of the substance of what he had said.

Some People Before Profit placards called for his resignation and some chants from the Socialist Party contingent called for him to go but the latter’s leaflet didn’t mention it and instead claimed his apology was a great victory for anti-racists despite it being obvious that these forces played a relatively minor role.

Such repulsive episodes highlight the rotten character of politics in the North of Ireland because they involve relatively new targets but the solution that is always proposed is that local politicians be something that they are not and do something opposite to what they have just done.  That they oppose bigotry and sectarianism even while the sectarian basis of the political settlement is supported because it is part of the peace process.  ‘Peace’ becomes the excuse for yet more and more injustice because an alternative to the present political deal cannot be conceived.

Debating what such an alternative could be would be a start to addressing this obstacle.


Why have the Irish not revolted? Part IV

gustave_dore_fourth_circle_dante_infernoIn much of Europe the workers movement developed in the latter half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th through industrialisation, the growth of trade unions and socialist parties and the radicalisation caused by two world wars, in particular by the first.  The socialist movement often led the struggle for democratic rights and freedoms and gained support as a result.

The Irish experience has been different, leading to a working class with a lower level of class consciousness.  While Ireland started to industrialise early it was thrown back by the development of superior industrial development in Britain.  What industrialisation did occur was small and mainly concentrated in the north east of the country.  Defeat and brutal repression of Ireland’s bourgeois revolution in 1798 led to a bitterly divided working class with the most extreme reactionary ideology dominating the most advanced industrial area.

The land question was denuded of its radical potential by this counter revolution and by the effects of the catastrophic famine in the middle of the19th century when, in a population of over 8 million, around a million died and a million emigrated and the population began a decline that did not reverse until the 1970s.  The number of agricultural labourers fell by 700,000 from 1845 to the early twentieth century, the number of small farmers was halved and the cottier class almost wiped out.  All this could only but weaken the potential base for a radicalised land movement.

The result of all this was that when the national movement erupted in the first decades of the twentieth century in a battle for an independent state it was dominated by middle class revolutionaries who subordinated workers’ interests with the demand that ‘labour must wait’, which has been pretty much the policy of Irish republicanism since.

The new truncated statelet these most conservative of revolutionaries created was dominated by the same economic subordination as that which preceded nominal independence, resulting in economic growth after foundation of the new state at very much the same rate as before its creation; and a polity not much different than before except for the role of the new Irish bourgeoisie that often proclaimed its Catholicism more than its nationality.

The working class in its majority never broke from this political class and the socialist movement has been small and peripheral.  The Second World War passed the Irish State by and during the 1950s emigration was higher relatively than it had been almost 100 years earlier, sapping all social classes of vitality and energy.

The Irish State caught the tail end of the world-wide post war economic boom and the workforce in industry increased from 259,000 in 1961 to 363,000 in 1981.  Overall however there was little increase as the numbers employed as agriculture continued to decline.  This growth in the working class led to some limited revival in socialism reflected in the Labour Party claiming ‘the 70s will be socialist’ before that decade came and went  and republicanism being genuinely influenced by socialist ideas, although of a Stalinist-type that did not offer any real alternative.

This period saw a large growth in the number of strikes so that at one point the Irish State had the highest number in Europe (see below).


It also witnessed huge demonstrations against the high taxes imposed by the State on the working class, which amounted to 87 per cent of all income taxes in 1978. In 1979 over 150,000 workers demonstrated in Dublin with many thousands in thirty other towns including 40,000 in Cork.

At this point the Irish State’s model of economic development began to collapse. World-wide economic crisis, a weakening of foreign investment and bankruptcy of indigenous industry led to massive unemployment, renewed emigration and a ballooning State debt.  That the Irish working class and small socialist movement were unable to offer an alternative to the resulting capitalist restructuring and political offensive should not surprise.  There was no successful resistance and alternative created anywhere else.

The defeat of the tax struggles in the late seventies and early eighties and the inability to take advantage of ruling class political disarray, evidenced by repeated general elections in the first few years of the decade, plus the mass unemployment and emigration during the decade, weakened the working class both materially and politically.  The graph of strike activity above clearly shows a steep decline from the 1970s from which there has been no recovery.  It was in these circumstances that social partnership was imposed in the late 1980s.

Partnership signalled the move away from bargaining with the employers and State through militant action and acceptance that when the solvency of the State was in question this took priority.  Beginning in 1987 a series of deals were negotiated that meant accepting major cuts in pay and state services in order to reduce the massive State debt.  The parallels with today are obvious.

There was resistance to social partnership but it came in its most militant form from outside the trade unions and the trade union leaders were decisive in its relatively smooth introduction.  This defeat of militant workers action and acceptance of the prerogatives of capitalism was, as we have said, not at all unique to Ireland.

Across the world the ability and willingness of the working class to fight back in defence of its interests was set back.  Strike statistics are only the most graphic measure of this development.  Taking 42 countries and looking at the period between 1981-85 and 1996-2000 the number of countries in which strikes increased was 8 while there were 34 countries in which they declined.  In the group of countries in which strikes had risen the increase was only 5,183 while the reduction in strike numbers was 63,657 in the group of countries in which there was a decline.

In the Irish State the annual number of days lost in strikes fell from over 580,000 in the 1970s to 26,650 in 2005.  In the latter year there were only 15 strikes and only 10 in 2006, in which only 7,352 working days were lost, the lowest since records began in 1923.  In 2007, the last year of the boom, there were only 6.

As a percentage of the employed workforce trade union membership fell from 56.2% in 1987 to 42% in 1998.  Separate figures record a reduction from 46% in 1994 to 35% in 2004 while the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has admitted that density continued to fall, being lowest among young workers.  Where unions did exist member participation dropped and some of the features of bureaucratisation long normal at higher levels of trade unions infected union representatives further down the ranks.

All this occurred during an unprecedented boom in the economy, the period of the Celtic Tiger, when GDP growth ranged between 7.8% and 11.5% from 1995 to 2000 and between 4.4% and 6.5% from 2001 to 2007.  From 1990 to 2007 total employment grew from 1.160m to 2.112m, an increase of over 80%.  While incomes fell during the 1980s they grew rapidly during the Celtic Tiger.  The historical working class was recreated in many ways as a result of rapid economic growth both quantitatively as a result of falling unemployment, immigration and increased labour force participation rates and qualitatively as a result of the increased employment of women (whose number grew by over 125% from 1990 to 2007) and an influx of foreign workers.

The Irish working class was recreated as a result of a boom fuelled primarily by foreign investment, which excluded unions from its workplaces, increasing corporatism and bureaucratisation of the unions that did exist.  This within a world in which the historic goals of the working class movement – from progressive reform of the capitalist system to the view that it could be replaced – was increasingly discredited through the fall of Stalinism and defeat and retreat of workers struggles and the claims of social democracy.

The boom saw no political strengthening of the workers’ movement even as unemployment fell and the class objectively, at least in numbers, grew enormously.  As we said at the end of Part 3 capitalism is a revolutionary mode of production that recreates the working class.  In the Irish State it did so in a way and in circumstances that did nothing to overcome the historic political weaknesses of the class.  Indeed the trade unions became weaker as they bought into social partnership and the view that the interests of workers, State and bosses were best aligned.  Even the historic nationalist politics that has been hegemonic became encapsulated in the need to have a low corporation tax for US multinationals.

Lack of a strategic alternative, among other things, brought about defeat of the large struggles of the 1970s.  Unemployment, emigration and prolonged economic crisis brought an assault by the State on working class living standards and did so in such a way that it survived, even prospered, when the economy recovered and entered into a boom.  Social partnership sold the working class into sacrifices to bail out the State from bankruptcy and made the workers subordinate even when the boom gave them the conditions in which they could have recovered their strength and learnt to advance their own interests.  Instead, in so far as social partnership was later abandoned it was abandoned by the State.

The nationalist politics of the working class, the partnership with the state and the agreement of workers to sacrifice themselves on its alter came together in the reluctant acceptance of workers that they must bail out the banks and accept austerity when the economic crisis finally broke.  This dependence on the State can be seen in two other ways.

In Part 2 we noted that the left wing economist Michael Taft has claimed that the ‘squeezed middle’, the 4th to 8th deciles of income earners, suffered declines in direct income in the five years leading up to the crash, gaining only as a result of social transfers.  Social partnership involved a deal between the trade union leaders and the State/bosses in which workers refrained from industrial action and accepted lower than potential pay rises in favour of tax cuts.  This was not just the case in the final years of the boom but was the line pushed almost from the start – a policy that became more and more explicit as the partnership deals were negotiated.

Thus not only did the workers movement become denuded of any militant initiative but it became more and more dependent on the state, and this was true not only of public sector workers but of workers in the private sector as well.  Gross average industrial earnings grew by 25% in real terms in the 15 years between 1987 and 2000 but take home pay rose by 60% for a single person and 58% for married because taxation was cut.

Mainstream economists, in 2000, also reckoned that these tax cuts were regressive because they were largely achieved through reductions in tax rates, which favoured those on higher incomes.   It is well known that the State became excessively reliant on revenues from a credit boom but what this shows is that social partnership, and the whole strategy of the trade union leaders, was just as reliant.  But really, how could it be otherwise?

The second way this dependence increased can be seen in the simple growth of the state itself, true in all countries and not just of Ireland.  ‘The Economist’ reported that the average size of the state had grown from 12.7% of GDP in 1913 to 47.7% in 2009.  Even in the UK after decades of Thatcher and New Labour the size of the state remained around 44% from 1980 to 2005.  This translates into widespread and increasing dependence of the population on the state, which has become the supposed solution to every and all sorts of problems.

Such massive growth could not fail to have deep impacts on society at the ideological level and the ruling ideas that infect the working class.  Neoliberalism hasn’t done away with the State and neither has it weakened illusions in it.  The Irish State now presides over the world’s biggest property company (NAMA) after private capital made a mess of it.  The State is now the means by which the debts created by this private capital are made good by the working and middle class.

One business journalist has quantified some of the ways in which this dependency is transmitted:

“Irish Budget 2014: Half of Ireland’s population is on welfare and when recipients of child benefit, farmers dependent on public subsidies which are effectively welfare, accounting for 81% of average farm income in 2012; legal services costing the state about a half billion euros annually; public payments to doctors; a raft of corporate welfare schemes and the public service itself, at least while Karl Marx is likely to be disappointed that a few remnants of the failed communism experiment only remain, in Ireland there is a shining example of the halfway house known as socialism or to put it in non-ideological terms, dependency on the State.”

As we can see, he paints the growth of the capitalist state as somehow a practical example the ideas of Marx, and who can blame him?  It’s the view of most of the Left as well, who constantly call not on the working class to solve its own oppression but for the state to do it for them.

The journalist gives a host of facts that demonstrate the growth of dependency on the state -from the growth of social welfare expenditure from €9.5m in 2002 to €15.5m in 2007 when the crash came and to €20.7m in 2012.  The number of social welfare beneficiaries rose from 1.5m in 2002 to 1.6m in 2007 and 2.3m in 2012.  Of these 486,000 were on the Live Register.

He notes the increased number holding medical cards; the direct subsidies to private industry and agriculture – mostly to the biggest operators; the tax breaks for business and the direct procurement of goods and services from private capital.

However the bottom line with the austerity offensive is that the Irish State became bankrupt and could not afford to continue this, so introducing harsh cuts and tax increases.  The question we have sought to address is why Irish workers have not resisted, or resisted so little and to so little effect.

We have seen numerous reasons for this – from the historic weakness of the class; the recreation of such weakness in the defeats of the last few decades; international developments that have demonstrated the hardly unique character of the experience of Irish workers in this respect, and the particular role of trade union and political leaders, which again is far from unique to Ireland.  Only a few weeks ago I listened on the radio while a professor of economics in Madrid noted that commentators in Spain were wondering why Spanish workers were not reacting more angrily to austerity compared to their Portuguese neighbours.

The experience of Irish workers reflects the weakness of indigenous capitalism which the growth of foreign direct investment has not significantly altered.  The latter has only reinforced the weakness of Irish workers – they have hardly even attempted to unionise in the multinational sector and appear to have bought into the view that they must live through nine circles of hell before the proud Irish race will ever succumb to a headline corporation tax rate higher than 12.5 per cent.

Finally we have seen the very direct dependency of so many on the State that has just bankrupted itself bailing out the banks.  Unable to stop them doing so, in fact not even being asked if they agreed, and fed crap about the ‘cheapest bailout in history’, the working class was left with a choice – bail out the state it depended on for jobs and welfare or default when the only people in place who could carry out this policy was the same State that was demanding they pay up.  Without a mechanism to enforce default, even if that is what they wanted, and without an economic and political power base outside of dependency on the State, the choice was pretty clear, even if there could have been struggles that could have made it messy.

Put simply – how could workers tell the State to get stuffed when it relied on it so much?  The Left has peddled nonsense that the State can be made a means to redistribute wealth such that only the rich pay for capitalist crises but the workers haven’t bought this and some of the Left that calls itself Marxist is not actually supposed to believe it either.

The defeat inflicted on workers in the last five years should cause a rethink.  Renewed declarations of faith will not do.

What way forward for the Dublin Bus workers?

482013-dublin-bus-strike-members-of-siptu-and-3-630x484In August drivers at Dublin Bus went on strike in opposition to yet another proposed cost cutting exercise in the company totaling €11m.  Subsequently a group comprising the Government, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the employers’ body IBEC, joined together to carry out an investigation into why Labour Court recommendations about cost cutting proposals had been consistently rejected.

From a workers’ point of view it is difficult to know where to start in responding to such an initiative.  ICTU joined with those seeking to cut terms and conditions in order to investigate why workers hadn’t done as they were told by management.  It might have been thought that unions were there to see how workers could defend conditions but the combination involved of bureaucrats, bosses and government have been engaged in a conspiracy against the decisions of the workers.

This is dressed up as concern for the drivers themselves –  the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar and the Minister of State Alan Kelly have said that the investigators had worked independently “in an honest attempt to address the concerns of drivers”.  But addressing the concerns of drivers for these independent experts means that “We ask the drivers to agree to the final proposals.”  In other words the drivers are to do as they are told.

And if they don’t the workers are threatened – “We are clear, however, that the outlook for Dublin Bus and its employees is very stark if this final effort does not succeed.”

To appreciate what ICTU has done it is best to consider what it didn’t do.

ICTU didn’t commit itself to an investigation to ascertain if the claims by management about the financial position of Dublin Bus were correct.

ICTU didn’t investigate why the major concessions made by drivers in at least two previous productivity/cost-cutting agreements have failed to resolve the company’s financial crises despite management assurances to the contrary. Why are they threatened by yet another cost-cutting exercise?  Has management lied about the promised effects of previous cuts or has it just been incompetent in developing a robust plan for the company?

ICTU didn’t investigate whether the support of bus services by the State was comparable to that in other states, whether the Government had any coherent transport plan for the capital or had taken adequate account of the role that transport plays in providing the infrastructure necessary for an efficient and prosperous society.  Whether instead it had taken a narrow view of the company’s profitability without regard to wider benefits to society.

ICTU didn’t seek to collaborate with all the unions involved to determine a strategy that could assert and defend the bus drivers’ rights.

ICTU didn’t seek to rally together the bus unions, wider union movement and the users and potential users of the buses to initiate a campaign for an efficient, sustainable and decent bus service.

ICTU could have done lots of things and had plenty of alternatives but it decided to conspire with the bosses’ organisation and State to threaten the drivers. And it did it in plain sight.

When you think of it this way the actions of ICTU are shocking.  But they don’t shock and they don’t surprise and they don’t do these things because workers have long got used to the fact that this is the way ICTU behaves.  So registering anger and pointing out that ICTU are engaging in an act of betrayal is hardly enough.

Do socialists have an alternative?

The first and most important thing to understand is that socialists have no alternative unless workers decide to take matters into their own hands.  The first step is therefore that workers fight to win ownership and control of their own struggles through ownership and control of their own trade unions.

In so far as the steps that ICTU should have taken are political ones, workers need to create their own political party.  This of course is a longer term requirement only in the sense that it can realistically be achieved only over a number of years.  And while the building of a genuinely democratic and militant trade union movement is also not an immediate prospect it is one that is immediately posed.  In other words the fight to create it is always present, which means we must fight for it now.

These should be central tasks of Irish socialists and outside of them the debate about unity of the Left is pretty well irrelevant.  If the Left wants to unite to build itself, unless this is a task to be achieved through the organisation of the working class itself, it will be sectarian.  Left wing unity and political sectarianism are not mutually exclusive.

On the other hand genuine unity around such a task, achieved through democratic organisation, which alone can achieve it, would act as a beacon, however small, for workers in struggle.

In order to create it however we need to ask why we need such a movement.  Why is the current movement inadequate, even treacherous, and what would a new one do?  We need these answers in order to persuade workers to undertake the task of creating one.

So how do the ideas of socialism relate to the predicament facing Dublin’s bus workers?

First we should recognise that their repeated willingness to oppose management’s plans is the indispensable basis for any alternative.

Secondly we should inform workers that militant strike action by them will not be enough.  As Marx and Engels repeatedly stated, strikes are often provoked by bosses in order to facilitate their own plans.  Often they serve to save money, implement lock-outs and close workplaces.  In Dublin Bus they will undoubtedly be used to blame workers for the financial difficulties the company is in. Strike action is insufficient and is not the only action that can be taken.

Do workers have an alternative solution of their own that could be put forward?

The first step in creating such an alternative would be to establish the real financial position of the company, which is what ICTU should have done.  This would include an assessment of the support given to Dublin Bus by the state.

The second is to establish what sort of service should be provided and how it should be delivered.

The third is to determine whether the workers themselves can offer their own model of ownership to deliver this sort of service.  Privatisation and continued state ownership both offer the same prospect of cuts in workers’ conditions.  Reliance on state subsidy should be recognised as a weakness in the workers’ position.  Dependence on the state, the ally and protector of the bosses, is reliance on precisely those that are insistent that the cuts be implemented.  That these cuts must be made prior to privatisation is demonstration that both the bosses and state recognise that it is the latter which is best placed to reduce workers’ conditions.

The fourth is to publicise and win support among other workers and the travelling public.  Other forms of action could be considered to achieve this such as providing ‘free travel’ days.  Only a campaign structure going outside the confines of trade unionism could make such a campaign a reality.

It is no great feat of criticism to describe these steps as schematic or abstract.  Only a really existing movement could make them anything else.  Schemes, or plans, are there to be proposed and debated, discarded or modified as real, active workers determine.  They sometimes abstract from the concrete realities of the situation, which give abstractions content, and become simply propaganda, usually when those with ideas lack the power to implement them.  Propaganda however is almost everything when you have little else, which is where socialism in Ireland is at.  Ideas are critical when an idea of how to fight back is the element that is missing from struggle.

The point of the commentary above is to inform workers and socialists that a certain understanding, class consciousness, is required to see any way out of the struggle that the bus workers find themselves engaged in.

One thing is for sure; the answer to the bus workers needs has been proved not to reside with management, the state or with ICTU.  The second has yet to be proved – that it resides with the workers themselves and in the strength and solidarity that they can muster.

Revealing the truth about Anglo-Irish Bank – RTE censorship and ICTU complicity

David BeggThe release of the tapes recording the Executives of Anglo-Irish bank conspiring to rob billions from the Irish people has led to a clamour for an enquiry so that the full truth can be revealed.  In my last post I argued that this truth includes the plain and obvious fact that it has been the State that has made the reckless gambles of Anglo the burden of the people.  These Executives showed no great concern that the organs of the State would prove any barrier to their plans.  In this they were of course proved exactly right.

I argued that what is required is that workers should fight for their own inquiry to reveal this and other truths that remain obscured, not least by the media that presents itself as the vehicle for revealing the truth.  I suggested that workers should fight in their trade unions to launch such an inquiry.

I have just received an email that throws light not only on the role of the media but also that of the trade unions.  In particular it shows that the leadership of the trade union movement in the person of its General Secretary, David Begg, has questions to answer over his complicity in the complete and utter failure to regulate Anglo-Irish bank.

The text below recounts the intervention of a reader of the blog into RTE’s Liveline radio programme, which addressed the Anglo tapes.  She questioned the role of David Begg, which subsequently led to a complaint by him and the removal by RTE of the podcast of the programme.  The alacrity with which Begg moved to defend his reputation can be compared to his apparent inactivity in ensuring the Central Bank performed all the roles it was responsible for and which he presumably was on its Board to ensure were discharged.

Anne has written a draft letter of complaint to RTE and has asked for signatures to a petition, both of which are set out below.

This episode highlights the need for a workers’ campaign to highlight the full truth of the banking collapse and hold all those guilty to account.  Not least the system itself.


On Liveline 27th June I got the opportunity to speak about my reaction to the Anglo tapes. I mentioned the protests organised each Sunday by ‘Dublin says No’ and encouraged people to attend protests that are organized around the country by the ‘Say No’ campaigns. So listen in to a podcast for the item. It is the first on the play list. Overall it was a good programme and showed the anger people feel.

I mentioned a few issues. Firstly that in Feb 2009 a group of teachers picketed Anglo-Irish bank in protest against the bail out of the bankers/speculators and to show our anger at the massive cuts that were taking place in our schools and in public services. I said a group of us went into the bank briefly to ask workers to tell us the truth about the real state of the bank as we were supposed to own this bank yet we were not allowed to even know what was going on.

I mentioned that David Begg head of ICTU sat on the Audit Committee of the Central Bank during the most damaging years of the credit bubble. He had access to what was going on in the Central Bank and that Mr Begg knows the true story and should make a detailed statement of what went on. He was supposed to be representing our interests.  Either he was happy the way the Central Bank was fulfilling its obligation to oversee the banks or he was sleeping on the job and knew nothing. Either way he should RESIGN. Begg then should have acted like the whistleblower Edward Snowden today, and in that case we might not have the present devastation to our lives.

I also mentioned that at the time of the Anglo take-over public services were being massively cut; huge cuts in education, my area of work, in our pay and pensions and that at the time Waterford Crystal workers were occupying the company as it was closing but there was no rescue for them. Mr Begg did nothing to organize a national campaign to save a flagship company while the nest of thieves in Anglo was being bailed out by the organisation of which he was a leading figure.

I contrasted what had happened to 1913, when Dublin workers stood up against the employers. They were able to gain their dignity and build the trade union movement as a real force while today when we are being ground into the dust and the trade union leaders are committed to working within the injustice and tyranny of the Troika programme. I said it was time to stand up for our right for a civilized way of life for ourselves and our children and that people should come out and join the ‘Dublin says No’ to the Bailout protests. I commented on our small numbers and the thousands of Brazilians who were protesting on O’Connell St 2 weeks ago against corruption in Brazil. It was time for people to act for themselves.

I also said that the contracts of public sector workers were torn up and emergency legislation enacted to steal our pay while nothing is done to take the massive pensions off the politicians such as Bertie Ahern. He should be stripped of his pension and the assets of the perpetrators of the crimes against us seized.

Letter of Complaint to RTE

I wish to formally complain to RTE regarding the disclaimer statement carried at the beginning of the Liveline programme 28th June 2013. It stated that RTE accepted that comments on the Live Line programme of 27th June relating to ICTU General Secretary David Begg were wholly untrue and without foundation and we also accept that Mr Begg was never a member of the Banking Regulatory Authority. We want to make clear that there was no suggestion on Live Line part that David Begg  is or was responsible or aware of any of the wrongdoings of Anglo Irish Bank which he condemned in the strongest possible terms.

RTE in acting in the manner in which it has are neglecting their duty to deal with a perfectly legitimate call from me. They are curtailing an important discussion on the role of people who held senior positions on the Board of the Central Bank leading up to and during the nationalisation of Anglo. A major scandal has blown up regarding Anglo Irish Bank where we are learning day by day of the deeply scandalous behaviour of senior executives at the bank.

Mr Begg made his complaint on the narrow base that he was not a member of the Banking Regulatory authority but I made no reference in my comments on Live Line to this.   It is a matter of record that Mr Begg had a number of major responsibilities as a member of the Board of the Central Bank, of which he was a member between 1997 and 2011. These are outlined below and as such he should have been aware of what was going on in Anglo.

Report of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland for the year ended 31 December 2006

Board Procedures (Page 62)

The Board holds eleven regular meetings each year. A quorum of seven normally applies for all meetings. The Governor approves the agenda and papers, which are circulated to the Directors one week in advance of meetings. Additional Board meetings may be called by the Governor at short notice either on his own initiative or at the request of any two Directors.

The Secretary of the Bank keeps minutes of meetings.

The agenda for meetings typically includes:

_ Reports on monetary and financial developments;

_ Reports on various issues relating to the Irish economy, the European economy and the international economy;

_ Reports on regulatory developments to keep the Board informed on policy issues and where decisions by the Board are required;

_ Management of the investment assets of the Bank;

_ Substantial financial contracts to be placed by the Bank for the procurement of goods and services;

_ General management, planning and budgetary issues;

_ Quarterly and annual financial statements and results.

Board Sub-Committees

The Board established three sub-committees on 30 June 1994 as follows:

_ The Audit Committee; The Remuneration and Budget Committee; The Investments Committee.

Board regulations detail the terms of reference of each sub-committee and membership in each case is comprised of Directors — of whom one is appointed as Chairman — and a further member of the Regulatory Authority with observer status. The Secretary of the Bank, or a nominee, minutes all meetings of the subcommittees and, when approved, these minutes are circulated to the Board. The members of the sub-committees, as at 31 May 2007, were as follows:

The Audit Committee members; David Begg (Chair), Martin O’Donoghue, Deirdre Purcell*, Alan Ashe**

( *Members of both the Board and the Regulatory Authority. **Members of the Regulatory Authority who are not also members of the Board but who participate at meetings of the above CBFSAI Board committees with observer status.)

It is clear from the agendas of the meetings that the Board members had a responsibility in overseeing the state of the banks which would have included Anglo Irish Bank, the 3rd largest lender at that time.  It is inconceivable that Mr Begg was completely unaware of whether the Central Bank was fulfilling its obligation to oversee the banks considering the agenda of Board Meetings and also given that he was Chair of the Audit Committee.

As General Secretary of the ICTU he is expected to represent the interests of workers/ordinary tax payers and I called Liveline as a long time trade union member concerned at the devastating consequences of the bail out of Anglo and the shocking revelations in the tapes.

RTE as a public service broadcaster should be to the forefront in lifting the veil of secrecy that has surrounded the bail out of Anglo, instead it has in this instance censored an important discussion and is failing in its duty to investigate or allow discussion on how the members of the Board of the Central Bank have fulfilled their role the role.

The refusal to podcast the programme is a further example of failing in its duty

Furthermore the disclaimer statement is an attack on my integrity and the truthfulness of my contribution to the programme. As you can see from the above excerpt on the operation of the Central Bank, I did not stray from the facts surrounding Mr Begg’s role on the Board of the Central Bank.

I request a copy of the transcript of my comments on the Liveline programme as my good name has  been brought into question by the disclaimer.

I expect an apology for the aspersions cast on my character on national airwaves.


Statement condemning RTE censorship on the role of General Secretary of ICTU David Begg in his capacity as a Board member of the Central Bank

We the undersigned strongly condemn the censorship of discussion by RTE of comments and questions raised as to the role of the General Secretary of ICTU David Begg in his capacity as a board member of the Central Bank and chair of the audit committee of the Central Bank during the period covering the boom years and the subsequent collapse of the banking system.

This gross self censorship by RTE on these legitimate questions and the subsequent erasure of the podcast of the Liveline programme of 27th June 2013 is a shameful and disgraceful episode for RTE as national broadcaster.

The role of the ICTU in demanding a disclaimer on the narrow basis that David Begg was not on the regulatory authority, (a claim that was never made) is an issue of concern for trade union members and all those affected by the criminal activity within the banking sector.  The role of a senior member of the trade union movement in these catastrophic events should not be and cannot be censored.