Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Ireland rising

The Irish trade union movement has missed a chance to defeat government plans to make ordinary people pay for an economic crash they didn't cause, writes Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins

March 11, 2010
4 min read

The new budget agreed in Ireland last autumn highlighted the manner in which working people, the unemployed and those who depend on public services are being crucified by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition government for an economic crash they did not cause. The successful national day of strike action of Irish public service unions on 24 November, which 250,000 workers took part in, could have marked the beginning of a serious fightback.

If it had been further escalated and broadened out into a protest movement involving all working people and the unemployed, the revolt could have forced a serious retreat by this hated government or even have brought it down in advance of the budget.

Instead, before the day of strike action had even ended, Peter McLoone, general secretary of the Impact public service union and chair of the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), conceded that cuts of EUR1.3billion in the public service pay bill were necessary – and so did the ‘opposition’ Labour Party. Having given this massive ground, McLoone et al thought they could mitigate the anger of rank-and-file union members by offering up these cuts in the form of unpaid leave.

I, and the Socialist Party, do not accept the premise of the cuts, and unlike the ICTU leadership and the Labour Party we are prepared to argue for an economic and political alternative. A quick examination of the gross domestic product figures, freely available from the Central Statistics Office, makes clear that the when the political establishment, right-wing economists and media say that there are ‘no pots of gold’ to tax, it is far from the reality.

In 2008, the effective rate of tax on profits in Ireland (including those declared by the self-employed) amounted to a miniscule 10.3 per cent – approximately EUR6 billion tax out of EUR58 billion profits. The corresponding figure for wages is 28 per cent – EUR22 billion tax out of EUR79 billion in pay-as-you-earn wages. If profits in 2008 had been taxed at the same effective rate as wages – a rate that would still have been lower than elsewhere in the EU and, incredibly, lower than in the US – an extra EUR10 billion would have been available to the exchequer.

Ireland’s economy as a whole is taxed at 34 per cent of GDP when one factors in all sources of revenue, including VAT and so on. The corresponding figure for other developed economies is typically 45 per cent. The discrepancy between Ireland and the other countries can in the main be attributed to the tax cuts in the areas of profits, rent, dividends, capital gains and inheritance. Compare how these sources of unearned wealth were left virtually untouched to what was done to social welfare and child benefit, which was mercilessly cut.

None of these facts ever feature in the big business-owned media. Instead, we have had a 15-month campaign of vilification against public sector workers, culminating in savage cuts. This is designed to steer the focus away from the cabal of speculators, developers, big bankers and establishment politicians who are responsible for the crash, and to sort out the exchequer’s crisis by making workers pay.

The policy of ‘slash and burn’ will cause thousands more job losses in the economy. The government doesn’t care about this because its perspective is that the recovery of capitalism in Ireland will come largely from exports. Its objective, therefore, is to further prostrate Irish society at the feet of the multinationals via low pay and low tax on profits, and hope for a rerun of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom.

Trade union leaders, meanwhile, have long since lost sight of their core role: defending members’ pay and conditions. They had no mandate to propose pay cuts of 4.6 per cent in the form of unpaid leave. It was shameful that they called off a second day of strike action scheduled for 3 December in return for another fruitless discussion with the government.

ICTU leaders have demonstrated themselves utterly incapable of arguing a radical alternative that would give confidence to workers in the public and private sectors, and to the unemployed, to fight for a decent society to replace this failing capitalist system.

A determined 48-hour strike in the public sector, linked to an appeal to all workers and community groups to support the principle that working people must not pay for the crisis, would be the beginning of a real fightback to stop the cuts and force a change in policy. That this could bring down the government would be an extra gain, as it would finally make possible a serious discussion of the need for an economic and political alternative for ordinary people.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency