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.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope

New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments

Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit