A union leader and social democracy. He forgot. They don’t. There’s the difference. April 28, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
I want to refer back to a quote that DublinDilettante fished out of the latest Union Post and which was cause for some consideration. It was from Blair Horan, who in a poignant cri de coeur said:
Mr Horan, right, pointed out he was a social democrat who had supported the Government on European Treaties over the past decade and “had taken on the militant left to do so”.
I noted that this was a ‘category error’ and that Horan seemed to misunderstand the nature of the exercise.
And while I don’t for a second doubt that Horan considers himself to be a social democrat nor would I attempt to second guess what that means for him, it does appear in that statement that he’s forgotten that interactions, socio-political interactions in particular, tend to the adversarial.
It didn’t matter a whit that social democrats, myself to some degree amongst them – although that turned a bit sour at the end, were often in favour of Lisbon in both iterations. It didn’t matter that they lined up with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats (that wing which wasn’t sneaking off to have fun and frolics with Chairman Ganley – God bless him, I never thought I’d miss him, but I do). It didn’t matter that the unions and IFA, IBEC, ISME and the SFA (albeit with untypical wobbles from elements within them) agreed – in serious tones and with due deliberation – that this was a strategic national interest and that all would line up – however odd that exercise might prove to be – on the same side.
But that’s not the same thing as being on the same side or expecting that others will operate as if one is on the same side.
It’s fine for any union leader to assert that he or she is a social democrat. In fact it’s laudable. But it’s rather unwise to do so in the expectation that Fianna Fáil are social democrats, or that social democracy represents some sort of ‘moderation’ that will be its own reward. More unwise still to believe that when Fianna Fáil are in government with a party of the liberal economic right, the Progressive Democrats for much of the past decade and a half and remains in government with their remnants.
And what’s also galling about the piece is that in this instance Horan knows this… for he continues:
“Minister Dempsey has in the past blamed bankers and developers for the mess that the country is in, and now criticises the unions, but conveniently neglects to accept that it wasthe reckless domestic economic policies of the past decade that has wrecked the Irish economy.
“It is the minister’s own Government that is in denial, attacking lower paid public servants while pretending that the low tax model is sustainable.”
Bingo! That’s it precisely. So what need to pretend that we’re all in this together, we’re all singing off the same hymn sheet, that somehow moderation is a virtue?
Worse again, is the reference to facing off militant union members on Lisbon. It’s not that I suggest that inter-union differences of opinion should be ignored, but there is a tendency of much of the left that when criticised or confronted by the right the immediate response appears to be to throw some element or another of leftist policy or thinking away or to set oneself up in opposition within the left. I’m not pretending that doesn’t work both ways, or that granted Lisbon, and the broader EU issue, was arguably something that conflicted many on the left, but that too in a way makes this in some respects worse. Are the union leadership truly so naive that they believed that this would store up good will with a right of centre government?
Thing is not that there is no room for negotiations and engagement in any context. That’s a pointless approach from almost any standpoint – although there are circumstances where no engagement is better than engagement – not least because that’s not where most union members are and bringing them with one is an important part of the process but also because the power of labour while not as constrained as it might seem to think remains constrained, particularly within a hugely complex society.
It is however crucial that that process is based upon a recognition of what and where people stand. And that is true of all players in this…
We can be as radical as we damn well like but it’s completely futile if we can’t mobilise people to come with us.
But that’s not the same thing as saying one doesn’t make the effort according to ones lights, or – and as importantly – that one doesn’t recognise the power relations at work here. There are different, and arguably varying, levels of power in the relationship between labour and state and labour and capital. But those relationships, which we see are more rather than less similar in both cases, are not, can not, be ones where we pretend that there is no difference of interests, or worse again delude ourselves that somehow state and capital will smile munificently on the instances where some brief confluence of interests for a time makes joint action necessary.
I genuinely don’t want to personalise this. But it strikes me that if former members of the Workers’ Party don’t get this, indeed get to the point that they seem like men (or women) whose sense of the way the world works has been dealt a crushing blow, you’d really have to wonder about what social partnership (something by the way I’ve never been instinctively antagonistic to as long as it was seen through on our terms) was about, and indeed where this leaves us for the future.