Missing the point on the recovery? March 11, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
So, now come the complaints about those who would ‘talk down’ the ‘recovery’. For there’s a piece by Conall O’Morain, of the Sunday Business Show on Today FM, in this weekends SBP which takes the austerity ‘Groaners’ to task for talking things down.
So far we’ve had Holocaust Deniers, Climate Change Deniers and now we have Recovery Deniers. And they were out in force on Vincent Browne’s new monthly TV3 show, The People’s Debate’. In what was a bit of a broadcasting free-for-all, despite Browne’s very best efforts, 200 of Ireland’s Top Narcissists shouted at and over each other for two hours. Each claimed that they felt the pain of austerity’ most and they all agreed they were anti-austerity’ – a stupid badge of honour worn like that of the Pro-Lifers, as if any of us are for austerity (tax increases and service cuts) or against life’.
Well, it’s hardly novel to argue that ‘austerity’ isn’t value free, that there are indeed those who seek greater austerity, tax increases and service cuts as a part of an avowedly ideological approach to the nature of the state and capitalism, an approach that if not adhered to in full does indeed comprise a significant portion of orthodox socio-economic policy today.
That’s so central that one could almost wonder how he could make a case for it being otherwise.
He hits a lot of targets, a PBPA that doesn’t come out using it’s more ‘accurate name, the SWP’, and a certain incoherence in the critique of the current situation. But that is to miss the point, I suspect, because it is almost entirely irrelevant what the SWP does or does not do in relation to the broader orthodoxy, and the incoherence of the critique doesn’t as such invalidate a critique or mean that a situation is beyond critique.
And this is seen not least his contention that things must be improving because:
So there you have it. 60,000 people back to work last year and some parts of the HSE doing much more with much less. But this couldn’t be true because the man on Vincent Browne’s show said so.
But if that’s evidence that things are improving, when so much else isn’t factored in, such as emigration, such as the reality as noted by Pat Leahy that much more has yet to be taken out of state funding, €2bn plus at the next budget, and that’s if things go well – the SBP itself in a money saving leaflet (hey, the times are good, whatever the ‘groaners’ say, no?) notes the sheer scale of the numbers with mortgages in trouble. That’s the problem with making out that the recovery is powering ahead when the very paper the column is hosted in in article after article attests to the reality that the ‘recovery’ is partial, fragile, perhaps even illusory. Because of course there’s a lot of space between free fall and recovery.
I don’t know if what we’re experiencing is a recovery, though there clearly is a more stable situation than there was. One can be marginally grateful that that is the case while still noting that stability does not mean the situation is good, or even poor. There have been too many cuts, too much damage carried out on the socio-economic fabric, for that to be the case. More measured analyses agree that austerity is here until 2018 at the best and in truth for much longer afterwards given the constraints imposed by Europe.
Sure, it’s easy to find inconsistencies and worse amongst some of those contesting the status quo, but that doesn’t invalidate the broader message.
Services and manufacturing March 11, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy, Irish Politics.
William Keegan in the Observer points to some curious facts at the weekend.
Writing about a ’40-year old Tory obsession with services that has served no one’, he argues that:
As I wasted several hours on the telephone last week to various branches of BT stretching from here to India, I reflected on what a farce modern management has made of privatisation.
True, there are those who recall having to wait to get the old, nationalised BT to install a new line; but I seem to remember that in those days if your phone was out of order, you merely rang a three-digit number and called an engineer. Nowadays it requires endless calls and a truly Kafkaesque routine of questions and “procedures”.
And this points to a reality about services that he then outlines, that for all the rhetoric service is overstated, massively so in some instances.
I fear there is a wider problem with modern management. They outsource to cut costs and make life difficult for the customer. And part of their secret is to make the consumer do the work. Indeed, I am lost in admiration for the way some modern businesses have managed to force so many people to “go online” and do the things that the business itself should be doing if it really wanted to provide a “service”.
We can see a particularly pointed example of same in relation to the way the banks here are currently offloading anything that could be regarded as a ‘service’ to customers and charging handsomely for same (indeed the SBP’s money doctor had a piece on same and it is breathtaking how cynical and mercenary that process actually is).
Anyhow Keegan notes that privatisation and service oriented policy/ideology had odd roots:
The biggest joke is that the originators of the drive towards privatisation – Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher – somehow convinced themselves that the future of the British economy lay with the development of “services”. Jim Prior, employment secretary in Thatcher’s first cabinet, wrote of the Treasury ministers at the time: “None of them had any experience of running a whelk stall, let alone a decent-sized company. Their attitude to manufacturing industry bordered on the contemptuous. They shared the view of the other monetarists in the cabinet – that we were better suited as a nation to being a service economy and should no longer worry about production.”
That dislocation between ideology and experience is remarkable, isn’t it? Having worked in the private sector for most of my working life I’ve always been amazed by the rhetorical boosterism by some politicians of an area that is – to put it kindly – problematical. Indeed a lack of proportion in regard to its very real weaknesses (whatever it’s certain strengths) is endemic now – one which surely matches or exceeds the most credulous adherent of the unreconstructed command economy.
Still, I tend to think there’s a more fundamental reason for the reification of ‘services’ and the indifference (shading into antagonism) for manufacturing, for it was in the latter that unionisation in the private sector was at its strongest while in the former it was weaker, and by extending one it was thought that the power of unions would weaken further. So this was intrinsically ideological a decision, and note that economically the concentration on one at the expense of the other seems at this remove to be so deeply problematic that even the Tories are having to make some efforts to to pay lip service to ameliorating the situation of manufacturing in the UK.
And Keegan makes one very basic point when he notes that:
…veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher says in his eminently readable new book, The State We Need – Keys to the Renaissance of Britain: “Any sustainable growth of living standards can only be built on a strong and resilient manufacturing base. Therefore rebuilding that badly weakened manufacturing capacity, halved in the last 30 neoliberal years, should be made an overriding aim for the next Labour government.”
Well, maybe the LP in the UK will do that. Maybe.
Meet the new economic boss… March 5, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics.
add a comment
…same as the old boss.
The EU will confirm that, following the end of its EU-IMF bailout, Ireland is now subject to two review missions a year until 75 per cent of the State’s bailout loans are paid back – a period that could last for decades. The last ESM loan is scheduled to be repaid in 2042.
Allocating resources by lottery? Yeah, that’ll work. March 4, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, The Left.
Genuinely weird podcast ‘Life by lottery’ from 24th of February in the BBC Radio 4 Analysis series [easily accessible online] on the idea put about by some that ‘we should use lotteries’ to ‘solve some of our most difficult political dilemmas’. Not sure about that then. It seems of a piece with the way the current economic crisis has thrown up some deeply strange alternative ‘solutions’.
A more fundamental question is how random chance in relation to birth, position in social class, progress in society and in the context of economic change plays its part in shaping and remaking individuals and collectives. It seems to me that that is often completely overlooked in analyses of our society.
The attached article appears in the current issue of the Bottom Dog which is available in Connolly Books. And a very very welcome return it is for a publication that always was characterised by a serious engagement with left and workers issues. Many thanks to them for letting us run this, and do if you get the chance get an issue.
Here’s the facebook page of the revived TBD https://www.facebook.com/thebottomdog?ref=hl
By Thomas Turner and Daryl D’Art
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” George Orwell Animal Farm.
In the 2007 Supreme Court case of ‘Ryanair versus the Labour Court’ the Court adjudged that Ryanair regularly engaged in collective bargaining through its Employee Representation Councils which were deemed to qualify as ‘excepted bodies’. Under section 6(3)(h) of the Trade Union Act 1941 an excepted body is defined as ‘a body all the members of which are employed by the same employer and which carries on negotiations for the fixing of wages or other conditions of employment of its own members’. This clause in the 1941 Act, essentially dormant since the passing of the Act, was central to the Supreme Court judgement. The Supreme Court’s interpretation and elaboration of the term ‘excepted body’ effectively gave legal legitimacy to company or house unions. The Court’s judgement has explicitly clarified the conditions under which an ‘excepted body’ can be established and operate in a company as follows:
• An excepted body can only exist or be established at the behest of the employer
• An excepted body does not require a negotiation licence
• No application or verification procedures exist for the establishment of an excepted body
• An excepted body does not necessarily require the consent or participation of the company’s employees
• Employee withdrawal is of no consequence with regard to the continuing existence of an excepted body
• An excepted body only covers the employees and employer in a single company
• According to the Supreme Court an excepted body can carry on collective bargaining negotiations with its progenitor employer
In effect the excepted body is an indigenous version of company unionism. Disparities of power and employee dependence are endemic features of such organisations. It is little wonder that company or house unions have long been stigmatised as an unfair labour practice. In Canada and the United States employer dominated bodies or house unions have been declared illegal since 1935. Indeed, the International Labour Organisation categorises any worker’s organisation established under the control and domination of the employer as an interference with the right of freedom of association (ILO Convention 98).
Does Ryan air engage in collective bargaining? According to the Supreme Court judgement collective bargaining regularly occurred in the Employee Representative Councils. Yet Article 2 of the ILOs Convention 98 explicitly excludes the notion of employer dominated bodies or company unions being considered as mechanisms for collective bargaining. The ILO claims ‘it is now a well-established principle that the independence of trade unions is a prerequisite to effective collective bargaining’ (ILO 1960). Collective bargaining, according to the ILO cannot begin until employers recognise a union for that purpose. Consequently, whatever individual or collective negotiations might go on within an excepted body these could never be considered as collective bargaining.
However from a recent article in Industrial Relations News (IRN 37-16/10/2013) it appears that many trade union leaders are contemplating solutions to the union recognition impasse that involves a definition of collective bargaining that would grant internal employee bodies a degree of independence by setting down rules for collective bargaining entities (not necessarily trade unions) which grant them a measure of independence that accords with ILO provisions. According to the SIPTU vice president trade unions needed to find a definition of collective bargaining that does not allow for employer dominance of workplace representative bodies. This reasoning implicitly accepts some form of ‘representative bodies’ entitled to carry out collective bargaining. This is confused and unsound thinking. Only independent trade unions can engage in collective bargaining. Any diminution or dilution of this fundamental principle is contrary to the ILO. This is a line that the trade union movement crosses at their peril.
The clause that characterises company unions (excepted bodies) as interfering with the rights of freedom of association is contained in ILO Convention 98 and was formally ratified by the Irish government on the 4th of June 1955. The excepted body clause of the Trade Union Act 1941 is clearly in breach of ILO Convention 98 to which the Irish government is a signatory. The trade union movement must campaign to amend the Trade Union Act 1941 and remove any reference to an ‘excepted body’ to bring Irish law into line with ILO Conventions. Failure to do so will undermine independent trade unions and likely pave the way for company sponsored structures designed to avoid unionisation or more disturbingly replace existing independent trade unions in the workplace.
The polls? Bored now. February 25, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
1 comment so far
Well, channelling Willow Rosenberg, alternate Sunnydale Willow Rosenberg at that, what else can one say? There’s no great variation in poll numbers in the SBP poll from the weekend.
Fine Gael 29% (up 2%), Fianna Fail 22% (down 1%), Sinn Fein 16% (NC), Labour Party 11% (up 2%), Green Party 2%/Independents and Others 20% (down 3%).
While the Sunday Times/B&A poill
Fine Gael 30% (NC), Fianna Fail 19% (down 2%), Sinn Fein 18% (up 3%), Labour Party 9% (down 2%), Green Party 3%/Independents and Others 21% (NC).
Still, let’s see if we can dig down and find some interesting stuff in the small details rather than in the broad brushstrokes (and that – naturally – is hugely open to question).
Pat Leahy takes the positive view:
On those numbers, both parties are on track to lose seats in the local and European elections in May and were there to be a genial election in the enter future, they would probably fall short of a majority in the next Dáil, though not, perhaps by all that much. But three years into the government’s life, with (they hope) the worst of the economic crisis and its attendant austerity behind us, with an economic recovery beginning to assert itself, if you were in Government Buildings and looking to your prospects of forming the next government you’d think: not bad.
Perhaps, perhaps. Adrian Kavanagh offers a rather different view.
He predicts that on the SBP figures we would see:
Fianna Fail 37, Fine Gael 57, Sinn Fein 20, Labour 15, Green Party 1, Independents and Others 28.
And on the ST/B&S figures we would see:
Fianna Fail 33, Fine Gael 63, Sinn Fein 24, Labour 7, Green Party 2, Independents and Others 29.
In the new Dáil with fewer TDs reaslistically the necessary point is 80 or so. As can be seen in neither instance does the FG/LP combination come close. The best they could hope for is that somehow they might claw back recalcitrant former FG and LP TDs. But look at the names and numbers and who is going to make that journey?
Note too the variability in the polling figures. LP on 15 or LP on 7. That’s two very very different LPs that could potentially be returned. Particularly the latter with an SF on say 24. Intriguingly Independents hold up quite well in both instances. As they have so far across the last three years.
Interesting the GP begins to reassert itself. I tend to the view that on the fine detail Kavanagh’s model is probably a little out, and in fairness he makes no claims for it in that respect. But just in terms of trying to think of a constituency where a GP TD is in serious contention. I can’t for the life of me think of one. So, as always caveats abound.
Leahy doesn’t think the GSOC issue or pylons or health insurance controversies have impinged so far. Perhaps not, but there’s plenty of time for them to play out.
And I do agree with Leahy on one issue. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think there’s a sense of ‘normal’ or what passes for normal round these parts, politics beginning to reassert itself. The Shatter controversy seems to me to typify this. To some extent the discussion on marriage equality. And there are other issues. The economic has – in part – been sidelined. Of course the fundamentals remain pretty lousy and the much-vaunted recovery is chimerical at best, but the sense of free-fall, well that’s been replaced by something closer to resignation. That isn’t a small thing. It has effects, albeit some of them will be deeply unpredictable (for example, perhaps this could rebound to FF’s favour).
Indeed Leahy is cautious about the government suggesting, as has been said here too by many, that once a government appears to be losing control then everything is up for grabs. Indeed his last sentence is something to consider:
A government can survive a scandal, as long as it is generally perceived to be in control of things, and to be doing a good job. If that perception dissipates, however – and all sorts of indicators suggest that the government can’t depend on the public’s approval – the numbers may turn ugly – and suddenly.
This government is not loved. Is not much liked. And isn’t doing very much to cement itself in the affections of the public. That, I would think, spells trouble ahead.
Another week February 21, 2014Posted by doctorfive in Economy, Energy consumption.
1 comment so far
…and another trip to a European court for Ireland
For failing to up competitiveness in the electricity market.
The EU electricity Directive to increase competition was introduced in 2011. Ireland could be liable for a fine of €20,000 each day.
“Ireland has failed to take the various steps needed to introduce greater competition to the energy market,” said Peter Power of the EU office in Dublin.
“Greater competition in the energy market means better prices for consumers … the commission wants a separation of the energy production and supply activates from the networks, in order to bring other players into this market.”
Replace energy with water and skip on a few years. And while we’re here.
Must make note of this from Independent Newspapers earlier in the month
In a statement this afternoon, Mr Ogle signalled his intention to step down in the coming days.
The news will come as shock to members of the ESB unions, coming as it does just weeks after Mr Ogle successfully led a campaign to have their main pension scheme reclassified and treated as a defined benefit scheme.
But the campaign is said to have taken its toll on the Co Louth native, who was subject to much adverse media comment over the threat of power cuts in the run up to Christmas.
The reality of cuts… February 19, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
1 comment so far
The SBP this weekend had a truly awful report on how the Department of Social Protection, responsibility of leading self-described social democrat Joan Burton, has…
…has scrapped a scheme which helps people on special diets to pay their food bills.
The €11 million per year scheme was paid to people on social welfare who had been prescribed a special diet as part of their medical treatment. They were entitled to top-up payments of up to Euro 20 a week.
But Burton signed an order to bar any new applications to the diet supplement scheme from February 1. The 6,000 people currently benefiting from the scheme will still receive their payments. But if they come off social welfare and reapply at a later stage, they will not be able to get the payment again.
Who would be likely to use this scheme? Those forced to consume ‘gluten-free diets for people with coeliac disease and liquidised diets for those who were affected by strokes or throat cancer and could not swallow’.
And how did the Department come to the conclusion this was a reasonable way forward?
The diet supplement scheme has been in place since the 1990s and is based on an assumption that a person should not have to spend more than 33 per cent of the lowest weekly social welfare payment – or €62 out of €186 on food. But the INDI review showed that in the case of gluten-free and liquidised diets the cost could be as high as 40 per cent of social welfare payments.
Burton’s Department of Social Protection has justified the special diet scheme’s closure on the grounds that the INDI review found that the ”average costs of the diets across all types of shops was 33 per cent of the lowest social welfare payment.’
Perhaps I’m misinterpreting this, but surely the conclusion it was an ‘average’ figure for costs might have indicated there would be problems with the Department’s approach in all this. No? But remember, another €2.5bn to come in this years Budget.
Independent New Vision? Well, we’ll see. February 18, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
The news that yet another alliance of TDs is about to take off the training wheels and scoot out into the light of day is interesting. The question as to how effective it will be is intriguing. The suggested name…Independent New Vision… is telling. The line-up is…erm… puzzling. And not least the news that Shane Ross is part of it and that Stephen Donnelly appears to be weighing up whether to participate or not, though given how fast the news moves these days perhaps that issue is already sorted one way or another.
Of course all this may well be overstated and I’d hesitantly suggest that it is because consider Ross. Here’s a man who avoided entanglement in the Reform Alliance – despite the clear messages (some might call it love-bombing) from the latter that they regarded him as a like mind.
And frankly that might suggest that this ‘alliance’ – if he does have any connection with it whatsoever and wasn’t merely involved in early informal discussions, is going to emphasise the independent and not be too heavy on the ideology, one way or another. Granted – in relation to the RA, Ross might not have felt comfortable sharing a constituency with the one P. Mathews, though Mathews doesn’t seem likely to pose too much of a problem to anyone else running in there next time out. But that’s not the only issue. Reform has from the off felt a bit flimsy, for all the media stuff supporting it. The personalities aren’t of a type calculated to set the political world on fire, even Creighton comes over as a rather dour character at the best of times. Then there’s the obvious, bizarre, point that the differentiation between RA and FG seems so minimal as to be hardly worth mentioning. Bar abortion, and with the X Legislation kicked to touch, in a sense, for the foreseeable future, albeit with issues pertaining it to reprise over the next while, it hardly seems like an issue likely to motivate. Perhaps that penny dropped at the RDS gig.
But then Ross has been a specialist in positioning himself as somewhat to one side of Fine Gael and even the right, while obviously enough being a part of the right. And here we must consider the curious weight of the term ‘independent’ at this particular point in time. With polls indicating up to 1 in 5, perhaps even 1 in 4, voters are willing to vote for Independents that’s a lot of support to be mined out there. No wonder that the newer ‘alliance’ is talking about using ‘Independent’ in its title. From their perspective they’d be crazy not to, though the proof of the pudding will be if they actually badge their election literature with same. And by the by, note the ambition to run 30 to 40 candidates at the locals. If they too are badged as part of this alliance their fate will be watched with enormous interest by a lot of people. If they fly then much more likely is the chance that this will survive to the 2016 elections. If they don’t, well, certain lessons may be drawn from that failure.
Ross, is certainly astute enough not to tie himself to any entity that will demand too much of that which makes Ross Ross – and frankly even the mention of his name suggests that for those hoping this is the new left social democrat dawn, well, prepare to be disappointed. And that stands whether he’s there or not.
Of course it is entirely possible that this is all about harnessing that ‘independent’ element in advance of 2016 and using it to propel people back to their respective representative seats. Fair enough, but is to be after that mission is successfully accomplished that we might see something a little (or preferably a lot) more hard edged? Perhaps.
UHI and the government and how left approaches crumble… February 18, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
In a way the row over universal health insurance between Fine Gael and Labour, assuming it’s not purely cosmetic, appears to point up yet another problem with the approach of the LP in all matters relating to government. Simply put we know that Fine Gael favours a version of UHI that has private insurers at its heart. Labour… well, what does Labour want instead? The SBP argues that:
Fine Gael believes that though Labour is raising objections on the grounds of cost, it is also ideologically opposed to a health insurance system which would be delivered through private insurers, fearing it amounts to a significant privatisation of the health system.
Labour sources said that the Department of Public Expenditure was simply doing its job. ”This is what PER is for, said one high-ranking source.
Another source said: ”Ask the Department of Health how much this going to cost. They can’t answer. We will not sign up to anything when we cannot get an answer to that question.
Say that is correct, that the LP has an ideological aversion to private insurer led UHI, and that it is attempting to box clever by pushing this onto the terrain of ‘costs’, the problem is that from the off the LP isn’t openly articulating a vision of a non private insurer led UHI which in itself is deeply problematic (let alone any genuinely equitable alternative, such as an NHS funded out of general taxation – yes, increased general taxation at all levels). So immediately the LP vacates the ideological ground that it should be inhabiting in order to make the case for progressive alternatives to the FG proposals. And worse again it means that if FG can counter-attack on that chosen terrain of ‘costs’ then the LP has no fundamental principles guiding its objections.
One could argue that that is in essence the dynamic of the LP throughout its time in various governments, albeit with some exceptions, but it serves to demonstrate how difficult it is once one moves away from articulating a clear left line (even from the perspective of many quite a moderate left social democrat line) to actually inhabiting, let alone expanding, the political space that it should – at least nominally – be within.
Of course all the above is predicated upon the idea that there is a distinguishable distinction between LP and FG approaches. Some might think that’s quite an assumption.