More from the Irish Times editorial… Meanwhile Quentin Fottrell tries light on Saturday’s March but ends up… February 26, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.
I might have mentioned earlier in the week that the Irish Times had modified its stance on matters budgetary, but boy, I had no idea that this would be the start of a continuing series… for its editorial today argues that:
This society enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and growth for close on 20 years. During that time the better-off sections of society benefited most. It is therefore only equitable that those who gained most in the good years should contribute proportionately now.
And it calls on an unlikely example…
That was the approach taken by the Swedish government in the early 1990s when it was confronted by a similar crisis. Nobody liked the harsh measures that were imposed. They were seen to affect high earners and the owners of wealth in a progressive fashion, however, and they were accepted by society as a whole. It took three years to turn the economy around.
Still keen on the old ‘harsh measures’, and you can almost hear the glee in the phrase ‘nobody liked…’. Still what of this?
Some 120,000 public servants protested on the streets of Dublin last Saturday over what they perceived as an unfair pension levy. They were brought there by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) to show what could happen if trade unions were forced to defend the interests of their members by traditional means.
And then emollient words:
Ictu general secretary David Begg is making every effort to prevent the dam bursting. He has offered to negotiate a three-year agreement that would address spending cuts, tax increases and measures to reform the financial and economic systems.
The public service pension levy must remain but there is a crying need to demonstrate a fair sharing of the pain.Time is wasting and it is reflecting negatively on the Taoiseach and the Government.
Still, here’s a point we can all agree with:
Tánaiste Mary Coughlan sought to reassure the public yesterday that the public finances are under control. There is a thin line between competency and complacency. And she crossed it. People do not want, and certainly do not deserve, political bromides at this time. They want the truth. They want to be told what it will cost them in levies and taxes to have a realistic economic recovery plan, not a vague framework document that the European Commission criticised.
Although for all those kind words the paper also has a fairly pointless article
by Quentin Fottrell on the march at the weekend. And in his usual flip and almost entirely solipsistic way he decides to criticise rather than critique…
IT WAS an ill-conceived and potentially dangerous misadventure. Normally, when you see 120,000 people swarming into a city centre, stopping traffic, it either means aliens have landed, all hell has broken loose or, more likely, we ordinary folk have got up off our backsides, turned off our high-definition flat-screen televisions, bought americanos-to-go and let our voices be heard.
But to what end? The pension levy/pay cut for public sector workers was a convenient starting point, but there was not one common reason among the crowd last Saturday except unhappiness.
There was a consensus that life isn’t fair, that the vulnerable – old people, young people, working people, unemployed people – shouldn’t have to pay, and that something has got to give . . . just not in our backyard.
Is any of that true? People didn’t have a common reason for being in the crowd? It all devolved to ‘unhappiness’. If so then why bring in the more accurate point of the ‘vulnerable’?
But one suspects Fottrell has rarely seen a march he liked…
Marches usually celebrate the power of the little people standing up against a rusting political machine, just like the march of the elderly last year scared the living daylights out of the Government and shocked it into doing a U-turn on medical cards for the over-70s. Not this one. Behind the placards, there was obviously anger and camaraderie, but there was not a small amount of divilment too.
And so he treats us to…
The Government was right to stand firm on pay cuts for public sector workers, who earn about €10,000 a year on average more than private sector workers.
Before hastily throwing in the latest mantra of ‘reasonableness’…
However, it should have tackled higher earners first. It should spread the tough love around, taking a bigger cut of political salaries, but it would be fatal to miss the bigger picture. Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg was right about one thing: we need to wake up and smell the coffee.
I’d love, as an aside, if he could reference the €10,000 a year figure. Did he go to the ESRI report? He doesn’t say. Doesn he know? I’m dubious. But I’m happy to contest it and say he’s wrong.
Call for the heads of senior bankers, who cowardly disappear from public view, refusing to give answers or closure. Cry out for Fianna Fáil to take political responsibility for creating this mess, but be prepared to take personal responsibility and look at the role we played in it too. Look in the reflection of those shop windows on O’Connell Street as you march by and, for once, ask yourself what you see.
Ah yes, I see where this is going…
Did we march against the Government for offering extravagant SSIAs with 25 per cent bonuses . . . in return for votes? No, we didn’t. We marched to our banks, dreaming of new cars and kitchen units. We knew well the difference between MDF and the IMF. The latter is far less attractive. Did we march against round after round of a jammy public sector pay deal, which helped erode our competitiveness? What do you think? Don’t be fooled by Ictu, the pied piper of Liberty Hall. This was not an act of brotherly love to bring public and private sectors together. It was an act of vengeance to fan the flames of fear and fury. Yes, there should be more equitable cuts but, unlike the haemorrhage of jobs in the private sector, not to mention those working part-time to keep small businesses afloat, at least most public sector workers still have their jobs.
Well now. Perhaps Quentin marched to the bank. But then perhaps Quentin might like to consider that who benefitted from SSIA’s were those who put more money in. As a means of assisting small savers the scheme was a joke – for the simple reason that the lower your income the less savings you have.
As for ‘the jammy public sector pay deal’… we have one of the lowest funded public sectors in Europe. The OECD figures are quite clear on that. Throughout the late 1990s while I was in the private sector it was clear that private sector pay rates were in general far ahead of those in the public sector. So much so that there was a bleed of personnel away from that to the private sector. The successive pay deals were in part about evening out that balance and in part about bringing up low wages.
And it’s not jobs at any cost either. Already we’ve seen this state abrogate terms of employment in relation to wages. There are few in the public sector sanguine about what faces them tomorrow or next month or next year as regards their employment security. As with Bryan Dobson one wonders at the logic. Does he expect public sector workers to arrive voluntarily at dole offices in order to sacrifice themselves on the alter of some sort of equitable sharing of ‘pain’?
But for Quentin Saturday amounts to ‘soap box theatrics’, and ‘Fighting words’. He argues without presenting any justification for that argument that when “David Begg said adopting Ictu’s three-year plan would send a “very powerful signal internationally” to say Ireland was dealing with the crisis. No, it would do the exact opposite”.
That’s it. No explanation as to why it would do the opposite. None whatsoever.
And then he continues:
Saturday’s march involved just 5 per cent of the working population, consisting of public sector workers still in employment and many unionised workers from the private sector, some of whom have lost their jobs. With frozen or dwindling salaries, many others in the private sector are also struggling to pay huge mortgages (again, our choice).
For him this ‘choice’ issue is at the heart of his analysis, as if that provides some sort of inverse exculpation… we drank latte’s and therefore we’re all guilty and so must all share the pain. Again, it’s a solipsistic approach. Speak for yourself Quentin. And only for yourself.
So, all that said, what does he approve of?
There was a much smaller crowd gathering on the street this week. On Tuesday, members of the public and the media waited outside Anglo Irish Bank’s headquarters on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, hoping for a glimpse of gardaí and officers from the Director of Corporate Enforcement hot-footing their way out with boxes of files. That’s the kind of march we need right now, one that might finally encourage us all to pull together.
Is he being entirely serious? That’s his solution? A sort of diffuse rubber-necking? That doesn’t constitute any sort of response to a financial crisis involving our elites. To term it a ‘march’ is an insult to those who do march and a massive, and one suspects entirely deliberate, evasion…
But why should we be surprised? He criticises those who take any sort of oppositional viewpoint, painting them implicitly as wreckers and hypocrites. He eschews references to any supporting material. He elides his perspective with that of others and he retreats into a cosy conservatism that may well give him comfort but is of little use to the rest of us, public and private sector who are being asked to take the pain.
And always with the bloody americanos-to-go. We deserve better. We really do.