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Chronicle of a fail foretold… December 5, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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I have little sympathy for the union leadership. And I’m a union member. So why so little sympathy? Well, one could query how it was that a relatively uncontroversial short term working hours plan could morph into the ‘unpaid leave’ monster that allowed both the media and the political classes (the utter hypocrisy of FF backbenchers given their stance on expenses during the negotiations for the PfG is a sight to behold – but then bait and switch has always been their forte) to initiate a series of unrelenting attacks. That this measure is reasonably widely used in the private sector appears to have escaped almost all of those doing the attacking. That the unions weren’t savvy enough to recognise that this would provide an Achilles heel to all their great plans and proposals tells us something about their intuitive ability to misread the public mood and to worsen it… radically. All it would have taken was to hammer home the message that this was a normal device used in the private sector at times like this, a device that the Irish Times itself had promoted.

No mean achievement.

Secondly I have little sympathy because this cruelly underlines the fact that the government feels that they can impose their will by fiat. Surely, the government wobbled somewhat – and to what extent might well be instructive – even in terms of negotiating. But they must have seen from the point that strike No. 2 was called off that they had the field to themselves. If the unions weren’t willing to sit it out and increase the pressure the chances were that they weren’t that serious. Governments have a tendency to notice stuff like that. Now this isn’t to say the unions are quite irrelevant. The Green Party in particular has been eyeing them nervously, perhaps because the GP has absolutely no sense of what organised labour is about and no particular interest or sympathy towards it. But I wouldn’t say the GP rates the unions more highly today than they did last week. And God knows, they might well be right to have that attitude.

And on a side bar issue, from talking to union members I have the strong impression, backed up by some of the comments here in the wake of the first strike, that there was no great enthusiasm or appetite for continued action. The general, as distinct from particular groupings, mass of the union membership was resigned to impending cuts and – I would hazard – thought that the action might at best ameliorate the effects slightly of said cuts. This ties into the inconvenient fact that most union members also buy into the orthodoxy to a greater or lesser degree. They may, and do, feel that they are [rightly] under considerable attack from the media, that those attacks are [rightly] unfair and they have [rightly] given more than most in terms of their wages being diminished, bar those who have lost their jobs. But this brings us to my last reason for having little or no sympathy for the leadership.

While there was some slight effort initially to resile from the orthodoxy from early on the unions – generally – bought into the orthodoxy. Perhaps not intellectually, but politically and although drawing back in their negotiations the very fact they were negotiating was indicative of that. Few who cared to look could have missed the delight of the Irish Times at the news last week the unions ‘accepted’ that cuts of €1.3bn were the order of the day. And this approach was so disastrous because it meant that it ceded legitimacy to the government and the orthodoxy when the unions could have, if they had made some effort, provided support to a counter narrative. A counter narrative that is extant in other states facing similar issues and one that in this state given the woefully low level of taxation across range of areas (PRSI being a particularly glaring example – 5% as a percentage of GDP as against 12.8% in other EU-15 states, and yesterday Danny McCoy of IBEC was arguing for further cuts in it to help our beleagured – and given our low tax environment – amazingly inept in parts, private sector) could demonstrate that in contrast to the supposed lack of ability to deal with this crisis other than by cuts we haven’t even begun to address alternative revenue streams that other European states of our size consider a norm. That we are, as it were, being forced by orthodoxy to look at only one side of the equation of tax and spend, that being spend.

Indeed one could argue the the strategic goal of the unions should have been to act to put that argument front and centre before the Irish people, ahead of public sector wages, ahead of everything. Because once you accept the parameters of orthodoxy you’re lost, since then it comes down to how much is cut and not why there are cuts. And since the eschatological approach of those arguing for cuts leaves no wiggle room (look at the actuality of unpaid leave, effective 5 – 7% wage cuts, as against… er… 5 – 6% wage cuts sought by Cowen today from pay cuts). Truth is pay cuts may be less penurious than unpaid leave. But that won’t get through the filter.

And the unions still fail!

So where would such a strategy of not accepting the orthodoxy leave us in practice? Well, first up it could have take two possible routes subsequently. First a strongly antagonistic and activist line to whatever was served up in the Budget and after. Or a campaign of passive resistance, acknowledging that cuts would be imposed, refusing to accept their legitimacy and adamantly refusing to accept any further returns to the well – this latter while bowing to the relative strengths of the players would have the advantage of going with the instincts of union members while offering an opportunity to educate them and those more widely afield as to why alternatives aren’t just feasible but necessary if we value the societal compact. Neither approach would be optimal, but they would at least have the value of providing a counter narrative to the orthodoxy.

And they wouldn’t leave us in a situation where the unions had engaged in a cosmetic round of actions and negotiations where very participation and engagement on the Government’s terms is to lose the argument from the off.

As an addendum, even if this were doomed to fail from the off, how it fails is crucial…

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1. alastair - December 5, 2009

since the eschatological approach of those arguing for cuts leaves no wiggle room (look at the actuality of unpaid leave, effective 5 – 7% wage cuts, as against… er… 5 – 6% wage cuts sought by Cowen today from pay cuts). Truth is pay cuts may be less penurious than unpaid leave. But that won’t get through the filter.

I doubt that a pay cut saves less than unpaid leave – which is the useful measure to apply. It has a knock on for PS pension recipients that the unpaid leave mechanism wouldn’t, and it negates the potential additional cost implications of re-rostering and substitution overtime.

It might also be the case that there’s merit in some private sector employers using the unpaid leave mechanism, but that the same approach makes no sense in parts of the public sector – where there isn’t a comparable downturn in demand for particular services. I’d have no problem with unpaid leave for educationalists for instance – given their wriggle room to assign said unpaid leave outside the classroom, but doubt that it makes much sense for, say, firefighters.

a campaign of passive resistance, acknowledging that cuts would be imposed, refusing to accept their legitimacy and adamantly refusing to accept any further returns to the well

I doubt many believe that there won’t be a return to the well over the next couple of years – even allowing for the undoubted increase in taxation that will be required as well. The so called ‘orthodoxy’ recognises that there’s the need for more secure and broader based taxation mechanisms in the stead of property boom tax revenues. All thats at issue within that recognition is when to roll them out, and where to apply them.

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EWI - December 5, 2009

but that the same approach makes no sense in parts of the public sector – where there isn’t a comparable downturn in demand for particular services.

Why don’t you tell that to McCarthy and his cutbacks?

Or is it just that it’s a convenient stick to beat workers with at this moment in time.

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2. Crocodile - December 5, 2009

‘ I’d have no problem with unpaid leave for educationalists for instance – given their wriggle room to assign said unpaid leave outside the classroom.’
Would it be your guess then, Alistair, that in the event of unpaid leave, most public servants would work fewer days for less pay, but those in education would be expected to work the same days for less pay?
@WbyS, I was at work this morning and my colleagues fit the general picture you paint. There was a degree of disgust with union leadership, of course. Also much worry about what’s coming next. But some voices saying, in effect, ‘we take the pay cut and give absolutely nothing else from now on. Forget ‘reform’ if it means longer hours, more ‘productivity’ etc.’
There was worry during the talks about what ‘other savings’ might mean for conditions. At least everyone understands what an across-the-board pay cut means. And everybody understands that, whatever industrial action follows the budget, the media and ‘public opinion’ will have nothing to do with it.

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alastair - December 6, 2009

Would it be your guess then, Alistair, that in the event of unpaid leave, most public servants would work fewer days for less pay, but those in education would be expected to work the same days for less pay?

Well – yes, yes it would – and anyone who would suggest that teachers demand their enforced leave during term time doesn’t give a damn about the actual job they do. If you’ve no problem with teachers already getting paid for fewer days work than others in the PS, then I can’t see where the objection would arise now.

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Crocodile - December 6, 2009

So you’d be trying to do a partnership deal, bringing your workforce along with you, by telling two thirds of the workforce they’d get 12 days extra holidays and the other third they’d gain nothing?

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ivorthorne - December 6, 2009

Alastair, don’t be so silly. Teachers get paid for the time they work, but it’s equally divided among the 12 months of the year. It’s not a case that they’re getting money for nothing, any more than it’s the case that a pensioner is being paid for not working. Teachers get paid for the job they do and the time they work the same as anybody else, it’s just a case that their schedule of payment is different.

Teachers could probably have been brought into the 12 days unpaid leave without closing schools, but by reforming the structure of the school day and year. A hypothetical but simple example would be that lunch time be reduced by x minutes everyday, school would finish earlier and teachers would get paid less.

I’m hardly in favour of a shorter school year, but where was this concern when it came to the government’s plans to increase class size and reducing the number of assistants in the classroom? These moves had the same type of impact. Could it be that it’s far easier for many parents to overlook these attacks on education when they don’t have to source others means of supervising their children?

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

Those of us who read McCarthy would wonder precisely the same thing as you point to ivorthorne. We might also muse on the curious fact that third level got much less hassle from the Report – and I work there myself on contract so my axe grinding is there for all to see – than second and primary level. Which given the much better salaries, much less challenging work environment for tutors and lecturers, more motivated students (and generally much less contact time) and shorter weekly/monthly and annual working hours than than secondary or primary seems odd.

Or could it be that as you say, people are paid for the work they do in various contexts and it’s impossible reduce this to a simple issue of hours or days.

Sauce for the gander.

As regards the matter of teaching hours and outcomes… here’s some thoughts on that issue from earlier in the year…

https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/an-bhfuil-cead-agam-dul-go-dti-where-exactly/

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alastair - December 6, 2009

A hypothetical but simple example would be that lunch time be reduced by x minutes everyday, school would finish earlier and teachers would get paid less.

You were saying about silly?

You actually think that anyone could stand over withdrawing teaching time, when there’s a perfectly suitable couple of months free that wouldn’t impact on any students. I’m not too sure what ‘partnership’ means to you, but I can see you’re rather wedded to ‘what we have we hold’.

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ivorthorne - December 6, 2009

Alastair, the example was, as stated, hypothetical. It was a simple example of the kind of alternative available. Even then, it still seems more sensible than the proposition you support, and you might note that the example I gave didn’t actually impact on teaching time.

If I’m to believe the average journalist, Alastair, everybody is taking pay-cuts. Having, no doubt, already taken a pay-cut, have you approached your employer with an offer to work through your holidays, take unpaid leave or simply work through paid holidays? Apparently, it’s the patriotic thing to do these days. But hey, why restrict patriotism to times like these? Heck, why don’t all just tell our employers to pay us whatever they like?

And given your opposition to reduced teaching time, am I take it that you also oppossed the increase in the teacher-pupil ratio and the reduction in the number of special needs and languages assistants with the same vigor that you use in your endorsement of removing holiday time from teachers?

WorldbyStorm, I imagine third level got much less hassle because there just aren’t that many people working there. McCarthy was primarily, a political exercise. That report, and the government’s approach in general, isn’t so much about being just and fair as it is about the bottom line, both political and economic. Why antagonise one group when, even if you beat them, you still have to antagonise a second group in order to make the savings you need? I suspect the government just figures that third level teachers aren’t worth their time. Well, not yet anyway.

The post you linked to is interesting. The reports you reference are important, and unfortunately, generally ignored when it comes to debates on education in this country. What becomes clear when one reads them is that there is a great deal of room for reform when it comes to the structure of the school day and year.

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

Interesting Ivor Thorne I’d not thought of the McCarthy approach to 3rd level in quite that context. Re year and day reform no doubt at all there’s scope for serious examination. That said I used until recently believe that holidays should be shorter. Reading the research I’m not quite so sure.

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alastair - December 6, 2009

Having, no doubt, already taken a pay-cut, have you approached your employer with an offer to work through your holidays, take unpaid leave or simply work through paid holidays? Apparently, it’s the patriotic thing to do these days. But hey, why restrict patriotism to times like these? Heck, why don’t all just tell our employers to pay us whatever they like?

And given your opposition to reduced teaching time, am I take it that you also oppossed the increase in the teacher-pupil ratio and the reduction in the number of special needs and languages assistants with the same vigor that you use in your endorsement of removing holiday time from teachers?

I’ve seen my ‘private sector’ income reduced by a third over the last year on the back of the actual economic situation we see ourselves in. I’m rather less skeptical of the impact of the downturn on private sector incomes than you are – and recognise that when revenue is lost you have no choice but to adjust to that reality. And, for what its worth, I also work in an PS teaching role, where I’d expect that – had a unpaid leave arrangement been introduced – time taken would fall over the bleeding obvious and least impactful portion of the year.

I was certainly opposed to the removal of language assistants and increased class sizes, but quite how that relates to this issue eludes me. Perhaps my ‘vigor’ on the notion that teachers wouldn’t take their time out of existing (paid) downtime has something to do with personal responsibilities?

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ejh - December 6, 2009

and recognise that when revenue is lost you have no choice but to adjust to that reality

This is one of these phrases that mean a lot less than they are supposed to, since there are various ways of adjusting to reality and various consequences bound up with each.

What’s the P in PS, by the way?

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

Given that the proposals of the Commission on Taxation – whose Report was predicated on explicitly retaining our ‘low tax economic model’ haven’t been implemented and there appears little haste to see more than cosmetic tax increases at the Budget it’s hard to believe ejh that there’s any appetite on the part of those who are loath to explore alternatives, even the most minor ones that would still remain within the economic model which has been hugely responsible for our plight. So it’s hardly surprising for those of us who advocate aligning with EU-15 averages in the area of taxation considered dangerously radical and alternatives are verboten.

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ejh - December 6, 2009

There’s this extraordinary intellectual disconnect ,simply expressed as such:

a. We have an economic model which works!

b. The economic model has disastrously ceased to work!

c. We must without question keep our economic model!

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

What’s astounding to me is how even the mildly social democratic approaches – so mild that New Labour in the UK, the Christian Democrats in Germany and various other parties in states big and small are willing to implement them – that so many of us champion, short of a mass workers party willing to implement something a little bit more meaty, are seen as almost intellectually, economically and politically infra dig.

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alastair - December 6, 2009

This is one of these phrases that mean a lot less than they are supposed to, since there are various ways of adjusting to reality and various consequences bound up with each.

I think we both have a clear understanding of the point – you can borrow and reduce expenditure – as we are doing, or you can borrow more and not reduce expenditure – which sure has consequences involved. And unless you subscribe to the domestic ‘pot of gold’ notion, there’s little credibility to a meaningful tax bonanza to offset either in the short term. Two aspects of our situation should be obvious to all
1. we need to find new export revenue sources, and until that happens (and it won’t in any short order) we can’t afford to service additional national debt.
2. we need to reduce our cost of living in the meantime, given that it’s based on burst bubble revenues, and can’t be supported by any taxation formula – however equitable.

What’s the P in PS, by the way?
Public.

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ejh - December 6, 2009

Then how is it distingushed from Private? This is Puzzling me.

Now in your point 1 – what is meant by “we can’t afford”? Can’t afford in the way that I can’t afford to stay at the Bangkok Hilton, or in the sense that I can’t afford to eat out tonight? Or some other sense? By what degree can it not be afforded?

And what are you going to do if the consequence of cutting government expenditure is – as it will be – that consumer spending and taxation revenue both decline?

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alastair - December 6, 2009

what is meant by “we can’t afford”? Can’t afford in the way that I can’t afford to stay at the Bangkok Hilton, or in the sense that I can’t afford to eat out tonight?

I’d think that most of the states capacity to spend on lifes luxuries has been worked out of the system by now, wouldn’t you? More akin to can’t afford to eat than can’t afford 5 star cosseting.

By what degree can it not be afforded?

currently measured at about €500 million a week.

And what are you going to do if the consequence of cutting government expenditure is – as it will be – that consumer spending and taxation revenue both decline?

Oh but they have, and they will – regardless of what formula you apply to cutting, borrowing, or taxation. Nothing is going improve in terms of income until replacement revenue streams for the property bubble is found. Taxation has been increased already, and yet taxation revenues are down – because there isn’t the same level of revenue available – no matter what way you tax it. Our national reality for the next few years is one of reduced income – end of.

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ejh - December 6, 2009

I’d think that most of the states capacity to spend on lifes luxuries has been worked out of the system by now, wouldn’t you?

Firstly, the national debt isn’t “life’s luxuries”, and second, no I don’t.

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alastair - December 6, 2009

Firstly, the national debt isn’t “life’s luxuries”, and second, no I don’t.

eh? Who said it was? It’s you who asked whether we were talking about hilton style extravagance or day-to-day necessities.

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

It’s notable ejh how the debate is distorted to one where those advocating our stance are portrayed as looking for something unfeasible in terms of taxation which is something neither you nor I nor others here have and few enough serious voices on the left have advocated either.

What has been suggested is that Ireland is a remarkably low tax economy, self-described as such by the Commission on Taxation, that the government won’t even implement the minimal suggestions of said Commission – in order it is said by govt to preserve said low tax model, and that if we were to increase our tax intake across PRSI/local taxes/increases in income tax where appropriate/RPT etc we could see significant revenues without needing to breach EU-15 averages on these.

That would mean everyone would be paying increasingly higher taxes across the board, but that’s what one does in advanced capitalist democracies and it’s as far from the ‘fleece the rich’ narrative as one can find. Our current tax environment is structured from choice, not necessity. It doesn’t have to be low tax based. Astoundingly, though some might not realise it, revenue streams aren’t some sort of finite reserve like oil (however much the proponents of Laffer may like to think), they operate in an organic fashion depending on context and environment. Other European countries with very similar economies have managed to survive in higher tax contexts (and by the way none of this is to argue for increased corporation taxation, albeit that could be done again with fairly minimal effects particularly if it were time delimited). Indeed the figures are that for the most competitive economies in the EU-15 a median or higher broad based tax structure is actually beneficial.

And the counter analyses are show up by the €500 million pw figures. Implement the cuts in wages and services, etc and we see that driven down by a minimal percentage and the overall government borrowing likewise (as logically it would be). It’s a faith based response, like all economic approaches in a sense, but one which puts its faith behind contracting the economy, cutting service provision, etc, etc. But it’s genius is to pretend that it’s not. Which of course, if we go back to the unions, is shown up by the fact that it was only today that we heard union leaders making the basic point that short term working is a measure used across the private sector at times like this.

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Crocodile - December 6, 2009

Heard David Begg speculate today that if they’d used the term ‘lay offs’ instead of ‘paid holidays’ people might have understood it better.
Unscientific poll: I was at work today, Sunday, public service workplace. Lunchtime chat with four colleagues, all women, twenties and thirties. All very anxious about the budget, but none keen on more strike action, for a variety of reasons: ‘I can’t lose more days’ pay’;’It would give the government an excuse to push through changes in conditions’; ‘striking won’t reverse the budget changes’; ‘it’s what our enemies want us to do’.
Underlying all this was real shock at the amount of vituperation they were all getting from their friends, neighbours, their own families. We read Diarmuid Doyle’s article in the Tribune where he quoted public service workers’ responses to his supportive piece last week: ‘one emailer wrote he would prefer to tell somebody he was a male prostitute than own up to being a public sector worker’. On the lunchtime RTE news a voxpop consisted of eight or ten contributions, every one saying ‘cut public sector wages’ without one note of sympathy.
And we all agreed, ruefully, that we’re all too middle class – as is the public sector generally, now – to make convincing barricade-manners. Most of the public service works in health and education, and though I don’t have the figures, most probably have third level education, own houses etc. To be seen as the enemy within is not a badge of honour, it’s profoundly disturbing.The common view among my colleagues, particularly the younger ones, is that the union leaders have let us down, all right – and that they shouldn’t place too high a value on the open-ended mandate for industrial action they got before last week’s talks debacle.

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3. WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

I’d imagine that’d be a dynamic we’ll see more of Crocodile.

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4. CL - December 5, 2009

The main objective of orthodox Irish economic policy is to satisfy the dictates of international finance (including its domestic component): the purpose of the economy is to please the bankers and moneylenders, not to meet the needs of the workers who produce the wealth.
This is the attitude that the IMF has taken with countries in economic crisis, with usually disastrous results.
The corrupt oligarchy led by Lenihan/Cowen wave the IMF cudgel to frighten people into accepting the IMF-type policies they are pursuing.
Purchased economists, as government advisors and as media hacks, propagandize the same obsolete doctrine. Timid, ineffective union leaders have bought into this pernicious mind-set to the detriment of the union membership.
“I hope Ireland would be interested in our advice but it is hard for me to imagine that they would be wanting our money,” Caroline Atkinson, the IMF’s director of external affairs, said.
http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/ireland-not-likely-to-seek-cash-bailout-says-imf-1965123.html

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

Which reiterates what the IMF said earlier in the year. Of course that could be simply optics not to scare the markets.

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5. CMK - December 5, 2009

I’m glad the deal collapsed, because it advances the possibility of real social change here over the coming decades.

The contours of future struggle are clearer and, as the state has made clear, ‘partnership’ with the unions is, effectively, over. The union leadership has disgraced itself and shown that they’re not fit for purpose and, furthermore, that the middle-of-the-road/don’t- frighten-the-horses trade unionism they advocate is self-destructing under the weight of its contradications.

Equally, the vast majority of PS union members have accepted the orthodoxy as it presently stands and broadly believe that if PS workers take another cut in the Budget it will go some way to contributing towards eventual recovery. But as the recent CLR piece ‘The Latvia Option’ seems to suggest the orthodoxy of cuts and nothing else is almost certain to deepen the recession into a prolonged depression with concomitant risks of serious social conflict. Oddly, you see no mention of what the financial and ‘reputational’ cost will be of a state wracked by strife; and it seems that the state and the media orthodoxy appear not to grasp that there are limits to how much people can be pushed and we’ll reach those limits over the next few years.

For the left it’s only the ‘end of the beginning’, and for all the depression and soul-searching, opportunities and surprises are undoubtedly going to emerge as workers feel the pressure of the imposition of the orthodoxy upon them. The left is certainly not yet in ‘low lying fruit’ territory, but it’s not far. The absence among the cheerleaders of the orthodoxy in the media and state, as mentioned above, of any understanding of the political limits to cutting wages and services, while continuing with their expansion of the welfare state for the benefit of business, will lead them to overreach themselves and, at that point, whenever it is, the left will have to strike.

A first step now will be ridding the unions of both the current leadership and disciplining those members who fail to see the need for action.

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EWI - December 5, 2009

I’m glad the deal collapsed, because it advances the possibility of real social change here over the coming decades.

Myself, not so much. This will hit a lot of families very hard – and you can be sure that IBEC will be back for more in six months.

A first step now will be ridding the unions of both the current leadership

Agree with this completely.

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CMK - December 5, 2009

It gives me no pleasure to say that I’m glad the deal collapsed as I’ll certainly suffer as much as the next PS worker.

My point is that by collapsing the negotiations the state has signalled it’s intentions towards PS workers, and those private sector can expect no favours if they get uppity, regardless of all the emoting being done on their behalf.

I’ve long felt that there was a growing mood to ‘deal with’ the unions among the right wing parties in the Dáil. And I think the feeling is that if ‘we’ can ‘get rid of’ union influence then a major barrier to economic recovery will be removed and ‘we’ can get back to implementing IBEC’s slogan: ‘The business of Ireland is business’.

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EWI - December 5, 2009

My point is that by collapsing the negotiations the state has signalled it’s intentions towards PS workers, and those private sector can expect no favours if they get uppity, regardless of all the emoting being done on their behalf.

Absolutely. The next items on IBEC’s shopping-list will undoubtedly be social welfare and the minimum wage.

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6. WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

Couldn’t agree with you more CMK about the media etc not grasping the concept that there’s only so much that people can be pushed. I hope that you’re right though about the opportunity we face. Not sure how you can discipline people though… educate yes.

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CMK - December 5, 2009

On, eh, mature reflection ‘discipline’ was a bad choice of words. And, yes, educate is more appropriate. What I was getting at in an inarticulate sort of way was what I feel will be a challenge for the trade union movement over the coming years. The divide between those (a minority, alas) who see the need to resist and are reasonably politically informed about what’s behind the hegemonic position of cuts and austerity; and those (the union beauracracy mainly) who either support the state and will agitate to keep the unions timid while austerity is imposed, or those who have swallowed the media consensus and regard themselves and their colleagues as the main economic problem the country faces. Get the victim to blame themselves and you’re onto a winner….

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

That’s it… absolutely. I do agree with EWI though as well, this is going to be a very tough time for an awful lot of people, in both public and private sector.

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7. EWI - December 5, 2009

By the way, I am still utterly flabbergasted that the unions have allowed the labour of the next couple of generations to be mortgaged to bail-out the wealthy without a murmur.

The time for ‘action’ was much earlier in the year, and it was against NAMA, and people were crying out for it.

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8. EWI - December 5, 2009

And, sorry to thread-jack, but some may be following a thread on IrishElection, started by a post by VeronicaMcDermott pushing the so-called ‘ClimateGate’ nonsense. In the course of which, it has become clear that my newest friend on the Internets is indeed an AGW denialist.

Anyway, my mention that this person has a past history as a longtime PR shill for BNFL has resulted in all further comments by myself being deleted, for those wondering at my lack of reply there.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

I was wondering about VMcD. Seemed to me to be yet another purveyor of ‘pragmatism. You’re locked out? Feck it, it wouldn’t happen here on the CLR to someone who dissents from our approach.

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EWI - December 5, 2009

You’re locked out? Feck it, it wouldn’t happen here on the CLR to someone who dissents from our approach.

She seems to have admin privileges over there, which I may need to email Cian or Simon to find out what’s up with (they are well used to my style after all these years, I think).

Well, if she is pushing a denialist position on climate change from a pro-nuclear position, she is either off message or behind the times.

The BNFL thing does seem to be in the past (though there’s a book, which is even in hardcover). Who’s she’s working for now (if at all), I can’t see from what I’ve found online. Of course, the old FI was in the business of boldly taking positions on their own initiative with a view to attracting corporate sponsorship, so who’s to say?

She seems to be a lobbyist in the “teach the controversy” style that we’ve seen in the past decade with Intelligent Design etc. For example, visitors to her website are invited to “Join the debate” on nuclear power (and there’s a lovely endorsement from O’Malley up there too).

David Bellamy was at it and saying that nuclear power might be the only way forward if things went pear shaped.

Bellamy went off his rocker with regards to AGW some years ago. I recall that he announced that he was retiring from talking about this after Monbiot demolished him publicly, only to (of course) re-appear once it had all blown over.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

Woaah… I read her comments. She seemed seriously rattled, although who can tell. She has admin rights? Really? I’m a contributor there, albeit not in donkey’s years, and I never had admin rights. That’s pretty dismal. And as for her comments ‘extremists on both sides’… Yeah, right.

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Seán Ó Tuama - December 5, 2009

Well, if she is pushing a denialist position on climate change from a pro-nuclear position, she is either off message or behind the times. As I have said in previous threads, there is a huge danger at the moment of nuclear power being pushed as an “alternative” form of energy in the context of reducing global warming. Even many “greens” have become much more favourable to nuclear power in this context.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

Séan, don’t know if you remember a GP associated conference about 87 in that place beside Christ Church – David Bellamy was at it and saying that nuclear power might be the only way forward if things went pear shaped. And I open the Guardian today to see he’s pushing the same line.

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EWI - December 5, 2009

Even many “greens” have become much more favourable to nuclear power in this context.

There’s definitely a ‘entrepeneurial’ element in the modern GP who are seeing fortunes in this (why anyone might think of the latter-day Greens as of the left, I cannot understand).

The problem, of course, is that a free-market rather than regulation-based solution inevitably attracts fraud against consumers (i.e. “green-washing”).

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

I think some are of the left. But it does seem to me that they’ve repositioned themselves in a place they think is beyond left and right, but which, unfortunately, isn’t.

Re Bellamy, sure, if everything collapsed and we were in a runaway global warming context I’d support nuclear power as a solution – and I’m pretty agnostic about it in the first place – but I just don’t see a percentage in it while there are alternatives. And this is my beef with Lomberg et al. I’m half convinced that AGW is now beyond pulling back, but that doesn’t mean we hare after right wing ‘solutions’, instead we move towards better tech and what level of sustainability we can use just ‘cos its better, it’s easier, it’s less harmful…

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9. Crocodile - December 5, 2009

BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ (think it was Thursday) had a feature on the opening gap between Labour and Tories on how to tackle the UK’s financial crisis.I’m no fan of New Labour, but it appears that there’s an increasing appetite in that party for finding a way that doesn’t involve slashing public services.
The Tory guy on the programme sounded exactly like FF or FG – competitiveness, living beyond our means, international markets etc – while the Labour spokesman emphasised capping high incomes, increasing tax rather than cutting services, borrowing for stimulus.
Now, at this point somebody usually jumps in to say that we’re in a much worse position in Ireland. Well, the UK’s spending deficit next year will be close to 200 billion. Pat McArdle says in today’s IT that in percentage terms our deficit will be lower than the UK’s next year.
But the spokesman for the UK’s government party was ruling out cuts in welfare payments and cuts in public service wages were never even mentioned as an option.
Truly our consensus is a strange thing.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

Ah, but you see Irish exceptionalism is indeed a strange beast. We’re meant to align with Europe on pay but not on taxes. We’re meant to have the public services we can afford, but not from what is affordable in the medium term but what we can afford now, here, at this point, and ignoring any potential other revenue streams. We must stay with our low tax model despite the fuck up it’s caused us… etc, etc… A wondrous thing.

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10. ejh - December 5, 2009

Every country is in a worse position than all the others, if you believe the rightwing press in any given one. Depends which criteria they pick of course.

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11. EWI - December 5, 2009

Every country is in a worse position than all the others, if you believe the rightwing press in any given one.

Well, at least our own lot have left over comparing the country to Cuba/Venezeula for the moment.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2009

There is that… for sure…

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12. CL - December 6, 2009

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

-With the passage of time it becomes easy to forget how grim it was; how gloomy the public dialogue; how low the national morale. Civil servants reportedly murmured at their coffee breaks about the International Monetary Fund coming in to take over the direction of the economy. Bankers feared for the liquidity of their institutions. The money of many of the rich, as we have learned, courtesy of the Dublin Castle tribunals, flowed from the country. The long-term unemployed thronged the dole offices. At the embassy in Ballsbridge lines of mostly young, well-educated people, queued for visas for the United States. And for each lucky candidate a dozen simply went and worked illegally.-IT, Mar 3, 2000

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13. yourcousin - December 6, 2009

Sounds you folks need some militant anti-capitalist unionism to me, cough, cough.

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

Yes, you’re not far wrong there. Mind you we also need some militant anti-capitalist union members…

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14. dmfod - December 6, 2009

re McCarthy not recommending huge cuts in third level & increasing lecturers’ hours – he is a lecturer in UCD…

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sonofstan - December 6, 2009

Which hasn’t prevented universities cutting back hours and rates of pay for those on the lower slopes, before y’all think we’re uniquely protected with the sacred groves.

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WorldbyStorm - December 6, 2009

Absolutely, and as one stuck between the lower slopes and the highlands of full time permanent contracts that’s a source of constant irritation to me to see how people on part time contracts are treated.

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EWI - December 7, 2009

he is a lecturer in UCD…

Absolutely true, and something that was at the bottom of his SBP opinion piece this weekend.

Incidentally, the highlight of which has to have been his bemoaning off-balance-sheet accounting (which he was comparing the proposed public sector furlough to), yet never once in his extensive article mentioning the ‘NAMA’ word.

http://www.sbpost.ie/commentandanalysis/shortterm-solutions-will-not-solve-our-problems-46067.html)

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15. ivorthorne - December 6, 2009

As indeed are many of the talking heads that pop up in the Irish media.

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16. The Digest – Dec 6 2009 – The Story - December 6, 2009

[…] Cedar, union member and now union critic, WorldByStorm, eviscerates the union leadership for their negotiation failures… That we are, as it were, being forced by orthodoxy to look at only one side of the equation […]

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17. Tomboktu - December 7, 2009

I think the problems with the unions go deeper than the negotiating strategy, either last week or generally over the last year.

The nature of the engagements between the union leadership and their members and between the union leadership, on the one hand, and the public and press, on the other hand, both need serious overhaul.

Union leaderships view union members in the way that backbench TDs are viewed by government ministers: lobby fodder who will, from time to time, throw up a talented individual or two who can be invited into the inner circle of leadership, but which is otherwise there to make up the numbers and secure the mandate. Union officials need to “service” particular issues in specific workplaces or for individual members who need representation, much as Ministers need to let their party TD know about the grant for the local sports club or what is happening with Mrs X’s application for support whichever of the schemes she has applied or support. The commercial offers of AVCs or reduced rates on insurance compond that “service provider” model of unions.

Let me give a list of specific instances with engagement between leadership and members. None of them by itself is proof of underlying failure — mistakes will happen from time to time — but as a whole, they do, I believe, show that something is seriously wrong.

My “sample” is a set of nine unions. Over my working life of 20 years, I have been a member of three unions, two in the private sector, and my current one in the public sector. In the last one, I was on the executive for a period and represented the union on a minor Congress committee. In my public sector work place, four unions represent different grades of staff. As it is quite a small employer, over the years I think I have got a reasonable sense of how those other unions function, at least locally. And, on top of that, the nature of my work brings me into semi-regular contact with three other unions, two of which send me their union magazine when it is issued.

Among the six unions that I have been a member of or that are organised in my current workplace, only one has been genuinely open to involvement by members and demonstrated any thought that existing officials and activists need to avoid being cliquish in a way that excluded new blood.

In my current union, a business meeting that ordinary members can attend is held only once per year — the branch AGM — and in my eight years in the union, notice of that meeting has been issued to everybody in the branch only once. Notice of the branch AGM has been issued to everybody in my work place in five of the eight years I have been there (and would not have been issued to us this year if a colleague didn’t happen to hear about the AGM through a friend and go asking for materials to distribute).

The union also organises theme-based seminars such as for new members or for women members, but these are poorly advertised and they do not provide a forum for upward feedback or the sharing of ideas.

Another union in my work place failed to ballot any of its members in the office on the strike. A colleague told me she contacted her branch secretary to say they had not been told about arrangements for the strike, about obtaining placards, or about the law concerning what picketers may and must not do, she was told that members should have gone and looked for that information themselves and not wait for it to be passed on.

Of the four union magazines I see regulary, only one is used to encourage members to participate in the union. For example, in the latest issue of the magazine, in among the news items and features there is an article on how to draft a motion for the annual convention so that it will not be ruled out of order.

And on the topic of the magazines, my own unions’ magazine says more than I suspect head office realises with the captions it puts on photographs of union members at events. One of my colleagues attended a seminar on equality, and a few photos from that seminar were used. There she was, between two other members and the caption: “Faces at the recent equality seminar”. Is it beyond the wit of the union to try to put names on people, especially when they are taking and using small group shots? Or is only those who have served on committees for many years and have become insiders who deserve that courtesy?

Not quite the same type of a union magazine, but I have a grumble about Congress’s The Union Post. As an organisation, my employer gets a PDF emailed to the “info@” email address, and depending on which of my colleagues is dealing with those emails that day, it may be passed on to all of us, labelled “for information”. In the email is a note explaining that the Union Post is A3 in size and if you need an edition for printing on an A4 printer, please contact them. Memo to Congress: you fail. You are the ones who need to make it accessible to people and not put potential supporters through hoops to get the information you have published.

In the questions and answers session after his recent Constance Markiewicz Memorial Lecture, Jack O’Connor said he felt the unions had a job to do of educating their members. I would agree (in part*), and I think the magazines would be an useful place to start. With the exception of that one magazine I mentioned favourably above, the ones I see are dull and uninformative.

Where are the accessible, readable columns on the economy and the union’s case in the magazines? The articles that are published on that are parochial and unilluminating. Excellent material is available — material that is both informative and engaging, and which goes beyond asserting simply that “we don’t deserve to be hit” that I see too much of. And that doesn’t require already busy union officials attempting to become economic journalists. The magazine editors should use the material that is already there — Progressive-Economy.ie, The Recession Diaries and Irish Left Review (and, indeed, Cedar Lounge Revolution) are contain some very strong articles that make the case for a different approach to economic recovery. Is it beyond the wit of Congress and the individual unions to set up some sort of a syndication system with some of the contributors to those sources?

More generally, apart from that second union I was a member of, I get no sense that unions consist of people who have come together or joined an organisation for a collective purpose. Reliance on formal structures of branches, motions at ADMs, elections, and ballots is not effective for engendering that sense of a shared purpose. Real leadership — another concern Jack O’Connor raised at the Constance Markiewicz Memorial Lecture — will look to revitalise that sense in the unions.

—–
*I say “in part” to Jack O’Connor’s view on this because I think the unions need to do more than educate members. SIPTU is not one of the sample of nine that I draw on for my observations, so I do not know how well that applies to Jack O’Connor’s own union.

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18. WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2009

That’s food for thought Tomboktu… certainly there’s significant room for improvement…

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19. conandrumm - December 7, 2009

Surely the ‘unpaid leave’ manouvre was a gambit to undo the decade in which the public service was allowed to go forth, decentralise, and spawn multiple agencies?

This usefully distanced Ministers from responsibility/accountability, and from regulatory roles that had previously been a function of ministerial departments.

If put into effect unpaid leave would have showed up the areas of functional redundancy in the public service. This is not a major issue in the provision of frontline services – ie those who deal directly with the public – but the Government and the unions should have to justify every public service job where there is no contact with the public.

It is very, very depressing to become aware of the layers of administration that have become interposed between the citizen and the state. It diminishes accountabilty, delays the delivery of services, and greatly increases the cost of those services.

The public service needs to account for itself in the way similar to those charities that break down contributions into percentage spending on administration and beneficiaries. We have to move, collectively, towards a system of accountability, as citizens and as public servants.

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CMK - December 7, 2009

That’s one way of looking at the question; a deeply problematic one in the current context, but a valid point.

Now let’s turn your logic in a different direction. Starting with the premise that each business in the state can only be permitted to function when it can guarnatee a) that its workers will be paid a decent, livable, wage; b) that workers will have full trade union representation if they so wish; c) that the company will pay all taxes due to the state and will not, nor will its directors, engage in any form of tax avoidance; d) that profits from the business will either be shared between workers and directors or reinvested in the company or used for any purpose agreed between workers and directors.

Accountability is all very well, but by limiting it to the public sector one is exposing one’s arguments as bogus. No business should be allowed to function that fails to adopt some form of the above principles. Focusing exclusively on accountability in the public sector is allowing the myriad petty corruptions that dominate business in this country to continue and, as NAMA will prove, to flourish. And, furthermore, you need to be clear in what you mean by ‘public sector’. As there are many important parts of the public sector that are influenced by the private sector and its, for the most part, corrupt and corrupting norms.

The apartheid style welfare state being rolled out for the legal profession and property developers through NAMA is just one indication of how the interaction between public and private sectors complicate matters. 2.6 billion has been set aside for ‘professional fees’ in NAMA and this should be called what it is: social welfare for the legal profession. Of course any calls for ‘accountability’ in this area will be met with vicious resistance.

So, by all means demand accountability from the public sector – one more voice in chorus of thousands – but why stop there? When you’ve drawn up an equally eloquent cri-de-couer for accountability in the private sector then you’ll start to make a kind of sense.

And, no, arguments that businesses are private entities of no concern to the state have no traction or coherence. Not in a context where every business person in the state works on the tacit assumption that the state will pick the pieces when everything goes wrong and that the state will look after workers deemed surplus to requirements.

Sorry for the rant, but conan’s post really angered me.

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ejh - December 7, 2009

the Government and the unions should have to justify every public service job where there is no contact with the public

How precisely would you do that, with regards to “every public service job”? What do you think the costs involved might be?

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20. Slim Charles - December 7, 2009

The Shades, aka ‘Five-0’ have announced that they are to ballot on industrial action.

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21. Crocodile - December 8, 2009

As I write, on Tuesday at 8.10 am, the radio station Newstalk has just preceded its 8am news bulletin with an ‘editorial’ read in grave tones and speaking for the entire organisation. It’s straight from the pen of Ed Walsh – or maybe the desk of Dennis O’Brien – ‘unprecedented crisis’, ‘paying ourselves too much’, ‘hard decisions’, ‘leadership’ etc.
I can’t remember this sort of thing on a radio station before. George Hook has taken to golf-club-bar windbag editorialising at the start of his programmes and nobody’s in much doubt about the position of Ivan Yates, but what price editorial independence in Newstalk and the rest of the O’Brien empire now?

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Paddy Matthews - December 8, 2009

Denis has form when it comes to looking out for the downtrodden.

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22. conandrumm - December 8, 2009

CMK, I’m sorry you’re angered but you should not construe a comment on the public service as an apologia for the private sector. That’s the false dichotomy of the current discourse.

I believe Anglo should have been let go to the wall. The legal (con)fraternity would have had all the help they needed from the crash with directors and executives hastily suing and countersuing each other into penury. That would have been, as they say, a result.

As regards the other banks and the chosen ‘solution’ of NAMA, I agree that it is a wholesale bailout by us, the state, for failed speculative businesses. To my mind it equates with setting up a booth to dispense public money to bookies and gamblers who have had a bad day at the races.

The bankers’ gun to the national temple was the chain that tied pension funds and depositers to the worth of the banks. I see no effort being made to break that chain, while the banks are worthless, so that we don’t end up facing the exact same ideological meltdown in the indeterminate future.

That is a gross failure in current public policy, as are the moves at a local level to lease (long term) social housing from builders who are unable to sell developments. Buy the houses now, they’re cheap.

For what it’s worth I don’t believe anyone has analysed the contributory effect of the de-mutualisation of Irish financial services to our banking debacle. There is a pressing need for a state-backed, mutually-based counterweight to the commercial banks – perhaps building on the credit union and an post ‘bank’ network.

To get back to accountability in the public sector, “one more voice in chorus of thousands”, as you put it. I base my point not on the rhetoric of IBEC or ISME, or their fellow travellers, but on my personal experience with parts of the public service over the last few years.

It is my personal, first-hand experience with several government departments, and with several agencies, including the HSE and FAS, that there is wholesale unaccountability, excessive administration, and significant wastage in the public sector. If a piece of paper from a member of the public has to go through three offices before a decision is taken then that is two offices too many.

As regards ejh’s query, an internal resource allocation process (a streamlined extension of the SMI maybe) should be undertaken in every arm of the public service so that every position is justified.

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23. Gypsy - December 8, 2009

Just heard a snippet of news on Phantom FM. It was a discussion that I’m sure must have been on some other radion station of Tom Geraghty (PSEU) and Mark Fielding (ISME). Fielding was throwing a wobbler at Geraghty, putting the boot in over last week’s collapse of Partnership.

Anybody here the full clip and got a link to it? Anybody know what Fielding’s background is?

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24. Dotacje Unijne Poznań - April 10, 2014

We’ve all heard about entrepreneurs european union korea free trade agreement
who supposedly succeeded without writing a business plan.
The business should be analyzed with vigor and evaluated to fully understand how the activities of the business.
The 3% that had clearly written goals? Headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
To come up with an ad to suit the market and the
existing market conditions in the region, dragging debt holdings
byy European investors to their lowest since September 2013.

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