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Labour equality event September 12, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Inequality, Labour Party, Other Stuff, Skepticism.

Here’s an interesting little challenge. I received an email via the UCD Equal-L list about a Labour Equality event at the weekend. It’s for an panel discussion with Michael D on Friday in Dublin.

The challenge is that given how Labour has performed, I don’t particularly want to promote one of their events. However, some of the speakers on the panel are perfectly capable of laying into the party for its failures in government — in fact, one of them did lay into the government last week in the Irish Independent (here), and another has been a regular critic on her blog (here).

Oh heck. I’ll put it under the fold, so that you have to want to read it in order to see it .

And I’ll use a “skepticism” tag.

That should ease my conscience. 🙂

Labour Equality invites you to an exciting evening with some of Ireland’s leading voices in equality. Our panel will be discussing the values that the Labour Party Presidential candidate Michael D Higgins has put forward:
Inclusive Citizenship, The Creative Society, A Real Republic and Ireland in the World.

What do these values mean to the panelists?
How can these values enhance equality?
How can Ireland use these values to re-build itself?


Michael D Higgins with :
Suzy Byrne, Niall Crowley, Robin Hanan, Alice Leahy, Eric Yao, Katherine Zappone

Fri 16th Sept 7pm

Oak Room, Mansion House, Dawson St, Dublin 2

RSVP Kirsi Hanifin Kirsi.hanifin@labour.ie

Venue fully accessible. Everyone is warmly welcome.


1. Alan Rouge - September 12, 2011

It’s worth pointing out here what Labour and these people mean by “equality”. Well, maybe what they don’t mean.

It has nothing, or next to nothing, to do with economic inequality so no arguments will be made for pegging the lowest income in a society to the highest with a view to creating a more equal society that may fair better – utilizing those Wilkinson & Pickett Spirit Level arguments that equality is bad for everybody and particularly bad for the health of society as a whole.

I read Niall Crowely’s eulogy on the Equality Authority there recently and within the first few pages he notes how getting socio-economic equality rights was not to be countenanced by the powers that be.

Peadar Kirby, one of Ireland’s foremost social and public policy academics notes here that “it is extremely difficult to ensure that people whose material conditions of life fall far below those of the mainstream in society can be treated as equal by others in society simply through anti-discrimination measures.” http://www.humanrights.ie/index.php/2011/08/22/thoughts-on-a-new-ireland-new-ideas-for-a-more-equal-ireland/

There’s no chance of the inequality of telling the SNA kids to suck it up and “take their pain” while bondholders are paid off being highlighted during this meeting.

In “Bust to Boom? The Irish Experience of Growth and Inequality”, Niamh Hardiman writing of social partnership writes that “Government supported the inclusion of the voluntary and community sector (into social partnership) because although their criticism of government policy, expressed through the media, can discomfit government, their support can increase the perceived legitimacy of the social partnership agreements.”

The people involved at events like this may have other beliefs and opinions on say, income inequality but their silence in the public sphere is deafening. Perhaps they’re just there to be used to either give legitimacy to Labour’s social consciousness or it’s all just a sop to them.

Fine Gael obviously don’t give a toss about inequality and injustice regardless of what Gay Mitchell’s leaftlets say:

Labour on the other hand heavily play up these notions of being progressive and of having a social conscience and thus are seen as an outlet to some concerned with social justice – official policy of course belies their claims as the social welfare system is re-designed to be a springboard into free labour for businesses and education policy is gleefully allowed to be dictated by the likes of IBEC and Intel.

In one chapter of Dave Harvey’s “Brief History of Neoliberalism”, he gives a brief outline of how neoliberalism gained the consent of the public in USA and UK during the 80s – in short, appeals were made to the American idea of individual liberty as well as mobilizing the Christain Right while in the UK it was a mix of the ’73 oil crisis and subsequently blaming everything on the unions and the “old ways” among other things. In Ireland neoliberalism, copper-fastened by social partnership using a sheen of progress given by community and voluntary NGOs, came along with the wave of these liberal issues that concern Labour’s “Equality” group – LGBT rights, secularism and getting more women on panels. All fine of course, and I agree with many of them but as an estimated 5,000 people die each year due to inequality it somehow seems utterly absurd for people to talk of the value of equality.

I subscribed to the Equal-L listing a while ago and there’s hardly ever anything on economic equality. Just one update today was a link to a survey of a review to be carried out on poverty targets and “social inclusion” – http://www.socialinclusion.ie/ReviewofNationalPovertyTarget.html


2. sonofstan - September 12, 2011

‘Equality’ and its even more weaselly cognate ‘fairness’ tend to be the discursive property of those who profit through inequality and unfairness – and as a way of securing that position by convincing the classes that might challenge it of their good intentions by offering the placebos of inclusion and recognition in place of economic equality.

And even the Spirit Level argument AR alludes to is riddled with bad faith – the idea that inequality is not bad (just) because it harms the poor, but because it harms society as a whole. In other words, if it was only the insignificant and expendable who were affected, inequality wouldn’t matter so much, but because it harms nice and important and productive people as well ,we ought to worry about it.


Alan Rouge - September 13, 2011

Interesting that you mention the oblique slogan of fairness.

Kathleen Lynch last year in a public lecture tore this slogan apart in a fantastic presentation:

“fairness is not a robust theoretical or legal concept internationally or nationally; there is no law prohibiting it and it is not defined legally within any of the institutions of the state. Second, because fairness is not defined clearly in law or politics, what is fair or unfair is generally defined by those in power. There is no mechanism for challenging the definition or interpretation of ‘what is fair’ as the definition is the prerogative of those who set the terms of interpretation. Third, fairness, in so far as it is used as a discrete concept (for example in economics), is about the fair allocation of envy between individuals: a
fair society is one in which no individual prefers the bundle allocated to her or him above the bundle allocated to anyone else. Fairness is about the equalisation of envy! The problem with such a concept is that it is not only highly individualistic (as it does not address group differences where much injustice is generated) it is also unworkable (who knows what will make others envious or not). In addition, fairness
is tied to subjective preferences which may themselves be founded on deep injustices. Very often those who own a lot of resources will be envious of others who own more; but this is hardly a morally justifiable reason for granting them more than they have already! If the fair allocation-of-envy logic were followed, then all forms of envy would be equally valid so the very well off or the very powerful or privileged would have equal claim on resources as those who are poor.

What I am saying here is that language matters. Fairness is a dangerous concept when it is detached from principles of equality as it is not clearly defined, in built on dubious moral principles, is highly subjective and will be generally interpreted by those in power in their own interests. Relying on fairness as a guiding principle of
policy will lead us down a moral and political cul-de-sac.”


make do and mend - September 13, 2011

I’m not so sure that the concept of fairness should be discarded so lightly. It is a fundamental problem of the human predicament. The notion has been exercised in all societies throughout history, whether capitalist or not. Fairness is at the core of any society where resources are allocated by individuals or groups of individual within tribes, citystates or broader geo-political formations.

Imo, fairness has within its core the concrete statement that cooperation must exist within the society otherwise the concept itself ceases to exist. If I know that all wealth is created by myself solely through my own means, I don’t need to worry about allocation or being fair to anyone else. If, on the other hand, I need customers, labour, access to base resources or intermediary suppliers, I acknowledge that cooperation, even if only materially manifested, exists. At this point, the concept rears itself in the various transactions that take place and, more often than not, embodies some form of exploitation leading to constant social disruption.

Discarding fairness maybe akin to the classical economists’ assertions that rationality trumps emotions or accumulation trumps personal well being or non-material satisfaction. Asserting it doesn’t make it so, as has been readily demonstrated these last five or more years.

And what’s wrong with subjectivity? Personal subjectivity is prevalent in our species. It becomes objectified when individuals confront each other with their own particular notions whereby conflict or compromise is reached.

In fairness, the smallest child upon learning to communicate will often be heard to pronounce something unfair. It seems embedded in our wired monkey brains. Ignoring it, or deeming it irrelevant will not lessen its impact on how we behave. While we as a species have to grapple with fairness as an ethical concept, we don’t have as much a problem highlighting unfairness. Righting unfairness is another matter.

As for Labour, they’ve basically accepted, imho, the Randian notion of the super wo/man – the self made millionaire in an economic and social cocoon whose own gargantuan efforts make wealth all by themselves. It’s comic book stuff, yet those who accept the notion would quickly point out that it is unfair that super wo/man should share their self made wealth with such people as labour. The rich, by virtue of being rich, haven’t taken part in cooperation. They’ve commanded. As for us underclass, we know we’ll expect no fairness from any quarter of society, and we’ll recognise it every day.


sonofstan - September 13, 2011

Good point.

The intuition about ‘fairness’ is probably central to the notion of subjectivity in the first place – the understanding of oneself as a subject is predicated on understanding that there are other subjects, independent of your representations of them, and co-implicit with that is the notion of a proportional sharing of goods – both social and material.

What i was objecting to was the idea that this intuition can be extended beyond that level of ‘face to face’ intersubjectivity without distortion or corruption.


Alan (@AlanRouge) - September 13, 2011

I’m not discarding the ideas or nortions of fairness and nor is Lynch. “Fairness” was used as a vague slogan by both the government parties prior to the election and it amounts to shag all. As Kathleen says, it is dangerous once “fairness” is de-coupled from the principles as well as an analysis of equality.

It’s not about throwing the fairness out with the bathwater.

Basically, fairness is used as a smoke screen as when some people of Right ideologies are presented with arguments for equality of condition they claim it’s unfair.

There’s another of her quotes I keep going back which relates quite specifically to the Labour Party’s understanding of equality:

“What must be recognised however is that liberal equality policies in fields such as education or employment will not create a really inclusive society because of the internal logic of liberal policies themselves. Social mobility, which is the mantra of liberal equality politics, is fundamentally about recycling injustices, moving a small number of poorer people, disabled people, Travellers or women up the social ladder. The evidence is that few of those on top ever move down so there is literally no room on the top step.

Both logically and socially it is impossible for liberal democratic policies to promote substantive and robust forms of equality as they are premised on the assumption that hierarchies are inevitable.”

Click to access TASC_AnnualLecture_2010.pdf


WorldbyStorm - September 13, 2011

That’s a very interesting point Alan about ‘fairness’ being the default for the right when they want to drag the discourse away from equality.


Tomboktu - September 13, 2011

Kathleen Lynch last year in a public lecture tore this slogan apart in a fantastic presentation:

Given we now have two Kathleen Lynches with equality remits, it might be worth saying that Alan Rouge is referring to Professor Kathleen Lynch, not Minister Kathleen Lynch.


make do and mend - September 13, 2011

Alan, for what its worth, I think your rejoinder is spot on target. The concept of fairness as it relates to any aspect of life can be interpreted to mean many different things depending upon one’s agenda and the circumstances in which we find outselves. It just seemed like the original sources you cited basically threw the baby out with the bath water.

The follow on quote summed up the situation very nicely.

Now we need to getting working class people, and indeed the newly forming underclass, to accept that they are worthy of expecting fairness and equality. People I know, who only a few years ago had fairly optomistic outlooks and a sense of their own worth, now seem fatalistic caused largely by the non-ending onslaught of so-called austerity. Between the MSM and the govt they are continually bombarded with the message that they are the problem.

They know there is something wrong, and the playing field is not level – i.e. is unfair. How we can turn the FG/Labour notions of fairness on its head is another matter.



3. Tomboktu - September 12, 2011

After I posted the original item, I was struck by the incongruity of the name for the Labour Party’s caucus that is organising the event: “Labour Equality”. Caucuses in the party should be about special interests or for particular groups — maybe women members, Traveller members, councillors, etc. The idea that in the Labour Party, equality is a special interest group is just scary. what they really mean is Labour Diversity, but nobody seems to have noticied the difference.


Alan Rouge - September 13, 2011

Maybe there are people in Labour that would like Irish society to be more egalitarian, perhaps like their kin in Norway. Maybe this “Labour Equality” shite appeals to them and it is there they are to funnel their hopes and desires of a more equitable society that addresses profound fundamental and structural economic inequality. Meanwhile, Pat gives the gas away, Joan hunts down everyone on welfare, Brendan destroys the work conditions of public sector workers, Eamon ensures the bondholders get back every cent, Ruari corporatises education etc. etc. random Labour rant etc.


4. Richard - September 13, 2011

From Business and Finance July 2011:

Business person of the month: Brendan Howlin TD, Minister for Expenditure and Reform

The Minister for Expenditure and Reform has been outspoken on the need to transform the public sector following the progress report on the Croke Park agreement released this month.


“We want to preserve the social solidarity that has been manifest in this process to date and not to have the discordant situation that you have in Greece, where people resist change that I’m afraid is inevitable.”



WorldbyStorm - September 13, 2011

Bravo Minister. Bravo.


5. Tomboktu - September 15, 2011

If you like the idea behind Labour Equality’s event, you’ll just love GLEN’s event on “Globalisation, Diversity and Economic Renewal” last Monday. They’ve put up a video of it. At the start of the second video the video [here], the key-note speaker, Professor Sean Kay, of Ohio Wesleyan University, argues that Ireland needs to “persuade the future companies that you can lower operating costs — and they’re already doing well enough because the salaries have gone down quite a bit, so they’re productive, they’re doing fine, but a lot of that money doesn’t come into Ireland”.

That is equality?

[The briefing paper for the event and biographical notes on the members of the discussion panel are available at GLEN’s site here.]


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