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Childcare and class politics… April 24, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.

A very interesting piece by Virpi Timonen – Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at TCD – in the SBP at the weekend on childcare, and how grand parents are shouldering a considerable weight in terms of child care for parents unable to find affordable alternative childcare. Timonen notes that there is a strong class aspect to this, albeit the term isn’t used that baldly. I’ll quote at length because I believe it is important to consider the point in detail:

The demands to provide childcare fall disproportionately on those who are arguably least resourced to say no: grandmothers with lower levels of education (and in worse health than their better-off peers), whose children struggle most to finance childcare, and in some cases are trying to cope with the added challenges of lone parenting and family breakdown. The pressure to look after grandchildren in this situation can be overwhelming, and the consequences of long-term heavy involvement can put the grandparents’ mental health at risk.
We are now starting to unravel the consequences of this unequal distribution of heavy-duty grandparenting. We already have evidence that intensive grandchild care increases the risk of depression, especially for those grandparents who don’t engage in social and leisure activities. Further work is needed to tease out the factors that bring about the depressive symptoms; but it isn’t hard to imagine the stress and frustration that arise for grandparents in situations where they feel, as one interviewee stated, that she “really didn’t need another child in my life . . . but wasn’t left with a choice”.
Grandparents from higher socioeconomic groups tend to draw boundaries around childcare early on. They are strongly oriented to (and can afford) the ‘Third Age’ activities that are incompatible with time-intensive grandparenting; extensive childminding would not sit well with trips abroad, spontaneous lunches with friends, hobbies and commitment to voluntary work. This is partly facilitated because their adult children also tend to be higher earners and hence better able to pay for formal childcare.

None of this, I suspect, will be a surprise to many of us. The reality of our supposedly ‘flexible’ economy is the work of many at the margins, in low paid employments, with wretched hours and insecurity, and those around them to pick up the pieces of all that that entails. Simply put it is near impossible to have a job without a support structure behind it and given the patchy nature of state structures in these areas clearly that means recourse to family. It’s as if there are layers and yet further layers of exploitation reaching always deeper into families.

The Minister says no… April 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
1 comment so far

Thanks to Paddy Healy for this:

Parliamentary Question for Written Answer From Seamus Healy TD
To ask the Minister for Social Protection ,Ms Burton

If she will restore the entitlement of working widows and working loan parents who are respectively in receipt of a survivors pension or a lone parent allowance to illness benefit

And if she will make a statement on the matter?

To which this was the response:

* For WRITTEN answer on Wednesday, 22nd April, 2015.
Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Joan Burton T.D):
The social welfare system is designed to respond to a range of contingencies such as illness, unemployment, old age and widowhood. In Budget 2012 the Government decided, having regard to the fiscal necessity to contain social welfare expenditure and to protect weekly rates of payment, that it was no longer possible to have a social welfare system whereby some people got more than one primary weekly payment.

So, from January 2013, half-rate payments of jobseeker’s benefit, illness benefit and incapacity supplement for those who get widow(er)’s pensions, surviving civil partner’s pensions or one-parent family payment ceased (for new applicants for jobseeker’s benefit, illness benefit and incapacity supplement). Other concurrent payment entitlements, such as new participants on Community Employment schemes, were also ceased as part of the Budget 2012 measures.

Prior to this, there were a limited number of exceptions in the social insurance system to the general principle of “one person, one payment”. These exceptions usually applied in the context of short-term benefits. For instance, recipients of One-Parent Family Payment, Widows and Widowers Pensioners etc. could, until Budget 2012, also receive short-term social insurance benefits, such as Illness Benefit and Jobseeker’s Benefit at half-rate at the same time.

These overlapping payment arrangements were introduced in the early 1950s when the social insurance system was first established – a time when there were only 10 individual social welfare payments – and the social welfare system has been significantly developed since then.

I am satisfied that the general principle of “one person, one payment” serves to maintain the equity of the social welfare system.

Ideology trumping all… April 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

A disturbing analysis by Michael Taft here of the approach to public transport by this government where he notes…

One of the more interesting aspects is that the NTA did not model their proposals, did not produce a business impact-assessment, did not undertake a cost-benefit analysis to justify the need for, or benefits from for franchising.  Now just think on that for a moment.  If a private sector company decided it was going to franchise or outsource 10 percent of its business, there would be cost-benefit analyses and business –impact assessments all over the place – upsides, downsides, alternatives.  Any senior management attempting to railroad such a franchise initiative through without such analyses would be clearing out their desks by noon. 


And while – oh yes, Ernst & Young did provide an analysis, as Michael notes, this was based on one academic study. I recommend anyone concerned about this issue, which should be all of us, read what Michael has to say. It points to how ideological considerations trump all else in this area. But Michael also notes that this effort to privatise services is actually running against the grain of a re-municipalisation of public services including transport across Europe. Why so? Well, it’s hardly a surprise to see that ‘poor service and high fares’ have been the outcome of privatisations.

But of this nary a word from our government, and as was asked in relation to another facet of public transport only a week or so back, what of our representative of the Socialist International? What do they make of all this?

One of the worst aspects of living in a state where the left has been marginal for so long is the realisation time and again of just how much our lived environment is shaped by those for whom our goals are anathema – how contingent and partial public provision is, how grudgingly conceded and how rapidly removed. Pieces like this from Michael are essential to reminding us of how blatant that shaping is and how it continues and remains set to continue…

But another aspect of that is how even language itself is distorted, as last night when the head of the NTA refused to concede that the current plans represent a privatisation process.

NTA Chief Executive Anne Graham said privatisation would involve a transfer of ownership and loss of public control, which she said was not the case.

But wait, the whole point of the new policies are that… ‘10% of bus routes are opened up to the private sector’. What does she call that? And what what does she call the following?

She said that any Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus employees who had to transfer to private operators would have their terms and conditions preserved for the duration of the new contract.

However, she acknowledged there was nothing to stop the private contractors from paying new recruits nothing more than the minimum wage.

Student politics… April 17, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

Pat Rabbitte in the SBP has some thoughts on the upcoming referendums. He’s utterly dismissive of the one proposing the age of eligibility for contesting Presidential elections should be reduced to 21. I’m not that fussed either way about it, but I’m not sure Pat arguing from his own rather limited experience is the best argument agin:

It is a daft proposal. What kind of 21-year-old would want to become President? Apparently the answer is an exceptional and mature one. This is especially alarming because if there is anyone less suited for the Presidency than a 21-year-old, it is a 21-year-old who is going on 50.

I was a president once at 21. Fortunately the only citizens under my rule were students. They and I considered our main purpose to be to make as much mayhem as we could for the government of the day on issues like equality of opportunity in education and the price of coffee and strong drink on the campus. To have sent any of us to the venerable old house in the park would have been simply unthinkable. We would probably have made Paul Durcan Poet Laureate and encouraged him to engage in pursuits inside Áras an Uachtarán similar to those that preoccupied him with the judge’s daughter outside the gates.

I don’t know. I too was involved in elected student politics for a number of years in a not dissimilar role – I was a couple of years older than Rabbitte had been when he was involved but what struck me was that for the most part people involved took elected roles fairly seriously. Sure, it wasn’t navigating the Titanic away from the iceberg like stuff, there was no real danger involved, though – that said, I was involved in campaigns that drew extremely antagonistic responses from socially conservative quarters. But nor was it nothing.

And it’s curious in the extreme for Rabbitte who – arguably – gained a fair bit of political capital both within and outside organisations that he was a member of through his involvement in USI appear to throw all that under the bus.

Indeed being a generation younger than Rabbitte and also a member of the WP at the time I remember being both entertained in the mid to late 1980s to read as an SU member the typed reports from USI of the period when OSF/SFWP were at their height in that organisation, and also being a little bit envious given that I was the only person in SU politics, or at least in SU politics linked to USI, who was flying that flag during that later period. It was clear from those reports that there was no end of open conflict between various factions vying for supremacy. I’ll bet he took it pretty damn seriously then. Others did.

And while I’m as sceptical and/or cynical of student politics as most of us – it is too limited, too self-referential, for the most part too transitory a population of people, and found the focus of my political activity to be in the constituency/community then and after, it is pointless to argue that it had no scope for opportunity in communicating our (various) messages. My own belief is a party has to have roots outside academia, otherwise it will be too…well…limited… self-referential…etc, but that it is useful to have some roots everywhere.

Mixed messages on library and water charges… April 15, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.
1 comment so far

How very odd. A couple of weeks ago we noted (as did Paul Murphy) that Alan Kelly, the Minister for the Environment, had made a most curious statement in the Dáil about water charges, likening them to charges in libraries for borrowing books, with the comparison it would appear intended to normalise the idea of the former. He said, seemingly approvingly:

“the state builds libraries, yet people pay to take books out”

As a commentor noted, this is actually the case. As the SBP reports this last weekend:

While library membership is free in counties such as Dublin, Meath, Limerick and Donegal, there are fees for joining the library in 17 other counties. Meanwhile, in Leitrim, library members have to pay 30 cent for each book they borrow.

But wait! Someone apparently thinks the charges in Leitrim are a bad thing – which by the way they are, making a mockery of the idea of a lending library.

Who could this unlikely champion of free library access be?

Why step forward one Alan Kelly, yes, that Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment!

Kelly has now asked officials to examine the business case for removing library membership charges in every county.

A spokesman confirmed that the intention was to provide free access to library services by 2017 in line with the official library strategy.

So logically…

The ‘big’ picture? April 14, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.

Always the same old song in relation to unions and better conditions and workers… Ben Dunne quoted in today’s Irish Times, who along the way about complaining that the media is picking on Dunnes unfairly in relation to not recognising unions, and in doing so sort of misses the point wildly, has this to say:

“Michael O’Leary does not recognise unions. Why not pick on him? He’d run them out of town, that’s why,” Mr Dunne said. “If I was a union official, it is not zero-contract hours I would be worried about. If I was a union official I would be far more worried about job losses over the next 10 years. The unions are not looking at the bigger picture.

Because any job – according to his line, however marginal the hours, however abysmal the conditions, is better than no job and all the history of labour legislation, improved working conditions, better pay and so on can be set aside in light of that, optional extra’s as it were? Well that’s wrong from the start.

Strong economic growth or failing optimism… April 13, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.

…you take your pick. From this morning:

Business and employers group Ibec is forecasting very strong economic growth this year, and more than half of member firms surveyed said they expect to award pay increases.

Still, they temper that message with the following, which elides neatly with the ISME narrative:

However, it says domestically-focussed firms are less able to afford pay increases than exporters, and it says public service salaries must be linked to the Government’s limited ability to increase pay.

For only on Friday RTÉ was reporting:

Optimism about the economic recovery is waning, according to the latest survey by the group representing small and medium-sized businesses.


* Business confidence and expectations fell from 50% to 39% and 65% to 57% respectively.

* Profitability expectations were down from 34% to 25% after two quarterly increases.

* Current sales and sales expectations have fallen, despite the positive results from retailers. The overall figures are down due to the effect of reduced sales from manufacturers and services sectors.

How could this be?

ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said: “Despite the exceptionally strong net exports, mainly from the FDI sector, which on GDP figures alone made Ireland the fastest growing economy in the EU in 2014, the domestic SME sector continues to struggle out of the recession.

Even taking into account the manner in which this is shaped it remains clear that a domestic ‘recovery’ is far from evident. The political implications of same are numerous.

Working overtime – or, what’s your definition of working too much? April 12, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.

Slate.com had this entertaining piece on Star Trek recently asking whether the ST economy is a ‘welfare state’. All moot, surely, given that it’s a post-scarcity, or as near as makes no odds, society. My presumption has always been that money is outdated (as Picard himself suggests in TNG) and where it manifests at all it is at the margins or interface with other societies which use it.

But there’s a serious point buried in the text, albeit obliquely.

I also think that this would make a huge change in the culture of work and success as we think of it today. There would be much less labor required to keep society running, so expectations regarding working time and ethics would be very different. My guess is that an average workweek in the Star Trek universe would be around 10 hours a week. People would actually think that those who worked much more than that were strange and unhealthy and obsessive, similar to how we think of workaholics who work more than 60 hours in today’s world.

I don’t know what others think, and I’m not talking about working from necessity as so many do with two jobs that total 50 or more hours due to financial constraints – though that line can be blurred in any job as many of us know from direct experience, but I tend to think that if one is reasonably well paid and throwing in some overtime, the definition of ‘workaholic’ in a single job would be somewhat less than 60 hours a week, no? But where is the line drawn, or can it be drawn?

Andre Gorz amongst others, and Marx himself, had a very clear view of work as something that in its coercive aspect would be reduced down and down – and not just them, also more mainstream social democratic economic thinking of the mid 20th century.

Podemos April 10, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, The Left.

Meant to post this up before Easter, but better late than never. Interesting profile here, albeit one that leans particularly upon one individual rather than the overall phenomenon. Still, this made me smile, just a little:

As a professor, Pablo Inglesias was smart, hyperactive and – as a founder of a university organisation called Counter-Power – quick to back student protest. He did not fit the classic profile of a doctrinaire intellectual from Spain’s communist-led left.


As a teenager, Iglesias was a member of the Communist Youth in Vallecas, one of Madrid’s poorest and proudest barrios.


It was at Complutense, where he began to lecture after receiving his doctorate, that Iglesias met the key figures who would help him found Podemos. Deeply influenced by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker who argued that a key battle was over the machinery that shaped public opinion, this group also found inspiration at the University of Essex.

Is that that unlike the ‘communist-led left’ in Spain – a CP which apparently some other CP’s regard as so revisionist as hardly a CP at all. Speaking of which:

For years he and Monedero had been telling Spain’s communist-led leftwing coalition Izquierda Unida (IU) that it should learn from the Latin Americans and widen its appeal. Now they proposed a broad leftwing movement, with open primaries at which outside candidates such as Iglesias could stand. They received a firm no from IU leader Cayo Lara, who later declared that Iglesias had “the principles of Groucho Marx”. So they created it themselves.

And even this…

Socialism, Laclau and Mouffe argued, should no longer focus on class warfare. Instead, socialists should seek to unite discontented groups – such as feminists, gay people, environmentalists, the unemployed – against a clearly defined enemy, usually the establishment.

…isn’t exactly unknown to approaches taken by a variety of further left forces over the last forty years.

There’s lots of interesting and useful resonances, not least this:

“Those with the power still governed, but they no longer convinced people,” Errejón told me recently.

Paid time off… and labor activism in the US. April 10, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, US Politics.

Here’s an insight into how bad things can be in ‘advanced’ capitalist economies. Slate.com notes that McDonalds is to raise wages for its workers by 10% plus. And that’s good, though as the piece notes for 90,000 employees it only brings the wages above ‘local legal minimums’. Look too at comments for a complete rundown of how McDonalds operates. Eye-opening for some, I’ll bet.

But what of this:

In addition to upping wages, McDonald’s will allow workers who have been at the company for at least a year to accumulate up to five days of annual paid time off. This is huge. As my colleague Jordan Weissmann explained in Slate last July, service workers don’t just need more money—they also desperately need some vacation. In most other developed countries, PTO for workers isn’t a benefit, it’s a national requirement. But in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 55 percent of service workers reported having access to paid vacation. The years immediately prior weren’t much different.

Interesting to see the way campaign groups on these issues are framing this, as a cross between ‘Depression-era labor organising [combined with] the uplifting power of Dr. King’s civil rights campaign’. But notable as well is how McDonalds is having to bow to a range of pressures including those campaigns…


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