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Student politics… April 17, 2015

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

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.

Electoral perceptions in the UK General Election April 15, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left.
21 comments

Some food for thought reading UK Polling Report this week, which continues to show the protagonists remarkably close to one another with the LP just a nose ahead. It’s odd. Last week I saw a few photographs of Milliband and it struck me, whatever about the wishy washy nature of his politics somehow he looked more authoritative in the photos from the campaign trail. A sad reflection on contemporary political activity, no doubt, and perhaps on my own perceptions of what constitutes ‘authoritative’, but this from the Guardian is intriguing:

David Cameron’s approval ratings have improved marginally on a week ago and now stand on +2% – still well ahead of Ed Miliband, whose net score is down 3 points to -18%. The Labour leader remains well up on his rating before the campaign began.

Miliband is also seen by more people as a potential prime minister since the first two televised debates. Of those questioned, 36% said they could imagine him in Downing Street against 57% who could not.

The last time Opinium asked the same question in 2013, just 29% could imagine him in charge of the country and 65% could not.

I wonder is this one of the reasons that Tory attacks on Miliband and the LP are faltering. Last week’s elision of Trident and Miliband supposedly ‘stabbing his brother in the back’ (in itself a worthy topic of discussion) by Michael Fallon was seen as ‘unfair’ by most voters polled. And this keeps happening. The Tories are unable to get at Miliband in the way they clearly thought they would (most risible being an effort in the Mail to stir up stuff about his previous partners).

Meanwhile UK Polling Report continues to point to another significant Tory problem – or perhaps a related one.

Turning to attitudes towards business neither leader is perceived as being in the right place. Only 29% of people think Miliband’s attitude to business is right, 33% of people think he is too hostile. 27% of people think Cameron’s attitude to business is about right, 50% that he is too close.
On those figures, while the political debate is often about whether Labour’s positioning towards business is right or not, it’s David Cameron who has the bigger problem. I suspect, however, that this is actually tied into the wider problem of perceptions of the Conservative party and the rich. YouGov asked about that too in the poll with questions on what would happen to the taxes paid by the very richest and wealthiest in society under a Labour or a Conservative government. 69% think that the wealthiest should pay more tax. If Labour win, 75% expect the richest to pay more tax, if the Conservatives win 34% expect them to pay less tax.

Even in the UK discourse, weakened by decades of Thatcherite and neb-thatcherite rhetoric and actuality there remains clear perceptions of class aspects of political formations, albeit under-considered. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?

And what of this, pointing to the nature of political hegemony in parts of the UK (and yes, there are places where Labour, or LD or whoever are extremely strong)?

Finally, I saw an unusual county level poll of Kent today – conducted by Facts International (the company who do the fieldwork for ComRes’s phone polls for the Mail). They found voting intentions in Kent of CON 39%, LAB 22%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 24%. That would be a 5% swing from Con to Lab, which on a uniform swing wouldn’t be enough for any seats to change hands (Labour’s closest target seat in Kent is Dover, which needs a 5.2% swing).

April issue of Socialist Voice is now available April 12, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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Available online here.

Contents:

Building the people’s resistance
James Connolly Festival, 2015

Eugene McCartan
The first James Connolly Festival, sponsored by Socialist Voice, will run from the 4th to the 10th of May in Dublin. It will be a week filled with music, theatre, talks, films, poetry readings, and performances by singer-songwriters, with lunchtime theatre and film shows in the New Theatre. (For full details see the festival programme at http://www.jamesconnollyfestival.com.)

Workers in struggle
After the magnificent one-day strike on the 2nd April by the workers employed by Dunne’s Stores, the management have embarked on a vindictive campaign to punish selected workers for going out on strike to protect and advance their rights.
The workers’ trade union, Mandate, has received reports from members all over the country who have experienced dismissal or cuts in hours, changes in job roles, or changes in shift patterns. Election promises, and business as usual

Tommy McKearney
As Britain’s political parties began their general election campaigns with a series of televised debates, two interesting messages emerged from one of the widely watched, albeit less than inspiring, media events.
ITV’s seven-person debate demonstrated that, for the first time since the 1920s, British politics are no longer bipolar. Secondly, it is now very evident that not only is Northern Ireland not “as British as Finchley” but that it is not considered integral to Britain’s political discourse at all.

Creeping privatisation
Kieran Crilly
The Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party is privatising 10 per cent of Dublin Bus and 10 per cent of Bus Éireann. This is only the beginning, as the private sector will not be satisfied until these services are 100 per cent private.

The expendables
Nicola Lawlor
In the January edition of Monthly Review the editors printed and commented on part of a letter they received from a reader, Elly Leary. Referring to Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, she comments:Release Khalida Jarrar!
There are now eighteen members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council imprisoned by Israel, nine under administrative detention without trial or charge. Members of the council have been repeatedly and systematically targeted by Israeli occupation forces. Austerity: The challenges of organising

Paper presented by a representative of the CPI to a meeting with republican activists in Dublin, Saturday 14 March 2015
Comrades and friends,
It is quite clear that we find ourselves at a real pivotal point in the history of this small nation. Just as in previous times, whole generations of men and women find themselves in a struggle for a place in our society, a place where one should not live in fear of ever-increasing poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, precarious work, violence,

Demonstrate in solidarity with Venezuela
Sunday 19 April 2015 at the US embassy, Dublin
In 1985 President Ronald Reagan declared Nicaragua “a threat to the United States” and proceeded to finance and arm the “contras” in order to overthrow the democratically elected Sandinista government.

Declaration of solidarity with the Venezuelan people April 2015

The communist, workers’ and revolutionary parties worldwide express our strong support and firm solidarity to the Venezuelan people, to the Communist Party of Venezuela and the Government of President Nicolás Maduro, victims of a new interventionist escalation of US imperialism which violates the right to self-determination of the peoples.

Germany over all!
Tomás Mac Síomóin
The neo-liberal forces that rule the EU need the SYRIZA government in Greece to fail. They will do whatever it takes to prevent the ending of their austerity policies in any part of the EU.

Anne Casey
1956–2015
The Communist Party of Ireland extends its deepest sympathy on the death of Anne Casey to her husband, Colin, to her daughter, Aoife, and to her sisters and brothers.

Israeli aggression comes to Dublin
Dónall Ó Briain
Residents of several areas around Dublin will have seen posters recently advertising classes in “the world’s most effective self-defence system.”

The unsavoury roots of surveillance

Dónall Ó Briain
The revelations about the extent to which Western governments spy on their own citizens (as well as those of other countries) might lead us to believe that this kind of illegality by “intelligence” agencies is a new phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Socialism betrayed
Interview with Thomas Kenny, joint author of Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union (2004).
The younger generation needs to hear this truth. The socialist system proved itself capable of providing sustained, rapid economic growth over six decades, notable technical and scientific innovations.

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

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.
4 comments

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.
11 comments

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.

Though…

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

And:

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.

Noncompete contracts in the US and what that says about the situation of workers… April 9, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, The Left, US Politics.
4 comments

A genuinely interesting post recently on The Verge and a thread accompanying it in relation to noncompete contracts being imposed by Amazon on its workers. First up a useful point:

Amazon is the country’s largest and most sophisticated online retailer, but it still runs largely on manual labor. Scattered around the country are massive warehouses staffed by workers who spend their days picking objects off shelves and putting them in boxes. During the holiday season, the company calls on a huge reserve army of temporary laborers.

As the piece notes, Amazon pays a bit above minimum wage. But… but…

…yet Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they “directly or indirectly” support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end. Of course, the company’s warehouses are the beating heart of Amazon’s online shopping empire, the extraordinary breadth of which has earned it the title of “the Everything Store,” so Amazon appears to be requiring temp workers to foreswear a sizable portion of the global economy in exchange for a several-months-long hourly warehouse gig.

As the piece notes:

The company has even required its permanent warehouse workers who get laid off to reaffirm their non-compete contracts as a condition of receiving severance pay.

And the piece points to other issues:

Although companies may push noncompetes on low-wage workers to keep trade secrets from leaking, there’s also a more cynical explanation: to simply deprive competitors of employees to hire, according to Lobel. Noncompetes can also depress workers’ wages. Traditionally, a key strategy to keep employees from defecting to a competitor has been simply to offer competitive wages, but a company that uses non-compete agreements can feel less pressure to pay well.

Certainly my own experience of seeing noncompetes in operation in the private sector across a decade or so is one where they were used not so much to stymie trade secrets proliferating as a means of controlling, as best as was possible, employees who went to rivals. Or to put it a different way there was a vindictive aspect to them. That may not be true of all cases – indeed there’s a strong argument with those who cross from one area to another, public sector to private sector for example, that noncompetes are entirely appropriate in order to forestall conflicts of interest. But… as the Verge notes, that’s hardly an issue in relation to these positions.

And there’s worse again:

In this way, noncompetes can exacerbate structural inequalities in the current job market, inequalities which themselves make noncompetes easier for companies to demand. In America’s post-recession economy, job seekers continue to vastly outnumber openings for good jobs. In this setting, workers don’t have much leverage when haggling with employers over terms and conditions of work. One effect of this has been the expansion of the so-called “gig economy”, where apps like Uber and TaskRabbit draw on a pool of freelancers ready to perform quick jobs that become available with no attendant promise of benefits or job security. Large numbers of unemployed and underemployed have also fueled the boom in temp-agency staffing that has accounted for significant portions of the country’s post-recession job gains.

The underlying dynamic, or rather the other underlying dynamic is not merely to cut immediate labour costs but also to push broader labour costs onto the state. If that’s clearly problematic in partial post-social democratic welfare states it is clearly even more so in societies where safety nets are even more fragile, where they exist at all. And there’s another pressure from business interests, to strip the state of its ability to modify or ameliorate these matters by pushing for decreased taxation, etc.

The noncompete’s are perhaps particularly egregious:

A lack of negotiating power can lead workers to sign noncompete contracts, Lobel says, and those contracts further erode their negotiating power. Because noncompetes make job loss more perilous by limiting post-employment opportunities, the agreements can tether workers to their current job, making them less likely to address grievances with management or attempt to look for better or more fitting work.

It is only slightly heartening to read that in some US states there are bans on the enforcements of noncompetes. But as one law professor quoted notes:

“One way to look at this is as a kind of invidious approach to having workers sign a contract that is very likely to be unenforceable,” Garden says. “Knowing that people who have been working for 10 and 11 dollars an hour are not going to be able to hire a lawyer to fight for them later on.”

Again, the basic disparity in structural power between individual workers and their employers is manifest.

This is, to be honest, quite a frightening moment in the long history of workers in bourgeois democracies. A time when the post-war dispensation is being pulled apart quite deliberately in ways that even in the 1980s would have seemed unfeasible. In part it is because it is so much by stealth, in part because the push rightwards from the 1980s onwards was met with no countering push back from social democracy, in part because the former strongholds that workers could depend at least to a limited extent upon, unions, etc, are now so weak.

All that aside, am I wrong in thinking there is something almost intrinsically feudal about the very concept of these noncompetes – the manner in which a company or corporation can have some hold on workers even long after they have ceased working for them?

PC, it’s all our fault April 8, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, The Left.
2 comments

…by ‘our’ I mean of course the left. The far-left, and so on. I should preface this by saying I’ve always detested the term PC, which has been used as a blunt instrument to push back against what – in many, if not all case – has seemed to me to be simply offering some consideration and courtesy to others. Anyhow, Jonathan Chait has some useful points to make in the link above, and quite a lot of not so useful one’s too, but look at who he blames for the supposed return of ‘P.C.’ – well, the internet of course, but also…

…political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.

And:

..our distinctions are also confused, as is our way of talking about free speech as it overlaps with our politics.
The right wing in the United States is unusually strong compared with other industrialized democracies, and it has spent two generations turning liberal into a feared buzzword with radical connotations. This long propaganda campaign has implanted the misperception — not only among conservatives but even many liberals — that liberals and “the left” stand for the same things.
It is true that liberals and leftists both want to make society more economically and socially egalitarian. But liberals still hold to the classic Enlightenment political tradition that cherishes individuals rights, freedom of expression, and the protection of a kind of free political marketplace. (So, for that matter, do most conservatives.)

And then…

The Marxist left has always dismissed liberalism’s commitment to protecting the rights of its political opponents — you know, the old line often misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” — as hopelessly naпve. If you maintain equal political rights for the oppressive capitalists and their proletarian victims, this will simply keep in place society’s unequal power relations. Why respect the rights of the class whose power you’re trying to smash? And so, according to Marxist thinking, your political rights depend entirely on what class you belong to.

And:

The modern far left has borrowed the Marxist critique of liberalism and substituted race and gender identities for economic ones.

Funny thing is that in my experience it is those on the left, the Marxist left, in various guises whether Trotskyist or ‘orthodox’ who mostly seem to have taken a somewhat sceptical view of what might be termed identity politics, and sought to – not surprisingly and entirely understandably – attempt to keep at least some focus on class as a key determinant in socio-economic and cultural processes.

It’s difficult not to think that Chait is misinterpreting or simply doesn’t know all that much about the actual Marxist left, and is hopelessly confused as to the distinctions between Marxist approaches and those of some manifestations of identity politics. Moreover he seems to think that college campuses and relatively low participatory social networks (in proportion to national populations) are where it’s at in terms of cultural hegemony. In that respect the whole argument seems not merely parochial but almost beside the point.

And even his specific complaints seem curiously pointless. There’s no compunction to go online where one doesn’t, and little enough to have to pay attention to that which isn’t of interest. If it’s the comments section under his pieces, well, that’s a different matter – though unlike many of us he is, after all, paid for his troubles, but worrying overmuch about what others say? It is difficult even to see how he himself is impacted to any great (or any) extent at all by the dynamics he describes.

A more measured response, in my opinion, from J. Bryan Lowder of Slate, here.

In some ways all this merely serves to remind one of not merely the peripheral and marginal nature of so much of this sort of discourse (whether one regards it as good, bad, or like most things a mixture of both) but also, and actually more depressingly just how marginal so much of the time all our struggles, progressive struggles are. Consider even such broad brushstroke terms as class, or gender or lgbt or race or… well, there’s many we can include, and how wide a currency they actually have in everyday life.

Anti-vax April 6, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.
30 comments

Revelatory to me to discover recently that in the US the anti-vaccination crew clusters both on the right and parts of the ‘liberal’ end of the political spectrum. And yet, it makes sense. Last year I was talking to someone who was disturbingly monomaniacal about the issue. So much so they were involved in a project to publicise it more broadly. And yet, on digging their knowledge seemed unexpectedly limited and oddly incoherent in how they approached given that their children, including a very young one had all been vaccinated.

There’s a good piece here, by Jamelle Bouie on Slate, which – I think – gets to the heart of the dynamics in some people’s minds on the matter.

Chief among them is fear. Read anti-vaccination websites or listen to anti-vaccination advocates—or just talk to the anti-vaccination believers in your life—and you’ll sense the fear that permeates the movement. One father, writing for the website Modern Mom, acknowledged the risk of disease and the sometimes awful consequences of childhood contagions, but countered with this: “[T]he same image runs through the mind of a parent who has fears about their child’s 12-month [measles, mumps, and rubella] shot. ‘Will my baby have an anaphylactic reaction? Could she be that 1 out of 1,000 that will have febrile convulsions?’ ” Likewise, the New York Times quotes one mother who can’t bear to imagine what would happen if scientists were wrong about the MMR vaccine and autism:
“It’s the worst shot,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or something?”

I understand that dynamic entirely. It’s particularly true with a very young child, and I remember despite being a fully paid up rationalist and sceptic (bar one or two small and unimportant idiosyncrasies) the night before the creature had to get the 3 in 1 having certain thoughts pass through my mind. And yet at no point was it a matter of being even close to not allowing the process to go forward.

In some ways it is a product of too much information around, too much exposure to the bad, too little sense of the mundane truth that atypical reactions are vanishingly rare and even where they occur they are almost invariably entirely amenable to being dealt with. But humans have a poor sense of statistics, even at the best of times.

The article notes in some ways this is ‘a product of success’. I still recall my grandmother who was born in 1912 telling me about how virulent disease was in the 1910s and 1920s. It’s often forgotten that penicillin was not used effectively until 1944. Indeed in 1942 there was only sufficient to treat 10 patients. It’s not difficult to envisage the deaths that could have been avoided in the first four years of the Second World War, is it? Indeed I was reading at the weekend about… who died due to a sore on his lip – a sore he had for at least four or five years. Again, another needless fatality.

So we’re detached from a reality of appallingly high mortality rates particularly amongst babies and the very young, detached by time and detached – paradoxically, by the essentially more safe contemporary world. Throw in a lack of information, albeit massive amounts of rhetoric and the problem is obvious.

Add in other problems, the dynamic here is deeply troubling where some seem comfortable to, as the phrase goes ‘ride herd immunity’ whatever the risk for their own children and others.

Though in fairness, who can blame people for a degree of trepidation in relation to big pharma? No one should regard that particular quarter without some degree of critical thinking. The problem is, though, a lack of willingness to acknowledge where there are acceptable levels of safety – not perfect, but good. And that’s the unfortunate truth. That there’s no absolute protection against anything. It gets us all in the end. A phlegmatic approach is perhaps therefore no harm, albeit one that isn’t simply mired in fatalism.

Bouelle’s conclusion… attempt to persuade, but if that doesn’t work he’s ‘OK with coercion’. It’s brutal, but honest.

And finally there’s a comment under the piece that makes a fair bit of sense to me…

So I’m not supposed to listen to my doctor but I’m supposed to listen to you [anti-vaxxers]? Why would I do that?

Sure, the doctor might be compromised by pharma, but then we’re having to second guess her or his motivations and intentions as well as what they say. And then we have to map that onto almost all doctors and researchers and scientists and… and the alternative is to listen to small but vocal group with little or no medical or research expertise. It’s a no brainer. It really is.

When is a ‘recovery’ not a ‘recovery’? April 3, 2015

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

Hardly surprising that the government and certain cheerleaders in the media are putting forward the line that economic improvements are fuelling some increased support for the government.

Pat Rabbitte is beside himself with enthusiasm for this bright new age:

Purveyors of doom can no longer deny that economic recovery has set in. The economy grew by over 5 per cent in 2014 and the ESRI forecast for 2015 is for GDP growth of 4 per cent, with unemployment dropping below 10 per cent for the first time since 2008.

And yet, even there there remain problems. As Pat Leahy notes in the SBP:

The government’s pretty transparent political strategy is to make the next election about the economy: who can best protect the recovery, who can be trusted not to destroy the progress of the past few years. If it succeeds in doing that, the coalition has a massive advantage before the campaign starts.

But, for there is a but…

But this is all by no means a foregone conclusion.
The big new fact of Irish politics is that there are an awful lot of disaffected voters alienated from the establishment parties. They are supporters of Sinn Féin and the independents and small parties, especially the radical left parties. They are not registering for Irish Water. And their conception of the economy is very different from that of the average Fine Gael supporter.
Two-thirds of voters say they haven’t seen any benefit of the economic recovery in their lives. Only a slightly smaller number (62 per cent) say that we need a change of government to deliver a fairer society.

That’s a pretty huge weight of opinion against the idea of ‘recovery’. Or at least a recovery that has any meaning for most.

Richard Colwell of RedC notes:

Instead there has been a shift in support away from the government parties towards both Sinn Féin and independent candidates, with many voters citing annoyance at broken promises, and struggling to see any personal benefit from the economic recovery.
While we have been seeing signs of a recovery for the Irish economy for around six to nine months, the reality is that the majority of voters say they have not the seen the impact of this personally. It is also clear that a delayed impact of declared positive budget announcements also annoyed many voters, while the introduction of water charges has been a final straw for many in terms of austerity.

That line about most voters not seeing the recovery is crucial. If ‘recovery’ has no tangible presence on the ground it is all but irrelevant. And – almost by definition – there is no actual recovery for most in such a circumstance.

Rabbitte though is chipper for in adversity there is opportunity – or something like that:

Now the findings of today’s poll shows that two thirds of the electorate have not yet felt the benefit in their own lives. But actually this is good news for the government, because that figure is certain to contract if the economy continues to grow. The principal beneficiaries of such contraction must inevitably be the government parties. Indeed, even more pertinent is the finding that 24 per cent of those who would claim they would vote for a non-government party, are actually nervous that a change of government might stall the recovery. That 24 per cent must be the target for Labour and Fine Gael.

And after a customary sideswipe or two at SF and their ‘coalition of chaos’ – though he has to admit that although ‘in reverse’ in the poll from IT/Ipsos MRBI ‘Sinn Féin, [were] doing remarkably well’ – he continues:

Labour in particular needs to embrace the fact that the economy is this government’s singular achievement. The party sometimes can appear ambivalent about asserting its share of the credit. Today’s poll will encourage its elected members, in the words of Hugh Gaitskell, to fight and fight again. The Labour Party has a better story to tell than Sinn Féin. If Labour were to borrow some of Sinn Féin’s brass neck armoury, it might do better at telling that story.

Oh I think there’s no lack of brass neck to go around. After all, how, for all his talk of ‘recovery’ does he think we are anywhere close to where we were in terms of state provision and services under the hated Ahern-led Fianna Fáil governments of the 2000s before the boom hit? Does he think the billions taken out of state expenditure are nothing, that they represented nothing?

The Dunnes strike… A gulf of incomprehension as to the reality of workers lives… April 2, 2015

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

…is what seems apparent in this piece on the Irish Times in relation to the Dunnes stores strike. A striking worker gives a grim account of life working there on contracts which ‘guarantee’ her ‘between 15 and 37½ hours per week’ and how…

“So some weeks you might get 24 hours, the next 35 and it can go down to 15 hours. A difference of 10 hours in a week is €100.
“When my hours are down, we are just scraping by. You don’t know until a week before what hours you’ll have the next week. It is very stressful.”

It’s a situation where indignity is heaped upon indignity:

I have to meet my mortgage provider every six months, go through my payslips – prove that we will actually be able to pay the mortgage.

Another worker noted:

She applied for a loan last year to do some home decorating. “They said our hours couldn’t be depended on, so we were turned down.”

But what of this for a question that seems almost breathtakingly unaware of what it is like in a recession (or indeed any time) for workers and the risks that face them in so-called ‘flexible’ labour markets?

Asked why she doesn’t leave and work somewhere else, she says: “It’s difficult because anywhere else will start you on a six-month probation and then you could be dropped and left with nothing.

That’s the reality, and I think it’s very notable that that is her first answer before noting that she likes the work and her friends in work and so on. When one has little or no capital, when one is in a labour ‘market’ where work is scarce, one’s options are utterly limited. That worker had a partner who was unemployed and three children at home. Who could, or would, take a risk in that context? Why should anyone have to?

Meanwhile, bleakly entertaining to read this this evening:

Tánaiste Joan Burton met workers protesting on Henry Street earlier today.

Staff members picketing outside Dunnes Stores in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin were joined by Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Why bleakly entertaining, well given the near unbelievable performance by the Tanaiste at Leaders’ Questions today in relation to the Dunnes strikers – one where she kept emphasising the idea that people should engage with the labour relations machinery of the state. Except, as was pointed out to her the problem was that it was the employer in this instance who wasn’t engaging.

I wonder if, after that, someone suggested quietly that as leader of the…er… Labour Party… she should at least make some effort to show something like…well… solidarity.

I’d recommend anyone getting a look at the transcript of Leaders’ Questions once it comes out. Evasion, deliberate misinterpretation of questions, personalised attacks rather than answers. Really, it’s no way to run a railroad.

The absolute nadir, well a couple of them, was evasive stuff in relation to Mary Lou McDonald on labour law in Northern Ireland (though I think SF is going to have to up its game with defences about that prior to allowing Burton or Kenny to make such accusations), and stuff about ‘North Korea’ and ‘Leninism’ thrown back at Paul Murphy in respect of his point of the ‘voluntarist’ nature of RoI labour processes – an analysis of said processes so incontrovertible it was remarkable that she sought to challenge it.

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