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Inequality… June 25, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Colin Murphy has a thoughtful piece on inequality in the SBP, even if the ideas therein aren’t necessarily to my taste. His basic thesis is that inequality shouldn’t simply be a concern of the left. Indeed he argues that:
Two world wars, the advent of the welfare state, the deepening of the concept of national identity and the advent of a sociological understanding of man as a product of his environment all served to promote the idea (and practice) of greater equality.
In the 1990s, though, with the “second globalisation”, this consensus collapsed. The result was both soaring inequality and a weakening of the social cohesion required to combat it.
I don’t think it’s any great stretch to point to the existence too of a counterweight in regard of the USSR as an implicit reason why western states tended towards welfarism during the post war period as states sought to entice populations away from communism. Now this isn’t as such an argument for supporting the existence of such states – one could rightly feel that it was at the very least problematic that oppressive states guaranteed implicitly European welfare states. And one could also wonder at the inability of social democracy to defend the gains of that period as well.
But be that as it may Murphy rightly notes that:
The danger here is that this becomes a vicious spiral. I saw how this works in microcosm when I lived in Johannesburg (where income inequality has increased since the end of apartheid). The rich perceive the poor as a threat, so they retreat into secure, private space.
Public spaces and services become the preserve of the poor, so the rich have less interest in subventing them. The public sphere thus deteriorates, and ever more people abandon it.
This is, as many will know, particularly evident in the US, and not just there. Underfunding of public services is now manifest across the ‘developed’ world in states where low taxation and decreasing expenditure is becoming the norm. That this has appallingly negative effects upon citizens and their lives is a form of almost deliberate collateral damage, and intrinsic to the dynamic.
Murphy suggests that French academic Pierre Rosanvallon has warned that the corrosive effects of the processes described above threaten the fundamental basis of our and others societies (given the level of inequality in this state). And he suggests that:
At the heart of this is the idea of reciprocity. If people don’t believe that the others around them are contributing their fair share, they won’t either. Reciprocity (which is similar to what Robert Putnam calls “social capital”) is vital to the success of democracy. And inequality is corrosive to reciprocity. He quotes Tocqueville: selfishness is “to societies what rust is to metal”.
The feeling that reciprocity has broken down is directed at “the two extremes of the social ladder” – the very rich and those dependent on welfare. For this, he has three remedial solutions, which could appeal across the political system: greater transparency of fiscal and social statistics, so people know exactly what is being paid by and to whom; “vigorous” measures to prevent tax and welfare cheating; and a return of universal welfare benefits.
I fundamentally agree with the latter, have question marks as regards the second and think the first is unquestionable. But I wonder if in some ways this prescription is simply too late. Because it’s not just a question of the status quo ante, but of a changing economic context where work itself, at least well paid, continuous medium to long career, style work is becoming – under the pressure of automation and other factors – scarcer.
In that new context the very nature of work itself and the relationship between state and citizens alters and it is telling and troubling to hear a rising chorus of voices – in the field of political economy calling for basic incomes, shorter working weeks and so on.
Yet, it is refreshing to hear again how inequality is in and of itself part of the problem rather than, as often seems to be the orthodox line, not merely an unavoidable byproduct, but rather a virtue of a system that is itself deeply problematic.
Yesterday’s water charge protests… June 21, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
As opposed to some previous, larger demonstrations which saw isolated scenes of confrontation and occasional skirmishes between protestors and gardaí, a convivial atmosphere was evident throughout today’s rally.
Any thoughts on the protests?
Parties and non parties… June 19, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
I mentioned this before when the news about the latest ‘new’ party – that apparently being formed by Murphy, Donnelly, Shortall and Zappone was announced – that perhaps the most interesting thing is that all of those individuals have come to the conclusion that some sort of a party identity would be or greater utility than contesting the election as Independents. That three of those arrived in their respective parts of the Oireachtas under an Independent or somewhat independent banner is suggestive of something of a shift in recent times in regard to the perception of Independents.
Of course this doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The fairly chaotic machinations amongst the Independents in relation to the Ross-led alliance may have had an effect, as did the hardly stellar showing of Independents at the most recent by-election. Let’s thrown in the clear disunity amongst parts of the further left in recent times. The ULA is now no more than a memory. The moves at the weekend perhaps will bear some fruit, but what seems to be being proposed is more a seal of approval applied to a diverse range of parties, formations and individuals rather than an actual structure. So all of that will have impinged, and let’s not ignore the dipping numbers in polls for independents, though let’s also not ignore the small detail that even as it stands Independents and Small Parties gain somewhere around 22%, a good 7% on their 2011 rating. That Small Parties aspect may – however – indicate to those involved that that is sufficient unto the day for them. And perhaps it will be.
Moreover it would be difficult to think of at least two of that number whose stars could be higher. Murphy for her role in engaging with Denis O’Brien, Zappone and her sterling work in relation to the marriage equality referendum.
So if they consider the independent tag less useful than a new ‘social democratic’ party tag. Well, isn’t that something?
Where next though? It seems reasonable to assume that this is a cohort explicitly driving towards government. There was some mention of that in the Independent on Sunday. Some entertainingly optimistic numbers being thrown around by Fine Gael people too, 60 seats for that party, 15 for Labour and then the balance being made up by the new party or independents or who?
Fianna Fail 34, Fine Gael 52, Sinn Fein 32, Labour Party 12, Independents and Others 28.
The number a government would need in the new 158 seat Dáil is 80 plus. If it is an FG/LP/AN OTHERS lashes that’s going to need quite a few extra others since the LP and FG would get perhaps 65 or 66 seats between them. Sure, perhaps the polls will improve for FG. But perhaps not with RENUA nibbling them to their right and the new crew(s) nibbling at them to their left. But one way or another a variegated crew it would be to get them to 80.
Which raises more questions. Would the new social democrat formation serve in government with RENUA? And with Labour? And with Fine Gael? Hmmm… we shall see.
One good friend suggested to me that a party with Donnelly is something he could never regard as ‘left wing’. Others will, I suspect, feel much the same. But this may not hobble them.
Press Statement 17th June 2015
The Finglas Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) held a very successful meeting last night in the Bottom of the Hill pub with over 90 people in attendance
Over 90 people attended a ‘What Next for the Water Charges Movement?” meeting last night (Tuesday 16th June), which was hosted by the Finglas CAHWT. The mood was resolute in its ongoing opposition to the water tax.
Speakers on the night included Bernie Hughes (Community activist), Jimmy Dignam (Workers’ Party representative), Dave Gibney (MANDATE representative), Dessie Ellis TD and was chaired by Jessica Hughes of the Finglas CAHWT.
What is clearly apparent is that the water charges movement is as determined as ever to abolish this controversial tax. Whilst there may be differing views on tactics, it was agreed that above else unity is key in successfully winning this battle.
A lively discussion also took place on the direction that the movement should go in next. It was largely felt that progressive politics needs to come to the fore within in Irish politics. A presentation was also given on the recent Right2Water policy platform discussions, which have involved community activists, trade unions and politics parties who are involved within the water charges movement.
A strong focus was put on continuing to put pressure on the government and Irish Water over the coming months. It was agreed that the Finglas CAHWT would hold further protests and events in its struggle against austerity. The meeting ended with a message of solidarity being sent to the recently locked out Clerys Department Store workers.
For more information contact:
Jimmy Dignam (Workers’ Party) – 0851556914
Jessica Hughes (Finglas CAHWT) – 0851026921
Bernie Hughes (Community Activist) – 0872929214
(Picture attached: From Left to Right – Dave Gibney, Jessica Hughes, Jimmy Dignam)
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Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is looking at major alternatives to the plans for universal health insurance (UHI) put forward last year by his predecessor James Reilly.
Mr Varadkar has sought new research looking, for example, at confining UHI to covering only hospitals and excluding drugs or primary care services.
Ah, nothing like ‘new research’ to keep things moving ever more slowly along.
Those of us who have an ideological problem with the UHI scheme (from a leftwing perspective) from the off will probably feel this paragraph bundles some of its most pernicious aspects up in a nice concise conceptual package.
UHI – which would seek to eliminate the country’s existing two-tier health system by effectively making everyone a private patient – is officially the Government’s healthcare reform blueprint. Under a White Paper published last year by Dr Reilly, the system was to involve a multi-payer model of competing private health insurers and a State-owned VHI.
Put aside all the stuff about salaries being ‘reinstated’ (whatever that may mean in a context where they’ve been pushed back for years – and given that the monies lost during that period aren’t coming back). Note this from an SBP analysis on the agreement, and not one that is massively sympathetic to the government:
But the biggest win for the government is the retention of 15 million extra working hours which were put in place under Haddington Road. They are worth around €300 million per year and were used by the government to pay for the recruitment of thousands of extra gardaí, teachers, nurses and doctors this year.
Despite much grumbling before the talks by unions, the increase in the standard working week for most public servants by 2.25 hours remains in place.
So too do the reduced overtime rates, the revised sick pay scheme and the career average pension scheme for new public servants.
I know this may not be the most popular opinion on the left, but as a trade unionist myself and one active in disputes over the years my own belief is that the focus on wages, while absolutely correct in regard to PS workers on lower wages, has functioned as a diversion from reversing those defeats on terms and conditions. And worse again while wage increases are somewhat easier to reinstate (albeit in the partial manner noted above), the loss of better conditions is one that will continue for the foreseeable future. Add to this the tiered nature wages introduced for many PS workers across the last six or so years and that defeat becomes almost appallingly comprehensive.
Nor is this the end:
There are other reforms which have yet to be delivered, such as the cutting of some civil service grades. It is in the new agreement again. There was also a promise of “significantly improved performance management” in the public service.
A strategic error is compounded.
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Thought this may be of interest and even topical considering The Referendum on Friday. It is from the May 1993 edition of ‘Fightback’ which was produced by the Irish Workers Group student members and supporters Galway.
A good word for the Independents and Small Parties… May 13, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
At the weekend there was a comment or two on the site about Mick Wallace. I’m not here to defend him, but… I was struck by something Pat Leahy wrote in a piece in the SBP on Independents and small parties where he suggested they now have to offer some answers as to what they would do in government. As he notes:
One of the biggest changes that the Great Recession has wrought on our politics is how it has fuelled the rise of independents and small parties. Never before have independent deputies and small parties played such a role in the Dáil, and in wider politics.
Even before the crash, the number of independents we elected in Ireland was highly unusual. Since then, we’re off the charts.
That’s a most interesting point and one well worth returning to again and again, just what is it about this state that has led to such numbers of independents? My own read, for what its worth, is that it is a combination of a very weak centre left/labour tradition, perhaps an attitude that there’s a partial aspect to the state (conscious or unconscious, and this derived from partition to a great, though not exclusive, extent), obvious failure of the larger parties and perhaps something approaching a localism as a substitute for other isms as they appear to founder. That’s just off the top of my head, no doubt there are many more factors and/or those I point to are over emphasised by me.
And judging by the polls, independents and small parties – the “others” – are set to continue to play a significant role in Irish politics. After the next election, they may play a pivotal role at the very centre of government formation. That is certainly what many of them are gunning for.
Some of them, let’s be clear on that. There are those who have no intention – perhaps sensibly given the degree of support afforded them by the electorate – to attempt to enter government, for whom indeed state power seems so far off as to be unrealisable. That’s not, as it happens, an unprincipled position, or in its own way unrealistic, though whether it can resonate with sufficient citizens to make substantive changes to the way things are run is another matter.
But Leahy takes a line that is refreshingly different in all this, arguing that even in opposition those Independents and small parties – or some of them – have been remarkably effective (though one could cynically argue that so they should be given the number of them).
It is popular and somewhat fashionable to dismiss the role of independents as simply opportunist, seeking to trade their votes for constituency favours from government, classic purveyors of political pork and little else.
But an examination of the record of the current Dáil demonstrates that independent TDs and the small parties have made significant contributions on a variety of issues. For sure, many of them are interested in little more than their own constituencies. But they are hardly alone in that – many party backbenchers (and some ministers) are the same.
Recent events offer some evidence of some independent TDs’ effectiveness.
And he points to the centrality of Daly and Wallace in highlighting this evidence.
The former justice minister Alan Shatter is in the throes of a High Court challenge to the report by senior counsel Sean Guerin which led to his resignation last year. Leave aside for a moment the fairly entertaining consequences if Shatter wins his challenge, and consider how we reached this point.
No senior counsel – or anyone else – would have investigated the events concerned had they not been indefatigably pursued by the independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, as part of their continuing campaign against Garda malpractice.
Nor is he unwilling to engage with problematic issues:
Let us observe in passing that – presumably unrelated but coincident with this campaign – Daly was arrested on suspicion of drink driving, handcuffed and the details of the incident leaked to the media. She was subsequently released without charge, having passed a urine test in the Garda station.
In most countries, Wallace would have been forced to resign after the revelation of his tax cheating. Most people would have resigned without being forced, recognising that their actions had brought their status as a law-maker into disrepute. But you can’t dispute that Wallace has done some significant public service since. Remember, both the Garda commissioner and the top official in the Department of Justice have left their posts too.
This is not to cheer for the pointless rolling of heads; merely to point out that Wallace and Daly have been instrumental in the achievement of a level of accountability that is rare in Ireland.
He also points to Catherine Murphy’s – amongst others – championing of questions over Siteserv, and there are other examples too (though the thought also strikes what of high profile Independents who haven’t been quite as… ahem… high profile as one might have expected on substantive issues?).
Leahy argues that as the election approaches the success, as one might characterise it, of these Independents is such that it may lead to a sort of failure if they cannot fashion a means of being relevant. And perhaps small wonder that we see so many vehicles being rolled out by them, albeit in markedly different forms:
For independents and small parties seeking to hold the balance of power, it’s all about the numbers. There are two possible governments that might need the support of one or more of the above groups – the current coalition, or a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil combination short a few seats of a majority.
In that case, we could see different groups of independents or small parties effectively bidding one another down.
If that happens, the group that has the most discipline, and the cheapest demands, will be the one to join the government. But, one way or another, independents and small parties are here to stay.
But beyond that it suggests that Independents and Small Parties can have a relevance as oppositional forces in the Dáil and Seanad. Question for some is whether they can have a relevance as supporting governing forces. Perhaps a lot rides on whether this is a good election to win or to lose?
More on the Right2Water conference… May 7, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Cactus Flower on PoliticalWorld has pulled some of the threads from Friday’s conference together here which is very handy indeed. It sounds like a very interesting event with speakers from Podemos, Syriza and so on. And some fascinating points made.
That document issued on Friday “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government” is available in various spots online, but for the sake of being useful, here it is too. 111930_12796_R2W-Unions_Policies_A5
Quotes from the Democratic Programme, the 1867 and 1916 Proclamations, sections on Right2Water, RIght2Jobs, Right2Health, Right2Debt Justice, Right2Education, Right2Democratic Reform (the proposal to breathalyse TDs ahead of votes is…different). But where does it go from here? The last page suggests:
We want to develop this discussion further and so we are seeking your input.
On Saturday, June 13th, the Right2Water Unions will host a second conference to determine a policy platform ahead of the next General Election.
But is that for a Right2Water electoral vehicle, or some sort of lash-up, however loose or otherwise, that R2W would support? A lot of questions.
What do people think of it?