There are so many things taking place simultaneously at different levels in relation to the economic and political crisis that it is difficult not to get overwhelmed and sucked into a sort of paralysis.
Here are a few notes on one level: that of the recent budget. I will look at a different level tomorrow. The consequences of this budget will be immense for huge swathes of the population. The cumulative destruction of these budgets makes it difficult for many people to talk about resistance to the policies behind them, because they are forced to see things in terms of the urgent matter of simply being able to cope with the additional burden that they have to shoulder as a result of incomes slashed, services withdrawn, and additional charges.
Alongside this, tens of thousands of jobs eliminated on account of cuts to capital expenditure and public sector employment. But a huge amount of public attention was drawn towards the disability allowance cut, which was then rescinded by the government after public reaction on the State broadcaster showed that the measure would prove highly unpopular. Liveline broadcast a call yesterday with the parent of a person who receives disability allowance, talking about how Enda Kenny had phoned him personally, on his way into the Dáil chamber for the budget speech, after he had complained about the cut on Liveline the previous day. The presenter, Joe Duffy, asked the usual questions intended to humanise the politician and quell any sort of tendency to question things in systemic terms. The effect was to give the impression of government politicians who were under such pressure to make cuts that they made an honest mistake, which they duly corrected when popular pressure was exerted. Which is exactly what the government would have wanted.
Ever higher unemployment, spurred on by cuts in public sector jobs, will keep wages depressed and force people into accepting worsened job conditions. Often passed over in the discourse of public sector ‘reform’, especially among those who signed up to the Croke Park agreement, is that the agreed elimination of public sector jobs will weaken the labour movement even further since it will mean fewer union members and fewer subscriptions and therefore less funds for mounting campaigns to protect working conditions. It therefore becomes easier to launch attacks against the labour movement. Howlin’s announcement that the numbers employed in the public service in 2015 will be 88% of 2008 levels, which amounts to a massive weakening of organised labour, has only strengthened the baying for more blood. Is there any public discussion of this at all?
It was striking to see how the government was able to manage public perception of the budget over the past couple of days. First of all, by spreading the budget across two days, the long established format for reporting on the budget and the routine for consuming news about it were dispensed with. The budget was presented as a bid for independence, and liberation from the millstone placed around the country’s neck by the previous Fianna Fáil-led governments. Remarkably, Michael Noonan invoked Richard Mulcahy and the Treaty in rationalising the austerity budget. For Ireland to ‘get back her purse’, in Mulcahy’s phrase, it would have to undergo the programme prescribed by the IMF and the European authorities.
There was a not-so-subtle subtext to this: if the (presumably imperfect, onerous) Treaty was the means by which Ireland had its sovereignty restored (whatever the hell that means ), then it was the path of austerity budgets that would restore its sovereignty in the future. In terms of dissenters, well, when push came to shove, Richard Mulcahy authorised the summary execution of anti-Treaty activists, including Liam Mellows.
Mellows had written from jail that ‘the commercial interest, so called, money and the gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty’. The government, with the help of a compliant broadcast and print meda, has managed to hide the fact that a similar story pertains in 2011. That is, that the owning class in Ireland favours the conditions imposed by the IMF and the European authorities, because they make the Irish workforce more ‘competitive’ (i.e. poor); because a tax regime with an emphasis on taxes on consumption and indirect taxation favours the rich; because labour market ‘activation’ measures (i.e. victimising and harassing the unemployed) make individuals, not institutions, responsible for their unemployment; because the strangulation of the State through debt repayment means the destruction of policies that ensure social solidarity; because public services should be sold off for private profit; and so on and so forth.
Enda Kenny is in Marseille today, meeting with many heads of the European People’s Party, the European parliamentary grouping RTE this morning described –as per the grouping’s own description- ‘centre-right’ parties. The ‘centre’ is an interesting dab of antiseptic, given that the parties involved are pursuing revanchist policies that would have stoked the wet dreams of only the most right wing members of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinets. Many members of these parties advocate racist policies. Many others have fascist heritage and sympathies. In a Europe where what little susceptibility to democratic politics there was in European institutions is being eliminated, they are highly dangerous.