Where’s The Money, Boss?

Big march on today in Dublin. 1pm, Parnell Square.

(Irish wealth. Graph via DCTU.)

Translation of a piece by Isaac Rosa, published 22nd November in eldiario.es. It has a decent phrase for a march placard.

Where’s the money, boss?

When the boss calls you to his office and tells you the one about how “things are getting worse and worse. I have to let you go”, ask him: where’s the money, boss?

When you discover in your payslip that you’re earning 20% less, run off and get the director and get him to answer: where’s the money, boss?

When the bank seeks public assistance, recapitalisation, the buying up of toxic assets, cheap money from the ECB or nationalisation, let’s turn up at their board meeting and let the president have it: where’s the money boss?

When the minister in power tells us that he is forced to cut social spending, end legal aid or close public services; when regional officials assure us that health care will not be affected by the cutback; let’s get out on the street with a banner that reads loud and clear: where’s the money, boss?

Yes, we already know the answer we’ll get from plenty of them: “the crisis is terrible…”, “sales have plummetted…”, “advertisers are pulling out…”, “demand has fallen…”, “we’re in the red…”, “we’re in a loss-making situation…”, “if we don’t take more in we can’t spend any more…”, “we can’t make ends meet..”. Whenever they’ve finished with their usual litany, let’s repeat the question: where’s the money, boss?

Ruling politicians and businessmen usually explain the cutbacks with a clichéd example: “this is like a family; when there’s no money coming into the house, you can’t spend anything.” OK, fine, but if we accept the metaphor, there’s something missing: families, before they take drastic decisions or even stop paying the mortgage, first of all raid the famous “family mattress” until it’s all gone: we spend an entire life savings, we sell the car and the house, we seek help from relatives.

The question is: how is it that businesses, especially the big businesses that sack people by the hundred, don’t have a mattress? Did they have one and use it all up? Did they never have one? Have they hidden it safely away? And the same goes for the State and authorities: why didn’t they take advantage of the good years to fill up that mattress that would break the fall when the bad years arrived? Or, to put it as previously: where’s the money, boss?

It’s true there are certain businesspeople, especially small businesspeople, who have tried everything and have burned all their capital and even their personal wealth in order to keep the firm going; I know a few of them. But what happens when a company that has had enormous profits for decades only needs a single year in the red to fire en masse and cut wages? And what about the firms that haven’t had losses, but have simply seen their profits fall (but keep on making a profit, even a very considerable one), that also fire people and make cuts? And let’s not talk about those that haven’t even seen profits fall, that are earning more but still fire and make cuts as a preventive measure. In all these cases, where’s the money?

If we’re talking about big firms, what are losses? If we look at the short term, the last financial year, or even the past three or four years, we might see numbers in the red. But how about we take as our reference the last fifteen or twenty years? What’s the balance in terms of losses and profits for that period? And that’s only looking at the reported accounts, without taking into account the habitual accountancy engineering and the widespread fondness for tax havens. Some examples, among many: the El Pais newspaper. After thirty five years of uninterrupted profits, €850m in the last decade, and still with positive numbers in the first months of this year, is it acceptable that it should sack 129 (and with minimal compensation) and cut the wages of the rest?

Another one, which touches me more closely: the defunct Público daily. The owner justifies the closure on account of losses (which were real, but diminishing), sends the workers to the social security offices and leaves us collaborators unpaid for several months. Is such a kick up the rear acceptable on the part of someone who has got rich for years from his businesses? I’m not talking about keeping the paper open (that too), but could he not have at least scraped around to give a decent pay-off to workers?

Third example: Telefónica. Last year it announced a workforce reduction of 20%. And it did so the same day it promised cash dividends of €8,000 million for its shareholders, and only a year after breaking profit records for a Spanish firm.

In these and other cases, after decades of getting rich, with double digit profits, haven’t they got a mattress for a rainy day? Or to put it another way: is their only mattress the pay checks of their workers? Do they have to pay for management mistakes, casino games and the greed of the bosses? If the profit was only for the owners, shareholders and executives, why not the losses too? Where’s the money, boss?

And the same thing with public officials: during the boom years they made generous tax gifts, they mis-sold public enterprises, privatised services and resources that were not simply expense, but the source of future revenue, and that’s without counting what was frittered away by waste and corruption, and that they are still turning a blind eye to major tax fraud and ignoring other sources of revenue. Where’s the money, boss?

That is the question of this crisis/scam. And they can give us the answer themselves, if they can contain their laughter: “the money is you, suckers”. So it is: the money for the party to continue is us. That’s what it’s about: a massive transfer of wealth from workers to the financial sector, big business and top earners. Our wages, our cheapened labour, our privatised public wealth, our dismantled welfare system and our money for socialising their losses. A huge looting.

We are their mattress, and we always have been. And as long as they are resting comfortably on this mattress, they won’t even bother answering the question, but just in case let’s repeat it to them every day: where’s the money, boss?

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