This is a comment I left on an Irish Times article by Bernadette Segol, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation and David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, titled New Deal necessary for Europe laid waste by austerity and service cuts’
Notable by its absence from this article is any mention of democracy. This is in spite of the fact that the present economic crisis has cast into stark relief the chasm between political elites and the public they claim to represent:at both supra-national and national level.
This chasm is particularly pronounced in periphery countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, where there has been a collapse in support for social democratic political parties. These parties stood, or at least claimed to stand, for the ‘Social Europe’ that the authors defend here. And the reason the chasm is so pronounced is not that the social democratic parties that count on Europe’s main trade unions for support have been ‘panicked’ by the crisis, as the authors claim, but because their hierarchies identify more closely with the priorities and outlook of Europe’s political and economic elites (in fact, they are part of them) than they do with the people whose lives are being laid waste by the dismantling of Europe’s post-war democratic settlement.
In Ireland in particular, the Labour Party, which is one of the most right-wing of Europe’s social democratic parties anyway, has counted on the support of the trade union leadership at every turn since it went into government. The outsourcing of public services; the bureaucratic hounding of welfare recipients; the abolition of universality in benefit payments; regressive taxation to pay for private banking debt; the destruction of collective bargaining rights – all of these things have been met by the trade union leadership with the mating call of the eternal conservative that resistance –or even dissent- will only make things worse.
This has led to the absurd and pathetic spectacle of a public demonstration organised by ICTU that preferred farcical anti-Teutonism to opening up any line of conflict with the right-wing government, or any suggestion of common struggle with workers across Europe. To compound things, one of the authors of this piece has vouched for the impeccable democratic legitimacy of a government that has done more than its part in stripping away the so-called ‘Social Europe’ in representing the Irish population as the ideal pupils for consenting to robbery by contrast with the unreasonable Greeks. He has also condemned legitimate civil disobedience in this context. To invoke 1913 as an alibi for such conniving submission, well, to be honest, it takes a neck like a jockey’s ballbag.