Between occupied factories in Waterford, a near collapse of social partnership, the introduction of a pension-tax on public servants, a converging banking crisis, the good, bad & ugly of the eurozone to a proposed ‘five years of austerity, it has surely been a momentous, if not an historic week.
The occupation of waterford wedgewood by current and previous workers illustrates the importance of ’embedded economies’ at a local-regional level. An occupation in an Irish firm would have sounded like fiction four months ago. When I heard on the radio that the workers were being brought food and sleeping bags to sustain the occupation over the next few days I knew it was going to be a bizarre week. The social partners were due to finalise talks on a new national agreement in the next couple of days. I wonder whether the event had any direct causal influence upon the final outcome of the talks? Waterford crystal workers are skilled artisans. The fact that they are maintaining the furnace without any ‘private ownership’ is a credit to the labour force. The state should support the establishment of a cooperative amongst the workers. If anyone will make that localised regional economy ‘competitive’ again it is the workers themselves.
The unions were never going to agree to the introduction of the proposed pension levy. The social partners managed to agree on the broad framework of tackling the public finances, sorting out the banks and start creating jobs. The presentation of the ultimate question: where will the government cut €2 bn from public expenditure was introduced at 3am and the talks were due to finish at 9am. This fact alone seems to indicate that the government knew there would be no agreement. I think the process will benefit Fianna Fail and the trade union movement. IBEC had already made clear that they were going to unconditionally support the governments proposal. The attempt at coordination via partnership leaves the door open for discussion and deliberation over bigger questions facing the economy. The unions correctly highlight the lack of equity in asking those who did not create the current recession to pay for its effects. We all know who the main actors behind our current economic woes are, and it is this top quintile of Irish society that should be paying not the nurse facing mayhem in A&E this weekend.
Another worrying precedence that has been successfully espoused in public discourse over the past few weeks is the creation of a wedge between private sector and public sector employees. The 300 people who lost their job in Ericsson’s yesterday were victims of an opportunistic employer. A business model that puts layoffs as a first option rather than a last option. To say that public sector workers should share the burden with these unfortunate skilled employees allows both a) the government who facilitated the economic inflationary bubble and b) unscrupulous employers off the hook……An article in the latest edition of the economist ‘signalled the end of two decades of social partnership’. This is short sighted. A coordinated approach by all social partners is the only way that Ireland will steer its way out of the abyss . However, this can only happen if tax increases aimed at the wealthiest section of society are introduced. The fine detail of the next five years of austerity will determine the future of Ireland’s social partnership approach to public policy.