Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

5 February 2009 Edition

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The big lie

THE five main Sunday newspapers in the Irish market, including Irish editions of British titles – the Tribune, Business Post, Independent, Times and Mail – all ran editorials screaming for pay cuts in the public service last weekend. The British ones had that extra edge to them with the Times stating that the unions “should have been dumped last summer” and that it was now time to “part company” with them and simply impose pay cuts. The Little Englanders of the Mail described Irish public service workers as “bureaucrats” whose “bloated payroll costs are sending the country into debt at the rate of €57m a day” (a straight-out lie).
The Sunday Independent decreed that “public pay cuts can’t be delayed” and the Post demanded public service pay cuts to match the fall in private sector pay. The ‘liberal’ Sunday Tribune, meanwhile, remarked sourly that a three-year pay freeze and a contribution of around 7 per cent towards “extremely generous pensions” (another porkie) is a small contribution for public sector workers to make.
There were further distortions in three of the same newspapers.
The Sunday Independent claimed in its front-page lead article that public pay had been spared in negotiations with the unions even though the same story referred to the fact that public service workers would have a 5 per cent pensions levy (it’s actually higher than that) imposed on them – a wage cut by any other name. The Tribune and the Mail led with the same line, both pretending that public sector wages were being untouched with the Mail claiming that Cowen had bottled it.
The big lie in recent months is that public service workers are grossly overpaid – in wages and pensions – compared to private sector workers.
SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor and other trade unionists have occasionally been allowed to have their rebuttal of these claims published but these arguments have been submerged under an avalanche of verbiage from the same economic commentators and experts whose theories and heroes gave us the greatest recession since the 1930s.
The statistics only make sense when you realise that there are tens of thousands of private sector workers who are working for slave rates with no pension rights in fast-food joints, the cleaning industry and elsewhere. If the business bodies ISME, IBEC and their highly-paid, private sector PR spin-doctors were really concerned at the plight of such workers then why have they demanded that the minimum wage be cut?

THERE are other lines that could be drawn in the population other than the superficial one between public and private sector workers.
There are clear lines between, say, large shareholders in private companies and the workers in these companies; between managers and employees in both private and public sectors; between middle-class professionals like doctors, barristers, accountants, etc, and white-collar workers. You might even compare the six-figure salaries of those editors and household-name journalists to most of the rest of us. But whipping up a storm against the former classes in the above cases would be a little more dangerous and subversive – not to say logical – than abusing public service workers.
Slashing wages of public service workers is demanded because the government  and Establishment won’t come up with an alternative to screwing the largest section of unionised workers in the country.
This is the same line peddled by those reactionary economists who encouraged speculative gambling in construction and elsewhere.

BEHIND the establishment media consensus a debate has been carried out within ruling circles that has only just emerged, with the media pillorying one side – actually, the side led by Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Both sides want to screw all workers, starting with the public service, as a solution to the crisis created by the wealthy. But Cowen – and most of Fianna Fáil – want to do it with the co-operation of trade union leaders and an agreement to take extra taxation from the middle class and the rich. Most media pundits argue that the unions should be told to hump off and that cuts should be simply imposed.
There is, of course, a third side, led by Sinn Féin, which wants to nationalise a real bank, not the Mickey Mouse delinquents in Anglo Irish and who want to revitalise the economy with an entirely different set of measures, including proposals to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share. But you won’t read about these proposals in the ‘free press’.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1