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8 May 1997 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Currency Chaos

For the vast majority of us nothing changed last week. Those who had work did it. Those who didn't spent yet another week on the margins of society coping with the reality of long-term poverty. Maybe those who did have jobs went to work with a bit more of a spring in their stride, beginning to believe the media hype of the Celtic Tiger.

Little did they know that last week the Celtic Tiger was being mugged and skinned by currency speculators who took the 26-County Central bank for over £900 million, leaving us, the Tiger cubs, with a huge bill, higher mortgage and loan rates.and proof, if it were needed, that the coalition government and the Central Bank have little real control over the economic forces that shape our economy.

So what happened to our tiger? How was the punt such easy prey to the speculators? The Coalition government view is that as part of the preparation for the single currency the punt would have to be devalued. This policy objective was signalled by Finance Minister Ruairi Quinn who told the media that he believed the punt was overvalued compared to other currencies.

The outcome of Quinn's comments has been a free-for-all on the punt, with financial speculators trading currencies for the punt, driving its values down. At the same time, the Dublin Stock Exchange share index hit record levels as the speculators used the devalued punt to buy shares in Irish companies.

These new investors are not interested in developing the Irish economy; they will sell the shares on as soon as they have realised a profit. Their unwelcome prescence on the stock exchange is yet another distortion of our economy.

The question now is, are we all expected to believe that this was all part of a government/Central bank plan? Can they not admit that for the last ten days or more the Central bank was powerless to prevent the currecny speculators reaping a huge unearned dividend from the 26-County economy? In fact last week the Cental Bank effectively withdrew from the currency markets, leaving the punt in free fall.

So now it's those of us who carried on last week as normal who will pay the cost for being citizens of an economy whose sovereignty has been bartered and frittered away to faceless bankers and financiers. Next time we are told of the roar of the Celtic Tiger we should see it for what it is - a toothless, housetrained mog - and ask who is pulling its chain today.

State should buy Quinnsworth chain

The Coalition Government is confident nothing can go wrong and so the EU Commission has cleared the way for Tesco's £630 million takeover of the Quinnsworth/Crazy Prices retail chain in Ireland.

Tesco has given the Dublin Government assurances that an ``action plan'' agreed between them will deepen the company's roots in the Irish market. Tesco's undertakings include promising to maintain the terms and conditions of current employees (the situation about new employees is unclear) as well as maintaining the same level of goods supplied from within Ireland.

We have not been told how the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Richard Bruton plans to hold Tesco to its part of the deal, or how it will be monitored. But there is another solution which has been overlooked - that of the state buying the Quinnsworth chain. It is a profitable company, otherwise Tesco wouldn't be buying it. There are a range of problems in the Irish retail industry particularly in the context of employee conditions. The state-owned Quinnsworth could set the precedent for the industry on wages, conditions and Sunday opening. It could also be a vital resource for Irish suppliers.

Until now we have been told that the existing companies have been caught in a vicious circle, only responding to the competitive actions of the others. A state-owned Quinnsworth could make money for the government and still set the standards for the industry. It could even offer its employees a substantial shareholding giving them an effective voice in the running of the company. Such a course of action though is about as likely as current staff being a paid a bonus from the proceeds of the £630 million sale.

Irish Life directors 21% wage rise

Pressure of space in recent weeks has kept us from returning to the strike by insurance workers at Irish Life offices in Dublin. Over 300 staff have been supended since February for not accepting management restructuring demands. MSF workers rejected the management proposals for the simple reason that they want to get bonuses from any productivity increases generated by the restructuring. This is the fourth restructuring plan introduced over the last eight years.

The MSF workers have maintained that they are in favour of new technology and greater efficiency but want to ensure there are no job losses.

The situation of the workers is in stark contrast to that enjoyed by Irish Life's exectutive directors who last year received salary rises of 21%. The four executive directors shared £1,046,000, an average of £261,500 each. Maybe the dispute at the company could be resolved if these conditions applied to all workers.

May Day support for Liverpool dockers

After 20 months on the picket line the sacked Liverpool dockers are set to get a boost with solidarity action planned for this month by dockers on the US West Coast and Japan.

Speaking at the ATGWU's annual May Day meeting and social in Dublin, Liverpool docker Mike Carden said he and his fellow workers were determined to fight on and to win. He said the port of Liverpool has ceased to function and the solidarity actions will internationalise the dispute. Carden thanked Irish trade unionists for their staunch support.

ATGWU Irish Secretary Mick Reilly told the meeting that the defeat for the Tories was a victory for working people. There are ``great expectations now'' for the most important issue facing the Irish people, the rebuilding of the peace process. Avila Kilmurray of the Women's Coalition told of the sectarianism they had experienced at the Forum with taunts like ``go away and breed for Ulster''. She said the Women's Coalition wanted all parties round the table ``regardless of ceasefires''.

Jean Michel Galano of the French Communist Party spoke about the big strikes in the public sector in France which had massive public backing. ``Sometimes fighters are not winners but non-fighters are always losers,'' he said.

You can show your support for the Liverpool dockers by going to the benefit gig organised this Friday in Dublin's Ormond multimedia centre. Admission is £6 with all proceeds going to the Merseyside Dockers Appeal Fund.


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