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20 August 2009 Edition

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Nice work if you can get it

Have your wages been cut? Are you losing a few bob every week so that your mates can avoid redundancy? Are you willing to take a hit for the team, to all chip in collectively? Are you happy to take the pain so long as the pain’s shared fairly?
 Well, then you don’t work in management.
As the Irish Times reported last Friday: “The CSO data on wage earnings of almost 200,000 workers in manufacturing shows that management awarded themselves a 6.5 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2009...clerical and production workers saw their hourly earnings fall by 2.3 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.”
It gets better.
“The same figures show that management have awarded themselves an hourly bonus of €1.80 for the first three months of this year; an 88 per cent increase in bonus payments.”
 So, let’s get this straight. Wages in the manufacturing sector are coming down in order to fund wage increases for managers in the middle of a recession. Surely this will be front page news?
 Well on the same day as the story appeared in the Times the Irish Daily Mail did indeed run with an industrial story:
 “UNIONS INTENT ON RUINING US,” screamed a front-page banner headline. The article went on to suggest strikers were scaring off foreign investment, though why any company would be scared of a country where they give management wage increases funded by cutting workers’ wages is beyond me.
 The Mail’s concern is that there have been almost 15,000 working days lost due to strike action in the last six months. The people responsible for this are the “firebrand union extremists” like Wendy Aldren and the Thomas Cook workers who “evidently could not care less about the damage they are doing to the economy”.
 In a lengthy article Mail journalist Helen Bruce managed to avoid referring to management pay increases at all. On the day the CSO report on wages came out RTÉ reported the CSO unemployment figures, but not the wages. As far as I can tell no-one other than the Times reported it at all but they all reported to a greater or lesser extent the scale of strike action.
 Managers squeezing money out of their employees in the middle of a recession to boost their own pay cheques clearly isn’t considered news.
 Thing is, as the Mail’s leader writer wouldn’t know, in a recession the people who get it in the neck are the working-class people represented by unions, the ones whose jobs are on the line every single day. Far from not being aware of damage to the economy, they’re far more aware of it than the cosseted expense account fiddling hacks the Mail sent over from Britain or happily took the shilling to whack some manners into the Red Paddies.
And so ‘No to Lisbon’ campaigners, as expected, have lost Labour Youth’s support.
 Continuing its longstanding tradition of complete political confusion Gilmore’s comraidí beaga voted to oppose the Lisbon Treaty first time round before changing their minds and then supporting it. Neither side of the Lisbon debate noticed much difference but I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
Last November, they were opposing it again after their Annual Conference (“Ard Fheis is loike for boggers, man”) passed a motion announcing their intent to campaign against a rerun of Lisbon because “...the Lisbon Treaty is dead...the democratic will of the people should be accepted and that no re-run of this referendum should occur in any form”.
 The rest of it’s all good stuff, if a little vague and ill-informed, like a left-wing version of a Libertas statement come to think of it.
 But of course there are certain hard realities in political life and one of them is that Labour Youth cannot hold a coherent political position for more than a few months. It causes them to break out in hives; they’ve the same reaction to meeting working-class people incidentally.
 And so at the weekend down in Cork they u-turned again to vote in favour of Lisbon.
 Obviously what they meant in November about accepting the democratic will of the people and opposing any kind of re-run was that they were happy to ignore the verdict of the people and do what they’re told.
 The Times’ coverage of Labour Youth’s decision merged it with another story about the setting up of a new pro-Lisbon front group, the 73rd by my count.
 “A number of Irish business groups have united in calling for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum while Labour Youth also voted over the weekend to support the Yes campaign.
 “Members include employers’ group IBEC, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Irish Taxation Institute, the Irish Hotels Federation, Chambers Ireland, the Irish Exporters Association and the Small Firms Association.”
 A true roll-call of the valiant defenders of workers’ rights there. All fine people for na buachailliní agus na cailiní of Labour Youth to be standing shoulder to shoulder with. Maybe, if they’re good, they can do a joint press conference together.
 It’s unclear if rumours that Labour Youth’s Lisbon slogan will actually be: “Vote Yes: ‘Coz IBEC says so” but here at An Phoblacht, we give points for its raw honesty.

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