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29 April 1999 Edition

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Workers in struggle

Ahern jumps on bosses' bandwagon


``Ridiculous demands'' and nonsensical wage claims - these are the fears this week of Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern. He was adding his name to the very long list of people, usually establishment figures, who are worried about Irish workers' wages.

Ahern was speaking at the Irish Management Institute (IMI) annual conference. His address covered a range of issues, including any new wage agreement to replace Partnership 2000.

He said: ``It must not be an agreement for agreement's sake. It must be what is right for the economy. It is only on that basis that I will negotiate.''

There was, in fact, nothing new in Ahern's soundbite. He was merely mouthing what many other employers and their representatives have been saying for the past year.

Last month, IBEC Director General John Dunne warned about high wage increases for workers. He said the competitiveness of the Irish economy was under threat because of ``wage drift''.

In early March, it was the turn of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which also claimed that increasing wages would damage workers' competitiveness. There was, they claimed, an ``acute danger'' that wage increases would undermine the economy. In the same week, the European Central Bank president Wim Duisenberg warned about what he called excessive wage increases.

So Bertie Ahern has jumped on the wage bandwagon. It is very sad and shows that he is not really concerned about the economy but like many other establishment figures has targeted workers as an opportunity to scaremonger.

Funny that in a year when house prices increased by over six times the average wage increase that nobody deemed that excessive, dangerous, undermining or ridiculous?

When somebody is making a profit it is competition. Once workers ask for their share of the profits, the shutters come down.

Bertie Ahern didn't need to be a cheerleader for the bosses this week - he has diminished himself measurably.

Scaffolding dispute escalates

UB40, Catatonia and Beautiful South concerts threatened


It is hypocritical to suggest that the scaffolders' pay claim is a danger to inward investment. We would suggest that it is in fact exorbitant land prices and excessive profits of the commercial building sector that are the real threats to valuable inward investment
Up to 2,500 building workers have been laid off at building sites in Dublin as the scaffolding dispute enters its fourth week. The unofficial dispute is intensifying even though talks between SIPTU representatives of the 600 hundred strikers and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) are still ongoing.

The dispute is affecting building sites in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. In the Dublin area alone, there are 50 pickets on building sites. The scaffolders are seeking wage increases of between £3 and £12 an hour. They also want to have their skill recognised as a full building profession.

An Phoblacht spoke to Dermot O'Loughlin, a SIPTU Construction Branch official. He said that the negotiations between SIPTU and the CIF were an attempt to seek an interim wage agreement that would end the unofficial strike action and allow formal negotiations to begin between the scaffolders and the CIF. Such an interim agreement would have a deadline for the completion of talks.

O'Loughlin said that the CIF had created the conditions for the strike by conceding pay increases to crane drivers of 50% while denying them to scaffolders, many of whom are classified as the same grade of worker as crane drivers. SIPTU wants a new agreement that will cover all construction workers.

The CIF was also ``spending a fortune on glossy ads'' said O'Loughlin. The advertisements in daily papers this week claimed that the scaffolders' wage claim ``is outrageous'' and ``will not be conceded''. The ads also claimed that the strike would generate ``knock-on effects right across the industry'' and that ``conceding the current claim would seriously erode Ireland's construction competitiveness internationally''.

The CIF also claims that ``some scaffolders are engaged in intimidation, abuse, and acts of public disorder''. Andrew McGuinness and Don Walsh, the chairpersons of the Dublin and Cork Scaffolders Societies, responded to the CIF advertisement in a statement, describing it as ``sensationalist and hysterical.

``It is hypocritical to suggest that the scaffolders' pay claim is a danger to inward investment. We would suggest that it is in fact exorbitant land prices and excessive profits of the commercial building sector that are the real threats to valuable inward investment.''

An Phoblacht was given examples of how the strikers have been intimidated. One picketer has his car ``demolished'' at the Four Seasons building site in Dublin's Ballsbridge.

As An Phoblacht goes to print, the scaffolders have put pickets on Dublin Castle, where a series of concerts are to be held this weekend including UB40, Catatonia and The Beautiful South. The scaffolders say they will maintain pickets if the assembly of the stages involves scaffolding. The concert promoters claim that no scaffolding is involved in the construction of the stages. The strikers emphasised that they will not deny the audience access to the concert site.

Council challenges Grand old Duke

Who owns the Blackwater now? Well the Duke and his Duchess of Devonshire actually, who have a summer house over here at Lismore Castle, County Cork, along with 8,000 acres of land. And why shouldn't he?

As the Duke's estate manager, Michael Penruddock, says - the Duke and Duchess have done a great deal for the community. For example, they employ seven people at Carrisville Lodge, which can accommodate at any one time four keen and wealthy fishermen, usually from Britain. A week at Carrisville would set you back £1,500, according to Michael.

The fishery is only one and three quarter miles, but it is superb fishing. It has an average yearly catch, Michael says, of over 500 fish. What do they do with the fish? The residents eat them.

But the councillors in Youghal wanted to know why they might have to pay the Duke money if they add a marina to their seafront Toblerone apartments, which tax free incentives have spawned in designated areas around Ireland's sea front. The Duke owns the bed of the Blackwater river, along with Chatsworth House and Lismore Castle.

Local fishermen apply at the start of the fishing season for some 40 permits from the Duke to fish the estuary with drift nets. For this meagre source of income, they pay around £100 each. The fishermen then must buy a licence off the Fishery Board, costing another £160. The catch in the drift nets across the estuary at the mouth of the river has fallen off drastically. In 1995 there were 14,000 fish caught. Last year there were only 7,728. But Michael reckons the estate makes really nothing out of this charge on the fishermen - just about enough to administer the scheme..

Why charge at all then? Maybe it's like the Famine walls - not a good show for anyone to get something for nothing.

In 1609, King James I, according to the Sunday Times, (which it seems has an interest in the matter), granted the mayor of Youghal and the local authority, (which is has to be said did not exist at the time, as democracy was not James's strong point), all the rights on rivers, streams and brooks. So, rather naturally, the current council, claiming to be the successors, claims ownership.

The only trouble is that in 1913, the King, perhaps being forgetful, or maybe in just another example of perfidious Albion, granted the Blackwater River to the Earl of Cork, from whom the present Duke claims direct descent.

The councillors, led by Sinn Féin Councillor Martin Hallinan and Independent Councillor Oliver Casey, thought the time was right, coming up to the elections in June, to challenge this claim in the courts.

But the Town Clerk, Ned Brennan, was quite against it. He said that they didn't have £1.3 million to waste on chasing such claims through the High Court, and suggested the councillors in their wisdom defer the matter. But the councillors thought different, and they have gone ahead to seek legal advice.

Independent Councillor Casey ``doesn't begrudge the Duke his money or his title''. Councillor Casey doesn't mention the land, but he considers it to be ``a disgrace in this day and age that any one man should claim ownership of a natural resource which should belong to the state.''

Martin Hallinan comments that ``it reveals a lot about the independence Ireland is supposed to have achieved that this man can own a river''. Martin has one over Heraclitus here, who famously pointed out that it is not possible to step into the same river twice. All is flux and so it is.

And will it be the House of Lords or the Supreme Court which will finally adjudicate over James I's gifts of what was scarcely his to give in the first place?

The elections in June may come too soon for the councillors to get the legal advice they are seeking. And after that, well all is flux.

Selling us our family jewels


They are selling to the public a small share in something they already own and in the process giving control of a national resource away to foreign companies and unknown investors
``It's your chance to share in the future of Telecom Éireann.'' This was the message that greeted 2.8 million Irish people this week. The Dublin government sent this message to everyone registered to vote in the 26 Counties, offering them a chance to buy shares as part of the privatisation programme of Telecom Éireann.

At least 20% of the shares of Telecom Éireann are to be sold to the general public. The workers are to buy 15%. A further 20% has been sold to Telecom's strategic partners, KPN and Telia, of the Netherlands and Sweden respectively. KPN and Telia also have an option of purchasing another 15% share. The remaining 30% of the company will in all likelihood be sold to institutional investors who, with KPN and Telia, will actually run the company.

The share sale, backed by billboard messages and a clever TV advertisement in the mould of Riverdance, is a remarkably ingenious scam by the Dublin government. They are selling to the public a small share in something they already own and in the process giving control of a national resource away to foreign companies and unknown investors.

We, the general public, will buy the shares in the belief that there will be the possibility of a quick profit on our investment. For the Dublin government, it is the articulation of the ideology of Thatcher's Britain.

It is a simple philosophy that believes we don't need vibrant state-owned companies because owning shares in them amounts to the same thing. Similar arguments are made in the USA and Japan. Yet in none of these so-called `share-owning democracies' is there any evidence of a privatised company driven by the millions of small shareholders who bought in during the floatation process.

The reality is that the big investment banks, pension funds and competitor businesses take control of the privatised companies. In Ireland, the reality is that Public Enterprise Minister Mary O'Rourke is selling off state resources under the smokescreen of an advertising campaign. They are also being very picky in what is being offered to the public for sale.

We were never offered shares in Greencore or Irish Life when they were privatised. Bids for a shareholding in Cablelink closed last week. Five businesses made bids. There was no glossy ads for the public here.

Neither are there any advertisement campaigns promised for the sale of the ACC or ICC Banks. Will there be a share offering for Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus when they come under the auctioneer's hammer? Probably not, although there many be more crumbs on offer where and when it is deemed to be politically expedient.

Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney was bragging at her party's conference last weekend that ``Privatisation will generate very substantial revenues for the state over the next few years''. In this she is absolutely right.

The question is what happens next? What happens the next time Telecom needs to go into debt as it did in the early 1980s to build the massive infrastructure that is being sold off now? Will the foreign owners and pension funds be willing to allow such flexibility. Somehow it think it will be very unlikely.

We don't need a shareocracy. We don't need quick profits. We need long-term strategic investment that will provide proper services and create employment. We don't really need to share in the future of Telecom Éireann. We only need to know if it wants to share in the future of Ireland.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1