A Terrible Beauty Is Gestating
Deaglán de Bréadún
We are about to see a major event in our political and industrial history. Or then again, maybe not. The one-day national strike could still of course be called off, but if it goes ahead it will amount to the political equivalent of climate change.
Something alters in people’s hearts, minds and souls when they engage in an action like this. It’s not quite the equivalent of Yeats’s “A terrible beauty is born” but things will never be quite the same again.
The unions will have felt their power. They will have closed the country down. Thousands of schools are set to close as well as the three state airports at Dublin, Shannon and Cork. This will be a flexing of muscles unprecedented in modern times in this State.
If the action goes ahead, it will cause ripples in Europe. The European Union and its chief paymaster, Germany, will be paying the keenest attention. Greece, Ireland - who is next? France has been rumbling away too, of course.
So what is going on in the minds of the population? A feeling of unfairness, primarily. The bankers and financiers are blamed for causing the crisis but there is a strong perception that they paid very little price.
There is also a normal human inclination to hold onto what you’ve got and point to someone else who could more easily make the sacrifice than yourself. There is the undeniable basic fact that people are finding it hard to cope financially, what with mortgage payments, child-care, health insurance, utility bills, etc.
So far there has been no Welfare-bashing, no calls for that sector to take the hit. That would be seen as inhumane if not inhuman. But as the crisis deepens, we may regrettably get into that sordid area of debate. It’s the elephant in the room.
One got a sense from politicians, at the time of the last industrial action in the civil service and the big day of protest, that they felt people needed to give vent to their feelings. Now it’s getting more serious. We are going to hear a good deal about the damage Monday’s action will do to our image abroad. The unions will be urged to call the whole thing off.
To do that, the realpolitik is that the unions will have to be seen to get something substantial in return. However there doesn’t seem to be anything in the goody-bag. There may not even be a bag, empty or otherwise.
When this is all over – if it ever ends – there will have to be a major post-mortem. I am quite prepared to accept that the media may have to share some of the blame. But surely the primary responsibility lies on the political system.
That system may not be to blame for the crisis, which is worldwide, but it can be faulted surely for not making preparations and for the depth and expected longevity of the crisis in this country.