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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 24, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    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.

    • Will C. says:

      Three words for you – Summer of Rage. Given the date of the proposed “mini” budget, we may not even have to wait until May for it.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, the other part to this will be the many workers in the public and private sectors who will not be striking and how they react to having to cope with their children for an unplanned day and how employers cope with lost business and revenue. If your employer is paying increases in accordance with the existing partnership then going out on strike for something that your employer is not responsible for would seem to me at the very least to leave the union you are a member of open to legal reaction to recoup lost earnings.

      And this strike will be what opens up the gap between public and private sector for all to see. If IMPACT having not gotten the margin (on a total vote by only about one-third of their members, remember) required to sanction strike action then the whole concept of solidarity is out the window.

    • brian says:

      “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.”
      From the view of a public servant – agreed. In the banking system it seems to be a case of the king is dead, long live the king. In the banana republic. The faces may change but, as yet, there has only been talk of structural changes in the banking system. Imagine the hostility a public/civil service feels toward a bank sector that claims government jobs are too cossetted (for the record, I’d agree with that too….) when the entire banking juggernaut seems not only cossetted but beyond the reaches of government and the rules of competition that apply to every member of society and private sector enterprise that the banks fund.

      Personally, though I’m no expert, I think a lot of this situation stems from events toward the back end of last year after the government took the bold step of guaranteeing deposits. Having gone this far in safeguarding the general population, it seemed that the logical step would be to not safeguard the banks any further and let those that have been exposed to toxic debts and the property market reveal themselves in time and with increased pressure from a stronger regulator. However, recapitalisation followed the guarantee almost immediately, nominally to increase credit flow that is still yet to flow but also having the effect of safeguarding irresponsible banks and property marketeers. So now we have talk of the artificial induction of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ banks based on something other than merit.

      For reasonable people, it is not hard to accept some decrease in the standard of living during a recession. But to be struggling with a mortgage and passing literally thousands of empty apartments/estates, I’d imagine that is disheartening. Until the pressure is felt equally, the unrest seems inevitable. To finish with a possibly naive question, why can’t a bank be allowed go bust after deposits are guaranteed?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Sorry the above is a bit grabbled.

      Deaglán, the other part to this will be the many workers in the public and private sectors who will not be striking and how they react to having to cope with their children for an unplanned day amonsg other inconveniences and how employers cope with the loss of business and associated revenue. If your employer is paying increases and acting in accordance with the existing partnership then you going out on strike for something that your employer is not responsible for would seem to me at the very least to leave the union you are a member of open to legal reaction to recoup lost earnings.

      And this strike will probably be what opens up the gap between public and private sector for all to see. If IMPACT having not gotten the margin (on a total vote by only about one-third of their members, remember) required to sanction strike action still choose to support the strike then the whole concept of solidarity and being guided by your members is out the window.

    • David says:

      hmmmm

      “The bulk of Government spending goes on public sector pay and social welfare payments. Saving money means cutting either or both, writes COLM KEENA.”

      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0317/1224242944394.html

      “THE GOVERNMENT was examining massive spending cuts in the run-up to the budget which could have resulted in either reducing or axing a range of basic social welfare payments.”

      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/1215/1229035719150.html

    • robespierre says:

      Deaglán

      You only have to look at the response of the audience on the Late Late Show – still a very good barometer of Joe Public – to the dreadful debate last Friday. There is a mood for change in Ireland but change when it comes will not be limited to the public sector and the political system.

      The political system while not perfect should not be confused with an abject lack of leadership. It has been a long time since we have seen principled leadership in high office. Greater diversity of skills in cabinet may help somewhat – off the top of my head I think I am right in saying that Martin, Coughlan, Hanafin, Ryan, Dempsey, O’Keefe and Harney were all teachers or lecturers and Cowen, Ahern, Lenihan and O’Dea have a legal background. That is 11 out of 16 cabinet posts. Gormley ran a languages school so you could argue 12.

      The system would probably work better if the working hours were standardised as 8 -18h00 Monday to Friday and there was a mixed voting model of a list system to accomodate intellectuals and distinguished citizens (sucessful businessmen, community leaders etc.) and PR single constituency seats. 100 seats would be ample for a country our size. We have also reached the point where the cabinet should be appointed by the Taoiseach of the winning party from within or without the parliament. This current crisis highlights more than ever the degree to which we need specialists rather than hacks in power. Having Ministers sitting in parliament means they are not running the civil service. They should be accountable but not out of the department for a minimum of three days a week.

      Finally, if the truth ever comes out on the real analysis for the benchmarking payments in 2002 there won’t be a trade unionist or a politician safe.

    • A worker says:

      Do you agree with your newspaper’s strident condemnation of the workers’ planned action as ‘national sabotage’? This deliberate slur has been ringing around the airwaves all day, yet you have chosen not to mention it. And readers are not allowed to comment on it directly online.

    • Deaglán says:

      You can send a letter to the Editor if you wish. You are a bit hung-up about this online reply facility. Do other papers have an online facility for commenting on Editorials? You have sent four comments today, Worker. Delighted to have you on board, but how do you get any work done?

      My own perspective is that we are all in this together. It is arguable that the bankers and financiers who contributed to this mess are guilty of national sabotage. What is required at this stage is a coming together and the Taoiseach has now invited the unions back into talks, with the understanding that the Monday strikes will be called off if they accept the invitation.

    • Niall says:

      The unions were/are right to show their muscle. It’s all well and good to pretend that we’re all in this together, but the truth is that we’re all in rather different situations, and the government has chosen to extract cash from different sectors of the population in different ways.

      A Union rep came round to my workplace the other day to ballot members on the proposed strike action. I was not a member and so could not vote. I was struck by the fact that everything he said was perfectly reasonable. There was relatively little talk of pension levies but quite a bit about the general mismanagement of the economy and the inequitable manner in which the Government was trying to make savings.
      When the pension levy was mentioned it was referred to in the context where it was pointed out that people on contracts that were about to expire and which would not be renewed were being charged the pension levy and that even those who receive no pension from the Government were being forced to take the cut. He pointed out that there were going to be painful cuts to be tolerated over the next few months and that union leadership were happy enough to stomach these where they were likely to lead to recovery, but not in a context where the wealthy were not being asked to pay their share.

      As any Sindo columnist would have predicted, we ended the meeting by bowing our heads as the rep read from Das Kapital.

      The pensioners proved that only those who are willing to stretch their muscles will be heard by this government. The Government is sneaky and untrustworthy. The only way you’ll get a deal out of them is if they fear you. Otherwise, you’re just another soft target to hit up on a good day for bad news. You’ll be ignored when decisions are being made and used as a scapegoat when things go wrong. Hopefully, the unions have instilled enough fear in the Government that they’ll never have to resort to strikes or the like.

      The unions don’t need anything from the Government’s non-existant goody-bag to make their membership happy. People just need to see that cuts are made in an equitable fashion and that the Government’s priorities are in order.

    • A worker says:

      I suggest that it is not so much my being hung up on an online reply facility, as you and your paper being afraid of it and clearly keen on rationing comment.

      You seem happy when challenged to make ad hominem comments too: it actually isn’t your business to wonder how or when I do my work.

      Interesting that the otherwise imperious IT is happy to set its standards by other newspapers.

      You seem ambivalent on yesterday’s editorial in your newspaper. I think it will go down in infamy in media history, on a par with the Independent’s payback outburst that showed that publication’s true nature.

    • Deaglán says:

      Dear Worker: I am a bit slow and it took me a while to realise that the reason you want an online comment facility with editorials is that, of course, you don’t want to put your name on a Letter to the Editor.
      That’s fair enough in my book. There isn’t such a facility at the moment. I hope there will be some time in the future. I have mentioned it in the appropriate quarter and, although there are no immediate plans in this regard, I hope you get your wish eventually.
      I think if you address me as “Dear Privileged Irish Times Correspondent” it is a bit much to object to what you describe as ad hominem comments in return. I was just curious and not intending to insult you when I asked how you find time to do your work. After all you call yourself “A Worker”, presenting yourself as cloth-cap while you attribute bowler-hat status to myself!
      You haven’t answered my question re other papers. Again I would wanted to know. Now I shall have to look it up myself.
      Using the word “imperious” in this context is ad hominem too, isn’t it?
      I think you are over-reacting to yesterday’s editorial. Writing in such terms about the unions is what leader-writers do. I have given my own perspective in my previous comment. We’re all in this together.

    • JD says:

      Dear Privileged Irish Times Correspondent,

      I wish to complain about the right-wing tone once more adopted in today’s editorial in demanding that Michael Fingleton take personal responsibility for his actions. Hardly a socialist view of the world, now is it?

      Yours, etc,

      JD

    • Deaglán says:

      A much-missed colleague of mine, the late Bruce Williamson, said there was a great need for a new typeface called Irony.

    • A worker says:

      Dear PITC,

      I have a slight difficulty with this cosy first name carry-on. I don’t think it reflects the nature of the relationships conducted here. But do you really not think that you do not have a privileged position in public debate?

      As for being a worker, I certainly haven’t presented myself as cloth cap anything. I don’t work in manual labour, and I am still proud to use the label.

      Your view of workers seems limited to caricature. A worker is anyone who earns their living through labour, and I would say that applies to the vast majority of our adult population. Certainly, it applies to those who are being bullied by selective and forced imposition of special levies, and to those in the private sector being pummelled with pay cuts and layoffs.

      This identity is something that seems to have eluded most of us in this country in recent times, as we have devoured the property pages and been drawn in by a variety of chancers and shysters representing themselves as wealth-creators and cheered all the way by your newspaper.

      If The Irish Times wishes to take offence at being described as imperious it must be rather thin-skinned. But then media usually are when the spotlight is turned on them.

      If you look at a variety of serious and credible news outlets in the English-speaking world you will notice that most of them allow democratic access and comment to a much greater degree than does your outlet. They do not hide behind their content systems to limit reader input to blogs on pop music, lifestyle fare, and spam.

    • Ray D says:

      The term national sabotage is a disgrace and completely inappropriate for any national newspaper to use. The only national sabotage that I see is the national sabotage carried out by the FF and its cronies/friends Government over the past decade. The fact that FF are clinging to the mercs and perks of power compounds the national sabotage. They have no mandate whatsoever for their policies and, if democracy rules, the Government should resign now.

    • Deaglán says:

      Dear Worker, If you put your name to it, I am sure you would have a good chance of getting a letter in the paper. What’s the problem with that? It ain’t China or Cuba.
      Enough of this chip on the shoulder/attitude problem and concentrate on the issues.

    • A worker says:

      ‘It ain’t China or Cuba.
      Enough of this chip on the shoulder/attitude problem…’

      Wonderful.

    • David says:

      I’m going to fall on ‘A Worker’s’ side on this one.

      Look at the language used in the two editorials, one day after another. The first deals with a substantial section of the workforce (underpaid and overpaid, but mostly I’d venture ‘just about paid’) considering strike action in protest against the government’s (mis)management of the economy and finances. The second considers the future of another bank chairman, who’s questionable actions have contributed in no modest way to jeopardising the entire economy, and the lives of those that survive on it.

      Our first editorial is written by a very very unhappy writer, intent on ‘resurrecting’ Thatcher for round two with Scargill. A national strike is “national sabotage”, it is “destructive action” which is “likely to damage.” Further, the writer argues that it is completely uncalled for. Why it was the unions themselves that “fuelled public spending and the building boom” (how rich that is, coming from the host of the now defunct, but I’ll bet no less ‘glittering Irish Times Property Awards’), causing “pay increases that destroyed our industrial competitiveness”.

      In fact, the protest is simply a show of strength, just “grandstanding and posturing”, nothing to do with democratic principles; it is intended to “cripple the prospect of recovery.” It is the unions that are out to destroy the economy.

      What we really need is to do, is follow The Irish Times’ lead, because what we do now “is about protecting the weakest in society.” It’s true, because The Irish Times said it.

      Our second editorial headline screams ‘Time for Mr Fingleton to go’! Go where? It might become clear further on perhaps.

      His ‘stewardship’ is ‘increasingly untenable’ we are told. Mismanagement you might think, low shareholder return perhaps, sexual harassment suit maybe, nope, he aided the “concealment by Sean FitzPatrick of loans”. The same loans that Mr. Fitzpatrick had been using to bolster Anglo Irish, to make it appear a secure investment? Now that this housemarket of cards is coming down, this pack of bankers is dragging the country with it. But no room, for phrases like ‘destructive action’ or ‘national sabotage’ in this piece.

      The Irish Times is still looking for ‘gratitude’ from the banks! Honestly, gratitude? Has this editorial writer lost his or her nut? No, ‘He should go without further delay’, but not to court, no mention of that sort of thing, to a luxury island in the Bahamas maybe, with a 10% cut on his 27m euro pension.

      “It’s about protecting the weakest in society”, our first editorial writer’s heart bleeds. It’s about a corrupt banker ‘stepping down’ writes our second stiff upper lipped editorial writer. There’s no doubt they’re the same person, which makes the ‘intellectual incapacity’ (to quote an obnoxious Independent journo) all the more mind blowing.

    • Deaglán says:

      I think we’ve got a debate going! Sorry you’re in a snit, Worker. Here, in the interests of balance and fairness and for those who haven’t read them, are the two editorials that have aroused comment:

      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0324/1224243316589.html

      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0325/1224243365614.html

    • John Browne says:

      Deaglan,

      Did I miss something here? Are you now ghost writing the editorials for Madam Editor?

    • Deaglán says:

      No, John Browne. Just a humble political correspondent and blogger, I’m afraid.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      We are all in this together? What crap. That is just the lie the Irish tax-evading rich tell the working-class so that they will pay for the mess the rich have made. The “Ansbachers ” weren’t “in it ” with us in the 1980′s, they were in the Cayman islands, and they won’t be now – they are in it to win out of it. The workers, the people, shouldn’t let them. They should bring down this corrupt government and all of its corrupt cronies and jail the lot of them – for a very long time.

    • J. Larson says:

      I just love your weblog! Very nice post!


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