Thomas Cook serves up half-baked redundancy plan
I have been away because of a family bereavement but returned this weekend to find evidence of a new militant mood out there.
The farmers have been out in force for weeks – there was another protest in Donegal today. A couple of weeks ago they gatecrashed a road-opening in Ballinasloe attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and let vent to some spleen and some incendiary comments. The farmers are complaining about the phasing out of the rural environmental protection scheme (REPS). It is a flawed scheme but there is no denying their anger. The problem that farmers have is after their hot-and-cold shenanigans in the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty last year, mass protests won’t buy them much political favour in the run-up to the second referendum. And ominously for the leadership, a few No to Lisbon placards have begun to appear at protests – a sign that some within the farming community may use the second treaty as another referendum on Government policy and performance.
The second example is the dispute between the pharmacists and the Government which has become a major propaganda war, with claims of intimidation coming from one side; and of incorrect prescribing coming from the other. The Government and the Minister for Health Mary Harney seem to be hanging tough. They don’t have a choice. If they concede like governments did to lobby and interest groups in the 1980s, the austerity programme will have no credibility. But both of these disputes give a taste of what we can expect in the autumn.
However, the dispute that really harks back to other times is the occupaton of its Grafton Street premises by the Thomas Cook employees that was ended by gardai at 5 o’clock this morning. It reminded me of the lock-in at the Irish Press (where I worked) in 1995 and of all the occupations of the 1980s, most famously that of the Clondalkin Paper Mills.
You could not but feel sorry for the 40 or so employees forced to take the desperate measure, including a heavily pregnant woman (who actually gave birth today). Here was the chief executive of the travel company in the UK raking in a salary of several millions pounds last year while it was offering only five weeks per year to the workers made redundant in Dublin. And to compound their woes, the employees were all arrested this morning for contempt of a court order.
It seems such an unfair world.
To paraphrase the old English working-class doggerel: It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure; it’s the poor wot gets the blame.
Among those arrested this morning was Richard Boyd-Barrett of People Before Profit (aka the Socialist Workers Party). That to me was significant. One of the big trends over the next couple of years will be the rise of the radical left, spearheaded (separately) by Boyd-Barrett and by Joe Higgins.
That is no bad thing. The disease of consensus politics has afflicted all the opposition parties in the Dáil. We need new ideas and a new radicalism.