Trashing the concept of a public service

‘Customers’ are being asked to collude in the impoverishment of the men who collect their bins

Will we end up subsidising Greyhound’s operations by paying family income supplement to some of their workers? Photograph: David Sleator

Will we end up subsidising Greyhound’s operations by paying family income supplement to some of their workers? Photograph: David Sleator

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 12:01

Rubbish, trash, garbage – this column has them all. But also some bigger things: the stripping away of citizenship and the brutalisation of everyday life.

Until January 16th, 2012, the part rubbish played in my life was largely confined to the comments under the online versions of my columns.

I put out my black, green and brown bins on the ordained days. Men arrived in a Dublin City Council truck and emptied them. I said hello to them as I was heading out for my morning constitutional and dragged in the empty bins on my return. In late December, one of the men would ring on the doorbell with a polite inquiry about something or other, a signal that it was time for the “Christmas box”. I handed over a note and we exchanged pleasantries and I waved to the rest of the crew and said thanks for the service.

This was all quite banal but also quite civilised. It was part of the warp and weft of the fabric of mundane decency. I paid my taxes, and a €100 service charge, and got something back. I knew the binmen were in a union and that they were public employees so I took it for granted that they were paid a living wage.

It wasn’t a sentimental drama – the waft was a bit too heady for hugging. But it wasn’t savage either. The hum was the honest stench of trash, not the reek of moral rottenness. A small but significant part of humdrum urban existence was carried off with a modicum of dignity all round.

No one ever asked me or anyone else I know whether, as a citizen or a taxpayer, I wanted to change this arrangement. It worked fine. But it was intolerable because no one was making a profit out of it. It was ideologically unsound. It was decided from on high that this simply wouldn’t do in the 21st century, that it was not properly market-driven, that it needed a good dose of “choice” and “competition”.

So, after no consultation of any kind, I got a letter on headed notepaper – jointly headed, that is, with the logos of Dublin City Council and of a commercial company called Greyhound. It addressed me, not as a citizen or a taxpayer or even as a resident of my own city, but as “Dear customer”. It informed me, as a fait accompli, that as of January 16th, 2012 there would be a “seamless transfer” of my bin collections to Greyhound and that I would be paying this company for the service in the future.

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