Sorry, Siptu, but ex-wealthy can't take any more pain


Union bosses who want the downturn to pass their members by need a reality check – those who were once well-off are suffering too, writes ORNA MULCAHY

SIPTU PRESIDENT Jack O’Connor has a bad case of the Whine Flu. He can go on for what seems like hours and hours, talking about the wealthiest in the land and how it is they, not the workers, who should feel the most pain in the budget cuts that are to come.

No more tax cuts for his workers, he says. They have done nothing wrong. They did not make the mess and so they should not have to pay to have the mess cleaned up. No, the cuts that are coming will have to be made higher up. The wealthy will have to pay and so on and on and on.

I wish he would tell us who all these wealthy people are. If they are the same ones that I know, then Jack, I’ve bad news for you: they will not be able to pay more. They are cash-strapped right now.

Some have decent salaries but have already taken pay cuts of 10 or 20 per cent, on top of the Government levies and the tax increase. Some have businesses that are so precarious they are taking no salary at all. Some are on the verge of going broke. Some are beyond broke and living on leverage.

Others are plundering their savings or borrowing from parents. Some have lost their jobs or are worried that the job will go sometime soon.

Their houses are worth half what they were, their share portfolios are shattered and their pensions have huge holes in them. Any bonuses they enjoyed are gone.

They may look wealthy, because of their car or their house, or the fact that their children are in private schools, but it would be more accurate to call them the formerly wealthy.

Jack, it’s like this: they are not good for the money.

The formerly wealthy have seen billions wiped off their assets, their investments, their savings. Their retirement plans have been shot to pieces, their hopes to share a nest egg with children have been shattered, at least for now. They have earned a lot of money, only to lose it.

Of course you do hear of the odd good luck story, like the teacher who retired earlier this year and put his lump sum into Bank of Ireland at 12 cent a share, and bingo! Good luck to him. We all had the chance to do it and most didn’t.

For the main part, the wealthy of Ireland have taken a terrible hit. There is no point in talking about the Denis O’Briens and the Dermot Desmonds in this context, or fat cat bankers. Their numbers are insignificant.

The wealthy of this country are people who may have a house that was once worth over a million, but now isn’t, or who ploughed their savings into shares in the hope that they could live off the dividends, or who put their’s and the banks’ money into businesses that once had healthy turnover and contributed to the economy but are now stalled.

They are not heartless oppressors of the poor. True, some were reckless and greedy, but the majority of Jack’s target group are decent people, who have beavered away for years, to make a comfortable life, ploughing money back into the economy all the while. They have always been taxed at the higher rates.

Now the Government has limited opportunities to tax them some more, because they have lost so much.

I don’t expect a trade unionist to be sympathetic to their cause but the trade unionist has to recognise that they have lost out too. It is madness right now to suggest that people at the top are untouched or cushioned. They are not.

It’s just that they are not shouting from the rooftops about it or threatening to take to the streets.

People who were wealthy as recently as a year ago, but who are now not wealthy, have to grin and bear it and hope that things get better. They are independent and not represented. They are taking it on the chin.

Siptu, on the other hand, has no intention of taking anything on the chin or taking one for the team. It doesn’t seem to have the capability to understand the sheer budgetary facts which are that the country is going to go bust.

Jack O’Connor is old school. He cannot respond in any other way than to respond to, and on behalf of, his own. While he may claim to represent the poor and the oppressed this is just not true.

His 230,000 members are by definition better off because of pay agreements made in better times.

While he is there to protect his members, he has an obligation to be reasonable regarding the economy, and bleating on about the rich and about the banks is not good enough. If the rich go bust, and the banks go bust, Siptu members will go bust as much as anyone else. If Irish banks and businesses fail, then Siptu goes down too.

When the country had money, Siptu fought for, and got, more and more of it. Now that there is no more money to go around, Siptu wants to hold on to the money, and for someone else, up there, to pay.

It’s time for a reality check Jack, and a tablet for the Whine Flu while you’re at it.

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