Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jack O’Connor wants a social banquet

cowenOur Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, clings tenaciously to the concept of social partnership to create a roadmap to economic recovery.  But the consequences of the economic collapse has made the same social partners as effective as neutered rabbits on a sunny Spring morning.

They have traditionally positioned themselves as the providers of incremental benefits.  But with no resources to allocate the new game plan is subsidy bounty-hunting. 

IBEC want millions to subsidise exporters. 

ifa The IFA want millions to subsidise hobby farmers.  They will hold public tantrums to avenge their rage and throw eggs at whatever lactating political breast they believe they can beat into submission.

The religious congregations remind us of our ‘solemn obligations’ to provide hundreds of million of euro for their Third World clients and that the return on this expenditure will be ‘kudos’ and a reputation for the country ‘punching above its weight’.  They are not too concerned if the resources provided are derived from income or debt.

oconnor Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU and currently President of Irish Congress of Trade Unions is the latest actor to step forward.  O’Connor wants the primary legislation to establish the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) to incorporate a “social dividend”.  Is that not a lovely, cuddly inoffensive euphemistic thought, just like Wexford strawberries cream on the beach in June?  The little teddy bear should even have its very own beating heart.  Can you believe it – a 21st century Butlin’s with redcoats entertaining the new arrivals at Nirvana and ‘adult party’ weekends!

Jack advocates that what is to become the largest property institution in the world, whose primary function is to realise collateral for bank loans, should have a social dimension. in the form of providing houses, schools, health centres and, even, sports and community facilities.  Santa Claus has rode into town in August and Jack is making a list and checking it twice.  Local authority waiting lists will disappear and there will be no private facet to the dinosaur that is our health service.  Nirvana is at hand!

I don’t think that economic literacy is Jack’s strongest card.  Everything has a price but Jack omits to mention who is to pay for his dream of a social dividend.

It would have been interesting if Jack had aspired to an economic dividend – a gesture that might create the wealth from which the social dividends could be provided.  But that would be so boring from Jack’s perspective. 

It was only 3 months ago that Jack was promising mayhem on the streets of Ireland as union members would protest about their grievances.  But there hasn’t been a whisper about that since. I suspect that unions members are taking their own counsel as to how far-reaching their protests will be and how they will spend their political capital.

The chilling reality is that unemployment in Ireland is now 228,000 – almost three times as high as 2006.  There are 418,000 on the Live Register.  Short-time working and pay cut backs are the order of the day.  Day to day economic activities such as shopping, eating out, purchasing a car, taking a holiday are no longer possible on the level of a short few years ago.  This has also impacted the membership levels of SIPTU and their counterpart unions. 

siptu Jack’s real priority nowadays is two-fold: protect the SIPTU membership base and the income derived from it and to choose topics for public discourse that could validate the union’s existence and make Jack appear to be a compassionate soul, a Robin Hood of modern times.  The latter has to be in a form of a good, appetising banquet, the cost of which is always somebody else’s problem!  Belch!

Each of the social partners need a good banquet from time to time.  Otherwise they will starve to death.  Their irrelevance will become too glaringly obvious and if the membership walk their public spokesmen will be out of job and off the invitation lists.  The absurdity of the menu for these banquets can be directly correlated to the desperation of the group placing the order!

Jack has stated the Ireland’s social partnership process offers no potential on a deal to enhance the prospects of economic recovery.  This is not surprising and reinforces the notion that this process is simply about more, more, more.  The latest hot potato concerns a possible reduction in the minimum wage.  Ireland’s minimum wage is apparently second highest to the minimum wage in Luxembourg but when adjusted for purchasing power its also ranks mid way after the minimum wage in Holland, Belgium, France and the UK.

Of course, the minimum wage level and the disparity in wages between Ireland since 2001 is a consequence of the very same partnership process – so perhaps it is time for a new and more creative approach.

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