The Irish economy remains in an extremely precarious situation. The ailing Celtic Tiger has just lost its prized AAA credit rating. And there are warnings of further downgrades, along with calls for ‘fresh faces in government’ from the international ratings agency, Standards and Poor.
The national budget deficit is currently €16 billion, with a prediction by Standards and Poor that it will take €20 billion to rescue the banks. The government continues to borrow €50 million a day. With the property market in meltdown, there are few VAT receipts to call on. And with almost 400,000 unemployed (out of a population of four million), income tax is massively reduced. The slide towards economic collapse seems inexorable.
The pressure on those below is causing tremendous personal difficulties. An income levy of 1%-2% of wages was imposed on all workers in January. This was followed by a pension levy on public sector workers. The loss for those affected by both levies is about €80 a week. An emergency budget is to be unveiled on April 7 which will almost certainly introduce another tax levy, as well as major cuts in public services.
And this is for those lucky enough to have jobs. The unemployed face cuts in their benefit. At least one charity in Dublin has started handing out food parcels to the newly jobless. I remember being shocked to hear of soup kitchens being set up in Iceland to feed those in a similar situation. Now it seems it is Ireland’s turn. All this is apart from housing repossessions.
There is, of course, tremendous anger and frustration among ordinary people. And the government’s hopes of social stability and national unity with the re-entry of unions into social partnership talks seem unlikely to materialise. Workers will not simply accept what is being thrown at them and many are furious with union leaders for cancelling the national strike organised for March 30. There is also deep cynicism at the ability of these talks to produce anything other than delay and sell-out.
On April 1 lunchtime protests were held throughout the country by members of Civil and Public Service Union. An RTE interviewer spoke to these government workers as, one after another, they voiced their disappointment - often bitterness and anger - that March 30 was off and they had been denied their opportunity to take to the streets and make their feelings known. They echoed the sentiment expressed by other sections that the only way forward was through mass action.
The CPSU will hold its delegate conference this week and its website promises that the decision to defer strike action will be revisited. General secretary Blair Horan has been reluctantly pushed to the left by the militancy of his members. Similarly members of Siptu, the technical union, at Dublin Cork and Shannon airports announced last week that they were pressing ahead with a strike on April 2 despite the return to social partnership. This provoked an outcry from the Siptu bureaucracy, which lost no time in denouncing and disowning any industrial action. Aviation workers finally agreed to go to conciliation, but the crisis is far from over.
Meanwhile thousands of taxi drivers staged a 24-hour stoppage on March 30 to call for an end to the issuing of new hackney licences. There are now more taxis in Dublin than on the streets of Manhattan, as redundant and low-paid workers tout for fares.
The local and European elections on June 5 will almost inevitably bring major losses for the Fianna Fáil government. A poll carried out by the Sunday Business Post last week showed that 66% of voters did not trust the government to deal with the crisis. But 40% thought neither Fine Gael nor Labour would do any better, while another 30% had no opinion on the merits of any party.
In the absence of a working class alternative, some may turn to Labour despite the polls. But most people remember Labour in office, when it loyally supported successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael administrations. And, while leader Eamon Gilmore is now talking left, he has left the door open to a coalition with Fianna Fáil if there is a general election.
The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s current coalition partner, is truly discredited. It has failed to even fight for its own policies outside of superficial environmental concessions.
In this political void there is an urgent need for the left to fill the vacuum. All of the main parties are associated with the Celtic Tiger. All have had their snouts in the trough of capitalism and are hungry for more.
For the working class the answer must be a single Marxist party. Capitalism has shown its true colours and is incapable of doing anything but cause more pain and exploitation. Once again the point must be made - we need a party of our class. We need to take the lead.