The social disruption and public anger in Greece over cutbacks are more healthy than the general apathy here.
How is it there is no public anger over the massive bank bailout that will cost this society tens of billions and forfeit adequate education, social welfare and healthcare for generations?
(Pictured: Anglo's former chief exexutive David Drumm, left, and chairman Sean FitzPatrick)
How is there no tumult over the cutting of social welfare, the reduction in pay of the lowest paid in the public service, the ravaging of our educational, health, education, special needs and dental systems?
How come no mass demonstrations, mass strikes, demands that the Government that largely caused this social pillage (yes, they did) be driven from office now; that a new social order replace the one that overturns the order that inspired, for instance, Seán Quinn, into such calamitous recklessness? Ditto Seán FitzPatrick, Michael Fingleton, and the hordes of the other social marauders that have caused such havoc – havoc conspired in by the regulators, senior public servants, ministers and governments that should have called a halt.
Have we all bought into the mantra that the financial elite of the world has to be compensated for their own depredations, whatever the cost to society? That the massive debts this elite accumulated on their own behalf for the benefit of their elite investors, the bondholders and themselves are our debts? That there is no alternative to the cutting of the living standards of the lowest paid, while the highest paid continue to enjoy huge tax breaks and massive fortunes, even if diminished fortunes?
Aren’t the social disruptions in Greece more healthy than the apathy here? At least sections of the working class there have rebelled against the system that has impoverished them. Here, nothing, except a bit of foot-dragging by public servants, who were scared off by the public indignation over the passport office queues. No indignation over social welfare queues by people catapulted into unemployment. No indignation over the delays of up to a year on redundancy payments. No protests over the delays in issuing medical cards. Passports for holidays are more urgent!
And then the capitulation of the trade union leadership, en masse, to the dictates of the politicians who caused the crisis and to the agenda of the Government that has yielded to the wealthy and self-interested.
No campaign against the massive transfer of wealth from society to this financial elite, via the bank bailout, following the vast enrichment in the Celtic Tiger period of an elite in construction, industry and the professions (lawyers, architects, accountants, stock brokers, medicos and many more).
Yes, there was trickle-down benefit in the Celtic Tiger period, a huge increase in employment and improvements in living standards. But also a deepening of inequality. We became one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, and we now know the consequences of inequality in terms of alienation, health, mortality, crime, violence and racism, as we have witnessed with the killing of a black Irish boy in Tyrrelstown. While all along, ministers, economists and social commentators have sneered at the notion of equality.
Our political system has not begun to grapple with the crisis. No appreciation that the system we ran with doesn’t work, can’t work, and that a little regulation-tweaking won’t work either. The Government will be driven from office, but not for two years, and then it seems it will be replaced by an array of new faces but with the same mantras: deference to financial powers, the “no alternative to liberal capitalism” refrain, in the face of the ravages of capitalism.
Look at what has happened: heading for a half a million unemployed; families with massive mortgages and negative equity; tens of billions committed to rescue of financial institutions renowned for their antisocial and exploitative agendas; deprived communities vandalised by cuts to community development programmes, abandonment of regeneration plans and cuts in social welfare, education and health.
We need a new political movement that will frame a different agenda – an equality-of-outcomes agenda; this “equality of opportunity” stuff is just more spinning. This agenda has got to involve, among much else, a commitment to start lessening the scale of inequality here by moving towards a more equal distribution of wealth and income by, for instance, setting a benchmark that nobody gets paid more than five times the lowest paid (this to be achieved through practices under State control and through the taxation system). We also need single-tier health and education systems, with tax breaks and subsidies being removed for private health and education; incentives for the democratic control of private companies; curtailment of the bank bailout; and a commitment to transform the status and role of women to ensure them equality in societal and family relations.
Those on the left need quickly to build this social movement, involving community groups, non-governmental organisations, individuals and parties that have been campaigning for change, without the familiar left-wing sectarian divisions and differences. Starting now!