Austerity will crush the labour movement

The crisis that has brought us to the dire economic situation we face today is not one caused by a few rogue bankers or reckless policy decisions made by successive finance ministers.

The elephant in the room that most media commentators and virtually all politicians choose to ignore is ideology. The austerity measures laid down by the troika continue in the vein laid out under the neoliberal revival of the 1980s and 1990s. This revival involved an ideological shift away from the broad social democracy of the post-war period, with all of the cooperative involvement of public and private sectors that entailed.

Fine Gael - already keen advocates of conservatism and neoliberalism - have been given free hand to continue this political and economic trend, assisted and unhindered by the medicine prescribed by the IMF, ECB et al. The public sector, essential State utilities and much of the NGO sector are now fair game for a shift towards private ownership and rich pickings for a very small percentage of people.

The very concept of the ‘free’ provision of education and health services has always been anathema to supporters of neoliberalism. Now, in the wake of the best example of the failure of this untrammelled capitalism since the 1930s, this selfish ideology is looking to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Under the guise of austerity, the rolling back of democratic control of essential public services accessible to all is being accelerated. More than this, the very exercise of policy making and the setting of budgets by national government is to be subject to the approval of neoliberal ideologues at the centre of the European Commission.


The Irish Labour Party, if they are in the tradition of social democracy/democratic socialism, should have no truck with this. The Gilmore leadership may not want to admit defeat by leaving this coalition, but in effect that could be their best chance of ensuring that the party survives. Congress and the unions too have a huge responsibility if they are to be relevant into the future.

Picture a post referendum scenario where the government can shrug its collective shoulders and point to a pre-agreed budget - agreed by neoliberals in far away chambers and approved by Goldman Sachs and others –“Sorry David (Begg) and Jack (O’ Connor), but what can we do?”

There may be a time for the leadership of the Irish Labour Party and the trade union movement to be measured and 'responsible'. Now is not that time.

Congress is sitting on the fence with regard to the impending referendum. If that treaty passes, the neoliberal dream of killing off the unions, rolling back democratic control and bringing workers back to a cowed and compliant level will allow the 'flexibility' required to hammer home the dominance of capital over labour. The potential for democracy was far stronger fifty years ago than it is today. Austerity is taking us back decades, as it is designed to do.


Image top: infomatique.