Privatisation of semi-states will only serve to worsen crisis

Yesterday the Government announced that it is going to establish NewEra, a body to manage the State’s shareholdings in semi state companies. The Minister for Finance said that the new entity would carry out ‘corporate governance’ of companies like the ESB, Bord Gais and Coillte.

We are told that NewEra will advise on, and oversee, a restructuring of the semi states and will work with the Minister for public Service and Reform on the sale of assets.

In reality NewEra is being set up to privatise these public enterprises. That is crystal clear from the Fine Gael document dating back to early 2010 which declares baldly, ‘We will look to sell ESB International, Bord Gais and ESB PowerGen & Supply when market and other conditions are appropriate.’

This large scale push for privatisation is being propelled relentlessly by the EU/IMF/ECB. Invited into Ireland last November by the Fianna Fail/Green government, the so called Troika was supposed to come to the assistance of the Irish people in their hour of need. Their main agenda, however, has been to salvage European bankers and speculators from their disastrous gambling in the Irish property bubble when they lent tens of billions to Irish developers and banks in the hope of a quick profit.

Having got the previous and current governments to capitulate utterly to their demands that the Irish people should be made to pay the massive bad debts for which they had no responsibility whatever. Now the Troika wants a further instalment of its insatiable neoliberal agenda which is to force maximum privatisation of state assets.

The IMF has a long and inglorious record in using its clout to exert pressure in the interests of major transnational corporations. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was involved in what were known as Structural Adjustment Programmes in many African and Latin American countries which had debt difficulties. Pretending to be involved in the interests of the poorest populations on the globe, in reality the IMF acted like shock troops for Western capitalism.

It insisted on wholesale cuts to social and educational programmes which benefitted the poorest and dictated that public services and enterprises be handed over to multinational corporations. This policy left a trail of social and economic destruction in its wake.

It would be bad enough to try and force the sale of our State enterprises but worse the Troika is insisting that a substantial part of the proceeds goes into the black hole of banking debt. In other words it is almost literally like the selling off of the family solver to pay the family creditors except in this case the debts did not originate with the family members.

Semi state companies could play a key role in rescuing the Irish economy from the dire consequences of the policies of austerity being imposed on our people in order to channel their resources to rescuing the big financial gamblers . The savage assault on incomes and living standards has meant a drastic shrinking in the domestic economy and this is what is causing the live register of unemployed and seriously underemployed people to veer toward half a million. These companies now employ over 40,000 workers. However they could be developed in a way that would increase those numbers massively.

The government wants to sell off substantial parts of the ESB. Instead this company should be used to channel major investment infrastructural projects around the country. This could be in the area of alternative energy generation or related activities that could see workers of many different skills taken off the dole.

Among the sectors of infrastructure that the government would like to target for privatisation is our water production and supply service. Already it has been decided to remove responsibility for water from the local authorities and put it in the hands of one national company to be called Irish Water. The government has also announced the imposition of a water tax within the next few years. This is blatant preparation for the handing of our water distribution systems over to big business operators.

The result of these privatisations if carried through would not be radically improved services for the majority of the people. What we would have are severe rises in prices as the privateers sought a profit on their investments on the backs of ordinary people.

The trade union Unite has expressed its total opposition to the government’s privatisation programme. It has also stated its intention to fight any forced privatisation in the ESB with industrial action. Workers throughout the economy and indeed the personal customers of the ESB should join in this resistance and leave the government in no doubt but that a substantial numbers of citizens will fight to maintain public ownership but also to turn the publicly owned companies into democratically run engines of recovery for jobs and communities.