The turning point

Minister Joan Burton said “we have reached the limits of austerity now”. However this comment brings no hope of relief as unfortunately words have lost all meaning for Labour, who are breaking records for broken promises.

Instead of making a real stand which could undermine the Government’s austerity, Burton is trying to position herself to take a crack at Eamon Gilmore and the position of leader in the Labour Party.

Ironically, Gilmore is also trying to distance himself from austerity, defending Michael D Higgins’s criticisms of the EU’s handling of the economic crisis. Even some Fine Gaelers are claiming that the next budget will contain concessions for the hard-pressed middle class.

They are talking out of both sides of their mouth at the same time. The epic failure that is austerity, will be persisted with. Thatcherism is alive and kicking in Ireland. In a poetic writing of his own epitaph, 1960s radical “Ho Chi Quinn” (who still claims to be a socialist), was the Irish Government’s representative at the Iron Lady’s funeral!

The super-rich are not experiencing austerity. In fact austerity for us is paying for a bonanza for them, as the top 300 increased their wealth in 2012 by €3.9 billion to €66 billion. There is a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary workers and taxpayers to the wealthy elite here and abroad, and for the vast majority conditions are getting worse and worse.

Five years of cuts mean essential public services are being destroyed with disastrous consequences. The Property Tax is now due and is more than a week’s wages for many people. Croke Park 2 not only mean cuts for wages in the public sector, but is already been used to justify wage cuts in the private sector.

How are people supposed to spend and lift the economy? People are slipping further into debt, as shown by the fact that 25% of home loans are in distress and rising. 12% of mortgages are in arrears of more than 90 days, half of which are two years behind. Even these official figures seriously understate the problem.

The mortgage crisis is getting worse and with it, a new banking crisis is imminent, as the real black hole in the banks’ accounts are exposed. The fact that banks didn’t pass on the recent ECB interest rate cut shows how parasitic they are, but it also indicates that they’re in trouble. Now that the economy is officially back in recession, the impact of austerity will cut even deeper. Capitalism has no way out of this crisis.

The country may officially come out of the EU / IMF programme later this year, but like the three recent debt deals this will have little material effect, except to put people’s lives at the mercy of the market wolves, instead of the butchers in Brussels.

Most people always opposed the bank bailout and the resultant austerity, but didn’t feel it could be successfully fought. But now patience is virtually gone. 45% of ordinary households still haven’t paid the Household Tax and the opposition to the Property Tax is huge.

But the massive rejection of Croke Part 2 shows that opposition to austerity has reached a new level. The news of the No vote was welcomed across the board, both public and private. One poll showed 56% felt that the No vote should be respected.

Undoubtedly, the Government and the the main trade union leaders are still intent on pursuing these austerity policies, but it’s clear that at minimum, they will face more serious opposition than before from their members and other unions.

The No vote was a massive blow to the declining authority of the ICTU leadership and now they have to be careful. A crude attempt to re-ballot some unions to try to overturn the overall vote on the basis of minimal changes will likely result in a rupture within ICTU and end its ability to act as a stable prop for the establishment in this crisis.

To try to avoid such a disaster, it is possible that the Government may move to draw up legislation to basically give effect to Croke Park 2 and try to use that to pressurise some unions back to the negotiating table. They may feel that a number of union leaders have been forced to adopt a No position because of the mood of the ranks, but that they aren’t in favour of organising industrial action. They may think that fear of taking industrial action will force some unions to essentially accept the deal.

But the gap – between what people are willing to accept and what the Government and the Troika are demanding – is getting bigger and bigger. And at some point, it won’t be bridged.

At minimum it now looks as if more unions are going to be forced into opposition to austerity and for the first time since this crisis began, some form of serious industrial action against austerity could take place in the months ahead.

Without agreement between the trade unions and the Government, they may be nervous about firing ahead with deducting the Property Tax from wages or benefits, particularly if several hundred thousand households boycott the process.

The unions that have come out clearly against this tax should declare that if the wages of any of their members are deducted, it will be considered a very serious industrial issue. From below, workers in both public and private sector workplaces should discuss and agree to maintain the boycott and to act if the tax is deducted from anyone’s pay packet.

The Local and European Elections due for June 2014 are to be brought forward to May 2014, that is, exactly one year from now. In different parts of the country, different groups in the anti-Property Tax campaign are deciding to stand slates of anti-home tax and anti-austerity candidates in their areas in the local elections.

An historic opportunity is opening up and if these campaigns come together and establish a broad anti-austerity election alliance, the parties of austerity could be hammered next year and many working class and left-wing activists could get elected which would hugely strengthen the struggle against austerity and the capitalist system that spawns it. ­­