“On 25 February, a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away.”
This lofty statement that opens the Fine Gael / Labour Programme for Government verges on the ridiculous as you begin to trawl through the verbosity and startling lack of detail contained in the document that follows. A “revolution”, in the most basic sense of the word, implies a complete break with the old regime and massive change – quite a misnomer for a Programme for Government that clearly commits to implementing the FF / Green government programme for this year and next!
Quite apart from the vague and waffling nature of the Programme for Government, the policies that the new government intends to pursue, as stated in writing in this document, represent a continuation of the failed policies of the previous rotten government, namely a genuflection at the altar of EU/IMF diktats, in the name of profits, bankers and the super-rich elite. The implementation of this programme will deepen the crisis, pushing the Irish economy inexorably towards bankruptcy.
EU / IMF austerity is the backdrop to the Programme for Government. Benignly referred to as the “assistance programme”, Fine Gael and Labour clearly state that, “the new Government supports the objectives of the EU/IMF programme”. What objectives are they? The objectives to protect the bondholders and bankers. More taxpayers’ money will certainly be poured into the banks by the new government given their commitment to the EU/IMF programme.
The government has also signed up to reduce the deficit to 3% by 2015 – namely implement a massive austerity programme, under the EU/IMF’s watchful eye. Austerity and extensive cuts will depress the economy and worsen the unemployment crisis (even the FF/Green government were working off estimates that every €1 billion taken out of the economy will lead to between a quarter and a half a per cent drop in growth) and whether or not the EU/IMF grants a marginally less punitive interest rate, which is the best their FG / Labour lackeys can hope for, the economy will shrink raising the spectre of bankruptcy as EU/IMF loan repayments become impossible.
On the basis of continued mass unemployment, the economy will not improve. Unfortunately, the jobs section of the document is less than inspiring. Lower PRSI for employers, an abolition of the travel tax, incentives for private investment in R&D and supporting SMEs are the type of measures mentioned. Basically this boils down to a pathetic reliance on the private sector to solve a crisis 450,000 jobs deficit. The super-rich elite and capitalists, however (33,000 millionaires in this country have approximately €120 billion in wealth and assets), will not invest in this economic climate, as they cannot guarantee their profit margins and hence we have a major strike of investment. For example, last year, there was a 31% fall in physical investment alone. A reliance on the private sector – international and / or indigenous – to solve the unemployment crisis is the best the Programme for Government can come up with and is doomed to failure. Job creation, research & development, and developing an industrial base of the scale and quality necessary to address the jobs crisis, will only occur through massive state investment – but the antithesis is at the heart of the programme for government.
No serious jobs plan
While there are no figures mentioned regarding projections for job creation, there is a commitment to 25,000 job cuts in the public sector. Phenomenally, the Programme for Government actually states the fact that, “very person who leaves the dole and goes back to work reduces the deficit by an estimated €20,000, (and) spends on average an additional €15,000 on goods and services”, leaving us questioning why we will have less teachers, nurses, council workers etc. which there is a massive social need for, under a government that claims to be committed to creating employment as well as claiming to be “guided by the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few”. Furthermore, the ESRI has calculated that a €1 billion cut in public sector employment (approximately 17,000 jobs) reduces GNP growth by 1%.
The Programme for Government plans to sell off €2 billion worth of state assets. The break up and privatisation of ESB, our forests and other strategic and natural resources and assets will be disastrous. Privatisation means that companies buy our resources on the cheap, and then proceed to run such entities for the sole purpose of making a profit – a dangerous game when you are talking about strategic and powerful assets for both human need and economic growth, such as those of the ESB. Privatisation will lead to pay cuts and job culls as profit margins come before providing a service or workers’ rights.
Furthermore, private companies only desire profitable entities, and therefore the Programme for Government will allow them to get their grubby hands on what are revenue-creating state assets!
In essence, the bankers and super-rich elite that caused the crisis through their profiteering are not going to pay a cent according to the Programme for Government. Meagre statements about “reviewing” the universal social charge don’t hide the reality that working class families will be crippled with unjust taxes and charges. The government’s intention to implement water charges will be an unbearable burden that hit those on low incomes disproportionately and flags government intent to privatise water.
New stealth taxes on the way
Similarly, the government is considering a home tax, despite its claim to be “helping homeowners in distress”. A two year moratorium on house repossessions is hardly a radical proposal – so it’s okay for the vampire banks that profiteered obscenely during the housing bubble, causing this disastrous situation, to make working class families homeless after 25 months.
There is frequent reference to social welfare fraud in the Programme for Government and there is even a pejorative reference to lone parents, the vast majority of whom are single mothers, which insultingly implies that the latter are work-shy. Furthermore, there is a reference to a DNA database being set up which could be used in the field of immigration and asylum. Make no mistake about it – this government will scapegoat welfare recipients, single mothers, migrant workers and just about any other group which should be united with the working class as a whole in fighting the cuts, the government, and the profit-system, in order to get their swingeing attacks through.
We can’t let this happen. The implementation of FG/Lab and EU/IMF austerity measures spells disaster for the economy. There is no prospect for growth on the basis of a destruction of the public sector and a pathetic reliance on the private sector to create jobs, a private sector that is practising a strike of investment. Rank-and-file organisation in the unions can force the leadership to fight the cuts. Mass protests, strike action and general strike action can force them back. Organised mass non-payment of unjust taxes and charges can also win victories. Struggle and fightback will open up the question of the alternative to austerity, bailouts and the market economy and pose an historic opportunity for the socialist left to build the alternative.