By Katia Hancke
New governments often experience a “honeymoon period”: when they are given a chance to get their bearings and they are so new they can still blame the last administration for the problems in society. This government’s honeymoon period lasted a few hours, which is probably because it’s a government that nobody wanted, and because it looks so much like the last one – just less coherent, but still as right wing.
We were told we needed “strong government”, national unity and the experienced hands of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens to get us through the worldwide catastrophe that is Covid19. What we got was a circus of infighting, selfish careerism and staggering detachment from reality – in short, a vivid reminder that nothing has changed.
Not to be outdone by Fianna Fail, who had to sack a senior Minister within a week, Junior Ministers-with-more-titles-than-responsibilities showed how party divisions could be quickly overcome when it comes to fighting for a pay increase – their pay increase. Then there were the images of sleeping government representatives – and Eamon Ryan’s dreams being interrupted by a vote to attack workers’ rights.
Anti-working class regime
But let us pick apart three episodes that give us a clear indication of what working class people can expect from this government. The initial response by the then caretaker government to the Covid19 crisis showed they were aware of their own weakness (just weeks after a battering at the polls) and of the profound effects the shut down had on people’s income.
The PUP was a basic response to both those facts. But a few months on Varadkar is all out of empathy – revealing once again his contempt for working-class people. Remember his infamous “welfare cheats” campaign a few years back? This time it started with a complaint that some people earned more on the PUP then they did when they worked full time. Obviously, this is scandalous – in Ireland, in 2020, low pay is so ubiquitous that workers in many sectors don’t even take home enough to survive after a full week’s work.
The obvious conclusion is that a raise of the minimum wage to the living wage norm is absolutely necessary. Not for Leo. He concluded that paying people a PUP on which they could survive was the problem! And when he realised he couldn’t get away with that line of argument (for now), he focused on his desire to police people on PUP taking a few days break in August.
The refusal to guarantee a ban on evictions leaves hundreds of thousands of renters vulnerable, mainly young people whose jobs are on the line, and shows they have learned nothing from the housing crisis the previous government left us with. And nearly all Green Party TDs had no problem supporting a bill that could see thousands evicted in the next period.
And then there is the (lack of) response to the Debenham workers. As further job losses in construction, airlines, banking and retail are announced every week, the Debenham workers are showing us all the need to stand up and fight for a better deal. For the last five months these workers have called on the government to intervene. But it is clear this government is simply not willing to do so.
This is a government of opportunity. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael used a worldwide crisis to scuttle back into power despite their lack of popularity. The Green Party leadership picked up where they left off in 2011, throwing any green credentials out the window to join them. All of them have already shown that when it comes to a choice of defending the interests of big business versus ordinary people, we can’t trust them. We will all need to follow the example of the Debenhams workers, get organised to fight for our rights.