Public Servants Should Not Be Millionaires

Introduction

The recent bombshell report published in the Independen stated that 42% of the members of our national parliament are millionaires. The report used a variety of different metrics, including pensions, home ownership and perks.  Many of the TDs were revealed to be landlords with small to extensive property holdings, investments and so on.  In some cases, property was identified that TD’s were not obliged to report to SIPO (Standards in Public Commission).

In certain cases, wealth was clearly inherited and kept within already wealthy families. In, many cases, pension pots accumulated over prolonged service accounted for substantial amounts of the sum that was accumulated.  A critic of this list might say it isn’t fair to include people’s pensions but I think this criticism is incorrect.

Public Service for the Public, not for Mé Féin

The accumulation of a large pension point erodes the necessity of making any radical political, social, economic and systemic change. If you know that the policy you are going to introduce will have a huge impact on the lives of millions of working people, but not on your own nest, what exactly would motivate or demotivate you from proceeding with it?

Take for example the millionaires in the Labour Party. Every year those pot bellied double chinned scoundrels gather at the graveside of JAmes Connolly and fart on about how they’re the Party of Connolly, this that and the other. Simultaneously, they use their TD salaries to become landlords. It’s farcical, but the reality is that politics in the parliament is almost entirely performative. Another former leader in Brendan Howlin, also boasts a huge pension pot and land. How can these people ever claim to represent Connolly, or working people at all? What would they know about having to divvy up 360 euro on extortionate rent, utility bills and food every week? How could they understand? 

While these charlatans pretend to be left wing, right wing commentators and pundits argue that the reason our public servants are paid a generous salary is to avoid corruption.  If one briefly read the Moriarty Tribunal, Mahon Tribunal or the many different stories that regularly emerge of nepotism, cronyism and low key corruption, one would get the impression that even on huge salaries, our elected representatives seem to want more.

This is ultimately what the issue. Public service in Ireland is not done for the public, that part is entirely fake. Public service is done to accumulate wealth and use your salary to become wealthier. 

Public Service for Public Service

To be elected a representative, is to present yourself as a public servant, designated to fulfill the wishes of your constituency and struggle in their better interest. In modern society being a politician is looked down upon with significant distrust. If we look at the simple statistic of “42% of TD’s are Millionaires”, one can immediately see why that to be the case. I would propose the non-radical and uncontroversial idea that public service should be an honourable position within society, wherein one runs based on helping their fellow citizens through public office. That the most virtuous and able candidates assume these positions and instead of self-aggrandizement as has been the case since the era of the Roman Republic, public service is specifically about that, public service.

Generous wages, generous pensions, generous allowances

The listing of allowances for doing your job shows a very generous system for our elected representatives with the basic salary being 100k. This translates into 61.6k after tax, or 5.1k a month after tax. That amount is double the median wage in Ireland, and almost triple the minimum wage.

On top of this wage, allowances for staff, travel, expenses, and so on are paid out as well, thereby covering as many angles of a TD’s work as possible.  In short, generous is probably an understatement. The more apt definition of this system is the one coined by journalist and author Ken Foxe in his book on Fianna Fail expenses: the pigs have their snouts in the trough.

The Political Aristocracy

On the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s bithday, historian Eric Hobsbawn penned an article discussing the ‘aristocracy of labour’, a phenomenon that Marx, Engels and Lenin had all commented on.  Essentially what the aristocracy of labour referred to was the ‘middle’ section of workers in industrial Britain who had better wages and conditions and ultimately sought to maintain their ‘middle’ position in contradiction to the struggle of the broader, poorer paid and overworked proletarian sections of the population. It was also a reference to the fact that when elements of the aristocracy of labour lost their position and were ‘proletarianized’, they corrupted proletarian parties with their petit-bourgeois value (the temporarily embarassed millionaire of today). What we see in Ireland is that prolonged service in the parliament has become a sub-culture of its own and public servants, whether well-meaning or not are completely insulated in a blanket of generous wages and allowances from the oft devastating consequences of their own policy choices.

It is not Alan Kelly, or Ivana Bacik, or Roisin Shorthall, or Brendan Howlin, or Leo Varadker, or even Mary Lou McDonald that live the reality of most of the working-class population. Certainly, they may have in the past, but today, their net worth far exceeds that of working people and when it comes to the moment to decide, will it be from them that a medical card is taken, or a single parent’s allowance is cut?

Public Servants Should Not Be Millionaires

Perhaps some will find this controversial, but I do not believe any public servant, through a combination of all the benefits included in their package should be able to become a millionaire, to hoard land, and to become a massive landlord.  The idea that Bertie Ahern and the gangsters who organised the destruction of the economy in 2008 sit on multi-million euro pensions turns my stomach. The fact that their successors in Fine Gael, even if they lose to a Sinn Fein majority, will also enjoy huge pension pots and pay outs and that too, infuriates me.

The entire approach to public service should be redone from the bottom up. It requires a complete cultural change of how we understand what public service means, but it also requires a complete breaking down of the financial perks that come with the role.

If our public representatives were all on the median wage, you could bet that public housing, universal healthcare, collective bargaining rights and other changes would be introduced very rapidly and quickly, but as long as they’re completely socio-economically isolated from the reality of the people they claim to represent, they’ll always make “hard choices” in the “national interest” and the banks, private speculators and cowboy developers will always get bailed out.

#EndTheGravyTrain

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Yellow Peril is Alive and Well in Ireland

Introduction

In discussion with several comrades about the geopolitical re-alignment by the West against China, we noted an interesting survey from back in May. Before discussing the survey, this question should be posed to you to consider. Why are the bad guys in most films, the Russians? 

It’s something I noticed when first moving here and watching Hollywood films more often. The enemy, villain and horrible bad guy at the very end was always a Russian. Sometimes he had connections to the intelligence services, or the army, sometimes he didn’t, but he was always Russian.  As it turns out, there is actually substantial investigative journalism into the ties between the CIA, Pentagon and Hollywood. Many articles, ranging from fringe conspiracy websites to more mainstream websites have articles detailing the level of collaboration between these organisations. If you’re generally not familiar with politics, you might ask yourself why the CIA and the US military have a hand in film production.  This is where we get back to the survey about the Chinese government.  The West has continuously waged a cultural war against it’s political opponents. This isn’t a unique phenomenon to Russia or China, in fact, the British media used to do the same to Irish people.

Purpose

The purpose of this constant sub-cultural demonisation is to dehumanise a certain country, delegitimise it’s government and create a sort of cultural cover for any military intervention or attack. It is effectively the same as calling certain countries leaders dictators, or authoritarian, as a justification for the inevitable NATO bombing campaign. This cultural warfare, ingrained into the movie industry has (to steal Chomsky’s line) manufactured consent among the Western people. The survey from May, merely underscores the successful penetration of anti-Chinese and anti-Communist propaganda in Ireland. Let’s dig into it.

Worrying

In this graph, the question that is being measured is this: “In one word, how would you describe the Rise of China?”

Consider the top results. Worrying, frightening, dangerous, scary. All this terminology is deeply negative, but what is it rooted in? What is it that the People’s Republic of China has done in Ireland, or to Ireland, that warrants a fear among the population? Could it be that a constant bombardment in the newspapers, news channels and social media about ‘evil, authoritarian and godless China’ has finally sunk in?

Distrust to the point of farce

The next survey, I thought, was the most ridiculious. The question that was asked was “Please indicate to what extent you trust the following…”

More people in Ireland indicated that they mistrust the British government, the US government and European Commission less than they mistrust the Chinese government.  Think about that for a moment. More people in Ireland mistrust the Chinese government, which has never done anything to Ireland, than the state that occupied, partitioned, invaded and ethnically cleansed Ireland.  

More people indicated that they trusted the European Commission, the same entity that played a role in the brutal imposition of austerity in Ireland, over the Chinese government.. Which has done nothing nothing to the people of Ireland.

More people indicated trust for the US government than mistrust. The US government which operates secret torture centers all over the world, assassinates democratically elected leaders, invades other countries based on lies and uses Shannon Airport to do its dirty deeds, yet again – people in Ireland indicate that their level of trust for this government is greater than that of the Chinese government, which doesn’t do any of the above.

Favourable versus unfavourable

The next question asked whether the poller viewed China favourably or unfavourably. Here are the results:

Once more, a significant proportion of those polled indicated they viewed China unfavourably.

Conclusion

The central question that one should ask when considering this survey is this: What has led people in Ireland to hold these views? The theory I would put forward is the same one that has created the anti-Russian sub-culture in the West. Through a concerted effort by Western newspapers and news channel, they have successfully implanted the Yellow Peril in the mentality of people in Ireland. The role of Communists should be to put forward a clear position against this yellow peril nonsense in conjunction with an anti-imperialist pro-peace position. We should not allow the papers and media to cultivate fear among the people of Ireland against a government that has never done anything to them.

Bullshit Protests

Introduction 

While reading the book Bullshit jobs1 and discussing its themes with my partner, she floated the idea that just like bullshit jobs, there’s an idea of bullshit protests. Before I elaborate let me put a disclaimer, the purpose here is not to say protesting is useless, not at all, but rather to try to identify its purpose as part of strategies and tactics used by groups to advance their causes. 

Living in Dublin, one can avail of a protest on any subject almost every day. From climate change to trade union rights, to housing, to civil rights, to everything – there is always a protest. This piece proposes that some protests are bullshit protests I.e they exist purely for the purpose of existing and contribute nothing to a struggle in a certain direction. 

It dawned on me significantly at the recent Housing & Homeless Coalition while Richard Boyd Barret was speaking. He said something like “Ten years ago we protested for NAMA to use housing for public housing. Ten years now we’re here”  

Although his point was that the struggle is on-going, a tangential point is that protests didn’t work then – and they’re not working now and that despite 10 years of protesting, we were in a worse position than where we started, so the logical conclusion is that the tactics that were being used didn’t work

If you apply that logic to every protest, you’ve been to, what then can the conclusion be?  

Many of us who attend a protest, do so because believe that the protest is a tactic that is achieving change on the given subject. But what it shouldn’t, and what if it isn’t? 

If this is the case then the obvious question should be raised, what is the purpose of it? 

Protesting for the sake of it is bullshit protesting 

As mentioned above, I attended many different protests and most of them, didn’t change the circumstances of the situation they were focused on. I think as a side note, the reason most people don’t attend protests in Right2Water style numbers is because they know said protests are meaningless. Only recently did I assess the purpose of the protest and whether it would change the situation we protested about. Before, I too, like others, thought that protesting makes change.  

The reality is that on 95% of the on-going issues, the act of protest as an individual form of resistance has done very little. I say individual specifically because I think that if protest is part of multiple strategies that are more confrontational or direct, then it can be valuable.   

But what of protests disconnected from any wider strategy? What of the protests that really are protests for the sake of having said your party/group/team had a protest?  

These forms of protests are bullshit protests. 

It’s hard to tell whether the organisers know it, possibly they don’t, but protests that validate their existence through their existence are bullshit. They are there to aggrandize the organisers and the speakers, to put them on a platform on a certain subject. The disingenuous part is that this act is completely performative. The protest occurs, the protest finishes, nothing happens – you move on to your next protest / issue with largely the same pool of people, from the same groups/backgrounds/unions/parties. Indeed, sometimes one would think all some members of groups are paid for is to head out and represent their group at any given group.  

This may be glim, but I think it’s a more honest assessment of the protest ‘scene’ in Ireland, but in typical left-wing fashion I’ll present a slightly different model that alleviates the ‘bullshit’ aspect of a protest. 

Strict gauging of objectives, goals and strategies 

In order to do that, the objectives, goals and strategies behind protests must change. We should set out, when organising a protest, to ask as to what it will achieve. 

“Will issue X be resolved or come closer to being resolved if a protest occurs?” is the formula I would suggest considering. Although one criticism could be it’s a very strict application, the response would be that it’s a more practical one.  

Protests should be a part of a wider strategy towards achieving a goal.  

“Will issue X be resolved or come closer to being resolved if a protest, as part of a doorknocking/occupying/military/civil disobedience campaign/blocking water meters/etc occurs?” is essentially how the call for a protest should look like.  

If there is hard work being on a specific issue, in a specific field/area, then the level of investment by those involved will automatically be greater. The ‘density’ of interest in a particular problem is one essential feature of a successful protest.  

Protesting for change 

The act of doing something meaningful toward the issue is the only way I can answer that question. It’s better to use examples. 

Right2Water was successful because people got out of their houses, had street meetings and then got arrested, regularly for stopping water meters. This act of resistance and defiance is what motivated the numbers to mobilise behind R2W. It was the activity, the ‘struggle’ that brought people out. 

Similarly, during the civil war, when Republican movements had active military wings through recruitment from the local community, the act of a military campaign and the many complex struggles (hunger strike) that emerge from one, pushed people regularly onto protests. Many who attended were effectively indirect participants of the other struggles, who opted to demonstrate their support by committing to the act of protest.  

In both instances, protest existed as part of anchored campaigns that actively struggled. In the current environment in Dublin, many protests are attached to no campaigns, but occur none the less.  

We go back to the example mentioned above, the housing rally.  The housing rally occurred on the eve of a bill that was going to lie because of the party whip system. Everybody knew that, so the selling of the protest was that the protest would effect change, but then obviously the problem is that we know it won’t – what is the purpose of It? I’m not going to claim to have a definitive answer, but I would controversially say there was no point of it.  

The result of the bill would have been the same with or without the protest. For the protest to be effective, it must be part of more is the practical conclusion that I am drawing here. If a protest didn’t affect the change it wanted to, then it wasn’t sufficient by itself and more must be done.   

Conclusion and brief lessons 

What that ‘more’ is, is for the group organising the protest to determine, but usually it takes the form of more direct activity & engagement with your class/community/workplace then just protesting. It’ll be different in every set of circumstances. But for instance, when there was the attempted violent eviction of the Sunnyvale occupation in Stoneybatter, a protest was called for. It had a clear purpose in mind – defend the communtiy and retake the area – and a clear fail/succeed guideline because of that purpose. Whereas if Sunnyvale didn’t exist and a protest was called outside the premise making a demand for public housing. The two are in sharp contrast in their impact on class struggle and people’s consciousness. But what I would do if I was to call a protest for any subject, is spend a considerable amount of time thinking whet the goal of the protest is, and how the protest will help. 

If for example to combat racism in my community I started calling protests over the subject, they’d run out of steam very quick because in of themselves they wouldn’t do much. If I however spent time with my comrades assisting the overcoming of racism through practical personal and direct interventions towards formal/institutional/informal problems, the protest might carry more weight and purpose I.e it would be solidifying existing work. 

In many ways, we don’t think about criticizing protest, because we’ve been imbued to think of all protests as having purpose because they’re occurring. Drop that good faith presumption and rigorously ask your comrades/colleagues/trade union members the purpose of the protests they organise or go to. 

I suspect that in most circumstances, ‘more needs to be done’ will be the answer.  

Don’t get me started on petitions and meetings….