From TUI Grassroots 28.11.2016

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1717839115137763/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED

The main issue the media are focusing on is where would the money come from to pay public servants. Here are some suggestions taken from various sources and going from the modest to the more radical. I have incorporated some of P. Healy’s suggestions below.

To start, some myths we should challenge.

  1. There is no money in the country! Not true. Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world (8th) but has high levels of income and wealth inequality.
  2. There is no scope for tax increases! In it pre-budget submission ICTU make the point clearly that tax revenues (as a percentage of GDP) are far below EU levels (31% v. 46% in 2016). As a result, social spending is also low (32% v. 48%). In an analysis of tax levels in 2012 Michael Taft of UNITE has shown that personal tax rates are on a par with the EU (23% v. 26% of GDP) as are household consumption taxes (10% v. 12%). But when it comes to things like taxes on employers we are way out of line.

So where would you start to look.

  1. The last budget. There are a few hundred million floating around here. The Vat relief to the hotels industry was continued despite a recovery in the sector and its record of low pay and bad conditions. The government could save itself €600m there.

True to form FG wanted to look after its rich friends and continued with a policy of granting USC relief to everybody. Some people think the relief only applies to those under €70,000. It’s not true.  It applies to all earnings up to €70,000 so everybody who pays USC benefits, even those earning over €70,000. In some cases, far above €70,000. The top 5% of tax units (that’s revenue jargon for those who pay tax either a couple or singly), that’s 110,000 units, have an average income of €186,000. Yes €186,000.  The top 10,000 units earn an average of €595,000, and none of them are in the public sector. The gains for top 5% from the last two budgets amounts to €172m incorporating USC relief and a new tax credit allowance for the self-employed.

 

There was a lot of talk before the budget about a countervailing measure to recoup some of this money from the most well paid. But there was none.  Interestingly there were a number of proposals published by ICTU and opposition parties which would have seen these people pay more:

  • Withdrawing the personal tax credit from those over €100,000 would raise €120m
  • A new tax rate for income over €100,000 would raise €464m.

 

In all ICTU has identified an additional billion that could be raised from a variety of not very radical tax reforms including a very, very, very modest wealth tax on those with assets in excess of €1 m.

 

  1. But in fact there is a lot more that could be got out of the wealthy. As Paddy Healy rightly points out the Net Financial Assets of Irish Households (shares, bank accounts etc. based on CSO sources) have risen by €71b since 2006, which was the peak of the boom. Assuming, based on data which attempts to profile Irish wealth, that the top 10% own 54% of assets, we can see that these people have increased their financial assets by €35 billion.

 

It’s not surprising then that when rich lists are published they show that the rich are getting richer. The Sunday Independent list shows the richest 300 Irish citizens are thought to be worth a combined €87.7bn, an increase of 4% in one year. The combined wealth of the top 300 has increased by an incredible 76% since 2010.

 

A modest wealth tax, even on assets over €1m, would provide almost €3 billion for the exchequer.

 

  1. Employers are not paying their fair share. Irelands rate of employer PRSI is way behind the EU average. So, for example, in 2012 revenue raised from employers PRSI was equivalent to 8% of GDP compared to an EU average of 20%. If Ireland’s rates were at EU levels, we could raise an additional €8 billion a year. Making more modest changes (for example raising the rate from 10.75% to 15.75% for income over €100,000) would raise €331m.

 

An equally large scandal concerns corporation tax. A very simple way to resolve present difficulties would be to force Apple to pay up the €13 billion it owes us. While public servants saw €2 b per year taken out their incomes at the height of the cuts, Apple is allowed get away scot free. The cost of current cuts to public servants is about €1.4b per year. And  media, politicians and IBEC wonder why public servants are angry?

 

But it’s not just Apple. While the rate of corporation tax here is 12.5% the reality is very few companies pay this and in some years effective tax rates were as low as 2% (see http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2016/11/jim-stewart-policies-of-trump.html?showComment=1479913798732#c4730590999113056481).

Google paid an effective rate of 0.14% between 2005 and 2011. So billions could be raised by forcing companies to pay the full rate of 12.5%. Further the average rate of corporation tax in the OECD is about 30%. Raising our rate to 19.75% would raise, according to the Department of Finance, an extra €4 b.

 

  1. And finally. There is a lot of dirt being thrown at public servants as if we were at fault for the crash. But we all know that it was speculators and bankers who were at the heart of the problem. The national debt soared from 25% to 120% of GDP between 2007 and 2012.  The cost of bailing out the banks is estimated at over €60b accounting directly for almost 40% of the increase in the debt. The banking crash obviously had indirect consequences leading, for example, to higher unemployment and higher social welfare cost and further borrowing. Nearly €1 in every €10 raised by the state now goes to pay interest on this debt which will be almost €6.5b in 2017. It’s the fourth highest item of expenditure after social protection, health and education.  The other consequence is that these debt payments turn a projected government surplus (tax – expenditure) of €5b in 2017 into a deficit of over €1b.

 

Surely it’s time to call a halt to this. To say our priority is to rebuild our services and infrastructure and pay back public servants the money they are owed. Surely the banks and financial institutions, the main holders of Irish government debt, can wait a little longer. So can the Troika who account for about 25% of our debt. A moratorium on repayment of interest on bank debt would provide the necessary breathing space to re-prioritise the needs of society.

 

In the debate about public sector pay the media and politicians are trying to create unnecessary divisions between us and rest of society. Some trade union leaders are contributing to this divisive narrative.  What I have tried to show above is that there is potential to raise plenty of money to repay public servants and also invest in the services we need. The problem is that the political will is not there to do so.

Two statements on trade unionism and trade union strategy:

Speech, Jack O’Connor, SIPTU President, 26 July 2016, Cork:

http://www.siptu.ie/media/pressreleases2016/featurednews/fullstory_19934_en.html

Article, Trade Union Left Forum, 22 October 2016:

http://www.tuleftforum.com/unlocking-the-potential-of-trade-unions-for-working-people/

The Union is conducting a consultation with the membership with a view to:

  1. Drawing up a Development Plan for the Union for the medium term and;
  2. The future of the Political Fund

Submissions were invited from committees and individual members.

My own written submission is posted below.

Membership Consultation Initiative

Submission, 30th September 2016

Des Derwin, Community Sector member, Vice-Chair Dublin District Council

Development Plan for the Union: some – incomplete – observations and suggestions.

  1. The restructuring appears to have weakened participation by members and even activists. Many general members seem to have no union meeting at all to go to, not even an AGM. This seems to apply to some activists also as AGMs are for delegates and not all members. Some Sectors seems to have few all-member general meetings even on particular issues.
  1. The restructuring displaced some unemployed activists in particular. It was good that the prevalence of senior representatives with no workplace base was curtailed (though some survived). However in the process the organisation lost some of its most active Committee members and activists in its internal life.
  1. This has been partly recognised though the re-establishment of District Committees and, at another level, the Workers Rights Centres. These should be nurtured. However the District Committees have been slow to develop to anything like their hoped-for potential. In any case, the loose, non-industrial and extra-structural nature of District Committees, positive and all as they are, does not substitute for avenues of participation in the decision-making structures and life of the union.
  1. The demise of the Branch seems to have affected the local, as well as the members’, connection to the Union. Reports of closed premises point to resources which might have continued, or been developed, as foci for trade union and community activities in the locality and raised the SIPTU profile.
  1. From several points of view – community connections, political influence and image, member participation or alienation – the distance of the Union from the water charges movement, the single biggest working class protest movement of recent times, was unfortunate and damaging. And it was (is still) a movement which eventually had six other unions in an umbrella role in the very forefront. The ties to the Labour Party in government were no small factor here and can be addressed further in the section on ‘The future use of the Political Fund’. SIPTU is the last major union to remain unaffiliated to the Trade Union Campaign for Repeal of the 8th Amendment.
  1. The Union can do community and campaign alliances: the Community Sector led a vibrant community organisations campaign against the cuts, until the campaign was mysteriously stood down. SIPTU has played a valuable supportive role in a developing housing movement but seems to have slackened its interest of late. There is still time to put SIPTU among the front ranks on this major social issue. One of the gains of the restructuring phase was the advancement of the national campaigns office of the Union and the good fortune to have gained two active and able Campaigns Officers in succession.

The profile and support of the Union in the 1913 and 1916 commemorations can only be beneficial, both for recognition and for outreach to communities, historians and the politically interested. The cultural contribution of SIPTU is in general under appreciated.

  1. The primary element in the renewal and development of the Union will be the revival of the industrial struggle. The Union has shown its capacity to defend members and make gains throughout the hard times but in small cases. Now LUAS and Dublin Bus are green shoots of a wider wave and one with victories. The partly-veiled message of the General President on RTE radio’s ‘Late Debate’ (29th September), that the Lansdowne-Haddington Road Agreement must be revisited, is a welcome lead on what needs to be done now to get back what workers lost in the crash. The Union has recently been gaining pay rises in the private sector in the order of 2%.
  1. Whatever small daily gains and protections were made at all times – the benefits of being in a trade union – the big picture is a sorry one of retreat and concession to the offensive to lay the cost of the economic crisis on workers. Even though the social partnership agreements were torn up by the government and employers in this onslaught, what replaced them were social partnership agreements for the public sector, borne upon the same desire to cooperate. The hostility of many to trade unions is at least in part, whether it is admitted in the unions or not, a deep bitterness at the failure of the movement to fight back against austerity.
  1. If new strength is now possible it starts from a position of great weakness. The private sector statistics are well known. Though even here the new 60% membership rise in the North augurs well. It is cases like the inability of a union (this Union actually) to immediately defend a new hotel member sacked for the very act of organising the Union and distributing application forms, that ring the loudest alarm bells. Officials compelled to resort instead to pleading for (and winning!), 14 months later, a few bob in an unfair dismissals case against a hotel that remains anonymous. It is letters from nurses posted on Facebook penned in desperation at their exhaustion at work and their frightening poverty at home. The Clerys closure led to massive public support for the workers and a marvellous, sustained publicity, lobbying and legal campaign by the Union. But what are the actual gains after so long? If ever corporate contemptuous intransigence merited an occupation the Clerys closure did and surely would have brought things to some resolution sooner. Vita Cortex, at the time, pointed to a different response to the disposal of a workforce.
  1. The new emphasis on organisation is the right track, though it always needs an essential twin track, the ability and willingness to fight and win for the members we do gain. Prior to restructuring the option identified was a servicing or an organising model. There is another option which is at least as important, a partnership or a struggle model.
  1. The climb back up will not be an easy slope. The Union will have to consider transgressing prevailing restrictive legislation and the new norms of respectable trade union activity, while campaigning for repeal or amendment of the 1990 Act.

Since 1990 the official movement has been forbidden from exercising basic trade unionism and simple solidarity. Without sympathetic action, the ability to boycott, to support individual members and the right to strike for issues wider than a dispute with your immediate employer, the unions are crippled and half their raison d’être is missing. We must end a situation where our members are viciously attacked at Greyhound, strike-breakers are brought in, and the Union relies on community and political activists – and members and officials of other unions! – to blockade the workplace and the blacklegs. Then, after indicating to outside activists the value to the advancement of the dispute of protests at bin lorries in the estates, some are arrested and – to take one notable case – the Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin is consequently tried in court (reminds you of 1913!) under the Public Order Act. But the Union offers not a public word of solidarity, never mind more material support. We need to shake off this thoughtlessness.

  1. Our trajectory at workplace level can be ‘pragmatic’, to put it no stronger. For example, sometimes it seems we are quietly and at local level concluding agreements at odds with our stand on privatisation. A deal in Bord Gáis was reported in the press as paving the way for privatisation. The privatisation of Dublin City Council bin collection as a smooth industrial relations operation led inexorably from a redoubt of trade union organisation and tradition to the Greyhound war and the final descent of waste management into a Wild West. The resolution to the 2015 bus strike on the 10% privatisation of routes, and the recent REA out of it, were hailed as victories. They were, in securing the terms and conditions of the CIE busworkers in the event of privatisation. It has gone unremarked, however, that the same resolutions commit the unions and the workers to accepting without industrial action the potential transfer of 10% of their work to other privately owned companies. Private operators can of course still drive down terms and conditions by employing non-CIE workers on the privatised routes (CIE workers do not have to transfer), as has happened already on the private intercity bus routes.
  1. Every major industrial dispute today is met immediately with a concerted attack from across the mainstream media and, usually, minority public support. Or, even where there is substantial public support, with legal constraint or prohibition. These should be recognised as a given and the fight conducted in any case according to our organisational and industrial strength. But it does mean that, in general, the media is now a central, relentless and unavoidable battleground between capital and labour and that, also, every thought and effort should be put into developing our own media. There have been advances. ‘Liberty’ is greatly improved in recent years. SIPTU Video, social media and website presences are out there and of a high standard. The organisation has mustered a first class media crew.

We could pack a better punch on radio by being less ‘reasonable’ all the time, by unapologetically defending our pursuit of a better life for our members and by dishing the retaliatory dirt on ‘resources’: bank bail outs, tax evasion, corporate subsidy, wealth inequality, fiscal constraints, the enormous salaries at the top, etc. The use and value of community radio and television could be given serious attention. Social media is already open though exchange is not a big feature and the usual abuse a repressing factor. ‘Liberty’ for all its better impact has not opened up to the members, to discussion and ideas beyond the leadership orthodoxy. Such a democratic forum would increase interest, if only that. Whole pages given over to government ministers do not popularise a trade union publication.

  1. I know less officials as times goes by and new blood is brought in. May I remark that I think, good officials of the past notwithstanding, in general the newer generations of officials are efficient, accessible and (relatively) open. Yes, many come from a generation in which the walk out is a tale from the past and the day in court a default procedure. It may have been noticed that Union street events often rely more on officials and less on members to make up the numbers. This is both a function of the enthusiastic calibre of many officials and of the drop in participation of the rank and file. I hope the recent loss of an ace official in Dublin to another union is not a sign of a trend and that middle and junior officials are reasonably happy in SIPTU.
  1. One simple short term measure to improve participation and democracy in the organisation would be to restore general membership elections for the General Officers. Though only a start, the General Officers are very central in SIPTU, or any union today I suppose, and the election would create a debate and an opening for alternative views on the direction of SIPTU and the movement in general and engender a point of interest for members in the life of the Union. This Membership Consultation Initiative is a welcome exercise in democracy and member participation.

The future of the political fund.

  1. Following the record of the Labour Party during the last five years of the previous government and its consequent reduction to a rump of seven TDs, there is no justification for continued affiliation to this party as the political expression of the interests of our Union and its members.
  1. The political fund of the Union, and the Union’s general engagement with political life, to stay.
  2. The establishment of an elected political committee to address for the time being support for election candidates in each election. Applications for support to be considered from parties and candidates committed to SIPTU policies.
  3. The question of replacement affiliation to be suspended pending the emergence of a new workers party commanding substantial support.
  4. The Union, in conjunction with other trade unions or even Congress, to consider participation in the development of a new broadbased left party. A recent resolution along these lines, from the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, was passed by an ICTU conference.
  5. Sinn Féin should be regarded as part of the fluid mix towards a new workers’ party but not at this time a candidate for replacement of the Labour Party by trade union affiliation.
  6. All trade unions should allow political discussion and decision as vital to the interest of workers.

The Union (presumably the NEC and Officers) is conducting a consultation with the membership with a view to:

  1. Drawing up a Development Plan for the Union for the medium term and;
  2. The future of the Political Fund

A questionnaire was circulated to all members. Committee and individual members could make submissions up to 12th October. The Union is still accepting late entries of both.

Meetings with delegates to the Divisional Conferences are underway.

A consultative meeting will be held, at which all members may participate, on

Tuesday, 1st November 2016, at 7.oo pm in Liberty Hall, Dublin.

My own written submission is posted in the post following this.

flyer-for-trade-union-forum-22-09-2016

My own tuppence worth for the moment:

Des Derwin – September 15, 2016

Some quick, initial and incomplete thoughts on a political (not an economic or a full trade union and industrial) programme for union activists to campaign for in the movement.

1. Time now for disaffiliation from the Labour Party.

2. The establishment of elected political committees and fora in unions to address pro tem support for election candidates in each election. Political funds to stay.

3. The question of replacement affiliation suspended pending the emergence of a new workers party commanding substantial support.

4. The unions to consider participation in the development of a new broadbased radical left party of workplace, community and campaign struggle and Dáil representation.

5. Repeal of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act.

6. Repeal of FEMPI

7. Trade union independence of employers and governments through renunciation of social partnership agreements and arrangements.

8. Sinn Féin should be regarded as part of the fluid mix towards a new workers’ party but not at this time a candidate for replacement of the Labour Party by trade union affiliation.

9. All trade unions to allow political discussion and decision as vital to the interest of workers; discontinue prohibitions on political motions, etc.

10. Recognition of the tremendous support in the movement for the Trade Union Campaign for Repeal of the 8th Amendment and for all unions to openly back repeal.

11. Legislation against  ‘uncertain hours’ at work, ‘if and when’ contracts and effective casualisation.

12. Statutory right to trade union recognition and representation.

flyer-for-trade-union-forum-22-09-2016

From the People Before Profit Alliance website:

SIPTU Activists Say Don’t Call For A Vote For Labour

This [sic] year’s SIPTU conference was a controlled affair where delegates were persuaded to vote down a resolution to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.

But the union leadership has opened a consultation period among activists about whether or not they should call for a vote for Labour.

The feedback they are getting is highly negative. District committees that previously voted against a resolution to disaffiliate are balking at an open call to vote Labour. They are not convinced that they could stand in front of their members and urge such a vote. They know that they are in danger of losing all credibility.

The union leaders are now claiming that access to the political fund will be open to non-Labour party candidates. Time will tell how sincere they are on this.

The Labour Party has been a disaster for workers. They used special legislation known as FEMPI to slash the wages of public sector workers and threaten them with further cuts if they did not agree to disastrous social partnership agreements.

They imposed a policy of age discrimination against young workers by insisting that new entrants who joined the public sector after 2011 started on a lower rate.

SIPTU members should get onto their representatives and demand that their union does not call for a vote for the Labour Party.

January 20th, 2016