The Coronavirus Manifesto

by Gene Kerrigan, Sunday Independent, 22nd March 2020.


IMAGINE the chaos if the nurses went on strike right now, for higher pay and better conditions. They won’t do it, of course, but if they put their personal interests above all else, now would be the time to pull the plug.

Instantly, their every demand would be met.

Of course, in human and social terms, it would be disastrous — not to mention selfish and immoral.

Which is why the nurses won’t do it.

In fact, in the face of the Covid-19 assault on our lives, the opposite is happening. Retired medics are lining up by the tens of thousands to re-register and put their skills to use in the common good.

They and the existing workforce step without hesitation into the frontline.

And our gratitude is huge and transparently genuine.

This is the politics of community.

So, tell me this: why, in normal times, do we force medics and other essential workers to fight for every extra cent in pay, and every piddling improvement in conditions?

A range of other undervalued workers have kept us afloat in recent days. The shop workers and transport workers, the pharmacists, the cleaners, the armies of those who produce and distribute.

We’ll never know, for instance, how many tragedies were avoided by the cleaners whose work ensured we could enter spaces and touch objects they made safe for us. Many of them work for wages that are as low as the employers can push them, while still finding people who need the work.

At the same time, through exorbitant salaries, scandalous bonuses, bloated dividends, extortionate profits, tricky little share deals and sly manipulation of the tax laws, a thin layer of rich people have been sucking vast fortunes from the same system that underpays essential workers.

This is the politics of greed.

That’s what the tension in our society has been about. It’s what strikes and threats of strikes are about. It’s what the water tax protests were about. It’s what the housing crisis and the health crisis have been about.

The politics of community versus the politics of greed.

Look at housing. The word went out across the financial world — unprecedented profits to be made out of the Irish property market.

And the vultures, foreign and domestic, descended.

Working people were subjected to extortionate rents; every spare cent from two-salary households had to go to barely keeping up mortgage payments.

Homelessness was pushed up, children live perilously in B&Bs. People die sleeping on frozen streets.

The profiteers were encouraged and permitted to put their personal interests above all else.

In short, our political leaders endorsed policies that were disastrous, not to mention selfish and immoral.

And, for the most part, our media, cultural and intellectual leaders were cool with that, as their own properties rose in value.

Appeals to government to do something effective about the consequences of greed were blandly rejected.

Oh, no, can’t do that, it would be “unconstitutional”.

Oh, no, can’t interfere with the market, it would produce sub-optimal economic outcomes.

Ah, no, we’d love more social housing, but we don’t want to make “the mistakes of yesterday” — they said with straight faces.

And only a fool would hold back from extorting as much as possible, regardless of consequences.

Really? Is that what we’d tell the nurses right now?

Take, take, take, take

— to hell with the greater good, screw the politics of community, grab what you can, regardless of consequences?

No, that’s not what we want the nurses to do now — when they have massive bargaining power — and that’s not what’s on their minds.

In the battle between the politics of community and the politics of greed, it was the greedy who had the support of the political parties, the cultural celebrities and the intellectual charmers.

In the media, the greedy openly flaunted the proceeds of their avarice. Magazines glorified them. Radio programmes interviewed them in a servile manner. The media treated every vacuous comment from airhead CEOs and business “analysts” as though it was wisdom flowing from the lips of Aristotle.

TV shows promoted the values of the greedy and drooled over their lifestyles.

Universities and feepaying schools inculcated those values in the young.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith summed it up, long ago: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Covid-19 didn’t come out of the blue. It’s the latest in a line of pandemics that killed a lot of people and were then beaten back.

This seems like a tough one, but we’ve known for a long time that at any moment we might be in this crisis.

Yet, we ran down our public health system. Not for years, for decades.

The rich people’s tax frauds of the 1980s and 1990s were effectively subsidised by austerity and cutting thousands of public hospital beds.

We had nine beds for every 1,000 of population in 1980. Ten years later, they’d cut that to six. Now, it’s about 2.6 beds per thousand. The OECD average is 4.8.

Leo Varadkar, asked about this by the Sunday Independent in 2016, said that if you take pressure off the medics things “slow down”. It seems fewer beds and more pressure makes them work harder.

In recent years, medics made no secret they were under severe stress, patients were suffering, the public health system was absurdly under-funded.

Hospitals were given inadequate budgets, and when they failed to keep to them, they were penalised. This was the greedy swaggering.

Oh, yes, said the politicians, we’d love to pay the nurses more — sure, aren’t they angels of mercy, one and all?

And we’d love it if overworked doctors didn’t fall asleep in their cars.

Of course, we’d be thrilled to supply all the equipment the medics need — so embarrassing when they have to use GoFundMe to buy a life-saving machine.

But, hey, the warriors of the stock market need another tax break; the Google executive won’t grace our shores unless we pay his kids’ private school fees; the bank executives are threatening to quit if we don’t raise the pay cap from a mere half-a-million a year.

And, look — if the rich weren’t vastly overpaid, sure, they wouldn’t be able to afford their philanthropy, right?

Actually, some of us aren’t too impressed by the rich “giving something back”. We’d much prefer if the greedy just stopped taking, taking, taking, taking, taking.

When this dreadful time has ended, and we’ve buried all the dead and shed all the tears, will we just pick up where we left off ?

The politics of greed produced the housing crisis and left us with a public health service ill-prepared for this dreadful virus.

It is the politics of community — in the shape of medics going beyond the call of duty, and other essential workers holding things together — that we look to in this crisis.

The mess the rich made of this country resulted from political choices.

When we’ve buried the dead, we will again have choices to make.

And, fundamentally, we’ll be choosing between the politics of greed and the politics of community.

If the politics of community — of equality and service and mutual respect — can save us in the bad times, we need it to make life better in normal times.

‘Covid-19 didn’t come out of the blue — we knew that at any moment we might be in this crisis’

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SIPTU Dublin District Council has organised an “Ask the Candidates” event in Liberty Hall this Tuesday (23rd April).

Dublin European election candidates have been invited to attend as well as representatives of the parties running candidates in the local elections in Dublin city.

The event is an important opportunity for SIPTU members to outline issues and policies of concern to them, their families and communities.

The local election husting will take place from 7.00 p.m. – 8.15 p.m. followed by the European election husting from 8.15 p.m. – 9.30 p.m.

Note: far right candidates have not been invited.

Ask The Candidates 23.04.2019

From TUI Grassroots 28.11.2016


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:


Article, Trade Union Left Forum, 22 October 2016:


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.