Signs of hope

Finally, some signs of hope... It's probably clear to everyone who is smart, well-informed and in good faith that not just are FF / GP going ahead with this bailout and budget in the absence of any popular legitimacy for their government and any support for their policies, but also that FG / LP are set (despite "talk left, walk right" rhetoric) to implement substantially similar policies - accepting austerity and the ECB's neo-liberal rules, making perhaps token adjustments for their own client organisations but nothing substantial by way of changing the large-scale economic and financial decisions that have got us this far.

One of the remarkable con-tricks that right-wing economists and journalists have perpetrated in Ireland is the belief that neo-liberalism is the only way - despite not just its global failure since Lehman Brothers but its very visible local failure in Ireland and the fact that the US has chosen a different, Keynesian rather than Thatcherite, response to the crisis. The prescription (dressed up as calls for "change") is for yet more of the same.

It says a lot about their levels of political illiteracy that much of the Labour Party accepts this without batting an eyelid. At least, in some cases it can be put down to illiteracy or a desire to think whatever it is respectable people are supposed to think. Harsher names could be found for those who are not incompetent but are conscious of what they are doing - and, as in the trade union leadership and elements of "Claiming our future", are trying to bring popular movements behind them as the useful idiots who are supposed to get out the vote and then go home for a long winter of recession and cuts implemented by the "left".

A rather good video from the UK struggle cheered me up this morning while thinking about some of this stuff, as did this rather wonderful article.

More substantially, the BudgetJam mythbusting website is finally seeing a bit of that critical political economy put to work, challenging the "common sense" being put out by the very well paid hired mouths and pens in economics departments and editorial offices. (Many years ago, Alison Jaggar observed that if you adopt the liberal belief that minds are more important than bodies, selling your mind is worse than selling your body.)

And - finally! - someone (in this case UNITE) has come up with an alternative, "People's Budget". On a quick scan there are some good aspects of this - not least that it is presented as general policy choices which more of us can understand, rather than as a technical critique of financial arrangements.

What seems lacking, at least so far, is a genuinely agitational economic alternative: something that can go on one side of an A4 page and make the basic point - that the State is consciously choosing to put money into A and not into B, rather than being forced to make global cutbacks. Something like this maybe:

Vincent Browne figures for the economic situation

€90bn – Current Sovereign Debt €20bn – Prefunded Debt €23bn – Redeeming bonds over next 3 years €35bn – Bank Recapitalisation €45bn – Cost of funding the the country over next 3 years €100bn -Short term ECB liquidity to Irish banks €30bn – Irish Central Bank master loan repurchase agreements

€343bn total

Annual Interest Payments anything from €14 to €18 Billion . Our current Annual income approx €32 Billion

Alternative choices

Re-nationalise Ireland's oil and gas reserves €540bn Wealth tax (supported by 82% of the population) €x Tax on non-domiciled wealth (€1250bn deposited abroad) €x Raising corporation tax from 12.5% to 15% €x Giving senior bondholders a "haircut" €x Repudiating NAMA €x Defaulting €x

Where's a good radical economist when you need them, eh?

Off, in most cases, doing the intellectual equivalent of shouting at the telly rather than thinking hard about who out there (the majority of us) need clear, simple, memorable points that we can use in arguments to back up what we already feel and desperately need to say. But Budgetjam and the People's Budget are a step in the right direction at least.

More substantially, UNITE have now put their energy behind the call for a general strike, and despite LP ties it seems that they probably mean this - the recent election in Britain puts the union very firmly on the left. The TEEU had already called for a campaign of civil disobedience, and the real left (1% network, left bloc, United Left Alliance) have made the same call. Recently Chloe Saint-Ville did a long interview with me about social movements and strikes for NEARfm and a radio station in Guadeloupe, where a 44-day general strike last year won major concessions.

Very clearly, in a situation where your opinion and your vote make absolutely no difference to what the entire political elite have decided they are going to do anyway, and where for many families their homes are on the line, a general strike is the obvious response. A one-day strike on Budget Day would send a very clear message, and an indefinite one would make a lot of sense.

As even the Sunday Independent has said, since the bailout isn't working and we are likely to have to default anyway (the EU is working to clarify how this could be achieved, and not just for Ireland), why not default now while we still have an economy?

It seems unlikely that ICTU will call a general strike of their own accord, and there would be much to be said for trying to organise one anyway. When / if they realise that the train is leaving the platform anyway, they can be trusted to jump on board and sort out the legalities. For Mayday 2004, the libertarian left alone managed to distribute 100,000 leaflets in Dublin. For something like this, with a couple of unions and the state-socialist left as well, we should be able to blanket the country and get around what, as Paddy Healy has extensively documented, amounts to a programme of censorship of dissenting voices in favour of the "consensus" of well-paid right-wingers; as well as the blockade mounted by ICTU to anything that smacks of social change.

"Que se vayan todos" is definitely the order of the day, and if not Iceland then Argentina seems the closest model to where Ireland is now: a once-poor ex-colony which became a neo-liberal poster child, entered a monetary union with powerful core states, with a populist ruling party that was everyone's friend and an elite consensus that "there is no alternative" - and then went into financial meltdown at the expense of the poor and most of the working population.

In Argentina as probably in Ireland, the real movement did not start from the organised left (in Ireland, after two years of valiant attempts to organise resistance to the cuts, it should be clear that while committee meetings are important for campaigning and planning events, effective resistance can't be conjured up but will come - or not - from those affected) but from the middle classes who saw their savings frozen while the rich were warned in advance and had spirited their money out of the country, from workers who occupied and started up factories which their employers had shut, and from poor neighbourhoods which self-organised around basic needs while the unemployed blockaded roads.

I recently viewed Naomi Klein's The take (available here and elsewhere online; 87 mins) with a group of students who had already watched it two years ago. They said that in 2008 it had seemed very distant; in 2010 it seemed like a video of Irish reality. Well worth organising a viewing!

Last night on Twitter there was discussion of a pots and pans protest at the Dail. In other weather conditions that might be ideal for sparking off the wider anger that is out there; like this, an A4 alternative budget or a one-day general strike, we have to find something that everyone can get stuck into and whose point is immediately clear even to people used to a diet of local news and Sunday papers.

I've just helped bring out issue 2/2 of Interface: a journal for and about social movements, on the theme of movements making media (you can find it here for now and soon at this site); there are excellent articles by Margaret Gillan (Community Media Network) about working-class media in Ireland, and by Tatiana Bazzichelli about how Italians have been using social networking media in movements around precarious work etc.

There is a real vision of the future though in Dongwon Jo's article on the 2008 Chotbul protests in South Korea, where for nearly 100 days a society which is massively online and in some ways addicted to social networking sites, chatrooms, etc. worked within those spaces both to challenge the official version of events (hacking official sites, organising ad boycotts of pro-state newspapers, etc.) and to support and take part in real-world protests (live streaming of events, text messaging to warn people where the police were, etc.) Verb. sap.

Finally, a rather wonderful open letter being circulated by the union in Maynooth to local FF TD (and minister of state) Aine Brady, which makes the right point: que se vayan todos. If you're a student or staff member (or resident!) in Maynooth, send a signature to this email.

Enjoy the snow!


Dear Minister Brady, We the undersigned staff and students at NUI Maynooth wish to convey to you our sense of anger at the calamity that the government to which you belong has inflicted on our country. On your government’s collective watch, our country’s economy has been wrecked and our national sovereignty, already massively compromised, now lost outright, reducing us effectively to a colony once again. For several decades, the Fianna Fáil party to which you belong, ably abetted by the Progressive Democrats and Greens, and cheered on by large sections of a compliant media, espoused a stupid, shallow and socially callous brand of neoliberal capitalism that has massively enriched the few and wreaked havoc on the many not alone in Ireland but in many parts of the world. Under successive Fianna Fáil Taoisigh and Ministers of Finance, our banks, which had already been shown to have been involved in huge tax defrauds of the state and continual skimmings of their customers, were allowed to behave with criminal abandon and with shocking disregard for the greater welfare of Irish society. Then, when these same banks had been brought to ruination by their own hands, your government shifted the burden of their appalling losses onto the backs of the citizens of the Irish Republic, thus inevitably dragging the whole of Irish society into bankruptcy also. Now, to compound matters, you have also committed us to taking a loan from the ECB and IMF that effectively binds many generations of Irish citizens to paying off the European banks and other ‘risk-taking’ bondholders who had helped to overinflate our economy in the first instance. We do not look to you or any member of this government for justice in the upcoming budget because we believe that you are so deep in hock to your neoliberal ideology that it would be futile to do so. In the times when it still possessed real power, your government chose, in a manner that completely contravened the republican ideology which it falsely professes to espouse, to pursue policies that made the Irish Republic one of the most deeply unequal societies in the developed world. It would be pointless to look to that government now in the very hour that power has been ceded to our new European and IMF masters to reverse the policies it has so zealously pursued in the past. We ourselves and our children’s generation will have to rebuild by our own efforts the country you have wrecked. Our only request, therefore, is that you and every member of the completely disgraced cabinet to which you belong might have the remaining sense of dignity and honour to step aside and retire completely from Irish public life. By this and this alone, we believe, could you collectively demonstrate that you have fully understood the enormity of the damage and shame that your actions and inactions have inflicted on Irish society. Yours Sincerely,