Image: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Irish Economy & Wage Slavery

Irish Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, is planning to cut the Government’s Covid19 support payment of €350 for workers displaced because of the pandemic so as to “avoid people refusing to look or return to work”, reported by the Sunday Times, essentially admitting that not only are many people working for less than the minimum wage (which is €9.80/hr), but also the government would rather pay people based on what they were being underpaid than go after their employers who are clearly profiting from stolen labour.

It speaks volumes about how Fine Gael views not only Government supports during times of turmoil, as something to be earned not through participation but rather success, but also on how they value people as a whole, as those who were earning above €350 a week in their previous employment are to be left untouched, regardless of what savings and passive incomes they may have. What’s that old quip? Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor.

For all the bravado and applause Fine Gael has received for their competency in managing Covid19, months after handling with fair success Brexit negotiations, they couldn’t help themselves but remind everyone that this is the “Keep the Recovery Going” party that has banged that mantra for just shy of a decade with little results. The same party who, under current Taoiseach (then Minister for Social Protection) Leo Varadkar, accused half a billion Euros being lost due to social welfare fraud through his “Welfare Cheats cheat us all” campaign (which turned out to be an overestimation of €460 Million, with the campaign only managing to recoup €300,000). The same party that, before Covid19 had suffered a historic lost at the polls earlier this year after a decade of stumbling from crisis to crisis (housing shortages, homelessness, skyrocketing rents, hospital bed shortages, hospital staff strikes, gangland murders in Dublin and Drogheda). It shouldn’t take a global catastrophes like disease and Boris Johnson to make you look like the good guys.

It’s almost comical; it’s like their argument is somehow the virus doesn’t affect poor people who work for less than minimum wage. You can’t say this isn’t about class. Fine Gael’s admission that they can’t keep up the payment (which is costing the country €200 Million Euros a week) doesn’t follow the logic that the proper course of action is to cut it for those not used to a certain standard of living. I’m not saying it would have been better to cut everyone down to the standard €203 jobseekers allowance (despite the likelihood that manner will be officially registered as unemployed as the economy is predicted to slowly recover (unemployement currently stands at a little over 25%), but at least the justification would have been that Fine Gael were making the tough calls and acting in people’s best interests (as they so often claim), and not trying to have their cake an eat it; meet their pitiful claims of financial responsibility and cool restraint while also ensuring their voting base that they are reliable and protective. It’s starting to get depressingly unsurprising how much Fine Gael tries so hard to put a positive spin on their own malice. Even less surprising is the fact that their base is lapping this up.

Minister Donohoe’s proposal really speaks volumes about what goes unsaid about Ireland; like most economies, it lives and dies off how much it can squeeze out of a worker without compensation. Wage Slavery and Unpaid Labour are concepts not often discussed in Ireland. To put it simply, let’s say I am your boss and I pay you €10 an hour. 8 hour days. 40 hour weeks. Now let’s say once a week, I ask you to work one tiny extra hour. I plead and I beg and I apologise but my hands are tied. So you figure, okay, sure, it’s only one hour. After two months you’ve worked a whole day for free. Would you work a day unpaid? What about a week? Because after only ten months, less than a year, you’d have worked a week unpaid? After 3 years and four months you would have worked a month unpaid? And I would profit off that? I would make €80, €400, €1600 off simply being polite to you. Imagine how much I could make if I strong armed you into it, say by cutting any supports that would otherwise ensure that you didn’t settle for a job that undervalues you. That is what’s called Wage Slavery; the system where workers are underpaid to the point where they are unlikely to ascend to higher paying jobs or even reskill.

This is nothing new. Fine Gael do not believe in holding employers or landlords accountable. Fine Gael do not support any form of universal education. Fine Gael barely even supports universal healthcare, begrudgingly accepting the concept of medical cards. It’s no secret that Fine Gael have promoted themselves as the party for “people who get up early in the morning”, a clever nod to the common misconception that only successful people are early risers (ironically Leo’s wet dream come true, Winston Churchill , never got out of bed until after 11 in the morning). What is however interesting is the fact that this predicted cut comes weeks before the next stage of lockdown restriction rollbacks (scheduled for Monday the 8th of June), suggesting Fine Gael are expecting people to jump back into their underpaid jobs as if nothing happened. No concern for the weeks of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and even loss that many have suffered; at least not for those who are being spoiled by €350. I never expected any less, but this seems to all be a response to a problem that hasn’t arisen yet. Those recently laid off are unemployed not because of laziness but rather, as previously mentioned, a global fucking pandemic. Many of the jobs they previously worked at are in fact still closed due to the government’s own restrictions. What! Are 500,000 supposed to all apply for Aldi and Lidl? Are we expected to suddenly jump into the medical field (which was so dessimated by Fine Gael (and ironically Dr. Leo Varadkar (that’s not a joke, he’s a licensed GP)) that they needed to beg nurses and doctors who emigrated as far as Australia to return home (while addressing known of the issues that made them emigrate in the first place)? Will half a million Deliveroo couriers be tearing up the M1 on bicycles in light teal, giving the bus driver who nearly swerved into them the finger?

It’s hard to tell whether this attitude is out of ignorance, that Fine Gael truly believe that the jobs market is free and everyone can work how they wish and earn what they are worth, or if Fine Gael are simply creaming themselves at the thought of rushing us through this pandemic in time to announce a snap election, hoping everyone has forgotten that this entire time they’ve only been an acting government, unable to fully make amends with Fianna Fail and the Green Party, all the while outright declaring themselves against Sinn Fein, who’s surprised surged in the polls shocked even them (as they short-sightedly didn’t run enough candidates to even form a majority themselves), and that they can spin this as a great victory for Ireland (despite the fact it can be argued that if Ireland’s success is due to the government, the deaths and initial rise is equally because of problems that existed before the outbreak (like all those cuts to staffs and hospitals mentioned before). Either way, Fine Gael must have hated the fact that for a brief moment in time the people of Ireland got a glimpse of what society could look like if it wasn’t entirely focused around work.

For many, this was the first time in their lives that they got to truly experience leisure. Many people took up online classes, hobbies, art, writing, or just enjoying a couple of hours of bingeing shows and films (I finally got through Kidding starring Jim Carrey, it’s great). For many anecdotally they have noticed a major shift and difference in their state of mind. Yes, there is still stress, but it’s stress due to limitations of the lockdown as oppose to work. You can’t argue one form of stress is bad while forgiving the other. But even with the inconvenience of restrictions and paranoia, people have used those extra eight hours to keep themselves busy. Even the people who have been working from home have found that productivity has remained the same if not gone up. Ironically there’s very few office jobs that actually need you to be in an office. Furthermore, there’s very few jobs that actually need to be done.

Essential workers like medical professionals, emergency services, law enforcement, grocers, and food services have kept this world spinning, yet tragically are often paid the least, abused the most, and are seen as the most disposable. These people need more than a standing ovation, they need statues to them (which is convenient since there seems to be a few vacant spots here and there), they need better wages, they need a proper pension for when they regal their grandchildren with tales of the great toilet roll shortage of the 20s, or their epic battle with the one arsehole who wouldn’t wear a mask on a train.

Indeed everyone, purely by the virtue that they are a citizen and benefit the economy by their engagement within it, regardless of their employment or lack of it, should know that their participation in it will help them in their time of need. But sadly our own government doesn’t believe in sympathy nor compassion.



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