As the capitalist crisis continues to ravage the once mighty ‘celtic tiger’ the Irish government has stumbled across a sure fire method to stimulate economic growth and raise living standards; cut the wages of the lowest paid workers! The Labour Courts are currently debating whether to drop the minimum wage a euro to €8.65, and Labour Affairs Minister, Billy Kelleher, has argued that the review needs to take account of the current economic climate. He expanded his support for the counter reform by suggesting that the minimum wage should not be a barrier to employment. Such talk is all very well from a government junior minister who currently earns a salary of over €139,000 per year and no doubt enjoys all the perks and benefits offered by the parliamentary gravy train.
The logic behind the proposed attack on wages is highly questionable to say the least. During a period of severe recession and what is in effect a crisis of over production it seems very dubious to suggest that the lowering of the minimum wage would in any way help to increase employment. The capitalists produce not for social need but for profit and as such only produce what they can sell. This may seem rudimentary to you and me but apparently it escapes Mr Kelleher.
As they always do, the agents of the employers are using the precarious situation that the economic crisis has placed many workers in as a precursor to launch attacks on the gains that the Irish working class was able to make during the boom period. Most disgustingly at a time when prices are rising it is the poorest section of the workforce, those who gained least during the boom, that the bosses are trying to make pay for the crisis.
It has also emerged from the National Employment Rights Authority review that almost one in ten workers currently receives a wage below the meagre stipulations of the legal minimum. The study showed that nine per cent of Irish employers were in breach of the legislation. This proves that, while the fight for legal reforms are a valuable part of the labour movement’s struggles, it is only through having the strength of workplace organisation that such gains can be applied in practise. It is clear that only an effectively unionised workplace can guarantee the minimum wage and, as Kelleher’s remarks demonstrate, with whose interests the government’s lie.
The ICTU correctly condemned this as a disgrace stating, “To suggest that low-paid workers were the cause of our economic woes is quite ridiculous, particularly when the Government is taking €7bn to €8bn from the National Pension Reserve Fund to back high-paid bankers. “ This stand is to be welcomed. However words in themselves will not head off the bosses attacks. Only a militant campaign against any proposals of a nature such as the one outlined here can do this. The Civil and Public Sector is currently balloting for a one day strike of all government departments on February 26th. However, only a united action across the public and private sectors can pose an effective defense of pay and conditions to make the capitalists pay for their crisis.
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- Ireland: Waterford Crystal and the sting in the tail from the Celtic Tiger by Séamus Loughlin (February 4, 2009)
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