Ireland: Living standards of the poor slashed while the rich get richer

There has been a certain feeling over the past three or four years that we are living through history, the sort of history, that is, which people pick over many years into the future when they try to explain the factors that led to a war or a revolution for example.

It would be hard to look at the end of the Celtic Tiger, the mass mobilisations of the working class during 2009, the collapse of Fianna Fáil, the bailout and the mass unemployment and the emigration without considering these to be years of massive change and storm and stress in Irish Society.

The period between 1912 and 1916 in Ireland was also a period of enormous change culminating in the Rising, which laid the basis itself for the War of Independence and the Civil war. As Marxists we look at the big picture first, the crisis of overproduction in the USA, the collapse of the sub- prime market, the banking crisis, the global economic crisis, the sovereign debt crisis, the Arab Revolution, the crisis in Greece and the swing to the left in the recent Greek and French elections.

But whether you look on the highest global level, or at the way the crisis impacts on individual workers, young people and their families, you would have to acknowledge that it is the working class in all countries, as well as the old, the sick and the very young who have suffered the most as a consequence of the crisis within the capitalist system. We didn’t create the crisis, but working people have been presented time and time again with the bill. We’ve had emergency budgets, four year budget plans, levies and reform, restructure and redeployments.

The recent report from Social Justice Ireland reveals the extent of the impact on the most vulnerable layers of the population in the state. Basing themselves on official CSO figures the report shows that the poorest section of the population suffered a drop of almost 20% in their disposable income during 2010 while the top 10% gained 4%. This is the figure after taxes and Social Welfare payments are taken into consideration. The Irish Examiner reports:

"Social Justice Ireland has blamed government policy for continuing to increase the income of the richest 10% of households and widening the gap between the wealthy and the rest of society.

"It says the top 10% of the population receive almost 14 times more disposable income than the poorest 10% — it was eight times more in 1980.

"Social Justice Ireland director Sean Healy said the current strategy by the Government was making the situation worse.

" 'There is something profoundly wrong with government decisions that produce this lop-sided distribution of income favouring the richest when Ireland’s poor and middle income people struggle to make ends meet in these extremely difficult times'.”

Under these conditions it is no surprise first of all that the previous government fell so far in the February 2011 General Election. But we would have to ask the question: Under these conditions how can the Labour leaders justify a policy of further austerity and a meek submission to the programme of Fine Gael and the Troika?

Connolly and Marx explained that the government in a capitalist society acts merely as the executive of the whole of the ruling class. These statistics illustrate just how valid that argument is today. The austerity is building up tremendous resentment among the working class. The attacks on the Croke Park Deal and the volatility on a European level are preparing the way for further attacks on the Irish working class. These statistics are a warning of what has already happened and what is to come in the future. More than ever before we need a socialist alternative!