It’s all quite surreal at times. Orwellian. It may be best to avoid the papers.
‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all’ – Father Kane
‘All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!’ – James Connolly
Business owners and establishment politicians are often represented as the “incarnation of progress” in modern society. The public is often portrayed as a mass or “mob”, unworthy of making decisions or of the responsibility to change history. In 1910, James Connolly eloquently and passionately conveyed how it was and is the public – ordinary people together in force and solidarity – who have made the significant changes and improvements in society throughout history.
In 1910 James Connolly wrote Labour Nationality and Religion in response to a discourse against Socialism by Father Kane in Dublin. Father Kane referred to the will of the people, essentially, as the will and rule of the ‘mob’. Connolly embraces the word mob and uses it to encapsulate the positive role it has played throughout human history.
I thought it would be interesting to share this ever-relevant discourse here, starting with Father Kane’s impression of the public, and then Connolly’s response to it.
Father Kane on socialism and the “mob”:
In Socialism there could be no healthy public opinion, no public opinion at all except that manufactured by officialdom or that artificially cultivated by the demagogues of the mob. There could be no free expression of free opinion. The press would be only the press of the officials. Printing machines, publishing firms, libraries, public halls, would be the exclusive property of the state. We do not indeed advocate utter licence for the press, but we do advocate its legitimate liberty. There would be no liberty of the press under Socialism; no liberty even of speech, for the monster machine of officialdom would grind out all opposition – for the monster machine would be labelled, ‘The Will of the People’, and ‘The Will of the People’ would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders. Brave men fear no foe, and free men will brook no fetter. You will have thought, in your boyhood, with hot tears, of the deeds of heroes who fought and fell in defence of the freedom of their fatherland. That enthusiasm of your boyhood will have become toned down with maturer years in its outward expression, but mature years will have made it more strong and staunch for ever, more ready to break forth with all the energy of your life and with all the sacrifice of your death in defiance of slavery. You may have rough times to face; you may have rough paths to tread, you may have hard taskmasters to urge you toil, and hard paymasters to stint your wage; you may have hard circumstances to limit your life within a narrow field; but after all your life is your own, and your home is your own, and your wage is your own, and you are free. Freedom is your birthright. Even our dilapidated modern nations allow to a man his birthright – freedom. You would fight for your birthright, freedom, against any man, against any nation, against the world; and if you could not live for your freedom, you would die for it. You would not sell your birthright, freedom, to Satan; and I do not think that you are likely to surrender your birthright, freedom, to the Socialist. Stand back! We are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us the rights of man, to our own life, to our own property, to our own freedom. We will take our chance in the struggle of life. We may have a hard time or a good time, we may be born lucky or unlucky, but we are free men. Stand back, Socialist! God has given us our birthright, freedom, and, by the grace of God, we will hold to it in life and in death.
After you have done laughing at this hysterical outburst we will proceed to calmly discuss its central propositions. To take the latter part first, it is very amusing to hear a man, to whom a comfortable living is assured, assure us that we ought to tell the Socialist that “we will take our chance in the struggle of life…
How can a person, or a class, be free when its means of life are in the grasp of another? How can the working class be free when the sole chance of existence of its individual members depends upon their ability to make a profit for others?
The argument about the freedom of the press – a strange argument from such a source – is too absurd to need serious consideration. Truly, all means of printing will be the common property of all, and if any opposition party, any new philosophy, doctrine, science, or even hair-brained scheme has enough followers to pay society for the labour of printing its publications, society will have no more right nor desire to refuse the service than a government of the present day has to refuse the use of its libraries to the political enemies who desire to use those sources of knowledge to its undoing. It will be as possible to hire a printing machine from the community as it will be to hire a hall. Under Socialism the will of the people will be supreme, all officials will be elected from below and hold their position solely during good behaviour, and as the interests of private property, which according to St. Clement are the sole origin of contention among men, will no longer exist, there will be little use of law-making machinery, and no means whereby officialdom can corrupt the people.
This will be the rule of the people at last realised. But says Father Kane, at last showing the cloven foot, “the will of the people would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders”. Spoken like a good Tory and staunch friend of despotism! What is the political and social record of the mob in history as against the record of the other classes? There was a time, stretching for more than a thousand years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the governments of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy. That was the blackest period in human history. It was the period during which human life was not regarded as being of as much value as the lives of hares and deer; it was the period when freedom of speech was unknown, when trial by jury was suppressed, when men and women were tortured to make them confess crimes before they were found guilty, when persons obnoxious to the ruling powers were arrested and kept in prison (often for a lifetime) without trial; and it was the period during which a vindictive legal code inflicted the death penalty for more than one hundred and fifty offences – when a boy was hung for stealing an apple, a farmer for killing a hare on the roadside. It was during this undisturbed reign of the kings, the nobles, and the hierarchy that religious persecutions flourished, when Protestants killed Catholics, Catholics slaughtered Protestants, and both hunted Jews, when man “;made in God’s image” murdered his fellow-man for daring to worship God in a way different from that of the majority; it was then that governments answered their critics by the torture, when racks and thumbscrews pulled apart the limbs of men and women, when political and religious opponents of the state had their naked feet and legs placed in tin boots of boiling oil, their heads crushed between the jaws of a vice, their bodies stretched across a wheel while their bones were broken by blows of an iron bar, water forced down their throats until their stomachs distended and burst, and when little children toiled in mine and factory for twelve, fourteen and sixteen hours per day. But at last, with the development of manufacturing, came the gathering together of the mob, and consequent knowledge of its numbers and power, and with the gathering together also came the possibility of acquiring education. Then the mob started upon its upward march to power – a power only to be realised in the Socialist Republic. In the course of that upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world. It has abolished religious persecution and imposed toleration upon the bigots of all creeds; it has established the value of human life, softened the horrors of war as a preliminary to abolishing it, compelled trial by jury, abolished the death penalty for all offences save one, and in some countries abolished it for all; and to-day it is fighting to keep the children from the factory and mine, and put them to school. The mob, “the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all”, with one sweep of its grimy, toil-worn hand, swept the stocks, the thumbscrew, the wheel, the boots of burning oil, the torturer’s vice and the stake into the oblivion of history, and they who to-day would seek to view those arguments of kings, nobles, and ecclesiastics must seek them in the lumber room of the museum.
In this civilising, humanising work the mob had at all times to meet and master the hatred and opposition of kings and nobles; and there is not in history a record of any movement for abolishing torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage, or shortening the hours of labour led by the hierarchy. Against all this achievement of the mob its enemies have but one instance of abuse of power – the French reign of terror – and they suppress the fact that this classic instance of mob fury lasted but eight months, whereas the cold-blooded cruelty of the ruling classes which provoked it had endured for a thousand years.
All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!
Just a thought on much of the so-called “liberal” view of the Brexit result recently. This group of generally liberal people who were genuinely horrified and shocked by the Brexit result and the racism and ignorance that they saw as being fundamental to it. The group is often represented by personalities such as Sir Bob Geldof, the singer and campaigner, who is paid a great deal of money to attend talks on poverty (reportedly $100,000), and who compared the 1916 Irish Revolution to ISIS terrorism.
There have been protests from liberals in support of overturning the result of the referendum decided by the British public. There has been a campaign to make those who voted to leave the EU (mostly working-class people) to look rather stupid; things such as the insinuation (and even direct assersions) that Leave voters didn’t know what the EU was because “what is the EU?” was reportedly top of a Google search in the days before the referendum. Nevermind that those internet searches could have been mostly Remain voters for all we know. I would argue that it was Leave voters who most clearly understood the EU as they weren’t caught up in the convoluted idea that the EU can be reformed, nor were Leave voters distracted by the far-right rhetoric. In a sense, it was much of the Remain campaigners and voters who became distracted by the far-right, as they chose to vote to Remain in the EU merely because it was the opposite to the stance of detestable UKIP and kin; the Blairites in Labour also took the view that, “anything the far-right does, we’ll do the opposite”, which turned out to be a disastrous stance for Jeremy Corbyn and others on the left-wing of the Labour party, (although, I will speculate, that Corbyn was privately in favour of leaving the EU). Labour’s failure to stand for a Leave vote, created confusion and disillusionment for working-class voters on the left. It was a massive own-goal at the time. But things have changed in the short time since then with the resignation or dismissal of many of those Blairites on the right-wing of the Labour party who, up until recently, have dominated the party’s policy. The liberal perspective was likewise reduced to “what is UKIP doing? – We’ll do the opposite”, rather than to ask what the situation at hand actually was. Of course, the Brexit referendum pitted elements of the British and European bourgeoisie against each other too, as some believed to Remain was beneficial for their profits, and others thought Leaving to be beneficial for theirs. There perhaps no better example of this than the conservative party, which was divided throughout the whole campaign. Working-class Leave voters at least understood that the EU is an anti-democratic, anti-worker and racist institution that cannot be reformed. Have a look at the excellent video below about why one working-class area of Britain chose to vote Leave.
I would argue that it was Leave voters who most clearly understood the EU as they weren’t caught up in the convoluted idea that the EU can be reformed, nor were Leave voters distracted by the far-right rhetoric – as many of the Remain voters were who chose to vote to Remain in the EU. Many argued to vote Remain merely because it was the opposite to the stance of detestable UKIP and other far-right and racist groups; the Blairites in Labour also took this view, which turned out to be a disastrous stance for Jeremy Corbyn and those on the left of the Labour party, (although, I will speculate, that Corbyn was privately in favour of leaving the EU, as he has always stated that the EU is anti-democratic). Labour’s failure to stand for a Leave vote, created confusion and disillusionment for working-class voters on the left. It was a massive own-goal at the time. But things have changed in the short time since then with the resignation or dismissal of many of those Blairites on the right-side of the Labour party who up until recently have dominated the party’s policy. The liberal perspective was likewise reduced to “what is UKIP doing? – We’ll do the opposite”, rather than to ask what the situation at hand actually was. Of course, the Brexit referendum pitted elements of the British and European bourgeoisie against each other too, as some believed to Remain was beneficial for their profits, and others thought Leaving to be beneficial for theirs. There perhaps no better example of this than the conservative party, which was divided throughout the whole campaign. Working-class Leave voters at least understood that the EU is an anti-democratic, anti-worker and racist institution that cannot be reformed. Have a look at the excellent video below about why one working-class area of Britain chose to vote Leave.
Labour’s failure to stand for a Leave vote, created confusion and disillusionment for working-class voters on the left. It was a massive own-goal at the time. But things have changed in the short time since then with the resignation or dismissal of many of those Blairites on the right-wing of the Labour party who up until recently have dominated the party’s policy. The liberal perspective was likewise reduced to the argument, “what is UKIP doing? – We’ll do the opposite”, rather than to ask what the situation at hand actually was. Of course, the Brexit referendum pitted elements of the British and European bourgeoisie against each other too, as some believed to Remain was beneficial for their profits, and others thought Leaving to be beneficial for theirs. There perhaps no better example of this than the conservative party, which was divided throughout the whole campaign. Working-class Leave voters at least understood that the EU is an anti-democratic, anti-worker and racist institution that cannot be reformed. Have a look at the excellent video below about why one working-class area of Britain chose to vote Leave.
Of course, the Brexit referendum pitted elements of the British and European bourgeoisie against each other too, as some believed to Remain was beneficial for their profits, and others thought Leaving to be beneficial for theirs. There is perhaps no better example of this than the Tory Party, which was divided throughout the whole campaign. Working-class Leave voters at least understood that the EU is an anti-democratic, anti-worker and racist institution that cannot be reformed. Have a look at the excellent video below about why one working-class area of Britain chose to vote Leave.
I’ve heard some well-educated open-minded liberals say that not enough people voted, and others say that too many people voted and a decision of such magnitude should not have been left to the public. The former ignores the fact that the gap would have been bigger on the side of Leave had more people exercised the vote, because more working-class people would have voted; the latter is simply undemocratic.
Another “liberal” minded person on facebook equated the decision of the majority of British people to “pissing in their pants to keep warm”, and his friends then went on to back him up, speaking of the “racism” of all of the leave voters. The hypocrisy and irony of their own bigotry was indeed lost on them in their self-righteous and confused comments. I suppose, to be fair, he did claim not to have understood the decision himself. An example of bigotry borne of ignorance surely.
To those “liberals” who championed the idea that the EU isn’t perfect, but argue that it can be reformed – that reformist experiment has already been tried. Greece attempted the experiment when they tried to implement anti-austerity measures while remaining inside the EU, believing a capitalistic Europe, through the EU could be reformed. And look at how the EU dealt with the Greek people who dared to stand up for themselves!
The Irish “liberal” (and liberals in general) like to see themselves as open-minded, high-minded, considered, righteous, progressive and agrees with aspects of both left and right. They consider themselves as having common sense and like to “get things done”. They see themselves as representing the reasonable, balanced view, that considers everyone’s interests in a practical way. In this way the liberal could be framed as representing the best of both worlds, the happy middle-ground, but in doing so, it is really nothing; they understand neither the forces driving capitalism, nor the experiences and interests of the working class; liberals are interested in improving conditions for others if possible, but not at the expense of their own privilege and position. Generally, the positions they do help to improve are those who are already privileged or wealthy. So they are tacitly in favour of privilege, class division, hierarchy and inequality. The liberal respects hierarchy and division as long as they are in on it, mingling amongst it. Look at the middle-class (generally liberal) professions in the legal and corporate areas for example. The liberal’s fair-mindedness is so fragile, that when their position or interests are challenged they denounce the majority of voters of an entire country as stupid and racist when the vote’s result is not to the liberal’s liking, whereas the Marxist actually analyses it.
What about this for back-handed racial and class-based condescension from actor Jeremy Irons:
We have a history of immigration. We are made up of Anglo Saxons, Normans, Celts, Vikings, West Indians, Pakistanis, you know, thank God for them – you can get a pint of milk at eleven o’clock at night most places
Yes, it’s fun to work until eleven o’clock at night. “We’re just glad you could get your pint of milk Mr. Irons, Sir.”
Liberals see socialism as misguided, unreasonable, unnecessary and dangerous. They bar the doorways to this progressive alternative for human-kind, and then they wonder why the far-right reactionaries are gaining followers and influence through the window. Liberals prop up institutions like the EU, which are antagonistic to the interests of the working class, they under-mine credible leaders on the left, such as Jeremy Corbyn who have always opposed the EU, and then they are astonished that the politicians taking the lead are opportunist, populist, nationalist and racist!
Now, liberals should ask themselves – is this the extent of liberalism?
I’ll leave it with Sir Bob Geldof, who, in many ways sums up the “principles” of the modern liberal.
‘I’ll shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right to get where we need to be.’ (Irish Times)
And in regard to having principles, Geldof, referring to Jeremy Corbyn whom he said should step-down despite Corbyn having a massive democratic mandate from Labour members:
‘He’s a principled man but if you’re the leader of a party you have to… park your own principles’
The liberal view: park your principles. Analyse nothing. Stand for nothing. Evil motivations must be considered too.
Results of the Brexit Referendum has dominated the narrative over the past 24 hours, through mainstream media and social media. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the points, observations and opinions on it, from an Irish point-of-view, which were posted on facebook and appeared on my feed.
The Referendum results have created a full-blown crisis in the UK and total panic in Brussels. Denmark and Holland will go next. The French elite will be under huge pressure to concede a referendum. The German establishment will be meeting frequently and in secret to prepare a Plan B, which will mean a serious restructuring of the Eurozone.
It was a revolt against the political establishment (Ed Miliband acknowledged this fact) and had Corbyn come out for LEAVE his party would have been in a very strong position. The Tories are wounded. Labour and others should demand an early election. Impossible to wait till 2020. And the election campaign should be waged fiercely for an anti-capitalist programme and fighting the Right on racism/xenophobia, etc. Mass campaigning of the sort that won Corbyn the leadership is the way forward.
PS: After I debated Varoufakis he came and whispered in my ear: ‘Tariq, don’t doubt that if there is a Brexit, I won’t be shedding any tears.’ Time for him to say it in public…
Corbyn had an opportunity to stand up to the right-wing in his own party and put forward a principled Left and socialist position on the bosses’ club that is the EU. If he had, he would have been vindicated by the popular anger of the working class.
Instead, Corbyn and others on the Left capitulated. To quote Brendan O’Neill, the Left threw their “lot in with the very people it was founded a few hundred years ago to challenge: kings and tyrants and other benign guardians of the stupid people.”
Why? Because they were so frightened of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage that they sided with the Tories and EU to keep them in check? Cowards. Cowards who have abandoned the idea that working class have agency and can defend its own interests without having to rely on the benevolence of its enemies.
There’s a reckoning coming and it’s now time to rebuild a mass socialist alternative that stands in the legacy of Tony Benn and Bob Crow. It’s up to Corbyn et al now to decide which side they want to be on.
Via a Facebook user:
One thing is clear: The decision of Corbyn, the Labour left, and much of the wider left to support a Remain vote in the EU referendum was an incredible political own goal.
The referendum showed massive working class anger and disaffection. Had they argued for a leave vote, they could have dramatically changed the debate, and been well positioned to benefit from the enormous instability this will cause within the Tory government.
Instead, they sided with the establishment and the capitalist class. In doing so, they allowed UKIP and the populist right to be the main voice of people’s discontent and allowed the debate to be focused to a significant extent on immigration with no effective means of combatting anti-immigrant sentiments.
And of course, taking a remain position hasn’t stopped the Blairites and the media from blaming Corbyn for the result and looking for his head.
And what did they do it all for? To defend the anti-democratic, neo-liberal, racist EU austerity project.
There will now be a political crisis and a major discussion about what kind of exit should happen; it is still possible to cut across and challenge the anti-immigrant right and their narrative. But it would have been a lot easier if the left had held its nerve and stuck to its principles on the EU from the start.
Another Anonymous Facebook User:
In Barking and Dagenham, where less than half of the population now identify as white British, 62% of people voted to leave. In neighbouring Newham, one of the poorest and also the most ethnically diverse area of the country, 47% voted to leave.
Difficult decision to make I’ll admit. Big business, TTIP etc on one side, racist fuckers leading on the other. The left should have properly backed breaking from Europe to take the arguments away from the bigots.
One thing that is clear is this morning is hilarious, “the markets”, the banks, big business have gone demented because of a democratic decision made by an actual population of people, imagine that? Pity the head bangers are heading up the Leave side. And all racists across Europe are going to jump on the bandwagon and raise their profile through this decision. The Left across Europe needs to get its shit together to channel this decision in the correct direction and demonstrate the real reasons this decision is important to stop the neo-liberal agenda of the European project.
A social Europe based on solidarity YES
A Europe based on controlling populations and pushing an economic agenda NO
Ugh, Capitalists … :
Huey P. Ashmore:
People going on about how Brexit is a victory for backward racists like Farage should probably remember that the EU is paying the quasi-dictatorship of Turkey a 3 billion Euro bribe to block Syrian refugees coming into Europe with military force.
Ruth Coppinger TD:
Media and establishment shocked by Brexit. The left case against the undemocratic and neo liberal EU was not as widely publicised as it would have been had Corbyn and the left made it, but those are factors in the large working class turnout that delivered the result. We need a Europe for the millions, not the millionaires.
During a conversation with an acquaintance recently, I mentioned that we hear a lot about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Ireland through our media, but virtually nothing about Bernie Sanders, as if Trump and Clinton were the only two campaigning for the US presidency. The fact that we don’t hear about Sanders seemed innately important to me and I was (and am) concerned by it.
“It doensn’t really matter though, we can’t vote for them anyway”, was his quick answer. His reply seemed at first quite clever due to its quickness and his assured tone, but it left me dissatisfied. It dismissed my concerns as irrelevant. I was irked by his off-handedness to the issue and the concerns one may have about it. “Surely, this is an important and relevant issue?” I thought to myself. At the time, I could not think of a response quickly enough (I was heading out with other friends for a few social drinks and I had not much time to talk). I knew it was an important thing that we hear about Sanders – it seemed instinctively important – but I had never really given any thought to why it is, and so I could not think of a quick answer to the argument that “it doesn’t really matter” to Irish people. “Why does it matter?”, I asked myself.
So why then, is it important for people outside of the US to hear about Bernie Sanders and his ideas, as well as Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s? It is because Sanders represents a political alternative which is relevant to us all, regardless of our nationality, if we come from an ordinary background. But this political alternative does not represent the interests of corporations and powerful interests in the US or elsewhere around the world.
Sanders has the potential to inspire the Irish working class, to influence our ideas and represents how the working class across the world are actually connected by these common interests. Much of what Sanders says, is reflected in what Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger, et al say in Ireland, or what Jeremy Corbyn says in Britain; despite some political differences, all their arguments rotate around the broad idea of socialism and a re-working of how we organise the running of our society.
The fact that socialism is being discussed in the context of the US presidential election on such a large scale is surely an important thing to talk about too; the US, arguably the most advanced capitalist country on the planet.
Does it say something about our consideration of the Irish Revolution generally, that the rebels’ original writings remain obscure and are not available in any of the main Irish bookshops – you will not find them in Eason or Dubray anyway. One would find it difficult not to notice the great many books currently being made available about the 1916 period – some good, many bad, new re-tellings and recently re-published old ones – but these are mostly summaries, opinions of characters and ideologies, secondary sources, or second-hand accounts of events.
I have seen no publications of any of Patrick Pearse’s work for example – someone often described as a poet and play-write. Also conspicuous by its absence is James Connolly’s essential Labour In Irish History; its procurement is most likely to be gained only in back-alley partisan bookshops, from certain political groups, or on-line. Apart from the Revolution Papers why is there no complete re-publications of anything written by Arthur Griffith? – a person who, although he did not participate in the Rising, was a prolific political writer of that time on behalf of Sinn Féin. I have my own opinions on why all of this might be, but here I am only raising the question.
Can we understand what the rebels intended without having read what they wrote? After all, Pearse, Connolly, and Griffith were very different politically and disagreed on fundamental issues, (Griffith was quite conservative, Connolly was a socialist). These stark ideological differences are not generally acknowledged (and I fear not generally realised) in an environment where those names, often mentioned in the same breath, are synonymous with the nationalist struggle against Britain and nothing else. It seems to me, that the current environment being promoted is one which acknowledges the characters of the 1916 period, and celebrates them, but does not encourage us to understand them.
In Ireland, the main national newspapers will list the results of virtually every football match in Irish, English and Scottish football leagues – great! But, I have often found it strange, even ironic, that results of polls published in the same newspapers will list only the top four or so mainstream parties in the country.
This has always seemed undemocratic to me. Generally speaking, it is the left-wing parties who go unlisted. Only this week, for example, the AAA-PBP bloc was listed among “others” despite out-performing the Labour Party in the poll results, 9% to 7% respectively.
This is just one issue which emphasises both the contempt the left is held in by the media, and how seriously the media takes the political and democratic process. You may find the letter from Paul Murphy to the polling companies regarding this issue interesting.
A link to the original Facebook post from Paul Murphy, with an image of the letter can be found here.
Originally posted on my old blog ‘anotheranonymouslife’, March 24 2015… Lookng back, this article is a little “ranty” and was written hastily, but I think it’s nonetheless an important reflection of how it feels to be working on the minimum wage, or low wages.
On the Minimum Wage…
The Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) and SIPTU have called on the minimum wage to be raised significantly, initially at least to €11.45 per hour (from €8.65) with a view to making it €13 per hour. This is calculated at €13 per hour with a 39 hour week; obviously, having consistent hours are key to earning decent wages and maintaining a healthy work-life balance too.
According to some, a low minimum wage is said to be good for “creating jobs” and maintaining “economic recovery”, however…
Some call them poverty wages. Others might say wage slavery. On the minimum wage, it certainly feels like slavery under another guise. Indeed, after I wrote the draft of this article, a colleague of mine mentioned to me in conversation how he felt like a slave. He felt “shocked” that our employer has the gall to pay such low wages. He has a ‘level 8’ honours degree in tourism and hospitality. One cannot say that he hasn’t worked or studied hard, or that he is some sort of “layabout” who deserves no better. He is a qualified and ambitious person, typical of most workers.
There is some talk, that raising the minimum wage would be detrimental for the “recovery” at a time when the most important thing is ‘job creation’ – much of the time, the jobs created tend to pay poverty wages, often to highly qualified graduates such as my colleague.
But what is the point of such poverty-wages for those who earn them and for society as a whole, if there is not enough earned to be spent, saved or taxed in the so-called real economy? Remember, the detrimental impact of paying poverty-wages are not just restricted to those who earn them, as welfare supplements and allowances funded by tax payers are effectively adding to the profits of employers too, and taking away from the other public services that money could be spent on instead. Relatively better-off family members, housemates, friends and others are also impacted by poverty-wages, as those working on minimum wage are often dependent on their financial support and assistance.
Does society really benefit from the creation of such precarious positions of employment? What then is the point of such poverty-wages, except of course to make extra profits for the companies that employ people on them? At the end of the day, a minimum-wage worker is making massive profits for their employer at the expense of their own well-being. Where does it end? It is a downward spiral, a race to the bottom.
In actual fact, it is not true that low wage jobs in turn allow the creation of more jobs, or that higher wages negatively impact on job creation (also see The Seattle Times findings of the impact of the $15 per hour minimum wage on local restaurant businesses here). It has been shown (not just among the left, I had a right-wing college lecturer who argued the same point) that higher wages among the general population will result in more money being spent, boosting the economy, increasing profits, tax revenue and potentially create more jobs. It benefits almost everyone to have a fairer economy where everybody enjoys a comfortable standard of living, spending more and generating more taxes – benefits everyone except of course large businesses who may have to sacrifice some short-term profits and some control over their browbeaten and exploited workforce. By paying poverty wages, wealthy entrepreneurs, business owners and companies enjoy making massive profits on the backs of those workers.
Many who argue in favour of the continuance of a low minimum wage (or for removing a minimum wage altogether) cannot relate to it, because they have no experience of what it’s like, or, because they fear that economically it will undermine their more privileged position within society. They cannot empathise. It’s no good to say to someone like a radio presenter or tabloid journalist (who are so quick to share their opinions on such topics, despite their privileged positions) to “do my job for a week, and you’ll see what it’s conditions are like” because they still could not relate to it.
To truly empathise with minimum wage and so-called “flexible” shift workers, that person would not only have to work for that pay and in those conditions for several months on end, to really let it sink in, but would also have to completely abandon their previous career and position in society, and all their wealth and other trimmings. They may then realise that they cannot just go back to their more advantageous job – they are trapped in this stagnant position for an indefinite period out of necessity.
They would have to know what it is to not enjoy those connections they have among their family and friends (or class) that would act as an escape route to a better social position and career; to not enjoy the same level of nepotism (or “networking”); to not have the ability to take out loans because they don’t earn enough to be allowed (authorised) one by their bank; to not afford to advance their education meaningfully regardless of their skill or intelligence because at the end of the day, money talks, not previous grades; to not have a healthy sleeping pattern because they’re working a night shift and are back in later that day to work the afternoon; to not to be able to work a second job (as if that’s even an ethical option?!) because the hours of your first are so unpredictable that it would be unfeasible and the hours are so tiring that it would be physically impossible; to not have respect from customers, management, and large sections of society for the work that you do, because your job is deemed the “lowest in society”; to know what it’s like to hope every month that nothing in your car or home breaks-down because you cannot afford to fix them, let-alone keep up their maintenance; to know that it’s not just your car, or your home, or your clothes, but also your health that’s suffering, as you put your own physical and mental well-being on the long-finger, because you cannot afford the heating or medication, and you have not the time for a healthy diet or exercise; and to do all this for an unrewarding job because it has become the only option available.
The likes of George Hook and co., with their right-wing radio rantings cannot understand the hopeless mundanity relieved only by the incessant exhausting physicality of such low paid and under appreciated work – work which is paying for their economic “recovery”.
What is conveyed by a company who pays its employees poverty-wages despite massively increasing its profits? Does it not suggest that a company would pay lower if it were not legally obliged to pay an €8.65 minimum? Is it not an insult? Does the company seem uncaring toward the well being of its employees, lacking at least in its respect toward them, lacking in understanding for the level of service that it asks of them without giving them fair compensation for it? Does it even know that it’s causing such harm? Do the directors and board members look into what kind of living conditions €8.65 will entitle a worker to? Does it not say much of a company which is satisfied to only provide a minimum level of service which just about gets them by, rather than strive for the real excellence that it claims to charge customers for, by ensuring the working conditions that can provide for that excellence? Does that company see pride in its own purpose if it does not take pride in its staff? Or is that company happy to be a veritable Thénardier?
We know that some minimum-wage paying businesses have doubled their profits in recent years! However, regardless of how busy or quiet it is, employees will still be paid the same minimum wage.
So here’s the bottom line. We cannot afford our own reliable cars to get in and out of work, or get small bank loans to buy better ones (the public transport service to my job is awful, although that hasn’t stopped the price of a bus ticket being raised significantly). We cannot survive independently on such wages and conditions in Ireland. Without help, we cannot afford rent, groceries, healthcare, education – these are basic things, not luxuries, which should be available to all! In short, we cannot afford to live.
Originally posted on an older blog, May 201th 2015, ahead of the marriage equality referendum:
I love my mother, my girlfriend, my sister, and I have great respect for the women of Ireland and the role that they play in our community. Nevertheless, I do not believe that women should have a vote. It is not out of any sense of misogyny, sexism or bigotry – as many would have you believe – but stemming from reasoned argument and rationale based on what I believe is best for our nation and our loved ones, that I make this statement. I claim it with a heavy heart, because although I respect women and I have always stressed that the public should treat them with the care and appreciation that they deserve, notwithstanding, votes for women are detrimental to the fabric of our society.
What would a vote for women lead to? It would challenge the father’s role as breadwinner and undermine his chances of employment; it would undercut his pay and force him to work for less as he competes with women who inevitably earn less. This, of course, would be disastrous for the entire family. Indeed, it would be disastrous for the economy. Conversely, votes for women will undoubtedly encourage ever more women to work, as they will increase and assert their rights in the workplace to win more favorable employment conditions; this in turn would certainly threaten the continuance of their important role in the home; it will risk the child’s right to have a caring mother there. Surely we should put the rights of our children first in all of this? Every child has the right to a caring mother at home and the uniquely beneficial upbringing that having a mother at home provides. We need to take the rights of our children and future generations into consideration here. But I do not say this unsympathetically as a man; many women agree on these same reasons, and who could disagree with those women who are, after-all, at the coalface of the issue?
At the height of the suffragette movement over one-hundred years ago, I’m sure similar such arguments were made. But no matter how I frame it or illustrate it, if the above point-of-view was argued today, it would be dismissed by the Irish public as absurd, archaic and discredited (without meaning to neglect the fact that women still have much to struggle for in a largely patriarchal society). However, a similar argument, more or less, is being made today, by those on the “No” side of the marriage equality referendum, regarding the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be married and receive equal recognition in the eyes of the State for their relationships.
In recent days, support for the No side has risen slightly, judging by the polls. It has risen enough, at least, to be perturbing in how the No side, with the help of centrist media and debates, has influenced well-meaning people who might otherwise vote yes. It seems that they have managed to convey integrity by eloquently affirming that they are not homophobic or bigoted, as bourgeois commentators nod in agreement and concur, “well we weren’t suggesting you were”. No campaigners have developed their validity by making confusing and technical legal arguments (such as surrogacy) that bear no relation to the constitutional amendment being proposed; arguments which even confused gay-rights legal experts such as David Norris. The No side have tugged at our heart-strings by stressing the importance of our children’s “rights” in all of this, by imposing the conservative view that what is right for our children is nothing short of how the traditional catholic family is defined, and that it is a child’s “right” to have this family and nothing else (by doing so, incidentally, they have also offended the many members of one-parent families in Ireland, which are becoming more common). Advocates of a no vote have broadcast advertisements with their messages expressed by gay people, and how could we vote yes if those at the coalface are telling us to vote no? – who has better judgement on the issue than they?
What do we now think of similar “well-meaning” and “rational” arguments in favour of restricting votes from women, or working-class men, or to take a more extreme example, of those who persuasively debated against the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery in the U.S. in 1864? Is there still any relevance or credibility to their “well-meaning” arguments, or do we see them now as irrelevant and ultimately restrictive to the progress of humanity?
Let’s be clear about it. It does not matter how well-meaning the intentions of those on the No side are when propagating their position. It does not matter whether they consider themselves bigoted or homophobic or whether they are gay or straight themselves; the result of their argument is the same, and that is, the continuance of a discriminatory society in which to be gay; bigotry will have been given a shot in the arm. The effects for LGBT people in Ireland would be devastating, perhaps too devastating for heterosexual people to comprehend.
Let’s think about the results of this referendum on gay children if the result is a no. Will those gay children feel comfortable, confident and secure in themselves knowing that the society in which they live has said no to them? It would be devastating. As just a small example of that insecurity, take what journalist Ursula Halligan wrote as a 17 year old girl, afraid to admit she was lesbian:
“These past few months must have been the darkest and gloomiest I have ever experienced in my entire life… There have been times when I have even thought about death, of escaping from this world, of sleeping untouched by no-one forever. I have been so depressed, so sad and so confused. There seems to be no one I can turn to, not even God. I’ve poured out my emotions, my innermost thoughts to him and get no relief or so-called spiritual grace. At times I feel I am talking to nothing, that no God exists. I’ve never felt like this before, so empty, so meaningless, so utterly, utterly miserable.”
I cringe when I think that, as it is, I am effectively being asked to give other people my permission to get married. It is our potential opinions expressed on a ballot paper that stand between their happiness. It is against my nature and soul that such freedoms should be restricted from people in this day and age and place, and that I am put in a position by which I can choose to aid the continuation of such restrictions, or help them to win their rights. But while our collective opinion is fundamental in permitting people the same rights as the rest of us in this regard, and we are, for now, in a position to help them, I will be voting Yes to marriage equality.
Are people being bought out for a few extra crumbs by the Government coalition in this week’s budget? I’m fairly confident that most are not that naive or superficial. Polls are not very accurate, but at least they offer a rough indication of trends, and in one poll, 44% said they were unhappy with the budget, while 41% said they were “happy”. The rest had “no opinion”. However here are two comments from social media which left me astounded by their naivety:
I’m chuffed with the extra tax credit I’ll get. It’s allowing me to earn a little bit more before I get taxed. I started my business thanks to the social welfare, and S—— wouldn’t be where it is without it. I’ve a long way to go, but I’m satisfied for now. More arts funding would’ve been great, though.
Is the above comment an indication that the government’s use of this budget for electioneering purposes before a general election has worked in at least some cases? Perhaps that young commenter does not realise that all of their annual €550 “increase” will be wiped out in a couple of months should their landlord increase their rent by a couple of hundred euro; the Government has still not introduced rent controls and seems reluctant to. It would also be wiped out by an increase in the water tax to €500 – if that particular commenter chooses to pay it. Price increases may also null it; such is the nature of capitalism. I wonder if the commenter is insulated from the harshness of the current economic environment in other ways, that they may feel so confident in making such a comment? – I’m quite certain it does not reflect the broad opinion of the working class generally.
Another similar, more innocent comment below:
I’ve €264 more to play with next year…… Not great but
I’ll not turn it down
This comment conveys the sense that the commenter in question may not realise that they have not necessarily been “given” €264. That sum actually represents just some of the money that was taken from them a workers years ago through austerity. Concealing this point is the media’s portrayal of the budget as a “giveaway budget” despite the fact that it offers little, if anything, to people who earn average or below-average wages. Graduates, students and young unemployed people have been conspicuously ignored by it. It has served to increase the inequality gap even further too, and the modest increases that people have received generally should be viewed in that context. Those on low incomes will continue to suffer, while those on slightly higher incomes will be pushed further down, their temporary “benefits” received from this budget cancelled out.
James Connolly’s We Only Want The Earth came to mind:
Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
Our programme to retouch,
And will insist, whene’er they speak
That we demand too much.
’Tis passing strange, yet I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.
“Be moderate,” the trimmers cry,
Who dread the tyrants’ thunder.
“You ask too much and people By
From you aghast in wonder.”
’Tis passing strange, for I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.
Our masters all a godly crew,
Whose hearts throb for the poor,
Their sympathies assure us, too,
If our demands were fewer.
Most generous souls! But please observe,
What they enjoy from birth
Is all we ever had the nerve
To ask, that is, the earth.
The “labour fakir” full of guile,
Base doctrine ever preaches,
And whilst he bleeds the rank and file
Tame moderation teaches.
Yet, in despite, we’ll see the day
When, with sword in its girth,
Labour shall march in war array
To realize its own, the earth.
For labour long, with sighs and tears,
To its oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did the heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
Of loyal soldiers’ needs
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be we want the earth!