It’s all quite surreal at times. Orwellian. It may be best to avoid the papers.
In my previous post, I wrote about how much of the American working-class, in general, reject the ideas of both Clinton and Trump. Where, then, does Trump’s support come from? In an earlier post I also wrote about how the middle-class is generally more conservative when it comes to things like inequality and climate change, and so members of this class are therefore more likely to be Trump supporters. The following passage from a recent Guardian column by Sarah Smarsh confirms this:
Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.
Mainstream media is set up to fail the ordinary American
Based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and available data, it appears that most of his voters this November will be people who are getting by well enough but who think of themselves as victims.
The column is well worth reading in full.
A thought terrifies me. There is a person standing in front of me, and I’m desperate to make him understand. I’m vulnerable, and I am dependent on his mercy. He doesn’t know me, and his attitude and actions towards me are compelled by a system, by society, by his own preconceptions, or a mixture of the above. I don’t want to cause harm, I just want to live quietly and get along like everybody else. Whether I can or not, is up to him.
It is awful to think that people can become so anonymous to each other. Ordinary individuals, with all of their aspirations, can care so little for other individuals in our everyday environment. Through various forces, otherwise decent, ordinary people have been led to believe that vulnerable people are the problem, and not the powerful few who egg us on.
It can happen to any of us, that we suddenly find ourselves at the mercy of others due to circumstances beyond our control.
Many of us experience relatively minor forms of bureaucracy which frustrate our everyday lives; the clerks at the banks, post office, welfare office, the hospitals, insurance company workers, solicitors, politicians, HR managers, and, perhaps most often, our bosses and colleagues at work.
But what about more extreme forms? Refugees fleeing war, innocent children whose homes are bombed, homeless people searching for shelter to sleep and money for food – what happens when these innocent people come up against the “rules” of an apathetic all-powerful system perpetrated and perpetuated by us on behalf of the powerful and privileged? For the victims, these “rules” take the human form of a customs official, an airforce pilot, a police officer. Pervading bigotry among other ordinary people, encouraged by the media and the economic-political system at large, exacerbates the whole mindless situation and intensifies the horrible downward spiral.
Leo Tolstoy wrote on this subject regarding a character who was faced with the prospect of execution before firing squad:
…obsessed with a single thought, a simple question: who had condemned him to death? Who was it?
It wasn’t the men who had interrogated him at the first session; clearly none of them had wanted to, or had the authority… who was it, then, who was punishing him, killing him, taking his life… with all his memories, yearnings, hopes and ideas? Who was doing this? And [he] felt he knew the answer: no one was.
…It was some kind of system that was killing him… taking his life, taking everything away, destroying him.
‘But who is doing it? [The soldiers of the firing squad are] all suffering like me! Who is it? Who?’
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.
DEPRESSION, I have no doubt, is a mental illness. However, throughout the past few years of recession, and the stories of suicide that that brought, and still brings, I feel that people need to recognise the part society plays in contributing – in quite a significant way – to this mental illness we call depression. I often read in newspapers and on social media, and hear in advertisements by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and radio interviews of the need to talk about depression. Talking about it is very good advice indeed, if one can find someone to talk to, but this merely treats the symptoms and not the cause of the illness. Can talking or being positive give an unemployed person their job back or enough money to make ends meet? Something more fundamental is needed.
People who suffer from depression or suicidal tendencies do not have themselves to blame for the illness they suffer from. As with other illnesses, there are external factors which have brought about the illness in the individual, which are beyond their control. In the case of depression, one does not just suffer from it for some random reason. There are tangible material reasons and social factors which have brought it about. Often this mental illness – depression – is brought about by the actions of others and society in general towards the victim. Suicide, from the perspective of people who feel isolated, or suffer from bullying or depression, or from financial hardship, appears to be a completely logical solution; they are ending their own suffering, and, sometimes, by committing suicide, they may think that they are ending the inconveniencing of others, which the victim may think he is contributing to. This is especially true in instances of financial stress, usually among working class males, who may feel a loss of independence and confidence, and may feel like a burden on their family and friends. Suicide is not a selfish act.
Look at what Robert Tressell wrote about suicide through the character Frank Owen:
‘…tonight Owen was not to read of those things, for as soon as he opened the paper his attention was riveted by the staring headline of one of the principal columns:
“TERRIBLE DOMESTIC TRAGEDY
Wife And Two Children Killed
Suicide of the Murderer”
It was one of the ordinary poverty crimes. The man had been without employment for many weeks and they had been living by pawning or selling their furniture and other possessions. But even this resource must have failed at last, and when one day the neighbours noticed that the blinds remained down and that there was a strange silence about the house, no one coming out or going in, suspicions that something was wrong were quickly aroused. When the police entered the house, they found, in one of the upper rooms, the dead bodies of the woman and the two children, with their throats severed, laid out side by side upon the bed, which was saturated with their blood.
There was no bedstead and no furniture in the room except the straw mattress and the ragged clothes and blankets which formed the bed upon the floor.
The man’s body was found in the kitchen, lying with outstretched arms face downwards on the floor, surrounded by the blood that had poured from the wound in his throat which had evidently been inflicted by the razor that was grasped in his right hand.
No particle of food was found in the house, and on a nail in the wall in the kitchen was hung a piece of blood-smeared paper on which was written in pencil:
‘This is not my crime, but society’s.’
The report went on to explain that the deed must have been perpetrated during a fit of temporary insanity brought on by the sufferings the man had endured.
‘Insanity!’ muttered Owen, as he read this glib theory. ‘Insanity! It seems to me that he would have been insane if he had NOT killed them.’
Surely it was wiser and better and kinder to send them all to sleep, than to let them continue to suffer…’
By the way, Tressell was not justifying familial murder, as readers of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists will know. Neither am I justifying it, and I don’t wish to be seen to here. I am merely trying to point out the pure logic behind suicide which may exist in the minds of people who are suicidal, and that that logic is created by events and circumstances in one’s life outside of their control. Those negative events and circumstances are created by society through how it is organised and operates.
Overcoming depression is not merely an existential excercise, as it is often portrayed (“You must be more positive”… “be optimistic”… talk to people”… “get a hobby”… etc.) but, like everything, it is a social issue. For example, look at the positive influence that kind, thoughtful, educated, passionate people can have on your personality and outlook if you are immersed with such persons for a period. Having such connections can be healthy. But such association cannot be taken for granted. It is not easy to develop if you come from a background of poverty, ignorance, and hardship which can perpetuate negativity and feelings of inferiority. On the contrary, such positive influences are more or less inherited if you come from a privileged background. Anecdotally, I have experienced this. I have had the good fortune to have been inspired and motivated by meeting such inspirational people and reap the confidence that comes from them and the knowledge they impart. Conversely, I have had the misfortune of being surrounded throughout much of my life by people of the opposite kind. Hence, for most of my life, I suffered from a lack of confidence, shyness and sadness, which led to feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.
I suffered from bullying as a young person, mostly at home, at the hands of my mother’s partner – my brother’s father – and, my mother, who would sadly and inevitably take his side in belittling me. Favouritism was used as a weapon by him too. He would praise my sister and give her preferential treatment in a way to isolate me from the rest of my family. They would claim I was “imagining things” if I said anything about how I was being treated. Years later, gaining my independence with a job and by getting away from him, I found that all of this bullying was based on his jealousy of me. Much of it was based on his sadness and dissatisfaction with life, and taking it out on me was his reaction to that. Was I suffering? Yes. Was I ill? Perhaps. But it was caused by these factors beyond my control. As soon as I gained financial and social independence from these conditions, I became a happier more confident, educated and motivated person. But the societal conditions which allowed me to get a job and go to college had to exist in order for me to do that. It was 2005 and Ireland had reached the peak of the so-called Celtic Tiger. The conditions created by the Celtic Tiger – high employment, lots of job opportunities etc. – were beyond my control. Age may have been a factor too. But consider this; since I had become unemployed and lost much of my independence and positive social connections that come with it, I have found that I have stumbled into the old dark places again.
One might argue that “you were pubescent; those hormones may have contributed to negative and confused feelings”. Indeed, age may have been a factor, it is true. I had turned 19 in 2005, I had developed as an adult and exited the tumultuous period of teenage years. This brought confidence and clarity of thought. I was in my first “proper” job. But consider this; since I had become unemployed and lost much of my independence and positive social connections that come with it around 2012, at 26, I have found that I have stumbled into the old dark places again familiar to me from the past.
I’m okay now. I am in an okay position and I have the education and experience which allows me to understand the world and myself a little better now. This might save me from falling utterly into depression, and get me through bouts of low-confidence and anxiety. But if I were in a worse job, or still unemployed, perhaps even my understanding of the world and things might not save me – it might even contribute to worsening feelings and thoughts. Who knows? But fighting spirit is always good, so is learning.
Although Irish society may not blame the victim as it used to, it now blames the disease, which is essentially blaming the victim in a less direct way. In a sense, “it is not your fault you’re depressed, but you are mentally ill”. We now simply blame the illness which has attached itself to the person and seem to suggest that it can be worked off as extra weight can be worked off through excercise, as if external factors are not an issue. The victim should “be positive”, “talk about it” etc. The one thing we certainly do not blame for others’ mental illness is ourselves. I have never read in a newspaper, or heard on the radio, or watched on television that a system, which prioritises profit and competition over people’s well-being, might contribute to suicide. According to the establishment, mental illness causes suicide, not capitalism. It’s akin to saying the bullet murdered the victim, not the person.
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!