the situation in Ireland

The Irish state has suffered extremely badly from the global
credit crunch and recession. During the late 90s and early 00s the
property sector of the economy grew to such an extent that at one
point it was worth 20% of GNP and provided approximately the same
amount of employment.This was based on a speculative bubble by which
rising property prices justified huge loans to developers and
consumers, which in turn led to higher property prices etc etc. The
credit crunch burst this bubble leading to near insolvency among all
the countries’ banks. The government responded by guaranteeing the
banks loans. However, the government had underestimated (in fact, had
been deliberately misled by the banks) the scale of the banks’
problems and this guarantee ended up being far more expensive than
they had imagined.

This huge expense combined with diminished tax revenues meant that the
government became itself insolvent and was forced to request a bailout
from the EU/ECB/IMF. This bailout came at a price. In exchange for
loans (charged at huge interest rates) the government would have to
embark on a savage programme of austerity. This meant wage cuts for
civil servants and cuts to social services.

This has now been the policy of the government for several years.
Austerity has not solved the unemployment problem however.
Unemployment has hovered around 14.5% of the labour force and is
concentrated among the youth. In addition, Ireland has again become a
country of net emigration, as more and more young people move to
Canada and Australia in search of employment.

The political level does not reflect the deep problems in society.
After the crash, the government was replaced by a new coalition
between the center right and the social democrats. However, this
coalition has essentially carried on the same policies of the previous
government (which in turn are the policies of the IMF/ECB) with a
different set of faces. The government remains popular despite the
austerity policies, indicating a high level of support for this
agenda. Notably, the parties which oppose austerity, Sinn Féin and the
United Left Alliance (a coalition of Trotskyist groups and
individuals) have significantly increased their popularity in the past
few years.

On the level of the radical left there are a few interesting
developments. First of all, there has developed an extremely strong
boycott campaign against one of the government’s new austerity taxes,
a so-called Household Tax, that would see every household paying an
additional E100 per year. The campaign is based around refusal to
register and refusal to pay. The hope is that if enough household do
this, the government will be simply unable to bring them all to the
courts.  The deadline for payment is the end of this month and so far
90% of households have not signed up. This indicates that the campaign
is very likely to win this round at least.

In terms of the traditional working class, there have been two
exciting occupations and some small struggles scattered around the
place. Workers at La Senza (a lingerie store) occupied their workplace
after they were informed that they were being let go and maintained
the occupation until they were promised that they would be paid their
wages in full. They were in turn inspired by a workers occupation of a
Vita Cortex factory producing foam. This occupation (by 32 workers) is
still ongoing as the staff attempt to secure a better redundancy
package than they are currently being offered.

In general working class opposition to austerity was cut short by an
agreement between the trade union leadership and the government which
agreed to certain levels of wage cuts. Some politicians have suggested
that these wage cuts were not enough and it is possible that this
agreement will be cancelled. Simultaneously, some unions are
suggesting that the agreement went too far and are independently
pulling out of it.

Another interesting development is the Unlock NAMA campaign which
promotes squatting of empty properties owned by the government. These
properties were bought from the banks by the goverment as part of
their bailout. The Unlock NAMA campaign is arguing that they should be
used to serve social purposes rather than lying empty as they do now.
This campaign is interesting because it has managed to draw many of
the same people who participated in the 15 May movement as well as
those who participated in the more sensible end of the Irish Occupy
movement.

On another level, one could also point to the increase in ideas of
self-management among a younger generation. There have emerged several
self-run artist studios and co-op projects recently. Nothing
particularly radical, but an interesting development nonetheless.

This doesn’t sound like very much and indeed it isn’t, compared to a
country such as Greece. In fact, Ireland has been praised as a
posterboy for austerity by its benefactors, as the government has been
able to implement policies that would be impossible in a country with
a more militant working class tradition. During the boom years, the
trade union movement allowed workplace based activism to die out in
favour of a more centralised style of negotiation. The problems with
this approach have never been clearer than they are now, as trade
union leaders agree to huge wage cuts on behalf of their members.

What does the future hold? I’m not sure. I think that the campaign
against the household tax will succeed at least, which will be a big
morale boost for the left. I think any serious activity by the trade
unions is unlikely, their back has been broken. What about the youth,
the revolutionary subject of Greece and Egypt? I doubt that they will
be enough. Emigration takes some of the pressure off the government,
as the young and angry move abroad to be young and angry in sunnier
climes. Those who remain will do what they can to make their own lives
better, but this is unlikely to lead to any kind of revolutionary
situation.