Monday 15 July 2019

Chairman Quinn, time to let a hundred high-hats fume

Senior public workers who are unhappy with their lot should be subject to competition, writes Marc Coleman

Dear Comrade Quinn, In a spirit of solidarity -- but also concern -- I write to you in support of the revolutionary work you are about to begin. On Saturday before last I met you in Sandymount as I went about my Trinity Seanad canvass.

After exchanging greetings with you, I couldn't help recalling your well-known admiration of Mao Tse Tung in your younger days. Those long garden paths in Sandymount make canvassing there a bit of a long march and the Great Helmsman was on my mind quite a bit.

Not long after meeting you, I met a man whose son had lost a modestly paid but crucial job; a scientific research position in Trinity College, which had been axed because, as his father -- also a former Trinity graduate and employee -- explained, the college was unable to cut excessive academic and administrative salaries because of the Croke Park deal.

If one thing proves we need a revolution in the public sector, it is the fact that a college head librarian can earn more than €140,000 while at the same time science research positions are being axed. And yet you chose to begin that revolution by targeting those who earn the least and work the hardest.

So when last Friday Ryan Tubridy announced that he would be supplementing his €530,000 salary -- funded by we, the proletariat -- I began formulating a few Maoist principles of my own. Principles that could be applied in the revolution to come.

Some weeks ago, you decided to preserve the National University of Ireland. Last week you said you had no opinion about whether hundreds of quangos, whose mandarins earn many times a teacher's salary, should be abolished. And yet yourself and two other great helmsmen of the left -- Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin -- were quick to inform the frontline workers of the public sector that they faced pay cuts.

But what about those mandarins, including those working for Brendan Howlin, who last year exempted themselves from public sector pay cuts applied to front-line workers? Or heads of our many Vocational Educational Committees? Or hospital consultants who supplement public incomes with private earnings? Or university professors -- a class whose apparatchiks are well represented in your party -- for whom six-figure salaries are insufficient and must be supplemented by earning more money at the bar or in the Seanad?

In chapter 17 of his Little Red Book, Mao had this to say: "It is the duty of the cadres to serve the people. If the people's interests are not served by the cadres then their work is useless". It is time, comrade, to renew your past adherence to Maoism and apply these principles with iron determination. But let us not indulge too much in our own jargon. If we are to advance the interests of the proletariat, let us form a narrative they can understand. Given the weekend's big news, and to make Maoist principles accessible, I have come up with a simple idea with a name everyone can grasp: I call it the "Tubridy Test".

The Tubridy Test takes every public service job where the pay and pension level has to be re-assessed and asks three basic questions: How vital is it to real public need, is the person doing it fully dedicated and how easily can they be replaced relative to other positions?

As you consider each in turn, it will become clear to you that beginning a productivity drive with teachers is an ideological error of monumental proportions. The true proletariat of the public sector, teachers do the work that is closest to the real needs of the people. Whereas parents don't give a damn how good or bad their kids' university lecturers are, the quality of their primary and secondary teachers is one of their main concerns.

And as any good socialist accepts, the judgement of the people is always right. And while both teachers and lecturers do more work than their contracted teaching hours, teachers start from a core of 30 hours a week, whereas lecturers start from a core of often as little as 10. And yet lecturing salaries are a multiple of teaching salaries.

The justification for this -- attending seminars and writing papers -- in some cases justifies the differential. But as often as not it doesn't, and however fascinating such work is to themselves and their peers, a clear re-ordering of educational spending priorities is clearly needed: building new campuses while children are learning in prefabs is not the socialist way.

What about the second part of the Tubridy Test?

While some work over the summer break, no teacher or nurse that I know simultaneously works as a barrister or sits in the Seanad -- our teachers are fully dedicated to their jobs. Contrast this with hospital consultants who supplement far higher salaries with income from private practice, not to mention public broadcasters who also run production companies, despite their income coming from licence fees and a €55m transfer from Social Welfare (at a time when welfare is being cut).

The Labour Party may be stuffed with these apparatchiks from the chattering classes. But that is no justification for a policy of double standards which targets our frontline staff whilst leaving those apparatchiks untouch-ed. And just as the HSE bars its staff from running for election, you should now ensure that henceforth the same also applies to those whose positions are funded by HEA.

This is not to say that academics have no role in public debate. On the contrary, this column has praised the likes of Constantin Gurdgiev and Brian Lucey for their factual and non-taxpayer funded contributions to analysing our crisis.

More recently, the 'We the Citizens' initiative has shown how, with funding from philanthropic donations, public servants can make a spirited contribution to public service without running for office. But the sordid double-jobbing at the top of our public service is a million miles away from this and should cease.

We turn to the third part of the Tubridy Test. Compared to third-level lecturing positions with comfortable working conditions (one's own office for instance) and a far higher social status, there would be far fewer takers for teaching positions in primary and secondary schools, where the conditions are more stressed and the hours more intense.

Likewise, while Tubridy is undoubtedly a charming, talented and good-looking TV presenter, there is no shortage of such people in Ireland who, after some training and branding, could do just as good a job for a much lower salary. The fact that Ryan has to look abroad to get the kind of money he wants proves it.

So, as Mao said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom": Let us make all those in top public sector positions who are dissatisfied with their lot compete for their jobs in the open market with those willing to work for less. Then we will see who really serves the needs of the people.

Marc Coleman is a candidate for Seanad Eireann on the Trinity College panel www.marccoleman.ie

Sunday Independent

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