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Eoghan Harris: If Connolly came back he wouldn't be a Labour voter


The most surreal spectacle in recent times was RTE presenter Joe Duffy, on €400,000-plus a year, promoting James Connolly as Ireland's Greatest.

Surreal, because I am certain if Connolly came back today his first target would be public sector fat cats like Joe Duffy. And I say that with some confidence.

Until the Provos forced me to revise my views on the 1916 Rising, I was a Connolly socialist. My first major RTE programme was a drama-documentary called The Testimony of James Connolly -- with Niall Toibin playing the part of the great socialist -- for which I prepared by reading all of Connolly's books and pamphlets.

They left an indelible mark. Connolly did not solely blame the Brits for bad wages, but kept his beady eye on the Irish bourgeoisie. But while I regretted his decision to follow Pearse into the GPO, I still retain a strong sense of how his mind worked.

Last week, I found myself wondering what Connolly would make of the challenges facing the working people of Ireland. Straight off, we can say that, as a practical Marxist,

he would be pleased to see the State in control of the banks and the gardai going through the books of the bad boys of the Irish bourgeoisie.

But Connolly's beady eye would soon have moved beyond the broken-down bankers in search of the new privileged class. Naturally he would note a number of wealthy individuals who could be squeezed to pay higher taxes. But being numerate, and not being Vincent Browne, he would not believe that taxing these few wealthy fat cats would pull us through this crisis.

No, Connolly would be looking for a largish well-heeled class with lots of fat to spare. He would start with Lenin's question: who/whom? Who has it, and how do they politically protect it? And unlike the Labour Party, he would not have avoided the answer.

Right now, in the depths of this recession, in relative terms, the only really privileged class is the public sector managerial class, both working and retired, comprising politicians, senior civil servants, HSE and ESB executives, not excluding teachers and other professionals who are currently paid well above the rate of their European counterparts.

Like party members in degenerate socialist states the nomeklatura of the Irish public sector managerial class are the real rulers of the Irish body politic, a politically protected species enjoying high wages, permanent employment, low productivity. All paid for by the beasts of burden who work in the private sector.

Connolly would not be deflected from his analysis by the fact that the public sector has plenty of hard-working people, or by charges that he was dividing public from private sector workers. He would follow the hard facts under three headings: pay, pensions and permanent employment.

Let's start with pay. Peter Cassells, the respected former leader of the Ictu, says the Irish economy cannot recover until average public sector pay falls below that of the private sector. By that stern standard, last week's CSO figures make for grim reading.

Contrary to practice all over Europe, public sector earnings here are higher than private sector earnings, and have been so since the first round of public sector benchmarking in 2002. Both the CSO and the ESRI put the gap at about 20 per cent, after variations in age and qualifications are taken into account.

The gap is not going away. In the 12 months to the end of June, private sector hourly earnings amounted to €19.32 while public sector hourly earnings stood at €28.81. That's a gap of nearly €10. As well as being wrong it is also why we are not recovering.

Connolly would find the same story in pensions. In the public sector 100 per cent of employees have pensions -- which are largely paid for by private sector workers, of whom only 40 per cent have pensions, most of them pretty poor pensions too. But this blatant injustice is only the tip of the iceberg.

A private insurance broker's report showed that apart from the €5.4bn which private sector workers then paid towards public sector pensions, they also paid €2.3bn in retirement payments to public servants. As retired civil servants are living longer, this gap is also growing -- it has trebled over the last 10 years.

Class struggle is always connected to wages and conditions. Tasc and other trendy "socialist" bodies, supported by economists (who are also part of the public sector class) try to conceal these contradictions. But the hard fact is that the pay and pensions gap is growing between public and private sector workers -- particularly at the lower levels of pay in the public sector. So much for solidarity.

Connolly, like Marx, believed that every political party is the party of a class. But uniquely, the minority Irish public sector managerial class maintains not just one party but five parties to protect it!

That is why last week all five parties conspired to cover up that there was no need for heavy taxes or cuts in health if they were prepared to take on the public sector unions by cutting either public sector pay or pensions or numbers.

Last week, in the lead-up to the Budget, all five parties failed to follow up on Ed Walsh's statement that if we benchmarked public pay against Northern Ireland we could save €15bn. It's easier to take on the sick than the public sector unions.

The leading party which protects the public sector class is the Labour Party. Although individual Labour Party realists like Sean Sherlock, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn are on record as saying that the public sector scandal has to stop, Eamon Gilmore will give no commitment to cutting public sector pay or pensions or numbers.

Last week, on Morning Ireland, in the spirit of Connolly socialism, I called for a leadership levy of 10 per cent on the political and managerial public sector class, by which I mean the Government, the legislature, and the judiciary, followed by the fatter parts of the public sector -- higher civil servants, ESB executives and university professors.

While I am waiting for a response, let me ask the five parties two rhetorical questions.

First, why are you trying to distract us with a fake debate about spreading the pain rather than focus on the fundamental issue of public sector reform?

Second, how can you stand over the situation highlighted by Mary Harney last week? She told us that out of every €100 she had to spend on health, she could not touch €70 which was earmarked for pay, so she had to make her cuts in the remaining €30. Yet not one of you suggested cutting salaries to save the sick.

This would make Connolly's blood boil. It makes my blood boil. And I believe that slowly and surely it is making the blood of the private sector workers boil. Accordingly I believe that all the major parties are living on borrowed time.

At some point, between now and the next General Election, the private sector workers will produce their own political party. If I were a younger man, and in better health, I would help found it. I might even suggest it be called the Workers Party.

Sunday Independent