Tuesday 11 December 2018

How to grab the biggest slice of the pie

One thing we don't talk about is class - and the mess our comfortable classes have made of the country, writes Gene Kerrigan

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Last week, we enjoyed the brawl in which the rugby fans from Terenure College squared up to St Michael's finest.

Each of the sides had sampled delights of the Donnybrook pubs. Suitably refreshed, they ambled forth to lash out with fist and boot, to demonstrate their ascendancy over the opposition.

A number of videos of this impromptu sporting event turned up. They showed the young fighters had a certain thuggish vigour, but a serious lack of technique.

I noted a line from the reporting of this bout on independent.ie: "Gardai say they are not investigating."

How very broad-minded of them.

There was a later report that some chaps from two other academies of excellence had a similar head-butting session next day. The guards, apparently, in one or the other of these events, "cautioned" the pugilists.

You have to wonder if such laudable tolerance would be applied to groups of lads from certain other localities, should they indulge in similar behaviour.

(I think we can agree that if it happened near Jobstown there would have been dawn raids and charges of organising an insurrection against the State.)

We don't talk much about class today. But it underlies the politics that shape society.

And today the political parties are careful about how they incite class prejudice. But they manage it, all the same.

Back in the 1960s, working-class discontent led to occasional strikes.

The media echoed the politicians' assaults on such workers, accusing them of holding the nation to ransom and neglecting the "national interest".

The trade unions were "reformed". The union bosses were allowed to sup at the top table, rubbing shoulders with ministers. Rank and file structures were kneecapped.

Today, the unions squeak, where once they roared.

Fine Gael back then attracted some fair-minded people who found the class inequalities distasteful. And they recoiled from the economic ignorance of their leaders. They urged a move towards economic planning and a "just society".

The traditional Fine Gael TDs thought such stuff weak-kneed, but it was used to give the party a bit of a shine at the next election. And, through the FitzGerald years, that kind of social liberalism was given the occasional outing.

Today, with the unions weak, the rich triumphant, the State in thrall to bankers, the class warriors are feeling confident.

Politically, they're strong, controlling both major parties, engaging in mock battles.

Under this political stewardship, those who thrive on shares, dividends and rents are doing very well. Much of their work has no social value whatsoever. Executive pay is whatever you can get away with.

The share of income going to those who live on wages is artificially depressed. Much work is deliberately made precarious.

There are about 750,000 in poverty. One in five of our households survives on a gross annual income of less than €19,484.

Hard work doesn't guarantee enough food to feed your family to the end of the week. Over 100,000 of those in poverty are working.

It's as though you should be grateful to get a job - it's a bit much to want a fair wage, too.

Housing is now an investment process, part of the gambling industry, rather than the provision of shelter. So, even many couples in decent jobs can't afford a mortgage.

People desperate for shelter are at the mercy of thugs who stack them in crowded, dangerous slum "apartments". The thugs insist on being paid in cash, and we know why that is.

Martin McMahon, who blogs at Ramshorn Republic, has documented the bogus "self-employed" condition imposed on building workers. They're forced to pretend to be running their own businesses so that employers can evade PRSI.

In 1998, around 16pc of self-employed were coerced into accepting that status falsely.

By 2007 it was 20pc, by 2013 it was around 40pc.

The Comptroller and Auditor General fought back. Today it's about a third.

The employers are, by these means, stealing up to €250m a year in PRSI.

When Leo Varadkar wanted to sell himself to the Fine Gael electorate, he set up a high-profile (and expensive) campaign that warned that "Welfare cheats cheat us all". And so they do.

But on a small scale, and the Department of Social Protection has preventive measures in place.

But attacking people on "welfare" plays well with the right-wing set. Thieving employers who fund their trophy mansions out of stolen PRSI may be far more socially harmful - but attacking them wouldn't stir the class hatred that solidified Mr Varadkar's support.

Today, with bodies littering the streets, the State is worried about the drug entrepreneurs (though the financial sector is doing its best to keep the cocaine trade going).

The State and the media weren't always concerned about the drug entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, working-class communities were devastated by heroin. Ignored by the State, working-class people were left alone to handle the crisis - the few guards who cared were deprived of numbers and resources.

From 1983, the Concerned Parents Against Drugs movement organised to force drug pedlars to give it up or move out of the area. This took huge organisation, months of checking they were correctly identifying the culprits. It wasn't a solution - it merely moved the problem elsewhere - but when you're scared for your children's lives you shift the problem, if that's all you can do.

They had to do the job themselves, when the State left them adrift.

And the media didn't help.

At one meeting in Dublin's south inner city, an organiser demanded that anyone here from the media stand up. We did, and got a lecture on demonising the community, and they were right.

For the politicians and media, what mattered was if Provos "infiltrated" the anti-drug movement.

And there were, I believe, Provos involved. But they weren't "infiltrating". That's where they lived. And, like others, they were concerned about their kids, about their neighbours' kids.

The central story was the devastation being wreaked on young working-class people - but that wasn't the story those in power were interested in.

And since such communities mightn't vote at all, and certainly wouldn't vote for the two large parties - screw them.

The comfortable classes aren't numerous enough to elect a government. So the right-wing parties need to hoover up a share of working-class votes. Which means they have to use coded phrases like "those who get up early in the morning".

For some, it's no more than a handy way to solicit votes. Others have serious delusions underlying their sense of superiority. They truly believe that the brickies and electricians and plumbers and nurses and clerks and drivers and bin-men and cleaners and retail workers who make this society work lie in bed half the day.

When the rich employ lawyers and accountants to find loopholes and dodge tax, they're exercising their legal entitlement. When the working class do it they are "gaming the system".

These people were directly responsible for the financial sector collapse of 2008. And the economic recession that followed. They kicked devastating holes in the health and housing sectors.

But you can't fault them when it comes to pride in their own worth, can you?

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss