I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
Tomorrow will see the first of three scheduled days of strike action by workers in Marks and Spencer. I and the Socialist Party fully support the action being taken by the over 2,000 MANDATE and SIPTU members in Marks and Spencer across 17 locations starting tomorrow.The changes in conditions imposed by the company without agreement are catastrophic. The closure of a defined benefit pension scheme which was in surplus to the tune of €17 million is the most serious of the attacks and rightly has been a key focus of the dispute. This attack has been accompanied by the elimination of the Christmas bonus, a cut in Sunday and holiday premia and changes in company structure that will curtail career progression for most staff.
It is no wonder then that the ballot for action obtained 94% in favour. This is not a company making a loss but simply reduced profits in the context of the crisis. Not wanting to waste a good crisis they have gone on the attack to restore profit levels by robbing M&S workers of hard won conditions. They have contemptuously refused the union access to their books so that their business case for these cuts can not be challenged in detail.
The trade union movement as a whole and the wider community where the stores are located must support these workers. The objective of this strike action and the necessary follow up days of action is to hit the company hard and make them accept that they would be better off backing down and restoring the workers conditions to save themselves greater losses.Across the board in all sectors of the economy there has been a concerted attack on occupational pensions with tens of thousands of workers seeing defined benefit pensions closed down whether or not the fund is in crisis. The Socialist Party calls for the right to be taken away from employers to close or alter pension schemes. There is a clear need for a state wide single defined benefit occupational pension scheme that will allow the economically active population support those in retirement. To fully achieve such a system that would guarantee a decent retirement for all we need to implement socialist policies that could resolve the unemployment crisis and fully unleash the economic potential in all working class people.
The bill which Senator Quinn intends to table is an affront to the right of workers across all industries to strike to protect their pay and conditions. The bill is dressed up as guaranteeing service, but is in effect a ban on the rights of ESB workers to withdraw their labour. While he intends it to be based on electricity and water, it will be quickly seized upon by bosses in all sectors to curtail the rights of their workers.
During the crisis an erosion of people’s democratic rights has taken place through the use of instruments like the Fiscal Treaty, the six and two packs. This bill follows that trend in trying to curtail the rights of workers to oppose neo-liberalism. The bill wuld put Ireland on a par with a dictatorship with workers possibly going to prison for up to 5 years if they dare to take strike action.
Despite what the likes of Senator Quinn, IBEC and ISME think, the fact is that it is workers who hold the power in any company, by removing their labour they can shut anywhere down. Senator Quinn would now like to remove this right from workers. He has taken up the mantle of William Martin Murphy for the 21st Century. The right to withdraw your labour is key in defending terms and conditions of workers. Should this bill become law it would allow an accelaration in the race to the bottom across the economy.
The ESB workers will receive the backing of the majority of people who have seen their own pensions being mismanaged, raided and had their living standards lowered because of the austerity measures being inflicted to finance the bailing out of bankers and bondholders.
The right to strike was won through decades of struggles against exploitation by workers and trade unions. In this city 100 years ago, workers were locked out of their jobs because they demanded the right to join a trade union of their own choosing, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions should organise a protest in opposition to this bill to defend the right of workers to strike.
I am in Crete today to observe the appeal of Mark Marku. Mark, an Albanian national, married to an Irish woman, has been sentenced to prison for 18 months for a series of armed robberies and car robberies.
There is conclusive evidence that Mark was not even in Greece for a number of the crimes that he was convicted of. Mark Marku was in Ireland when three of the seven armed robberies he was convicted for took place, he has alibis, flight records and affidavits that can prove this, but these were disregarded by the prosecution and the judges.
Amazingly, the prosecution failed to even provide any evidence for 11 of the 16 charges brought against him.
At the trial three witnesses claimed to identify Mark Marku by face and body type in three separate robberies, although Mark Marku is 178cm tall, of medium build with no particular or rare physical features, and all of the witnesses confirmed the raiders wore masks making it impossible to identify the perpetrators of the robberies by their facial features.
A DNA report claiming to have found Mark’s DNA on a pair of rubber gloves was used to convict Mark of a robbery on the 5th of June 2010 (a date he can prove he was in Ireland). Of nearly 100 items tested, the search and seizure report for the glove is the only one that does not exist, so the location, date and time of their discovery cannot be confirmed.
The Irish Innocence Project is also supporting Mark and will also be present at the court case today.Mark’s case is clearly an incredible miscarriage of justice. His family have been campaigning tirelessly to see justice done. I hope that today we will see that in the court in Crete and Mark will be back with his family for Christmas.
A website detailing the case and campaigning for justice for Mark has been set up by his family and is available here
For an update on the appeal please follow Paul Murphy’s twitter account @paulmurphymep
The National Transport Authority have announced that 10% of Dublin Bus routes as well as some Bus Éireann routes in Waterford and Cork will be privatised.
Experience internationally clearly demonstrates that the sell off of routes will undermine the service, jobs and working conditions. The basis upon which a private bus company operates routes will be based, in the final analysis, on profit. No amount of external regulation and subvention of profits by the tax payer will change that fact.
These companies will gain their competitive edge and will maximise their profits on the basis of inferior pay and conditions for their workers and on the basis of whatever other skimping on service delivery that they can get away with. Many of the companies will also not recognise trade unions.
Dublin Bus staff are well within their rights to organise to prevent privatisation and the reinforcement of the race to the bottom. Privatisation by progressively outsourcing routes stores up other problems for the workforce. For example, by doing this Dublin Bus’s staff levels will be lowered over time which, as with other semi state companies, fuels a crisis in the company pension scheme.
An alliance of Dublin Bus staff and communities affected by the privatisation of routes should be fully explored with a view to campaigning against privatisation. This attack on the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann service must be made a major issue in the run up to local and European elections in May.
Instead of privatisation we need massive public investment in public transport with quality and free services for all.
Bryan Dobson’s reference to peaceful protesters, live on national television, as ‘idiots’ was an absolute disgrace. Despite the fact that the interviewee didn’t seem too bothered by them, Dobson cut the interview short. It highlighted the total lack of impartiality which pervades the media and the majority of media presenters.
The protesters were taking part in a demonstration in support of a motion calling for the government to ask the European Central Bank and the European Commission to write down the bank debt which was scandalously put onto the shoulders of the Irish people. The motion was proposed following the magnificent work of many groups including the Ballyhea Bondholders who have marched every week for a number of years. I have received a petition from them in Brussels for the Petitions Committee in the European Parliament.
The media has played a key role through news items, papers, talk shows and supposed serious political programmes in supporting the government’s Thatcherite ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) propaganda and cheer leading their austerity. Any political or economic alternative presented is undermined and attempts are made to ridicule it. Presenters of shows, Pat Kenny for instance, never even puts up a façade of impartiality and instead attacks any left or socialist ideas.
During the crisis the media has consistently underplayed the numbers on protests, or not given them any prominent position on the news. For instance the anti-household charge protest outside the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in 2012 was a major protest. It was reported as the main news item in much foreign press, yet in Ireland it was relegated to the number two or three item on RTÉ news.
This has exposed the media as not being a neutral observer. It will take its ideological lead from the interests of the establishment, the government and big business. A media which serves the interests of working class people is desperately needed to give an alternative voice.