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.
Gay Mitchell and other Irish MEPs from the pro austerity parties are talking up this report. The report does make reference to a retrospective bank deal for Ireland, however what MEP Mitchell fails to mention is what else is in this report.
The report is not fundamentally critical of austerity or the role played by the troika. In fact, the report is supportive of the bank bailout in Ireland and states that a burning of the bondholders was not possible.
This amounts to a retrospective endorsement of the bank bailout. I would challenge the Labour Party’s MEPs to clarify their position on this. Looking at the amendments that Labour’s Emer Costello supported it would seem that they are in favour of this view. Is this yet another example of Labour’s way actually being Frankfurt’s way?
What is glaringly absent from the report is a real analysis of the impact of the troika. The upsurge in mass unemployment and poverty is not mentioned in the report. Neither is the massive transfer of wealth from working people to major corporations and the super-rich mentioned.
Gay Mitchell and other Irish MEPs are cynically talking up this report to give people a false hope in the government’s strategy on bank debt. They hope by doing so that people will give Fine Gael and Labour the benefit of the doubt in the upcoming elections. People should not be hoodwinked. The reality is that the government’s strategy on bank debt is in tatters and will not deliver.
It is clear that there is no chance of a deal on Irish bank debt that would result in the burden of the debt being taken off the shoulders of working people in Ireland. Any deal would still involve austerity and neo liberal restructuring of the economy which will see further poverty and exploitation for working people while the rich get richer.
How serious is the European Parliament about getting to the truth of the NSA scandal? Let’s hear from Edward Snowden himself.
In March, the European Parliament will vote on a report from the Parliament’s specialised Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) that deals with the scale of the NSA spying scandal and its impact on the fundamental rights of EU citizens.
An amendment to that report which called on the EU to grant political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden was defeated when the Committee voted on the report on 12 February. This is scandalous. Edward Snowden, who sacrificed his own career, wellbeing and safety and without whom the scale of the NSA spying would have remained unknown to the general public, is now not even mentioned in the report!
I urge everybody to take a close look at the vote on this important report and to judge for themselves in the run up to the European elections what politicians to trust when dealing with our fundamental rights and privacy.
Hearing Snowden or not?
The Committee had also planned an interactive hearing through a live video link with Edward Snowden which would have given Members of the European Parliament the possibility to pose direct questions to Edward Snowden. Given reasonable worries about Edward Snowden’s safety, Snowden did not agree to a live video link as this would possibly allow for his location to be tracked.
He did however agree to a recorded message in which he would answer all the questions that political groups and Members of the European Parliament posed to him in written form and in advance of recording the message. What could have been a good solution is now put into jeopardy by the conservative right-wing in the European Parliament that tries to block the hearing. They are arguing, according to our sources, that a recorded message isn’t in line with the decision taken of having an “interactive hearing”. It seems that the Civil Liberties committee will vote on whether or not and when a hearing with Edward Snowden will take place at its next meeting on Monday, 24 February in Strasbourg.
People in Europe have a right to hear from Edward Snowden himself, the European United Left (GUE/NGL) group, of which I am a member, in the European Parliament will argue strongly in favour of this hearing to go ahead.
According to an article published in the Guardian on 12 February, “The Americans are strongly opposed to Snowden testifying and MEPs say there has been enormous pressure from EU governments on the Parliament to drop or dilute the report, which is to go before the full chamber in March”
This seems to be the real reason behind the conservatives’ choice to insist on a de facto non-choice of having an interactive hearing which puts Snowden’s safety at risk or to have no hearing at all and to miss an opportunity to get important answers of the main witness of the NSA spying operation before the report is voted on in the Parliament in March.
Interestingly, the March plenary meeting of the European Parliament coincides with the next round of negotiations for an EU – US free trade agreement (TTIP) which negotiators on both sides do not wish to see endangered by the “annoying” NSA spying revelations. Business as usual continues -but only as long as we let them.
Events and protests are planned to mark and oppose TTIP as it will have adverse effects on workers and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.
An EU-US summit is taking place on 26 March in Brussels and will be attended by President Obama. An excellent opportunity to show solidarity with Edward Snowden, express our anger with the NSA surveillance and to oppose the continuation of the TTIP negotiations.
The Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament are meeting tonight in Strasbourg to vote on the draft report by Othmar Karas (EPP) and Liem Hoang Ngoc (S&D) on the role of the Troika in the programme countries. I was my group’s joint spokesperson on a related report in the Employment and Social Affairs committee and participated in a delegation of MEPs that visited Ireland in the preparation of the report.
To a large extent the report is a rehash of the same arguments used to defend the handing over a blank cheque to banks and bondholders. MEP Mitchell is on record supporting an amendment to say that a ‘bail-in’, forcing the bondholders to pay even just a section of the debt, was “not an option”. But why wasn’t it an option? Because the government and the Troika preferred to make Irish workers bleed rather than going against their friends in the financial sector. The Troika and the Irish government should own-up to their own policies by recognising them for what they are: clear political choices.
This report fails to show the real impact of austerity on working people. The reality is that, while big business increased its profits by 21% since 2007, a social catastrophe was created which unleashed, mass unemployment, historically high emigration and a sharp rise in poverty.
I raised the issue of rising inequality and worsening living conditions in amendments I tabled. I also pointed to the realities behind the much talked about ‘return to sovereignty’ and the unsustainability of the Irish debt.
This report does not offer any alternatives to the failed austerity policies. Without this any sort of economic growth would mean nothing in terms of the living conditions of the vast majority of workers. We need to repudiate the bankers’ debt, end austerity and implement radically different policies to end the misery of the millions of workers in Europe and Ireland.
Despite all of the government’s spin and distortion of the facts, the JobBridge scheme has been thoroughly discredited and is widely recognised as the exploitation of free labour. Nonetheless, it, together with similar schemes like Gateway, remains central to the government’s so-called strategy to deal with unemployment. Unemployed people are presented with a choice – work for free or in extremely low paid precarious work, or emigrate. ScamBridge.ie has been exposing the reality of JobBridge exploitation for 17 months now and arguing for it to be scrapped.
Today, we have set out a comprehensive and costed alternative to JobBridge and related schemes, called the RealJobs programme, based on the right to education, meaningful training and decent work. By eliminating third level education fees entirely and increasing the accessibility of the Back To Education Allowance and the student maintenance grant, third level education would become a viable option for many more people. With an overhauled apprenticeship programme, eliminating the fees that have been introduced and guaranteeing a minimum wage and employment rights, workers could receive appropriate on-the-job training that is recognised with a qualification and be paid for the work they have done. The centre-piece of the RealJobs programme is a major programme of public investment to create 150,000 jobs. Giving those who are unemployed a real choice means guaranteeing decent work, the RealJobs programme therefore proposes eliminating zero-hour contracts and introducing a minimum wage of €13 an hour.
Today we have also relaunched the ScamBridge.ie website, focusing it as a user-led campaigning website to empower people with the tools they need to become online campaigners and advocates against JobBridge. We are using cutting-edge campaign and community building software, perfected in US elections, and never before used in Ireland, in particular focusing on our petition to scrap JobBridge and demand a RealJobs programme.
Every user can use the site to canvass those they are connected to through facebook and twitter, and keep track of how many signatures they have collected online, and who they have recruited. We hope the new site can help fully mobilise the huge support we are getting, turning people from passive supporters into active advocates and leaders. This will be combined with street organising activities, stalls, petitions and protests outside JobBridge exploiters to build pressure on this government to scrap JobBridge.
SIGN THE PETITION HERE http://www.scambridge.ie/
It turns the dole queue into more of a police line-up, unemployed people must now fear attending social welfare offices in case they are fingered to take part in one of these schemes or face having their welfare cut. On top of this, we will see the so-called ‘Youth Guarantee’ introduced which will force young people into JobBridge or face having their dole cut to €75 a week. Yet again we have the Labour Party going around waving this around as a solution to unemployment. By definition employment is working for a wage, what they are introducing is slavery.
I’m calling on Councils to pass motions opposing their Council taking part in Gateway. The trade unions must come out publicly and oppose this scheme as it will undermine the wages and working conditions of workers in Councils in particular and across th public sector.
Notice of Protest this Saturday: ScamBridge.ie protest against JobBridge exploitation at O2 this Saturday, 12pm at O2 on Henry St. opposite Ilac Centre.