WHO IS GUILTY OF THE PENSION SWINDLE?

Brendan Ogle on why we should be able to access the state pension at 65 like our hypocritical politicians do.

images‘OH NO WE DIDN’T’ – ‘ OH YES YOU BLOODY WELL DID!’

Last Tuesday (21/1/20) Unite’s Irish Executive Council passed a motion committing us to campaigning to restore the state pension age to 65 in the Republic of Ireland. This was on foot of a motion brought forward from the Waterford Community Branch. Yesterday (23/1/20) I attended a News Conference for the ‘STOP67’ campaign, supported by ICTU, that seeks to prevent the enactment of the legislative provision that would see the current pension age of 66 rise further to 67 in January next year. The background to this issue, which has suddenly become an election issue, is extraordinary and exemplifies both the hypocrisy in Irish politics and the failure of the Irish media to effectively call that hypocrisy out.

When we all retire is of course linked to when we can draw down our state pension, or as I like to consider it my saved wages paid in retirement, that we accumulate and provide for over a lifetime of work. In 2010 Fianna Fail and the Greens in Government did a deal with the ‘Troika’ that required us to increase our state pension age which was then 65. Remember the parties, Fianna Fail and the Greens.

Labour campaigned in the 2011 General Election against those changes, and much else (ssshhhh, don’t mention water charges)! When it was pointed out that this was part of the Troika bailout Labour were bullish – or was it another word beginning with ‘bull’ – in their ‘Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way’ response. Post-election however they couldn’t wait to run out to the RDS and feign anguish at a special conference before leaping in to coalition to prop up their latest of many right wing Governments. Once in office of course it was quickly ‘Frankfurt’s way’ and then Minister Joan Burton quickly put the boot into those about to retire.  As early as 15 June 2011 Burton was in the Dail espousing the:

fundamental principle that people need to participate in the workforce for longer and they need to contribute more towards their pensions if they are to achieve the income they expect or would like to have in retirement’.

Wow.

The 2011 election was in March, Labour campaigned against the increase in the pension age, but by June just three months later not only had they smashed one of many, many election pledges but they had made the smashing of it a ‘fundamental principle’. Despite the lies in the run up to the election, once in Government a Labour Minister who later went on to be the party leader and Tanaiste, and the current leader Brendan Howlin in no less influential an office than the Department of Public Expenditure, made making our retirement ages go up to 68 by 2028 a ‘fundamental principle’.

But wait. That is unless of course you were one of them. Because guess what? The changes don’t apply to Politicians! They are still allowed to get the state pension at age 65. In fact perhaps a related news story here is that we now have actual, factual and legislative proof of something many of us have long suspected, that based on Joan Burton’s own words it is clear that ‘fundamental principles’ don’t apply to Politicians.

What utter hypocrisy.

Fine Gael of course were, and are, delighted. Listen to Regina O’Doherty justifying this abuse of working people in the run up to the election. At the time Enda Kenny as Taoiseach was happy to give glib answers to a rightly irate opposition while the Labour Party went around doing his dirty work for him. If that lot stay in Government look forward to ever increasing retirement ages and lower net pensions in perpetuity.

So fast forward to this 2020 election campaign. Labour, the Greens and Fianna Fail who all did this haven’t been in Government for a while and they all want back there. They are looking for a way to get votes. SIPTU’S Michael Taft yesterday described, correctly, these pension changes as ‘a cynical move on low paid people that was highly regressive and socially damaging’.

These parties know this now. But what is worse is they knew it then too. They knew it when they did it, and they did it anyway. Because they don’t care what is regressive. They don’t care what is socially damaging. All they really care about is that they get elected, and they are even prepared to use campaigns against their own policies, their own decisions in Government, to get back into Government. So they can do it to us again. Why are they not being loudly called out on all of this in the media? Even at the Press Conference yesterday nobody dared say ‘Labour did this’. The Leader of Fianna Fail who sat at the cabinet table and put these changes on the agenda, with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan there too as a fellow Minister, are now cynically campaigning against the issue they created. There was an elephant in that yesterday room bigger than any elephant in the Phoenix Park. The entire media was represented there. And nobody said it. Nobody called it out.

I want to lend my support to the ‘STOP67’ Campaign, for what it’s worth. Well done SIPTU, ICTU, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Age Action Ireland and Active Retirement Ireland. Let’s #STOP67. And then lets #STOP66. And then lets #RESTORE65.

And while we are at it what about if, for and once and for all, we stop being silent and failing to call out the insincerity, the hypocrisy, the theatrics and the pantomime politics. Surely as a country we are better than this.

Brendan Ogle

Senior Officer ROI

ELECTION 2020 – STOP WITH THE SELF HARM IRELAND…

The General Election is already effectively underway and it looks like it will be formally announced in the coming days. It’s already being pitched by the media as a presidential style election whose main purpose will be to decide if Leo Varadkar or Michael Martin will be Taoiseach. To those suffering in this country – whichever of those two sits in the Taoiseach’s office will make absolutely no difference – Unite’s Brendan Ogle explains why.

We are told constantly now that the General Election is already effectively underway and it looks like it will be formally announced in the coming days. It’s already being pitched by the media as a presidential style election whose main purpose will be to decide if Leo Varadkar or Michael Martin will be Taoiseach. Here’s the news, to those suffering in this country – whichever of those two sits in the Taoiseach’s office will make absolutely no difference – and here’s why.

Housing crisis has become an emergency.

Michael Martin was an integral and supplicant part of successive Bertie Ahern/Fianna Fáil led Governments which wrecked this country in order to facilitate their builder and banker buddies. He sat in high office at every single cabinet meeting and voted for every ‘light touch regulation’ measure, measures that caused or created:

– the financial crash

– a loss of economic sovereignty

– the public bailout of a rotten private banking system

– a troika bailout of the country that has cost this and future generations tens of billions of Euro (€65billion)

– mass emigration of over 300,000 of our young people and families

– a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle, to the rich and reckless

These measures led directly to a tragic suicide epidemic and indirectly to an historically tragic housing emergency. Michael Martin and the decisions he silently took at the cabinet table resulted in the loss of life, light and hope and has blighted the futures of our youngest.

Patients on trolleys is at an all time high.

Leo Varadkar has been Taoiseach less than three years but he has been a Minister and senior cabinet member since 2011. In that time he has voted to:

– impose austerity on the country to push the sins of the rich onto the shoulders of the rest

– make sure the richest in our society currently carry the lowest tax burden they have had to carry in decades

– he has tried, and failed, to commodify and privatise our water

– he has turned a homelessness crisis into a housing emergency simply to enrich the property and landlord class his party exists to represent

– he is the Taoiseach of tax haven Ireland, suing the EU to try to let the richest corporation in the world keep €13billion it has been found to owe in taxes

– this week our health system plumbed new depths and the number of patients on trolleys hit a new high, all presided over by this former Minister for Health and Doctor!

And what was the Taoiseach doing this week while this was happening?

He was trying to find a way to commemorate crown forces who 100 years ago fought might and main to stop the very state itself from being created.

Of course for many who are secure in their homes, their jobs, their pensions, their savings or otherwise, things have improved from the abyss of ten years ago. The banks we the people bailed out are lending again, even evicting some of those who bailed them out, or selling their homes to vulture funds.

In addition ‘leprechaun economics’ allows massive growth levels to be claimed. Our tax haven status allows it to look like the books are a bit better. Precarious work, and labour and human rights abuses in sectors like hospitality (and others), make it look like there are lots of jobs, and if you are prepared to work for near nothing in one of the most expensive cities in the world that may even be the case.

Yet for many there is no home they can realistically afford, no job they are secure in, no pay that is enough, no pension they can plan for, no single tier health system they can fall back on when sick, no house or family or future they can save for and look forward to.

We live in a country where those of us who simply want homes for our people, who want fair and just taxation, who want a living wage for all and a health system that is the same for poor people as it is for rich people are presented by the media as extremists. And yet those who have caused economic and near social breakdown, who have bailed out the reckless, and who have caused death, despair and hopelessness are unquestioningly allowed to present themselves as ‘holding the centre’.

Whether Leo Varadkar or Michael Martin is Taoiseach this country is run for the few, on the backs of the many.

Guess what, Irish people who vote – and especially those who don’t bother at all – allow them to do this? Are we going to allow our votes be used for it to stay like that forever?

Direct provision is wrong, but it does not justify racism

Dunnes Stores AA plaqueBrendan Ogle: On Saturday,  I was to speak at the 35th Anniversary of a stellar event when we Irish stood up against racism. It was when eleven young Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin refused to handle South African goods to highlight the then system of apartheid in that country. They ended up being on strike for two years and nine months, gaining both national and international attention for this great cause. Nelson Mandela praised the workers for their actions stating that their action, in far-away Ireland, kept him going through many of his difficult days in prison. The workers won their strike, eventually forcing the Irish government to ban all South African produce from entering Ireland. What an achievement it was.

As I considered these events on Thursday a debate was taking place on RTE radio’s ‘Liveline’ about race. Some of those taking part were at pains to describe it as being about something else – direct provision – but it was about race alright. We were told that the Government wanted to move twelve (that’s 12, not 12,000) asylum seekers or refugees to Achill, temporarily, and the island had awakened from its autumnal slumber. There was ‘a vigil’ at 2:30 in the afternoon. We Irish love our vigils. The candles at this one would want to be made of good stuff though, because the point of this vigil was ‘to get information’ about the plans to house the twelve needy people. We were told that there were ‘no amenities’ by a few of the people who live there, presumably with amenities. Some also made the point that in the original proposal that among the twelve there would be ‘too many men’, but nobody made the case for what particular bit of ‘men’ might be an issue.

Continue reading “Direct provision is wrong, but it does not justify racism”

Address at launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’

Brendan Ogle Buckingham fire station 270619On my own behalf and on behalf of Unite, I couldn’t have been more pleased than to have been asked to say a few words at this event last night: the launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’, held in the Fire Station Artist Studios on Buckingham Street in Dublin’s North Inner City.

Here’s what I had to say:

When I first got to read ‘The Systematic Destruction of the Community Development, Anti-Poverty and Equality Movement by Patricia Kelleher and Cathleen O’Neill last Autumn it was a real wake-up call. This seminal work described how the 1980s and the 1990s saw the emergence of a vibrant state-funded community movement. and how this has been displaced since 2002 with what Cathleen and Patricia describe as ‘a shift from participatory democracy to neoliberalism’.

The book being launched tonight, ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’, carries the reflections on this period – and what has happened since – of eleven people with such a breadth of experience in the community sector that a permanent record of the work done, the successes, the failures, the changes and the challenges is essential.

Continue reading “Address at launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’”

Elections 2019 – All is by no means lost for a broad left front

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The recent local and European elections need to be reflected upon, in terms of where we are at in the hoped for delivery of Ireland’s first progressive Government.

To save time, we need not fall into the trap of overly complicating what such a Government would do, or how that progression would be defined. A progressive Government would enact policies and address issues in a way which re-distributed wealth top down for a change. It would reduce inequality, not increase it. It would put public good above private interests. And so, Ireland’s first progressive Government would be entirely different to the current Government, and radically different to the even worse Fine Gael/Labour administration from 2011-2016.

The policy platform with the principles that such a Government would follow already exists. These principles are not radical, unless seen from a far right perspective, the perspective of most political and economic commentary in Ireland. The ten principles at issue are neither extreme, nor unworkable. On the contrary, they provide the basis for a broad popular front that would bring real reform to our tax base, our public services, our environmental outlook and our failing democratic structures. As recently pointed out – in ‘The Journal’ no less – the Right2Change policy platform contains all the ideas and principles that could bring much needed unity among those who seek it on Ireland’s dysfunctional left. If we stop arguing with each other and shooting ourselves in the foot that is. Continue reading “Elections 2019 – All is by no means lost for a broad left front”

Vote4Change this Friday!

Brendan Ogle: On Friday we go to the polls in local and European elections, and Unite members do so on the back of an exciting and radical 2019 Irish Policy Conference last week. In addition to two exciting new initiatives in the areas of mental health awareness and a community-based sporting initiative, the Conference was packed with motions about workers’ issues, equality issues and a political alternative.

It would be dishonest to pretend that the non-emergence of an electable progressive Government in the Republic following a decade of brutal austerity is not beyond disappointing. One would have expected that the nationalisation of billions of Euro of private banking debt, running down of our public services, the health disasters and the ideologically created and maintained housing emergency battering the working class would have led to some ‘class unity’ politically, and a coming together of a real ‘left’ at last. And if that isn’t enough to bring us together, does the onset of far-right intolerance and hate speech not require a unified response?

Unfortunately however, it seems we are as far away from Ireland’s first left government as we ever were.

In Unite, however, small steps are being taken, and through Unite in the Community we now have a dedicated branch – the Tom Stokes Branch – aiming to continue to pursue the ten Right2Change policy principles. From your Right2Water to your Right2Jobs & Decent Work, or your Right2Sustainable Environment, these policy principles hold within them the ethos and direction for any progressive Government seeking to make Ireland a better country for everyone.

Continue reading “Vote4Change this Friday!”

We underestimate the rise of the far right at our peril

Unity over divisionBrendan Ogle: Almost inevitably the day that Britain will not leave the European Union (EU) has arrived. Westminster is in chaos and our nearest neighbour is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. A general election there may not be far away. Maybe the contempt the Irish establishment has shown for the very idea of Jeremy Corbyn as British PM will be tempered by the thought of Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

But, intriguing as these questions may be, there are more fundamental matters at hand. The far right is on the rise across Europe, and in the coming elections up to a third of seats could well go to these extremists. In Italy, Austria and Sweden serious far right movements have arisen and taken – or come extremely close to taking – power. The Brexit debate itself was disproportionately influenced by UKIP, while France has long had a strong National Front. During recent visits to Germany, I have been surprised to see in practice just how quickly the AfD has arisen and become influential, particularly among the working class. These events do not happen in a vacuum.

The EU itself, and the stifling consensus that sustains it in its current form, is directly responsible for creating the conditions within which these threats are arising. Moreover, the complete failure of a progressive left to form a continent-wide movement insisting on fundamental EU reform adds to the impending sense of crisis.

Continue reading “We underestimate the rise of the far right at our peril”