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ICTU: Banker’s crimes are “boorish behaviour”

The run-up to the July congress of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Belfast was dominated by new revelations about the birth of the credit crunch and the long years of austerity forced on the Irish working class. 

The revelations, based on taped telephone conversations between Anglo-Irish bank executives at the time of the crash, show quite clearly a criminal conspiracy. The executives were intent on persuading the state, and therefore eventually force Irish workers, to bail out the bank on the basis of fraudulent statements that presented their debts as much smaller than they actually were. 

At one level this is hardly surprising. What is breathtaking is the language of the conversations: utter arrogance and reckless contempt for democracy and the mass of the Irish people. 

The Irish working class have paid, and continue to pay dearly, for a crime for which they were not responsible. 

What had ICTU to say about this scandal? 

As an off the cuff remark in his keynote speech Secretary David Begg referred to the scandal: 

“Despite everything that has come to light over the last five years I think people were still shocked and certainly offended, by the boorish and cynical behaviour of the senior managers of Anglo-Irish bank revealed in the tapes made public last week”. 
So a shocking crime in which Irish workers are the victims are simply boorish and cynical? ICTU makes nothing of the scandal because it is only an issue if one is to question the legitimacy of the debt. In his speech Begg pushes on to press the real policy of the union leadership – the assertion that capitalism has made a mistake and must be persuaded to adopt an alternative, Keynesian programme to pay the debt and restabilise capital;
“So now is the opportunity for us here in Ireland and for the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) to press our case for an alternative approach. Now is the hour to push for social investment and the construction of institutions of the social market economy to balance the power and independence of the ECB”. 
By itself this would be shocking. Under no circumstances will the Irish trade union leaders question the legitimacy of the bill presented by imperialism and their allies in the local bourgeois. The task is to lobby capitalism to unite with ICTU to build an alternative, gentler capitalism. 

Behind the bland statements pledging loyalty to capitalism lies a more shocking tale. 

A few days before congress, on the 27th June, the issue of the banker’s criminality was raised on RTE radio’s Liveline programme. A Socialist Democracy supporter, Anne Conway, called the programme to question the role of the trade union leaders. Above all, she question the role of David Begg, secretary of ICTU, who as chief social partner and representative of the interests of Irish workers, was a board member of the Central Bank and chair of the audit committee of that institution during the period covering the boom years and the subsequent collapse of the banking system. 

Begg immediately contacted RTE and demanded a disclaimer on the narrow grounds that he was not on a regulatory authority. In a remarkable display of cowardice and self-censorship RTE immediately issued the retraction and removed the podcast of the programme. 

Let's take Begg at his word. If he claims to be an idiot who knew nothing, let us accept that. We should note however that initial anger at the bankers has widened to include the central Bank, on whose board Begg sat, the politicians and the environment of "light touch" which was the policy they all subscribed to. Indeed David Drum, one of the Anglo bankers, has threatened to fight back and name all the figures who collaborated with him. 

The immediate issue is not what Begg and company did in the past, but what they are doing now. Begg has a clear duty to report on his role on the board of the central bank. If his only defence is the defence of ignorance he should resign immediately. ICTU should be to the forefront in demanding a full explanation of the mechanism of the bank bailout. 

Their actual role - of struggling desperately to silence any critics and censor any discussion is a blatant betrayal of the workers. The fact that ICTU feel that they can ignore criticism is a sign of impunity, arising from the retreat of the workers and the failure of union activists to mount a political opposition to the bureaucracy. 

And that must be the starting point. A new movement that does not on the one hand simply ignore the TU leadership nor on the other hand collaborate with them, but that contests the culture of impunity to wrest their parasitic grip from the necks of the Irish working class.


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