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Greyhound dispute: A Socialist Alternative

The solution to the offensive by the Greyhound waste company offered by the Irish left is mind-numbing in its simplicity. Greyhound bosses, motivated by greed, are out to rob the workers. United action and people power will force them to back down. Union leaders could do more, but any suggestion that they are acting against workers interests is sectarian and divisive. 

This is yet another example of opportunists patronising the workers. While the Greyhound bosses may well be as greedy as the left claim, that is not why they attack the workers. Capitalism is not driven by greed, but by the need for profit. A failure to realise a profit leads to the collapse of individual firms. In the privatised free for all that is the waste industry in Ireland, an industrial struggle so vicious that it has in the past involved violence and arson between firms, then the pressure is on to drive wage rates to the bottom and beyond. 

When we consider that wage cuts are endemic across all sectors of Irish industry and that they are negotiated and enforced by the trade union leaders, a fight against greedy bosses does not provide a solution. 

Partnership solution 

By contrast the solution provided by SIPTU boss Jack O’Connor, is a model of clarity and logic. Set firmly within the sea of social partnership in which he lives is the proposal for government regulation of the waste industry – an Offwaste modelled on the British Offwat water regulator. 

Unlike the left O’Connor is able to bring his proposals into the social partnership mechanism and turn them into reality. Within weeks a new minister in the collation government was declaring that he was the “new sheriff in town,” determined to bring order and regulation to the waste industry. 

There are however many difficulties. The announcement does nothing in the here and now to protect workers. The minister’s tough statement falls far short of the regulatory authority called for by SIPTU. None of these regulatory measures will protect wages – that would be government interference in the market and is illegal under European law. In any case the British experience shows that all these agencies quickly become subject to “client capture” and put the interests of the industry before those of workers and consumers. 

The missing solution 

What is especially interesting are the proposals that neither the socialists nor the unions put forward. The privatisation of waste has been a total failure in terms of cost, efficiency, environmental concerns and workers rights. The obvious answer would be to take waste services back under public control. Such a proposal would have a great deal of public sympathy, but most would be surprised to find that it is almost impossible within modern capitalism. 

The reason is that the Financial Stability Act was passed into law following a referendum. The act restricts overruns on public expenditure to 3%. That has been a central aim of European policy over many years. The intention is to make it impossible for governments to assemble sufficient public capital to retain control of basic services. These are ripped open to private profit. Irish capital have supported this programme and enthusiastically put their snouts to the trough. 

In fact the local gombeen capitalists are so keen on the plunder of public services that they have special measures of their own. Control of most services rests not with elected officials but with city managers, quangos and special agencies of the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. 

Anti-imperialist consciousness 

And this is the central weakness of Irish Socialism. It lacks any real anti-imperialist consciousness. It lives in an imaginary island with an independent capitalist economy where the right election result or parliamentary vote can transform the situation. 

So how can public needs be asserted? How can capital be expelled from basic services? The short answer is: through blockade, occupation and workers control. A party must be build to assert the needs of workers and a movement that links that party to consumers and environmentalists to build a service that meets the needs of people in a sustainable way. 

Any attempt to build such programme would meet with ferocious hostility from almost all established political currents. It would however resonate strongly with the anti-imperialist folk memory of the working class, who understand all too clearly that we are living under a new occupation. I would also link together the daily exploitation around waste, water, housing, education and health. It would mean that individual struggles would not sink without trace amid hollow claims of victory, but would leave a hardened core of class consciousness ready for the next skirmish with capitalism and imperialism. 


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