Memo To Progressives

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90410849Michael-Taft

From top: Possible future coalition partners Enda Kenny and Michaél Martin; Michael Taft

We need a new conversation and a new way of doing business among progressives, just as we need these at the level of national and local policy.

We can’t expect people to change if we do not change.

Michael Taft writes:

So what’s it going to be? Coalition? Minority Government? Extended stalemate? What we do know is that support for the Government collapsed – by over half. Labour’s decline was anticipated, Fine Gael’s wasn’t – at least not in the pre-election polls.

We also witnessed Fianna Fail’s significant advance with a 40 percent increase in their first preference vote, winning an additional 25 seats.

In the new Dail Fine Gael and Fianna Fail look set to take 94 seats. In 2011 they won 95 seats. However, this is a smaller Dáil. In percentage terms, the two conservative parties won 57.2 percent of seats in the 2011 Dail; now they won 59.5 percent.

The conservative vote didn’t fall; it just swapped between the two parties. And this doesn’t count the increase in conservative and gene-pool TDs who look to increase from six to eleven seats.

Progressive parties and independents put in a credible performance. However, the breakthrough that many were hoping for (including me) didn’t come.

Sinn Féin increased their popular vote by 3.9 percentage points with the AAA-PbP increasing by 1.5 percentage points. Combined, these two parties look set to gain 13 seats – positive but about half the Fianna Fáil increase.

The Social Democrats took three percent but couldn’t increase on their outgoing total while the Greens are back in parliament with two seats. However, the number of progressive independent TDs doesn’t appear to be increasing at time of this writing.

So where next for progressives? Much will depend on the formation of government and potentially an election in the short-term. But for the medium-term here are a few suggestions.

1
. Start an Honest Conversation

In policy terms, wipe the slate clean. One of the messages coming out of the election was that people didn’t believe the promises to cut taxes, increase public spending and establish fiscal stability. Rightly so. There is little fiscal space – far less than parties claimed.
The future is extremely uncertain: low Eurozone growth, interest rates, oil prices, currency movements, the stability or otherwise of the European banking system. Then there’s the question of the character of the recovery (how much real, how much statistical). And what about Ireland’s continuing and unsustainable reliance on a corporate tax regime which works at the expense of other countries. Start an honest conversation about the challenges we face over the next decade – and don’t be surprised how many people will thank us for it.

2. Talk about the Economy

Strangely, there was little talk about the economy, about how we generate wealth, income, and sustainable enterprise activity. Let’s start that conversation. We can start with the rich and detailed analysis by the Nevin Economic Research Institute’s Tom McDonnel. You can read the full report here – Cultivating Long-Run Economic Growth in the Republic of Ireland – and an abridged comment here. It doesn’t address the all issues (no single document can) but it sets out the foundation:
Investment makes up 50 percent of long-term economic growth. If you want to ‘continue’ the recovery or ‘extend’ the recovery to those who haven’t felt it yet, you start with investment – driving up growth, productivity and wealth.
Education is another key component of growth – that and growing the working age population through immigration. Limited resources should be targeting at our youngsters’, starting with pre-primary education.
An infrastructural investment bank, affordable childcare, R&D spending, reduce inequality (which is more than just cash redistribution), advanced broadband – these and other initiatives can help promote a dynamic and enterprising economy.
Let’s remember the old Keynesian adage: look after the economy and the budget will look after itself.

3. Social Security

Revolving contracts, uncertain hours, low-pay, lack of rights: we are creating more uncertainty in the workplace which is driving down living standards and social prosperity. We must prioritise employees’ issues –ICTU’s Charter for Fair Conditions at Work is another useful starting point.
Alongside workplace uncertainty is social uncertainty. What happens if I get sick, or can’t find another contract soon; how will I care for my parents’ in their old age or afford to send my child to third-level education? These and other questions occupy more and more people. We must ‘socialise’ these costs through accessible public services and a strong social protection system – protection for people at work as much as for those out of work. And, being honest with people, this will only happen with a much high ‘social wage’ (or higher employers’ social insurance). That’s how continental European countries do it.

4. A New Way of Doing Business

Why don’t progressives talk about enterprise? It’s how we generate jobs, incomes and security. If low taxes and social insurance, low wages and ‘labour flexibility’ were the key to success, we would have the best indigenous enterprise sector in Europe. Instead, we have one of the poorest sectors. We need to grow investment-minded and productive companies – through public and municipal enterprise, new models involving labour-managed companies, new hybrid forms of non-profit and for-profit companies, community cooperatives and enterprises (working with local capital), and more attractive supports for private companies tied with public equity (if the state takes the risk, it should share in the success).
Business is too important to be left to Irish business.

5. Don’t Forget, We’re Europeans

How many times did Europe come up in the general election debate? Not much. If at all. We need to talk about the alliances we will make to advance policies that will benefit all those living in Europe. And this is not just about opposing TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) or demanding our money back from the banks, though this will be part of it. What about the proposal to end low-pay by pegging minimum wages at the low-pay threshold (60 percent of median income in each country)? Or an economic QE programme to fund an investment programme in transport, telecommunications, energy, housing and education? And, of course, ending the irrational austerity programme through a progressive adaptation of the EU fiscal rules.
And while we’re on the subject of Europe – let’s call for Ireland to sign up to the Financial Transaction Tax being introduced through enhance cooperation.

These are just a few suggestions. Others will have more and no doubt better ones. But there’s one more thing: progressives must end the sectarianism and division among the Left and Centre-Left. Cooperation, tolerance and open-mindedness are needed now more than ever.

We need a new conversation and a new way of doing business among ourselves, just as we need these at the level of national and local policy. We can’t expect people to change if we do not change.

But there’s much to be hopeful about. Fintan O’Toole made an important point yesterday, rightly saying that the majority of the Irish people are moving in a different direction from the one the Government wanted to go – a pathway public services, housing, solidarity and more equality. We have a great opportunity to work with people in moving the country in that direction.

The future is progressive – if we make it so. That will take some hard work.

Michael Taft is Research Officer with Unite the Union. His column appears here every Tuesday. He is author of the political economy blog, Unite’s Notes on the Front. Follow Michael on Twitter: @notesonthefront

27 thoughts on “Memo To Progressives

  1. Demoniac

    “We can’t expect people to change if we do not change” – WHAT? That’s some weird logic.

    1. Clampers Outside!

      The parties will just keep doing the same aul same aul unless we change and stop voting for them and vote for parties or persons who want to advance change. Simples.

  2. Clampers Outside!

    “gene-pool TDs who look to increase from six to eleven seats.”

    Does “Gene-pool TDs” refer to inherited seats?
    Anyone know the eleven? …if that’s what it means….?

    1. Joe

      I think he’s referring to those backwards independents who come from FF/FG gene pool. Healy-Rae, Grealish, Lowry etc.

  3. Friscondo

    Yeah, only in Ireland. Right wing Fianna Fáil and neofascist, nationalist Sinn Fein, making substantial gains is a progressive revolution. The 3.9% is just a fringe inconsequential novelty.

    1. TheFerg

      Have to correct you there now, Shinners are old skool facists. (Long day at work, feel need to correct people as I have no influence in the office)

  4. DubLoony

    Oh where to start?!
    Define “progressives” – what does that actually mean? And is SF part of that mix?.

    “Why don’t progressives talk about enterprise?” Because they (SF / AAAPBP) would prefer people to be equal on welfare. It would meant they have to admit that capitalism / “the rich” have a role to play in social good. It would help if these groups actually worked outside of politics.

    “uncertain hours, low-pay, lack of rights ” This is precisely what Ged Nash was addressing through low pay commission, raising minimum wages, restoration of JLCs, reform of labour relations, company law review in light of Clearys Workers treatment
    https://www.djei.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/Study-on-the-Prevalence-of-Zero-Hours-Contracts.pdf. He was being progressive and was voted out.

    2 Healy-Raes and 1 Lowry back in, discuss that.

    1. Harry Molloy

      “Why don’t progressives talk about enterprise?” Because they (SF / AAAPBP) would prefer people to be equal on welfare. It would meant they have to admit that capitalism / “the rich” have a role to play in social good. It would help if these groups actually worked outside of politics.

      +1 this seems to be a growing problem. Equality of income over equality of contribution and the removal of any rewards system.

    2. Medium Sized C

      What is so wrong about the Healy-Raes getting in?

      I mean I get Lowry, given that he has been implicated in severe graft and may still be convicted of it, but what did the Healy-Raes do apart from aggressively represent their constituents?

      1. Nice Jung Man

        their earth moving and plant hire equipment companies win all the contracts in Kerry I understand

  5. Harry Molloy

    Good column I think, and he’s right, there was very little groundbreaking about this election, A large portion of FG votes went to FF and most of Labours went to independents and that’s about it.

    It’s probably a bit optimistic but I would love if there were mature, reasonable discussions on the points listed above without any point-scoring, show-boating etc though I think that’s really just a dream. Politicians are by their nature keen to boost their profiles after all.

    I would like to see cross party discussion on the health system. And on business, like said above. Business and being a business owner is nearly becoming a dirty word and that needs to change if we are ever to grown our indigenous business. Along with the prohibitive taxes.

  6. Paul Kerrigan

    “Why don’t progressives talk about enterprise?” Yes, including trades union-supported co-ops. Ireland since the late 19th century, under the leadership of Horace Plunkett, AE and others, has had a co-op movement mainly in rural parts that eventually turned into big creameries and building materials suppliers. Dublin has in the past 30 years produced a food co-op based on small scale organic food producers. But I can’t think of other co-op enterprises.

    1. DubLoony

      And that food co-op is struggling with another market just beside it that allows for meat.

  7. Jake38

    “And what about Ireland’s continuing and unsustainable reliance on a corporate tax regime which works at the expense of other countries………..”. What about it? Foreign direct investment is the only thing that kept this country exporting and stopped it descending to the level of Greece during the recession.

    Mr Taft would like us to replace it with …”new models involving labour-managed companies, new hybrid forms of non-profit and for-profit companies, community cooperatives and enterprises (working with local capital),”. Yeah, that’ll work. Delusional fantasy.

      1. Andy

        In fairness, you here this type of bland recommendation from politicians all the time concerning Rural Deprivation – “we in south Leitrim need investment, but don’t ask me what specifically that investment would be in!” “Broadband” is typically thrown out but none of them have yet to explain how giving people in underpopulated areas access to netfilx will lead to job or population growth?

        In Taft’s piece:
        What sort of non-profits –
        thrift stores? clothing manufacturers (who’ll buy Irish manufactured clothes over cheaper Asian versions?) co-op construction companies? co-op computer games producers?

        What is local capital – free labor like community litter teams or local painters [they’ve something like this in Portland, OR where locals help house buyers refurb houses in run down areas]. But this is effectively free labor which is worse than jobsbridge apparently?

        What does he mean by labour-managed?-
        Why don’t managers qualify as “labour”? Is it because, in the private sector, they’re normally not unionized?
        Where this stuff occurs in Germany and the likes you’ve effectively labour (read “union”) representatives on the company boards who have an input/vote on decisions – note decisions aren’t voted on by the average worker – all they get is to vote in the union/labor representative. For a reason – What would a floor sweeper in Paddy Power know about opening up a new risk line in US college sports? What would a Bank’s FX dealer know about a Bank’s waste disposal policy? What do I know about online marketing or rebranding?

        Ireland has had effectively labor managed companies for the last century- read unions. The only group to benefit from the spin off of Eircom was the workers & their unions, BGE & ESB massive pay levels, well ahead of EU peers, comes at the expense of customers – your utility bills, any decision in the HSE has to be passed by the nurses & doctor unions – the nurses have threathened strike every year leading up to an election for the last 4 elections. Irish Water has twice the amount of employees needed cause the unions demanded it. As can be seen last year, there can be no change to the school curriculum because ASTI et al wouldn’t agree to it – read wanted to be paid off. The average punter pays for all this with their pocket and in poor services.

        Labor managed companies means vested-interest policies which end up being paid for by the consumer. I rarely agree with David McWilliams but he is 100% spot on when he talks about “insiders” not just meaning politicians or the legal profession but also the Public/Civil Service & Semi State unions.

    1. DubLoony

      We need to get into detailed specifics
      E.g. Climate change is a problem, we know we’re going to be affected by it more and more.
      We know oil imports for for transport, power, fertiliser etc costs billions.

      Potential solutions:
      Plant native trees like willow by the millions.
      Fast growing in our climate, helps soak up excess rainwater, slowing run off in potential flood situation.
      Growth takes in carbon, pumps out oxygen.
      Can be coppiced for renewable bio mass energy.
      Fuel for clean burn wood heating systems.
      Leaves are perfect soil fertilizer, you can’t get better. Feed the soil, no need for imported fertilizer.
      While growing can help with local tourism, recreation.
      Trad crafts revival.
      Can create lots of spin off jobs from it.

    2. makedoanmend

      Any chance that you’ll provide us with some concrete evidence why those business/economic conisderations outlined cannot work? Why a more diverse and potentially robust economy is “delusional”. Why promoting working people to cooperate on a business level is a “fantasy”.

      Must we always rely on the “kindness” of others?

      1. DubLoony

        +1 Why is it that successful business models that work in other countries cannot be implemented here.

  8. rotide

    Why is the corporation tax ‘unsustainable’?

    Because other countries will implement it too? Haven’t some already done this?

    1. Medium Sized C

      Because we are dependant on it and economic factors could and probably will (there is a tech bubble which will burst for example) take it away.

      LIke how before 2008 our economy was reliant on unsustainable stamp duty.

      Just like how Canada are in trouble now because OPEC lifted the floor on oil prices and the oil their economy was booming off is now too expensive to extract.
      Or how Australia are suffering because the chinese aren’t buying any poo they can find in the ground.

  9. Salmon of Knowledge

    Michael. you wish to see wealth created by group cooperation. Fine, if you can find a group of Irishmen and women who will cooperate rather than argue with one another. I spent some time in Germany and the culture there is such that, when something has to be done, everybody gets around a table and one person is selected to run the show. Leaders emerge and are readily accepted until they mess up.which seldom happens. The task is a joint effort but one person is accepted as being in charge. Each has a keen sense of duty and fulfils his or her role as decided by the leader. There is some discussion but little argument and all get to work quickly to do the job. This is so whether it is in a small firm or in a large undertaking.

    The adversarial nature of work in Ireland undermines our ability to create wealth. We turn on those who lead. We bully and abuse our fellow work, so more effort is often put into undermining an enterprise than in seeing it brought to fulfilment. We all end up with sore heads and a most unsatisfactory outcome. We do not show respect to one another as we should and the joy of working is replaced by pain, anxiety and frustration all around.

    In Ireland everybody wants to run the show. All head off to the pub to oil the wheels of progress. Germans do not do their business, political or commercial, in pubs. Leisure and work are kept apart. This leads to better outcomes. We are no less able than the Germans but we fail to take our duties seriously and get things done much less quickly and efficiently. There are many union members who, while giving as little as possible, try to gain as much as possible. They are more interested in eating the cake than in cooking it. In Ireland work is an imposition for some, who believe that the state should look after them come what may. Many of the politicians, who are calling for work for others, have never ever worked themselves and never will work, unless you call the whinging they do on the hustings work. But it is not productive work, it benefits nobody and is a solution to nothing. Why do we elect people to the Dail who have failed to do an honest days work? We have dishonest people elected. We have incompetent people elected. We have rabble rousers and scroungers elected. Is it any wonder so few capable managers come forward. We need a change of culture. I desparately want to see a change of culture a cultural revolution but does anybody else? Michael, as long as we choose thieves and murderers to represent us what hope have we of creating anything but misery. Let’s re-educate ourselves.

    1. Anne

      Those Germans sound like freaks of nature altogether.. are you sure they were all so placid and cooperative or you just couldn’t understand what they were saying? Sprichst du Deutsch?

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