Eamonn Kelly: Get A Sexy Trade


From top: Tanaiste Leo Varadkar at Burke Joinery in Kylemore, Dublin 10 last week; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar was photo-opping the other day with a huge machine that planes and finishes sheets of prefabricated timber. Leo walked alongside the machine with his hand on the edge of the sheet of timber as the machine did its thing. It was bit like standing at the rear of a vehicle and leaning on it with your hand as the vehicle begins to move, taking credit for the “skill” of the engine causing the vehicle to move.

Apart from the photo op being a compelling demonstration of advanced automation, further supporting the argument for an introduction of a basic income, the photo op was rich in numerous unintended messages.

One, it demonstrated that Leo Varadkar knows nothing about manual labour, which tends to involve a little bit more than walking beside a machine, calling instead for investment of muscle, sinew and bone that, over time, leads to a consequent shortening of life.

It also demonstrates that the now Tánaiste’s PR team are still active on public money in using that money to play perception magician with the public.

Sexy Apprentices

The idea of sexing up trade apprenticeships comes with the realisation that the higher aspirations of college credentials and the types of white collar careers such credentials used to deliver are now suffering from the fact that there simply aren’t enough white-collar careers to go around.

The idea is also attractive from an elitist political point of view in that you with your college career – despite what you may be hearing about the value of “skills” – will always be a step ahead of those who don’t have a college education. College education matters. It matters a great deal. It matters particularly in money management and business skills.

Like most things party political, this idea that apprenticeships are a credible alternative to further education only looks to a short-term future.

While it is true that having a manual skill in the trades is a good thing, it is only a good thing in an ideal world. And while the promise of apprenticeships in the trades sounds good on the face of it, the fact is the trades are being decimated by automation and by the privatisation of housing development.

Education is also being decimated by monetisation, so now it barely even delivers the founding promise of the academy, and instead often traps students into long term debt. Both are being decimated by neo-liberal policies, the very policies that Varadkar stands for.

Back In The Day

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Fianna Fáil generated employment in the trades by embarking on vast social housing programmes, something Fine Gael are ideologically opposed to. Which begs the question, what are all those apprentices supposed to do when they acquire the skills of whatever trade they plump for?

The answer of course is, emigrate. Which is probably the idea anyway since emigration has served Ireland’s ruling class so well over the last fifty years, acting as a safety valve that kept their political seats and business interests safe from youthful, hungry competition.

So what is this photo and this encouragement towards the trades all about? Well, in the parlance of building workers it’s called “blowing smoke up your hole”.

It’s designed to make the politician look good and make it seem like he’s looking to the future, but is in fact a ruse to make people lower their ambitions and expectations and be willingly redirected towards lives as manual workers in an automated neo-liberal world that will in all likelihood have no real use for them.

It is a short-term distraction to take away from the fact that in reality all the seats are taken – there are only so many professors the world needs – and the fact that a basic income is the only realistic way forward to ensure a stable society, something neo-liberals like Varadkar simply cannot countenance.

Class Consciousness

Ultimately Varadkar represents a class interest that depends for its superiority on the existence of malleable lower classes. This promotion of apprenticeships and manual work looks to create and enhance an uneducated service class.

The alternative, given the realities of automation and the sheer lack of career opportunity, which will also, by the way, apply to manual work, is to introduce a basic income and to make third level education free to those that want it, in order that the ideals of the academy be honoured, and the bankers preying on students be run off the campuses.

Further to this, a public works programme should be embarked upon, to provide homes for people and the opportunity of practical application for apprentices who wish to learn a trade. Not providing such realistic opportunities in the field for apprentices creates another monetized education system, which is probably the idea.

Varadkar and other neo-liberals will not even consider these options since these would have the effect of removing the only thing that gives them status: the existence of an uneducated underclass.

The result is this short-term stop-gap idea designed to keep them in power in the short term while they think up ways of ensuring their ongoing survival as a political class, even despite their antiquated ideas.

The problem is that their determination to pretend that it is still 1960 is to create a widening split between haves and have-nots and all the social inequality and unrest that this entails.

Suggesting that everyone learn a trade because the white-collar seats are already filled is a stop-gap measure for politics lacking in vision suitable to the times.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

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22 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly: Get A Sexy Trade

  1. White Dove

    Thanks Eamonn. One of the most annoying things about Varadkar’s government was its apparent superiority complex vis a vis the Irish people – a heavy monarchial tone with RTE and other media organs adopting the tone of a feudal elite

    At times their collective behaviour was reminiscent of 19th century campaigns to bolster English rule in Ireland by heavily covered royal visits and highlighting of social activities in Dublin Castle.

    Not sure much has changed with the new government. Possibly the tone is a defence mechanism but not very appealing to a highly educated public. We have come a long way in the past couple of generations but the attitude of our governments post-financial collapse has not reflected this.

  2. Cian

    And while the promise of apprenticeships in the trades sounds good on the face of it, the fact is the trades are being decimated by automation and by the privatisation of housing development.

    What do you mean by the trades (relating to housing development)? Are we talking electrician, plumber, bricklayer, pipefitter, carpenter, welder, cement mason, crane operator?
    – Which of these has been “decimated by automation”? or are you talking abut different trades (cooper, farrier, chandler).
    – how does “privatisation of housing development” affect this? Does a private company building a house hire fewer plumbers than if the council do it?

    The (private) building boom in Ireland over the last 30 years has provided huge employment in the “trades”. (granted this was hit badly in the 2007 crash – but so were many jobs).

    The reality is that we need a mix of people to run a society with a mix of skills. We need people to pack shelves and we need surgeons. We need architects and brickies. We need waiters and chefs. We need bin-men and accountants.

    1. Rob_G

      “Are we talking electrician, plumber, bricklayer, pipefitter, carpenter, welder, cement mason, crane operator?

      Eamonn should attempt to hire any of the above for a job starting in the next 6 months, tell us how ‘decimated’ these professions are then.

    2. EK

      I mean the trades, Cian, not the professions. The blue collar jobs, not the white collar jobs. Skilled manual workers if you like.

      1. Cian

        Are electrician, plumber, bricklayer, pipefitter, carpenter, welder, cement mason, crane operator trades or professions? are these blue or white collar?

        how does “privatisation of housing development” affect this? Does a private company building a house hire fewer plumbers than if the council do it?

    3. Rosette of Sirius

      Had some work done in the house recently. New bathroom install x 3. We had plumbers, fitters, tilers, electricians and a plasterer for good measure. The trades by and large aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable as a result of automation. They may downsize a little while the current mess we are in sorts itself out. But unless you can carry yourself with a tool best and a piece of Wavin, they’ll be grand.

      On the other hand , the professions – especially those in banking, finance and accounting will be decimated this coming decade as a result of automation.

  3. Rob_G

    “… the fact is the trades are being decimated by automation and by the privatisation of housing development.

    This is a complete fabrication, with (as is par for the course with the author) zero evidence offered in support of it.

    1. EK

      Rob the evidence is swimming around online offline and in the local bookshop and library under the topics of basic income, automation, the end of work and so on. I have posted evidence and references with previous posts. Do a little work will you. I’m tired up setting up coconuts for lazy trolls like you to oh so casually knock them down.

      1. Rob_G

        “Some of my other posts have references, so I don’t need to include any for the demonstrably-false claims I have included here” – pathetic.

        1. EK

          Yeah Rob. You are pathetic. You were equally dismissive of the references I included with previous posts, so my thinking now is that you are simply undeserving of my work. You’re just rude and thick basically.

  4. Joe Small

    Eamonn talking through his rear end as usual.

    Anyone who has worked in this policy area know that Ireland has a problem with apprenticeships. Irish people have fetishised a college education so much that a questionable degree in sociology is valued far in excess of any apprenticeship. We’ve looked with envy at Germany for years as they recruit and train thousands of apprenticeships for highly skilled roles. We’re moving to something more innovative such as apprenticeships in financial services but we’re still way behind where we need to be.

    I’m not a bit fan of Leo but so what if he never did manual labour. I did and I don’t care that he never has. Its not a pre-requisite for being a minister. This phony class warfare rubbish is tiresome. Find a better argument.

    1. Vanessanelle

      I think this phony class warfare isn’t all rubbish

      Shur isn’t it what Fine Gael want

      A Country that divides itself into sides of a Class Warfare struggle
      all by itself

      and there’s only room for one big party on each side

      Guess who the winners really are

      And btw, the Irish Apprenticeship programme that was through the hands of ANCO and the Various Master and Sitting Guilds, and the Master Tradesmen before that, from which our tradesmen and women were highly respected and sought after from all over the World, was ran into the ground to be trodden on by the creation of FAS, and that pig fill eile, Rody Molloy
      That whole regime ruined the reputation of Apprenticeships as a career choice. As well as the Reputations of those that came out the other side of a full Apprenticeship during that era.

      Today, in fairness, there are some excellent apprenticeship programmes out there. The Accountancy one most definitely is a fantastic opportunity and guarantees skills, particularly at general accounting/ bookkeeping and expertise a BComm can’t.
      same for some of the Medical Tech/ Optician Techs trainee programmes
      Electricians, Plumbers, Bakery and all the traditional manual trades are all still every bit as valuable and well earning with great prospects
      And like every other endeavour out there, from Dentistry to Roofing to Hairdressing. The Job is only as good as the person with the tools in their hands. Chancers, Clockwatchers and what they can get away with’ers are in every workplace.
      Even in the Supreme Court

      Apprenticeships are open to everyone, and are offered / available in 000s of areas. Seriously, they don’t need sexing up, and are a not political spin.
      Its good Advice to ask people to consider them and market them to school leavers, and roll them out in Career Guidance roadshows
      It might even be considered good Leadership and Governing

      And since tis the season, any school leaver today that is looking at Accountancy – even at Chartered level, take a closer look at the Apprenticeship programme, it might look like a longer haul, but it’s a lot easier to get past finals when you get there. And you’re a 100 times more useful afterwards.

      1. Otis Blue

        Good comment.

        IMO, a Government that is serious about the role and value of apprenticeships and vocational training wouldn’t have Simon Harris as the Minister with responsibility for that brief.

    2. EK

      Joe Small, I might say the same to you. I did manual work too. You haven’t offered an argument and you take no cognizance of what is happening now, these days, in terms of automation, environmental limits on growth and, not least, over-population. These facts are the basis of this argument, but I guess it’s probably a bit too advanced for your way of thinking which seems clearly firmly parked in the old ideas of the 20th century. As for class divisions, if they are a fiction, why are so many poor people living on the streets? Wake up!

  5. Rob_G

    “Ultimately Varadkar represents a class interest that depends for its superiority on the existence of malleable lower classes. This promotion of apprenticeships and manual work looks to create and enhance an uneducated service class.”

    – I think it’s gas that EK thinks that someone who went into the trades instead of going to university is pump-primed to be some sort unthinking, servile drone, rather than just an average person who makes a grand a week.

    1. Vanessanelle

      Or that they are any less aware of what is going on

      That’s probably the toughest thing for me to swallow too Rob

      I’m afraid to open me trap here

      But I wonder what EK thinks of Nurses who qualified the traditional way as student nurses- in house with the Nuns on the wards
      and of course all those who went into Templemore, The Curragh, Hawlboline, the Air-core and Pilot Training in Aer Lingus
      Those who entered trainee management programmes – isn’t Paschal Donohue one btw?
      Look where John Reid ended up from a semi state entry level apprenticeship/ trainee start

      Train and Bus learner drivers, same for Lorries – all started as learners; Brendan Ogle is one (I think)
      The Banking Trainee / exams route out of the tellers hall
      Or those cub reporter/ stringer gigs
      Hey the Metric and Public Service Exams

      Feck sake, more school leavers go to 3rd level now since there’s more places on offer
      More courses, more colleges and more access,

      Someone has an Inferiority Complex and is trying to make it about a Superiority Complex in someone they don’t like
      This was kinda here last year when the suggestion that a certain ‘branch’ of the workforce already had an ‘establishment’ leg up – I objected but EK basically told me to eff off and stay away from his columns

      I dunno tis all pretty condescending to me
      And some intellectual snobbery too, which will also crank me up anyway

      But also – it suggests that he is completely unaware for what makes up this population, our country like
      What Frilly would have called The Everyday People
      And therefore underestimating us and undervaluing us

      And that’s quite sad for a writer

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