By Cillian Gillespie
After seven years and €31 billion worth of austerity, we are told that we are in the midst of an economic recovery. However, for most people this recovery means a new housing crisis, skyrocketing rents and the creation of low paid temporary jobs.
There is now a working poor in our society, with 25% of the workforce earning less than the living wage of €11.50 an hour. Ireland, like all capitalist countries, has seen a steep rise in inequality; in the last five years the richest 300 people have seen their wealth rise by an obscene €34 billion. In this same period austerity measure after austerity measure was implemented in the form of extra taxes and cuts to social services and expenditure.
All of this is the by-product of a capitalist system where the economy is organised for private profit not human need. Fundamentally the parties of the political establishment, who have been in power since 2008, accept the rationale of this system. During the crisis the consensus among all these parties was that austerity and the bailing out of the banking system to the tune of €64 billion was necessary and unavoidable. As long as parties such as these, that accept the logic of capitalism, are in power the interests of the 1% will be prioritised at the expense of our living standards.
Prioritise human need not profit
We need a government that is going to prioritise our needs. This means investing billions in a building programme to provide council and affordable houses, introducing rent controls, massively increasingly public expenditure on health, education and childcare to create jobs and reverse the brutal effects of austerity, and introducing a minimum wage of €12 an hour.
However if we are to meet the needs of the 99% a left government must find the resources to do so. The odious debt created by the property crash of 2008/2009 must be repudiated (Ireland spends €7 billion per annum on the interest on this debt). The corporate welfare of €9 billion per annum must be ended and a wealth tax on the super-rich must be introduced as well as increasing corporation tax from its pitifully low level. A government that takes these kind of measures must be prepared to challenge capitalism; a system based on the rule of the super-rich, bondholders, bankers and big business, both here in Ireland and in Europe. We cannot allow ourselves to be constrained by the logic and the rules of a system that seeks to impose austerity and cuts workers’ wages so that the profits and wealth of a tiny elite can be maximised.
Lesson of Greece
There are salient lessons that be drawn from the period in the after the election of the Syriza in February. Less than six months after it was elected it had capitulated to the Troika and are now implementing austerity and a privatisation package of €50 billion.
From the very outset of its election the Socialist Party and our sister organisation in Greece, Xekinima argued that if austerity, the Troika and Greek capitalism were to be defeated Syriza would need to implement anti-capitalist, socialist policies. These policies would include implementing capital controls, nationalising the banking system and key industries under democratic workers control and management. The veracity of this argument was born out when these forces sought to engage in economic terrorism in the form of cutting off money to Greece’s banks and through a flight of capital out of Greece in the months following Syriza’s election.
Radical socialist policies
Capitalism cannot simply be defeated through parliamentary decrees, the power of working class people needs to be mobilised on the streets and in the workplaces. The potential for mobilising this power in Greece was illustrated by the fact that 61% voted no or “Oxi” in a referendum on the Troika’s austerity package, courageously resisting the threats and blackmail of the institutions of European capitalism. On the Friday before the referendum a staggering 200,000 people assembled in central Athens in support of rejecting the new austerity programme.
There is growing desire for a radical break with the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism and austerity among working class and young people but it is imperative we do not repeat the mistakes of Syriza and once again betray the hopes and aspirations of the majority in our society. The real change that we need requires the active struggle of working class people allied with a radical left government based on socialist policies that breaks the stranglehold of a parasitic ruling class that dominate our lives.