Monthly Archives For December 2015

What Can Happen When We All Pitch In

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Oireachtas committee reports aren’t usually very exciting or overtly progressive. This one is different: the Report on Low Pay, Decent Work and the Living Wage produced by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation should be read by everyone concerned with these issues. This should feature highly in the upcoming election debate. It should also be a template for progressives; what can happen when we all pitch in.

Here are just a few of the 28 recommendations:

  • The Low Pay Commission consider the findings of the Irish Living Wage Technical Group to make the minimum wage a Living Wage by increases in the minimum wage and investment in public services.
  • The Low Pay Commission should include the living wage as a key target and explore how it can be reached when making its recommendation of an appropriate minimum wage.
  • The state should become a living wage employer and that payment of the living wage should be stipulated as mandatory in government procurement contracts.
  • The Government should set a goal for the elimination of low pay and set a target for halving the number of workers affected by in-work poverty within their term of government.

The Committee makes a number of other recommendations; if you don’t have time to read the full report, at least look at the recommendations on page 13 of the text. They go beyond just the Living Wage – they address low pay and working conditions. Just to recap:

  • The Living Wage is €11.50 per hour – it is estimated that 345,000, or 26 percent, of all employees earn below this amount.
  • The low pay threshold is €12.20 per hour – it is estimated that over 400,000, or 30 percent of all employees earn below this amount. The low pay threshold is two-thirds of the median wage which, in turn, is the wage at which 50 percent earn above and 50 percent earn below.

The Committee has gone further than just calling for the Living Wage (though it has done that), it has called for the end of low-pay itself. This is truly a far-reach recommendation.

How did we get to this point that a parliamentary committee made these proposals? Let’s go through the elements of the campaign.

  1. Early in 2014, the Living Wage Technical Group began work on estimating the Living Wage. This was led by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, based on their work on the Minimum Essential Standard of Living which they had been researching since the 1990s. They were joined by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, Social Justice Ireland, TASC, SIPTU and UNITE. They produced the Living Wage for 2014 – at €11.45 per hour. A key element of this estimate was the detail and robustness of the methodology. Though opponents tried to undermine the concept and the method, they were unable to find any fault.
  2. Several sections of the media immediately took this up because the Living Wage seemed so darned fair. What could be more common sense than that people who work full-time should be paid a wage that ensures they don’t live in poverty. This should remind us that the media in its entirety is not some right-wing conspiracy against the people; there are many journalists, presenters and producers who are progressive and many more who are concerned that issues are thoroughly explored and all sides presented fairly.
  3. Civil society groups immediately took up this issue – those working on poverty, migrants’ issues, and community concerns. In particular, the trade union movement got involved with many unions producing policies in pursuit of the Living Wage. ICTU, in particular, played a strong role. The theme of its 2015 Biannual Conference was ‘Living Wage, Strong Economy’; they further produced a Workers Charter incorporating the Living Wage and which they asked general election candidates to sign up to.
  4. Political parties which straddled the Government / Opposition divide contributed to the growing support, creating a broad progressive front in political society. The opposition parties – Sinn Fein, PBP-AAA, including independents – were joined by the Labour Party in supporting the Living Wage. Parties outside the Dail (e.g. the Workers Party) also joined in support. A particular intervention was made by the Minister of State for Business and Employment, Ged Nash.
  5. He sponsored a Forum on the Living Wage which brought together trade unions, employers and civil society groups to listen to the arguments. The Forum featured UK employers who supported the Living Wage and which made our own employer representatives uncomfortable. This shows that while you may oppose a particular government, this doesn’t mean you can’t work with supportive elements in that government.
  6. Individuals and groups contributed through social media – with websites, Facebook pages and Twitter being used to promote the Living Wage and various proposals to further its implementation. Many used official channels to put forward the case – for example, submissions to the Low Pay Commission.
  7. Such was the robustness of the method, the fairness of the proposal and the broad support it received, opponents were put on the defensive. Business representatives, in particular, have never been comfortable arguing against it; ‘we don’t have enough money’ is becoming less credible as the economy experiences a tsunami of growth, profits and spending (and the notion that profits grow while the employees who help create those profits live in poverty seems particular miserly). Even Fine Gael, who wouldn’t usually support overt interventions in the labour market (at least, not on behalf of labour) has had to respond; though its proposals to subsidise employers from public funds is poorly thought-out, potentially very expensive and ultimately unworkable. All this led to the Committee report. That it was supported by all members – including Fine Gael and Fianna Fail members – again should remind us to avoid the trap of seeing political opponents as some impenetrable hegemonic force. With a robust, fair and common-sense proposal, unified opposition can be undermined and support gathered across a broad spectrum. This helps us to isolate the opposition.

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Goya in London

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Art Review

Goya: The Portraits. National Gallery. Until 10 January 2016

The Goya exhibition at the National Gallery shares something with The World of Pop by bringing to the attention of our eyes an aspect of his art that had previously passed us by. Goya is not famous for his portraits — but if you’ve seen his ‘Antonia Zárate’ in Dublin (loaned to London for this show) you’ll know he can paint people like an angel — but he earned his keep by turning them out for rich patrons and only now, by bringing together so many of them, is it possible to take in his extraordinary achievement. 

His pure skill as a painter reveals itself in the ability to render those parts of the human body not hidden in costumes or layers of clothing; witness the fine skin and eyebrows of Maria Teresa de Vallabriga, the young wife of Infante Don Luis. Goya was hired by the royal couple as a portrait painter and he grew to like them as people capable of being themselves, not straitjacketed by court protocols. And when painting the Duke and Duchess of Osuna with their children Goya seems equally enamoured by their personal qualities and portrays them with a sense of animated informality.

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LookLeft 23 is Out Now!

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Political Policing -Francis Donohoe assesses the arrests of left-wing representatives and water charges protestors

Fine Gael’s NATO romance –Gavin Mendel-Gleason discusses the plans to further undermine Irish neutrality.

Ballymun’s lessons – Richard O’Hara finds out about mistakes in the development of Ballymun that can inform future social housing projects.

The Corbyn Surge – Francis Donohoe and Dara McHugh report on the movement that powered a socialist to the head of the British Labour Party.

Europe – Left or Leaving? Is it possible to have a progressive European Union? Nessa Childers MEP and Patricia McKenna debate.

Tory Assault on Trade Unions – Tory plans for draconian new laws will provoke a powerful response from the trade union movement, Kerry Fleck reports.

Portugal’s Deeply Rooted Left – Áine Mannion discusses the past and present of the Portuguese Communist Party. 

Forum – The politics of migration, international trade deals, the Carrickmines fire and class in NGOs

A forgotten revolutionary – John Jefferies explores the radical life of John Dowling, a Munster trade unionist and socialist.

Gemma Hutton – The outspoken Belfast comedian talks sexuality and sectarianism with Dolan.

The Great Propagandist – Looking at the art world of the USSR through the life and work of El Lissitsky.

Refugees Welcome – The football fans reaching out to refugees in Ireland and abroad

And much more…

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Pop Art in London

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Pop art — a complicit reflection of and a critical response to the plethora of media that bombarded popular culture in the 1960s: magazines, photographs, billboards, colour advertising, television, brand names, celluloid – was bound up with the climatic ascendency of US power in its manifest destiny to conquer the world with military might and icons and logos of the good life and the free market. Baudrillard noted this in 1970 when he characterised pop art as the ‘total integration of artwork into the political economy of the commodity sign’.

crowd of people, even dissenters, becoming just a collection of potential consumers.

Tate Modern’s exhibition refocuses this debate not by bringing together the familiar works of Pop Art but by looking at its international face and showing how it was used by artists to raise
social and political issues that went beyond the remit usually associated with Warhol et al. For Evelyn Axell, the space age of the 1960s becomes a site of sexuality in Valentine (1966) by showing Valentine Tereshkova, the Russian cosmonaut, waiting to be unzipped in an act of erotic voyeurism that celebrates female intimacy. In Joan Rabascall’s Atomic Kiss (1968) the archetypal movie-inspired female mouth in red lipstick is juxtaposed with an image of an atomic explosion. These are interesting and arresting but other pieces on show seem lightweight, like Teresa Buga’s Cubes (1968) which looks like a dismantled Rubik’s Cube painted with graphic signs. It is supposed to anticipate a post-modern world where meaning is never fixed, always subject to deconstruction and reconfiguration, but if
you were unkind you’d say it would not be out of place in a children’s play area. Kiki Kogelnik, an Austrian who went to New York and met Warhol, Rauschenberg and the gang, gives us Bombs in Love (1962), a mixed-media sculpture of two found bomb-casings painted in lurid colours of hippydom. It has a curiosity value but a museum rather than an art gallery might best serve as its permanent home.

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December Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The December issue of Socialist Voice is now online.     

No Christmas for the homeless
AROUND THE the country the twinkling of the Christmas lights and decorations beckons us into the glitter-adorned shops and shopping centres, caressing us and persuading us to part with our hard-earned money, to place the little plastic card in the machine to buy that must-have present, to push everyone further into debt in a shopping frenzy to buy goods we don’t really need.

TTIP – A cloak for imperialist expansion
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now being secretly negotiated between the European Union and the United States, is an agreement designed to attack the gains of workers, to open up public utilities…

Not so much a ‘Fresh Start’, more a political limbo: Tommy McKearney
SO THERE you have it. The Stormont Assembly crisis is over, and we’re told that everything is settled. Well, the crisis has been resolved—that is, until the next kerfuffle arises, sending all hands scurrying back to London for another lengthy round of arbitration.

Maria fighting back:
Maria decided to fight back, on the strength of her political education with the outreach group from UCD women’s studies group in Mid-West Dublin. She received a HETAC level 7, which was a great achievement. She contacted the relevant…..

Global wealth and distribution in October:
The Swiss banking company Credit Suisse published its sixth report on global wealth in two informative and useful publications, Global Wealth Report, 2015 and its complementary Global Databook, 2015.

Sovereignty and democracy at risk in Denmark
Mary Graham in Copenhagen
The Danish people go to the polls on 3 December to vote on whether to shed the country’s power under the Lisbon Treaty to opt out of EU laws on justice and home affairs…….

Reclaim the Vision of 1916 International Poetry Competition,
2016 Following consultations with some of its patrons and supporters working in the arts, Reclaim the Vision of 1916 is delighted to announce that we will shortly launch an International Poetry Competition. We are grateful to Poetry Ireland for their advice.

Health and safety is a class issue:Alan Hanlon

The Safety (Health and Welfare at Work) Act (2005) is the main body of legislation governing the whole area of health and welfare at work. This particular act gives effect to EU Council Directives 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 and 91/383/EEC of 25 June 1991 to introduce measures to improve health and safety at work.

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Everyone on Board for the Great Hamster Wheel

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Feel like your pay rise, if you get one, is barely covering the cost of living?  That the tax cut you’re going to get next year will only bring you back to where you were this year?  Feel like you’re running just to stand still (if you’re lucky)?  Welcome to the great Hamster Wheel where you can run and run and go absolutely nowhere.

Christmas is coming and Santa is bringing a big bag of price increases.

Health Insurance:  Now is a busy time for health insurance renewals and Charlie Weston reports a series of price increases.  Aviva is to increase prices by 5.1 percent in January. 

‘The Aviva price adjustments come just months after similar hikes. At the start of the year, the insurer announced a rise of 3.5pc. And in the summer, it announced rises of 5.1pc, effective from the start of last July.’

Other insurers have also announced prices increases. 

The health insurance market is getting more complicated.  72 Aviva health plans (yes, 72) will experience increases, many won’t while 47 plans will be withdrawn.  These will entail increases of €150 to €200 per year for many policy holders.  Weston quotes one independent broker as saying that most plans only have a life-span of 12 months.  Sign up if you will but realise that your plan may not exist after 12 months. 

Hands up all those who would just rather pay for their health through social insurance – one plan to cover all contingencies – and share that cost with employers.

Public Transport Fares:  urban bus, Luas, rail and Bus Eireann fares are going up, though some travellers will experience a decrease with a number of zones being merged.  Some of the increases will reach 15 percent meaning an additional €70 per year.  But while there will be winners and losers in these price increases and changes, over the last four years public transport has experienced considerable inflation:

  • Rail fares:  17.3 percent
  • Bus fares:  21.4 percent
  • Overall inflation:  1.6 percent

That’s a substantial gap.

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