Posts By Micheal Flynn

Scapegoating During a Time of Crisis

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The following piece is based on a much longer article ‘Scapegoating During a Time of Crisis: A Critique of Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland’, co-written by Micheal Flynn, Lee Monaghan and Martin Power. It is available here.

Austerity and Scapegoating: two sides of the same coin

Class war is in large part a propaganda war; it is in no way confined to formal political life, but  works its way through all the institutions of society. For the most part it is the ruling class that is advancing – most obviously through the commercial media, which so often serves to divide, disempower, demoralise and dis-benefit the working class.

Only a few years ago it was generally accepted that bankers, developers and speculators destroyed Ireland’s economy. In the wake of the collapse, Brian Lenihan’s claim that ‘we all partied’ was rightly understood as an attempt to deflect blame from those actually responsible. Most understood that it was the recklessness of the investing classes, coupled with the political decision to socialise private bank debt that had forced hundreds of thousands on to dole queues and/or through airport departure gates. For a time, the anger of the population was focused squarely of those that had destroyed the economy.

Yet, notions of collective responsibility have been carefully fostered ever since. The idea of a specifically Irish lust for property (or even a ‘property-owning gene’) appears to have become the common-sense of our time. The commercial media, with the help of the trendy economists elevated to celebrity status, such as David McWilliams, reason that everything went askew because of a ‘cult of property’. We Irish gave in to a ‘mass delusion’ – or as Indakinny so eloquently explained ‘we all went a bit mad with borrowing’.

Consequently, and very conveniently, the role of developers, speculators and politicians – their systematic destruction of alternatives to crippling mortgage debt, the role of section 23 tax breaks, the endemic planning corruption revealed by the Mahon tribunal, are all put out of sight as blame is socialised. This makes it far easier to justify the on-going socialisation of debt, which in turn helps to rationalise the ‘tough decisions’ that government insists are unavoidable. The subsequent apportioning of blame to specific targets is likewise done in a manner consistent with the distribution of austerity.

As expected, cuts to the public sector have gone hand-in-hand with attempts to demonize public sector workers. With the public sector now on the chopping block, ‘over-paid’ and ‘under worked’ public sector workers have been identified as unbearable burdens on the public finances. Rather than remain focused on where the billions are actually going, attention is paid to a ‘privileged’ public sector. This cultivation of resentment gives licence to savage cuts and softens the public up for privatisations. Even better, damage done to the highly-unionised public sector also damages the trade union movement, which when weakened makes for more effective attacks on pay and conditions down the line.

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The Casualisation of Labour in Third Level Institutions

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The following article by Micheal Flynn is taken from the first issue of the relaunched The Bottom Dog, published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, and which is now available in Connolly Books. You can also follow the The Bottom Dog on Facebook

Provisional results from a survey carried out by the newly formed Third Level Workplace Watch indicate that third-level institutions are to the very forefront of the shift towards precarious employment in Ireland today. A considerable volume of teaching work (sometimes including the delivery of core modules) is now carried out on the basis of 6 month and 9 month contracts. As more responsibility is heaped on the shoulders of junior lecturers, more teaching work is carried out by lecturers with no job security at all – by temporary lecturers and so-called teaching assistants. These precariously employed lecturers are systematically thrown out of employment prior to permanency; and with further cuts to funding, the pool of unemployed and underemployed educators expands, creating feelings of isolation, vulnerability, demoralisation, a disinclination to join trade unions, and in turn, further opportunities to undermine conditions. The normalisation of short-term contracts is only part of the story. Third Level Workplace Watch has found that a considerable amount of teaching-work is also carried out by lecturers on the basis of hourly-paid contracts, by so-called adjunct lecturers. The prevalence of this in the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology has yet to be fully revealed – though initial discussions with part-time staff indicate some conformity with the Third Level Workplace Watch survey findings.

The rates of pay for hourly-paid lecturers are relatively easy to find out, but these actually tell us very little. For example, we know that the hourly-rate for day-time lectures in UL (in the humanities at least) is €50. And this does sound attractive. However, when we look at what €50 per hour really means, a very different picture emerges. Anyone familiar with teaching at third level (including most of those enrolled as students) can understand that lecture hours are really only a small part of what comprises the teaching role – it is necessary to prepare and write lectures, deliver lectures, set assessments, carry out assessments, answer students’ emails, carry out all kinds of technical and administrative tasks, as well as provide guidance on a daily basis. Given that precariously employed ‘adjunct’ lecturers take on all of these duties – exactly the same duties as permanent members of staff – the compensation is actually far closer to the minimum wage (if not below) than it is to €50 per hour. Apart from this, the hourly rate for tutorials averages between €20 and €30, but can be as low as €13 (the case with at least one humanities department); assessment per student is approximately €6.50 per student per semester. We know that on this basis, a part-time lecturer taking on a module with 30 students, lasting one semester – 12 weeks, with for example, two lecture hours per week and two tutorial hours (tutorials lasting for approximately 7 weeks of term) – will carry out all duties for less than €2000.

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The Bottom Dog Bites Back – Call for Articles

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The Bottom Dog, a publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, was first published on 20th October 1917. The paper brought together the forces of industrial unionism and radical elements among the craft unions. By the time the Dog's first editor, Ben Dineen, died in November 1918, forty-eight editions of the paper had been published. The Dog began its life in order to represent the interests of the oppressed (the “bottom dog”), whether oppressed in terms of class, race, nation, sex or otherwise.

Always and everywhere the Dog worked to expose social injustice and to highlight the plight of those whose stories are omitted in polite society, insisting that the “bottom dog would only come into his own when every worker, male and female, was thoroughly organised”. The Dog has always attempted to give voice to the oppressed and has always focused its attention on issues such as bad housing, low pay, unemployment and poor working conditions.

Since the attacks on the working class are as fierce as they have ever been, The Dog is now ready to return as a quarterly publication (from December 2013). The current editorial team is determined that when the Dog returns it will bite hard. With sincere respect to the history and spirit of the publication we take the 1975 editorial statement as our starting point:

“The Bottom Dog is not a platform for any political party or faction. It is rather a forum open to all workers who wish to contribute articles or ideas etc. The paper covers issues where the working class is under attack or on the advance e.g. redundancies, unemployment, wage freezes and attacks on workers' rights, repression, sex discrimination and womens' rights, strikes, sit-ins and trade-unionisation, especially when they relate to, affect, teach lessons or show the way forward for workers in this country.”

The Dog aspires to be a voice of, and for, the working class – a space where workers, activists, scholars and all others committed to furthering the interests of the working class as a class, can develop and disseminate ideas, and prepare for the struggles ahead.

To this end, The Bottom Dog is currently inviting article contributions. These will normally be 250-700 words. All submissions and expressions of interest can be sent to bottomdog@limerickcounciloftradeunions.com. Accepted articles will be published in the printed edition or/and on our website: http://www.limerickcounciloftradeunions.com/apps/blog/

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A Call to Educate

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The following will focus on the relationship between planned political education and left activism. If there is a justification for this, it lies in the history of the worker’s movement itself. Almost every significant step toward the self-emancipation of the working class has rested on a deep and thoroughgoing emphasis on the educational development of those indispensably involved.

Careful planning and organisation of political education among activists and workers, within and without their respective organisations, is always centrally important. In an attempt to provoke discussion, some questions are raised about the different strategies for the development of educational forms worthy of the movement the present generation of socialist activists hope to build.

The most influential socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries all realised the necessity of ensuring workers take ownership of, and develop, the knowledge necessary for self-emancipation. Certainly Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, along with many other pioneers of the movement, were never prepared to neglect this necessary work, not under threat of exile, not in the midst of revolutionary upheavals, not during imprisonment, conditions of civil war and/or counter-revolutionary witch-hunts. Realising that action has to be theoretically informed, they never stopped studying, analysing and writing, throughout their lives. They have done much to prepare the ground, providing many useful signposts for subsequent generations, yet the necessity for intensive scholarship and focused dissemination of knowledge has not diminished in the slightest.

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