Neo-liberalism

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Obstruct Reality, Consciously Manipulate, and Deny the Denial: Propaganda, Irish Style

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The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien.  The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.

But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.

The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations.  As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.

That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.

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In Defence of China

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This article originally appeared in Jude Woodward’s new blog, New Cold War on the 2nd of May. NCW deals with the USA’s attempts to launch a new Cold War against China. 

The United States has launched a confrontation with China that it is attempting to project as of Cold War dimensions. Its clear aim is to isolate China diplomatically and politically, threaten it militarily, force it to divert investment from the productive economy to military spending, exclude it from world markets and label it a ‘pariah’ state.

In pursuit of this, the US is decisively stepping up its naval and military presence directed at China – the so-called ‘pivot to the Pacific’. It is encouraging China’s neighbours to step up their own military spending and take a more aggressive stance to China. Initiatives like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are aimed at creating huge preferential trade blocs led by the US that specifically exclude China.

The US is trying to isolate China politically, not just at the level of states, but by confusing and dividing those that might otherwise oppose this offensive, particularly through hypocritical and exaggerated campaigns on China’s record on human rights and labour standards and presenting China as aggressive and expansionist when it responds to legitimate security concerns or local challenges.

The core of the US’s re-orientation to contain and confront China is a shift to station 60% of the US’s total naval capacity in the Pacific, the first time since 1945 that the majority of US forces will have been out of the Atlantic-Mediterranean arena.

To facilitate this the US has won agreement to a new base in Australia, up-graded its Guam facilities, negotiated with Japan to stay on in Okinawa, is building a major new base in South Korea, and has agreed with the Philippines that its ex-base at Subic Bay is once more at the disposal of the US navy. It has sold a new raft of arms to Taiwan, upped its deal for F-16s with Indonesia, strengthened its military alliance with Japan and encouraged the other countries surrounding China to re-arm.

The fundamental question that this American policy towards China poses is what position should the left, the anti-war movement and progressive forces world-wide take on the confrontation?

The answer should be crystal clear – to defend China against this imperialist offensive.

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Launch of ATTAC Ireland, 5/6 April

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Disarm the Markets: Launch of Attac Ireland with a public talk by Esther Jeffers (University of Paris VIII and European Attac Network) and IFSC walking tour with Conor McCabe.

Where: Room 4-027, Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street, Dublin 2

When: Saturday 5th April, 2pm.

Attac is an international movement working towards social, environmental and democratic alternatives to neoliberal globalisation. Founded in France in 1998, it fights for the regulation of financial markets, the closure of tax havens, the introduction of global taxes to finance global public goods, the cancellation of debt, fair trade, and the implementation of limits to free trade and capital flows (see www.attac.org).

5th April marks the launch of the Irish chapter of Attac. Attac Ireland is delighted to welcome Esther Jeffers who will speak at the event. Esther is a lecturer at the University of Paris VIII and a specialist on shadow banking and finance in the Euro area.

Esther’s talk will be followed by an open meeting for anyone interested in becoming involved with Attac Ireland. This meeting will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about Attac, and to discuss how Attac Ireland could be developed to challenge financial power and injustice through education and activism.

These events will be followed on Sunday morning 6th April, with a walking tour of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) by Dr Conor McCabe (UCD School of Social Justice). Time tbc.

Follow Attac Ireland on Facebook

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A Dialogue on Democracy and the Republic, Part 2

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Here is the second part of a dialogue with philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop on the idea of the republic. This is a continuation of the discussion started here on the 29th of October last.

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop taught modern philosophy in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from 1981 to 1986. He translated Spinoza’s correspondence into Spanish and, as a member of the Association des Amis de Spinoza, has taken part in seminars and congresses in France and Italy. He is currently working as a senior translator in the Council of the European Union and is specialized in foreign policy matters. He is an advisory editor of the review Décalages (on Althusserian studies). He writes in European and Latin-American publications on Spinoza, Althusser, modern philosophy and political philosophy. His latest book is La dominación liberal (Liberal Domination. Essay on liberalism as a power apparatus) (Tierra de Nadie, Madrid, 2010). He is currently linked to the Philosophy Center of the Université libre de Bruxelles, where he is preparing a PhD on Spinoza in Althusser. His blog, in Spanish, is Iohannes Maurus.

RMcA: I’d like to relate what you’ve been saying here to the present situation in Europe. Before I do, a couple of comments. I think you -and the rest of the line of the damned!- are right about the common-wealth as an originary reality underlying capitalism itself. Indeed, the legal architecture of a capitalist State rests, at a very basic level, upon a conception of something that is common to all. And it’s also true about the way neoliberalism puts knowledge of this originary reality to its own ends.

 

JDSE: There is much to say on common-wealth or even on communism as the very fabric of any society, even of the one which most utterly denies it, capitalism. What we, on the “line of the damned” construe as the commons, has in bourgeois legal terms, an equivalent: the “public” as synonymous with State-owned and/or -managed. This is, of course, a mystification of the common ground of society, placed as a transcendent One above the multitude. This is exactly the way Hobbes thinks of the union of a Commonwealth in his political works. Against this we consider the multitude as rooted in the common, as an ever open set of incomplete singular individualizations as the French philosopher Simondon put it, in a very Spinozist way (even if he never was aware of this connection). From this point of view, the common is always-already political, and the relevant question is not the one about the origin of the political or the common, but the one about individualization and its modes.

Neoliberalism is an effort -possibly the last effort- by capitalism to get asymptotically as close as possible to the communist fabric of society, and even of the human species, in order to exploit it. That’s why it has been identified by Michel Foucault as “biopolitics”. Life and the reproduction of capital are getting ever closer to each other. The very span of labour time or space is nowadays indefinite and becomes identical to human individual and social life. There is no longer a closed space and a definite time for labour, as was the case in the classical Fordist or even pre-Fordist (Dickensian) factory. Today, life reproduction and labour are the same: Marx would say that we have entirely completed the “real subsumption” of labour under capital.

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On the Irish government’s “precautionary credit line” and “exiting the bailout” – The Emperor has no clothes

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Statement from the Communist Party of Ireland

The Communist Party of Ireland today warned Irish workers not to fall for the latest ruse by the bankrupt political establishment with its announcement that this failed state will leave the “bail-out programme” — which is in fact a restructuring programme — by 15 December with or without a “precautionary credit line.”

This will not mean an end to any of the current or planned cuts in health, education, or social welfare, nor end the drive for privatisation. Nor will it prevent the need for continuous cuts in the future. The servicing of the debt is costing the Irish people nearly €9 billion per year — similar to the annual education budget. Austerity will be a permanent feature of the lives of working families far into the future.

Debt has become the principal political means for strengthening external mechanisms of control by the EU Commission – dominated by Germany – not just of this state but all member states and in particular over the other heavily indebted peripheral states. The capacity of the peoples across the European Union to democratically affect political and economic changes is being rapidly diminished. Democracy is being hollowed out.

It is simply not in the interests of the Irish political and economic establishment to assert independent actions, their interest lies in ensuring that the current process continues and deepens.

Ireland continues to be at the mercy of “the markets” – those who control the markets are those who control the troika.

Debt is also being used to push through the long-term strategic imperative of economic restructuring that is intended to restore lost inequalities and to impose new ones, not only in Ireland.

The announcement today has more to do with appearances than with reality. Just as we were the poster boy for economic development during the “Celtic Tiger” period, we are now being touted as the poster boy of good behaviour for accepting austerity without a whimper.

The European Union has to show to the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and other EU member-states that if they take the austerity medicine without resistance, it works.

The system itself is in a deep and deepening structural crisis with debt and stagnation just the latest manifestations.

The emperor has no clothes.

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Interview with Prof. David Harvey

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Volume one, issue two of the Irish Left Review is now in stores – you can pick it up online or get it from one of the bookshops listed here.

The latest issue features an extended interview with Marxist geographer and social theorist David Harvey. Professor Harvey is one of the best-known radical thinkers of the twenty-first century and has published popular books on topics ranging from urban rebellion to postmodernism and from Marx’s Capital to the history of neoliberalism.

In the printed interview he discusses his forthcoming book, ‘The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism’, illustrating how the emphasis on exchange value creates a crisis in housing and using contradiction as a basis to tease out a basis for postcapitalist imagination for the Left. Segments of that discussion have appeared previously in Red Pepper.

Below we print unpublished segments of the interview, conducted by journalists Ronan Burtenshaw and Aubrey Robinson, in which Professor Harvey discusses a variety of topics related to his own work and the politics of austerity Ireland. 

Q. One of the reasons why this year is important to the Irish Left is that it is the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. That struggle was built upon a very clear class consciousness, which those engaged in left-wing politics today don’t enjoy. Is there a crisis of class consciousness at the moment? How might we address talking about or organising around class to revitalise it?

DH. The traditional way of thinking about class has always been to think about factory labour. During the industrial era factory labour was critical in terms of the creation of class consciousness and organisation. The Left has celebrated, in a way, the factory labourer as the centre of its critical consciousness and politics. We now face the problem that factory labour has largely disappeared in many parts of the world. It is still there in Bangladesh – what has been happening in factories there is similar to the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911 – the suicides in the factories in China and so on. You could take all of those things  and put them in Marx’s chapter on the working day in volume one of Capital. You wouldn’t know the difference.

Nineteenth century capitalism is still a very strong presence in the world – it is just not here in the UK, Ireland, the United States in the same way it was thirty or forty years ago. As a result of that I think the concept of the working-class has to be revised. I was never happy with this concentration on factory labour, partly because of my urban interests. I ask questions like, ‘where did the Paris Commune come from?’ It was an urban event. People wanted to get their city back. You look historically and 1848 was about people wanting to get their city back as much as it was about the factories. The same in 1919 in Seattle. Then there’s 1968 – which was to do with Paris, Bangkok, Mexico City. If you look historically the city has always been the site of political activism.

My argument all along has been that we have got to pay attention to that dimension of class struggle. It is not class struggle which is as clearly defined as the factory – between bosses and workers. It is a struggle over who owns and has the right to the city. There has always been a dimension of class struggle which has been urban-based. Because of the transformations that have occurred over the last fifty years it seems to me that dimension of struggle has become even more significant. The Left has not caught up in its ideology with what is going on because it is still fixated with the notion of the factory labourer.

Why don’t we think about the city instead of the factory as the centre of what class action is all about? There is a very interesting moment in Gramsci. Around 1916 he wrote a piece saying, ‘I’m very much in favour of the factory councils, they are critical political organisations. But they need to be supplemented by the ward committees.’ These committees were organising all of those people who couldn’t be organised through the factory – the street cleaners, the cab drivers, and so on. Then he noticed something. He said, ‘the ward committees have a better idea about the condition of the whole working-class because the factory council is good at the sector but they don’t have a vision of the whole.’ So I think that labour should be organising around the whole working-class which includes all of those precarious and temporary workers right now that are servicing the city.

Take the immigrants rights’ movement in the United States in 2006. Without being conscious of this immigrants decided not to go to work on a day because they were protesting some of the legislation that was being proposed. Because of that Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles shut down. New York partially shut down. The immigrant population, including the undocumented, refused to go to work for a day and the whole city stopped. This is a tremendous power. I think that the Left has to have imagination and ask, ‘how do we organise a whole city?’

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Report: Unmasking Austerity: Lessons for Australia, on the disastrous economic and social effects of austerity in Europe and North America

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UNMASKING AUSTERITY: Lessons for Australia, by Dexter Whitfield

This new report, Unmasking Austerity: Lessons for Australia, documents why austerity failed and its disastrous economic and social effects in Europe and North America and highlights why Australia should not adopt these policies. Government debt continued to increase, reduced demand intensified the recession, negative or weak growth prevailed and the private sector failed to invest. The cost of lost output, reduced wealth, mass unemployment and government intervention runs into trillions in any currency. Public spending cuts and closures increased poverty and widened inequality as working people and the poor were made to pay for the failure of the banks, financial markets and wealthy elites. Austerity advocates were equally committed to embedding neoliberalism in the public sector and the welfare state and reconfiguring the role of the state.

Prepared for the Don Dunstan Foundation and Public Service Association of South Australia and published by the Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre, University of Adelaide.

http://www.adelaide.edu.au/wiser/WISeR_unmasking-austerity.pdf

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To the Crucible II: A Further Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left

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This is a sequel to To the crucible: An Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left published on the 21st of January, 2013.

The Dominant Narrative

“Things have gone very quiet in Greece, haven’t they?” So many people said that to me in the past six months or so. I responded that there was a lot going on, even if international media weren’t covering it. There were civil mobilisations of teachers and transport workers, as well as rising unemployment, emigration and impoverishment, being met with continuing protest, strikes, occupations. Even so, I sensed a lull in the rhythm of resistance, since the big demonstrations opposing the passage of the third memorandum last autumn. Obviously people couldn’t keep going at that pitch all the time, but how many were succumbing to exhaustion, despair, defeat? How many were quietly going about their work in solidarity networks, policy development, political education?

The story circulating in May, promoted by its government, was that Greece had stabilised and protest had subsided. Grexit had given way to Grecovery. Antonis Samaras, who was most actively articulating this, touring the world with the good news, even heralded a Greek ‘renaissance’. The feeblest of economic indicators were offered as evidence, although international commentators, even ones who wanted to believe this story, found it hard to get past the fact that most indicators still pointed in the opposite direction. In other statements, Samaras conceded that they hadn’t really changed the numbers yet, but insisted that they had eliminated the ‘negative psychology’.

Many Greeks were scathing, pointing out that tiny shifts from rating agencies and bond yields paled into insignificance aside the continuing freefall of the economy and the still deteriorating conditions of life for non-oligarchic Greeks. Among indicators being trumpeted were lower wages, which might be good news for investors, but hardly for workers. Yanis Varoufakis labelled the Greek success story as the ‘latest Orwellian turn of the Greek crisis’ and laid the economic facts on the line’

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Provisional University: Talk by Peter Linebaugh plus contributions from research collectives based in Spain, Ireland, USA and the U.K.

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The Provisional University Presents…

A day of talks and discussions with acclaimed historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto

plus research collectives based in Spain, Ireland, USA and the U.K.

Time: Saturday, May 18, 2013 11:00am until 5:00pm

Location: O’Connell House, 58 Merrion Square, Dublin 2

This event is open to the public and admission is free but booking is advised.

RSVP: commonsevent@gmail.com

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EU Austerity Budget – Cuts, Cuts, Cuts

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The Irish government has made much of the fact that it now holds the EU Presidency, chairing meetings of the European Council. It has been proudly proclaiming success in negotiating a new EU budget for 2014 to 2020 (the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework – MFF). What they don't say, however, that in the position of Presidency, they are pursuing the same austerity policies that they implement in Ireland – imposing unprecedented levels of cuts to the EU budget.

Two weeks ago the European Parliament voted for a resolution that rejected, in its current form, the proposed MFF. The proposal comes from the February summit of the EU Council and was a product of horse trading and negotiations between the EU's 27 heads of state.

This Summit was presented as showdown between Hollande on the one hand and Merkel and Cameron on the other. In reality, it was a discussion on how far to stick the knife into workers and poor people, with Herman Van Rompuy, backed up by the Irish Presidency, presenting a draft proposal for a second round of cuts. This was then amended to reflect the various political pressures on the heads of states. Despite these competing pressures, all heads of states feared an open conflict over the EU budget that would rattle the markets at a time they seemed to be calming. They also no doubt feared such open division could give confidence to workers and those opposed to austerity that they face a divided enemy and give impetus to new struggles.

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Tsipras in London: “Europe is the field of the class fight”

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The following questions and answers with an audience took place after a talk Alexis Tsipras gave to SYRIZA’s London branch in Friend’s House in Euston on Friday, March 15th. Coverage of the speech itself can be found here. Some of the questions have been condensed to remove lengthy preambles and/or tangents but they remain an accurate reflection of the query posed by the audience member. Rónán Burtenshaw

Q. Could you give us a few reflections on what we can learn from the Left in Latin America and particularly the legacy of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela?

A. That’s a good question because I was in Venezuela a few days ago. What impressed me about my recent visit was the tens of thousands of people waiting patiently to go past the remains of Chávez. They weren’t expressing grief waiting to pay their final respects but they were showing hope, resolution and determination. This signifies that for the last fourteen years this process has been ongoing in Venezuela and is continuing. This shows us that no social transformation or movement can be sustained without popular support. Chávez was accused by his opponents of being a dictator but I have not met many dictators who have won thirteen elections in fourteen years. For us it is clear proof that without popular support it is not possible to carry out these reforms. This is what we can learn from the Latin American experience, and particularly Venezuela.

Q. How can Greece create enough room to manoeuvre at the international level to resist pressure from the creditors, the IMF and the EU and follow a real alternative path to austerity?

A. How will our lenders, creditors and our partners in the European Union be able to answer that question? It would be the first time that they are under this pressure from a government with popular support. How would they deal with this pressure? I am certain that austerity isn’t the way out of this crisis and, in fact, that it is the political aim of those who force it upon us. They are fully aware of that. They want to blackmail people with this enormous debt, which has been worsened by government policy, and by the threat of expulsion from the Euro. The clear aim is to create the conditions where the southern European belt will be a place of cheap labour and favourable conditions for exploitation, and they have been confronted so far with no opposition from any of the governments from the south. Instead what these governments are doing is accepting every absurd measure that’s being proposed to them. But once they have resistance from a government with popular support the balance of fear will change, it would move to the other side of the battlefield.

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Thatcherism Delayed? The Irish Crisis and the Paradox of Social Partnership

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There has been much criticism recently here and elsewhere about the strategy taken by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as a response to the crisis, the establishment, defending of, and piñata like status of the Croke Park Agreement, and the thinking behind the Lift the Burden ‘protest’ on the 9th of February which is supposed to send, we are told by David Begg a “very clear signal to Europe”. The clear message seems to be that Congress want to get Irish workers to support the government’s efforts in negotiating a deal on Ireland’s bank debt along the vague lines expressed in the June 2012 Summit that “the Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme”. In light of this ineffectual ambition on the part of Congress I thought it would be worth providing some context in the form of this very informative article by Terrence McDonough and Tony Dundon, of the School of Business and Economics at NUI, Galway. The follow is an excerpt from the final part of a much longer paper called Thatcherism delayed? The Irish crisis and the paradox of social partnership which was originally published in Industrial Relations Journal (41:6, 544–562) in 2010.

The whole article reviews the state of Irish industrial relations in light of the current economic crisis. It argues that social partnership was rooted in the continuation of a tradition of permissive voluntarism with minimal employment rights with both direct and indirect implications for the current Irish economic crisis. As such, Irish industrial relations cannot be understood in isolation from a broader analysis of the rise and fall of social structures of capitalist accumulation.

I would like to thank Terrence McDonough and Tony Dundon for permission to republish this section of the paper on Irish Left Review.

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The Truth about the Deficit

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The following letter was sent on Monday by Paul Murphy MEP to Minister Varadkar, to clarify the facts made on the January 27th episode of The Week in Politics. The program can be watched on the RTE Player for any who missed it.

Dear Minister Varadkar,

I hope you are well. Yesterday on ‘The Week in Politics’, we disagreed over a number of factual issues to do with the level of the primary deficit and the impact of a repudiation of debt. I would like to detail here the sources for my statements, which I stand over. I intend to publish this letter on my website (www.paulmurphymep.eu) in order to allow people to see the relevant figures.

I asserted that the primary deficit for 2013 was, according to government figures, slightly over €3 billion. This is confirmed by the government’s ‘Medium Term Fiscal Statement’ from November 2012. The table on page 26 puts the General Government Primary Balance for 2013 at -€3,250 million, i.e. a primary deficit of €3.25 billion.

A separate figure is also given on that page of an ‘Exchequer Balance’ which gives a primary deficit in 2013 of €8 billion. Which figure is more accurate? Table 1c of the ‘Ireland – Stability Programme Update’ from December 2009 answers as follows:

“The General Government Balance (GGB) measures the fiscal performance of all arms of Government, i.e. Central Government, Local Authorities, Health Boards (prior to 2005 – their replacement, the HSE, is part of the Exchequer), Vocational Education Committees and non-commercial State sponsored bodies, as well as funds such as the Social Insurance Fund and the National Pensions Reserve Fund which are managed by government agents. It thus provides an accurate assessment of the fiscal performance of a more complete “government” sector.” (my emphasis)

It seems to me to be clear that the figure of the ‘General Government Balance’ is the figure that should be used.

In addition, I asserted that if we refused to pay the €9.1 billion in payments and the bailed-out bank bond payments this year, we would not need to borrow on the international markets and could in fact have public investment in jobs. Regardless of your political position on whether this is a viable strategy or not, I believe this to be self-evidently factually true.

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Avoiding the dustbin of history a year after privatisation in Dublin

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This day last year, 16th January 2012, was a black day for Irish trade unionism. From that day bin collection in Dublin was carried out by a private firm, Greyhound, after Dublin City Council sold the business to them bringing bin collection by the city to an end after almost 150 years. The privatisation of bin collection in Dublin City Council was, among all the recent setbacks and climb downs of the trade union movement, a symbolic defeat in a heartland of Irish blue collar trade unionism. The Dublin bins have gone the way of other emblematic and once seemingly impregnable redoubts of Irish trade union stability, such as the integrity and public status of electricity supply and the sacredness of the JLC/ERO system. Unlike signal defeats further back, those at Pat the Baker, Ryanair and Irish Ferries for instance, the Dublin bins passed with only a whimper.

That the privatisation of Dublin city bin collection happened at all was a depressing development. The manner in which it occurred served only to lower the mood further. As the changeover happened some of the bin workers themselves were certainly dissatisfied with the situation and with the unions:

“Before heading out [for the last time at Davitt Road depot], the men met for about half an hour to discuss their options. There was talk of “missed opportunities”, of how they should have balloted for industrial action before Christmas, or sat in in the depot last week, keeping the lorries hostage. They derided both council management and their unions – Impact and Siptu. Shortly after 6.30am the seven crews set out. It was minus 1 degree, and still dark….” (Irish Times, 14th January 2012)

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