Gravy train still stops at all the right stations by Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times)

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Voici un article paru il y a quelques semaines, mais qui reste cruellement d’actualité. En Mai, un sénateur irlandais du Fianna Fail, laminé aux dernières élections, recevait une confortable rente à vie alors que s’ouvrait le débat sur l’opportunité d’une réduction du salaire de ceux qui travaillent le dimanche, dans le cadre de l’effort partagé pour renflouer l’économie. Tous dans le même bateau, mais le "Gravy Train" roule pour les riches. J’aime l’énergie de Fintan O’Toole lorsqu’il dénonce l’archaïsme d’une élite qui reste volontairement de marbre face aux injustices qu’elle inflige aux citoyens. Alors que les marchés s’acharnent sur la Grèce, le Portugal et bientôt l’Espagne et l’Italie, avant de passer au plat de résistance, dont la France, un certain nombre de "lucky ones" y trouve son compte, dans une démonstration d’égoïsme et de cynisme inouï. Ce capitalisme triomphant nous ramène deux siècles en arrière, aux pires heures de la révolution industrielle, comme le souligne Fintan qui mentionne très justement Dickens. 


 Ivor Callely will get €63,000 a year for the rest of his life yet Richard Bruton targets the poorest workers FINTAN O’TOOLE

WHAT IS the price of a litre of milk? How much does a sliced pan cost? Are baked beans cheaper in Aldi or in Dunnes? What’s the typical bus fare between a working-class city suburb and an industrial estate?

There are people who know the answers to these questions and there are those who don’t. And the most nauseating sound in Ireland is the people who don’t, pontificating about the people who do. It is smug, sleek people who live in a bubble of comfort and self-satisfaction deciding that the problem in this bloody country is that the women who clean their offices are paid too much.

This is a State in which Ivor Callely, who is so smart he couldn’t quite figure out where he was living, is due to get more than a quarter of a million euro from the taxpayers over the next year as compensation for the fact that he can’t get elected anymore. For the rest of his life, which could be about 40 years, Ivor will get a pension of €63,000 a year. With his lump sums that’s a total of about €2.75 million.

Now let’s consider a contract cleaner, whose feathered-bedded status apparently keeps Richard Bruton awake at night. She gets up before dawn or leaves home after dusk to scrub toilets, polish floors and pick up the mess of people she’ll never even see.

I’ve never worked as a senator, so I can only imagine the stress that Ivor would have been under trying to work out all those complex expenses claims. But I have worked as a contract cleaner. It is miserable and soul-destroying, and I’d stick my neck out and say it’s a lot harder on the human spirit than waffling in the Senate while doing a bit of property development on the side.

Under the wage-setting mechanisms that Richard Bruton sees as such a problem, the contract cleaner gets €370.50 a week and no pension. That’s €770,000 over 40 years.

In other words, Ivor will get more than 3½ times for doing nothing at all what the cleaner will get for doing a miserable job in unsocial hours. And which of them does Richard Bruton see as a problem for Ireland, as the one whose over-inflated sense of self-worth must be brought down to size if we are to face reality? Not Ivor, apparently.

But then, Ivor, however repellent, is an individual. He’s a person. He has a name. Contract cleaners don’t have names. They are not people. They don’t have kids. They are “units of labour cost”.

They belong to what Charles Dickens in Hard Times calls “the multitude . . . generically called ‘the Hands’ – a race who would have found more favour with some people if providence had seen fit to make them only hands.”

What do the Hands need with Sundays? There was a time when it suited the powers that be to grant them Sundays for their spiritual and moral edification. But now that time is gone, Sunday should be just another day for the Hands. Not, mind you, for the Brains who have important things to do on Sundays, like being with their kids or visiting their parents or going to a match or taking a walk.

But since the Hands do none of these things, it is clearly extortionate that they should demand extra money for giving up something that couldn’t possibly mean anything to them.

What is the agenda in all of this? Ostensibly, it is to create jobs.

But as the Kevin Duffy-Frank Walsh report on the subject found, there is simply no evidence that attacking the wages of low-paid workers will lead to a substantial increase in employment.

The notion that the Irish low paid are living high on the hog is ludicrous. Hourly labour costs in the hospitality sector, for example, are already the third lowest in the EU. And the evidence shows that workers in the sectors covered by the system are just as likely to have taken wage cuts as those who are not; so much for the need for “flexibility”.

Is the agenda, then, to do with the crisis in the public finances? Clearly not: wage cuts will cost the State revenue. According to the think tank Tasc (whose council I chair), the direct cost to the exchequer of cutting a worker from €9.27 an hour to the current minimum wage is €1,865 a year per worker. This is without considering the indirect costs of reduced economic demand and the growth in demand for social services as workers and their families struggle to cope on poverty wages.

So if it’s not to do with jobs and it would make the crisis in the public finances worse, why are we even discussing wage cuts for the low paid? Because the crisis is an opportunity to dismantle the minimal protections that vulnerable working people have gained over the last century. Because the elite will sacrifice anyone to protect itself.

And because it allows sleek, smug people to look tough while the gravy train still stops at all the right stations.

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