The following three articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) contrasts how the Irish government deals with mega-corporations, 12,000 Aer Lingus workers threatened with redundancy, and sacked Debenhams’ workers who have taken action
IRELAND BEATS THE RAP ON TAX FRAUD
We would sell out to anyone, claims defence!
The announcement that the European Court had rejected a Commission fine of over €13 billion for a tax scheme with the Apple corporation was greeted with jubilation in Ireland.
The nervous hilarity was reminiscent of a bad melodrama where the Mafia clan escape a guilty verdict through the brilliance of their genius lawyer. The flaw in the European Commission’s case was that it was based on selective advantage. It failed to show that two rulings given by the Irish Revenue, in 1991 and 2007, afforded Apple a selective advantage.
Yet the facts of the case are damning. The 2007 ruling did allow the company to apply a tax rate that fell to as low as 0.005% in 2014 on profits from countries as far flung as India and Australia. The money was held in an Apple offshoot that had no address, no offices and no employees. However, there was nothing to stop other companies asking for the same deal and this legal loophole made it legitimate.
There was no dissent. Even PbP TD Richard Boyd-Barrett complained that the money hadn’t been spent on the working class. The fact that the money had been stolen from workers across the globe and that it exposed the dominance of transnational companies in the Irish economy and politics did not appear to register. Such is the level of demoralisation that a recent ‘left wing’ manifesto contained the timid plea that the transnationals at least pay the low legal rate of 12.5% corporation tax.
The argument that light touch regulation and a tax haven in Ireland guarantees a flow of inward investment is widely supported. A poll following the initial commission fine showed majority support for the Irish government’s defence of Apple.
Yet the credit crunch and Irish bankruptcy arose directly from a policy of subservience to imperialism, Ireland issued an absolute guarantee to banks and bondholders that Irish workers were forced to meet. Tax schemes such as the “Double Dutch” made Ireland notorious and their continued utilisation results in an Irish economy that is so lopsided that instead of measuring GDP a new measure, modified GNI, has to be used instead.
Yet Irish capital holds fast. It has no strategy that would provide housing and health for all. Vulture funds and a constant inflow of private investment keep the show on the road, providing wealth for the ruling class while workers groan under the costs generated by this regime. The system is designed to accommodate imperialist capital with marginal benefits falling to the local bourgeoisie. The International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) has one office listing hundreds of firms qualifying for tax relief but the first 25 “International” firms to enter this “special” tax zone were Irish.
For how much longer can this one trick pony continue its canter? Over time the amount of investment connected to actual production has fallen in favour of completely unproductive financial speculation. The onrushing recession will sharply decrease the volume of trade and Brexit will leave Ireland with partition again an issue as both North and South are ground between a divided Europe and the US/UK axis. In addition, the new government has promised to resolve the housing and health crises and to turn around a reputation of avoiding climate change action by achieving a 7% CO2 reduction.
As with other economies the immediate solution is to borrow money at low interest rates, but as has already been signalled the workers, after suffering a decade of austerity, will be served with the bill. Irish history is dominated by the struggle against British imperialism. The political and economic solutions were seen as lying with a unitary capitalist state. Yet both politically and economically these projects have failed, leaving a policy of advertising a tax haven while ruling out any idea that partition would end and that an Irish democracy would be achieved.
The coming recession will see intense class war. The next chapter of the Irish struggle will involve a renewed battle against imperialism where the historic tasks of national liberation falls to the working class. The goal will be a workers republic with the Irish working class taking their place in a global movement of revolution and solidarity.
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2. AER LINGUS: OWING YOUR SOUL TO THE COMPANY STORE
The International Airlines Group (IAG) which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling have put in place plans to lay off 12,000 employees. The object of this callous measure is to shed all ‘liabilities’ and protect the owners interests.
While benefitting from huge State benefits Aer Lingus has already halved the pay and hours of most staff and have made plans to axe some operations including in Shannon. Their presentation of a Covid 19 ‘recovery’ plan, which further decimated pay and conditions, included a system that required workers to return wages paid out when business was slack and the airline deemed them ‘overpaid’. Workers effectively are to be loaned their wages pending increased company profitability and could end up as the old song says owing their “souls to the company store”, remaining in hock to the company for years to come.
In response to this, Forsa, the union that organises cabin staff, decided they were going ahead with a ballot on the so called ‘deal’ which the workers subsequently rejected by a margin of 75%. At the very suggestion that trade union members should have anything to say on the issue the company decided to dispense with all pretences of consultation or negotiation and impose the package. Their anger at Forsa’s ‘unreasonable’ decision to ballot its members has now resulted in the production of a plan, which they had undoubtedly prepared earlier, to cut pay by 70% and to impose 500 layoffs.
Unlike Forsa, who recognise the “distain” with which they are being treated, Siptu caved in immediately, announcing that; “the proposals, while not ideal were the best that could be achieved at present”. They then proceeded to deny democratic rights to their membership on the pretext of the health emergency, “ SIPTU Divisional Organiser Karan O’Loughlin ruled out a ballot due to pressure of time and public health restrictions.”
The leadership of the largest most powerful trade union in Ireland is lamely borrowing the excuses used by the State to harrass Debenhams picketers and BLM protesters to deny their members a voice. During their many years in social partnership they have obviously fallen victim to an infestation of their bedfellows fleas!
Aer Lingus is now dispensing with anything resembling consultation, let alone negotiation, with trade unions. The social partnership model clung to by the union bureaucrats for decades is now producing no fig leaf to hide their shame but no evidence exists that there is any will to fight back on the part of any layer of the trade union bureaucracy.
The best of them while presenting some attempt to put the brakes on the capitalists’ attacks, Mandate in the case of Debenhams and in this case Forsa’s attempts to at least maintain a semblance of workers’ democracy, fail to inspire. They lack all imagination! In their memo Siptu said “the unions believed Aer Lingus when it said that it is in an “unprecedented state of peril” due to the collapse of the aviation industry.”
Of that there is no doubt! The airlines are in a ‘state of peril’ but trade union leaders stating the bloody obvious and accepting the bosses strategy is an appalling abrogation of their responsibility to their members. The appropriate response is to mobilise the one million Irish trade union members to prevent, once again, the price of another capitalist crisis being hung around the necks of the workers. If the billions in funds existed for the banks, then they also exist for air transport workers.
The decades long social partnership outlook among the trade union bureaucracy, now increasingly being dispensed with by big business, has repeatedly sold out workers struggles. Now those leaders who are ideologically tied to a concept of trade unionism which sees trade unions as essential to the survival of capitalism(1) have no answers when its survival requires widespread working class misery.
Workers are now faced with the Siptu leadership’s preferred course of remaining passive and bearing the costs of capitalism’s economic failures or of fighting back. As part of any fightback it is necessary to demand nationalisation of the IAG fleet and the re-nationalisation of Aer Lingus under workers control. It is most essential to back that demand with independent workers action! We must learn to fight and dare to dream. If trade union leaders cannot even envisage a new society and a clean environment, let alone fighting for it, the task increasingly falls to rank and file workers!
In the immediate sense it isn’t just air transport workers that face disaster, its also aircraft production workers. These workers together must fight back, occupy, take possession of the buildings, the infrastructure. It has already been tried in a limited way with some effect at Apollo House and is implicitly threatened by the Debenhams’ workers’ blockade. Carry this tendency to its logical conclusion! Deny the bosses their ability to sell off, liquidify, and pocket the proceedings of this liquidation. The owners of the airlines, the IAG, that is imposing these conditions is relying on getting back to profiteering. Stop them! They plan to lay off at least 12,000 workers across their operations in British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling. Clot up the life veins of capitalism, allow none of them to fly, to transport their people, to transfer their labour, to ship in their parts. Stop everything! Air transport workers in at least three other countries are at this time suffering the same fate as Aer Lingus workers; more when global air travel is included. As the Ryanair workers previously demonstrated this is the material basis for an international response and very effective stoppages. The workers have the power.
A unified transport system under workers control would not advocate any return to environmentally damaging levels of waste in the airline industry but would plan for a cleaner more efficient air transport system and a switch to cleaner, expanded and transformed rail and maritime transport. To save us from environmental catastrophe we must stop the destruction caused by fossil fuels. They can and must be superceded at a much faster rate than the pathetic window dressing demanded by the Green Party. Profit hungry air transport companies are not going to invest the necessary resources in finding how to do this, especially if clean transport means a switch away from air travel by even a small percentage. Fast hydrogen/electric trains are already in production and increasingly clean methods of hydrogen production are already in their infancy in Ireland. Massive expansion of the rail system and its integration with similarly transformed European and British systems is possible, the Victorian rail system dwarfed todays remnants, and this would require the skills of aviation transport workers, builders, engineers and an expansion of engineering production.
Switching to a socialised mode of transport of people and goods as a service instead of a cash cow is not a tall order, only two decades ago CIE workers were using free ferry and rail travel throughout Europe. The technology is now available for clean travel but the profit motive prevents its rapid expansion and indeed we already can see how social distancing rules is causing existing transport providers profits to crash, threatening further contraction in transport provision. Again capitalism has no answer but a socialised transport system with clean vehicles providing a more frequent service where social distancing rules can be obeyed could provide a necessary service with vastly reduced environmental damage.
This pandemic that has stalled national and international travel is merely a prelude to an even greater environmental catastrophe, the task of addressing this falls to the working class! In the current atmosphere of workers’ walkouts over unsafe conditions and spontaneous revolt among youth against racism the world is a rapidly changing place. Air transport workers are not alone in their plight. We must call on all other workers facing a similar fate to fight back against the capitalist system that oppresses us all in diverse ways; call on the youth who are being denied a future to mobilise for free tertiary education and work. Call on all BLM activists and anti racist workers to bring the fight against racism into their unions and demand stoppages over police racism and the expulsion of the police state from the labour movement. Call on the health workers whose self sacrifice during the worst of the Covid 19 crisis means nothing to the plotters planning their privatisation right now in the Dail, call on all public transport workers threatened with privatisation and lay offs for support and the myriad other grievances produced by the last decade of austerity; everything from pension cuts and two tier pay to homelessness and eviction.
Solidarity is what trade unionism is all about but a leadership that is accepting that trade union members must pay the costs of declining profitability and are condemning trade unions to standing on the sidelines of working class revolts has long forgotten this. There must finally be no more social ‘partnership’ with those who so brutally condemn workers to penury. Take possession of the tools of all our trades; we need education, we need health care, we need food, we need pensions, a clean safe climate, homes, we need good clean efficient and environmentally friendly transport and we need to save the planet we all live on. Capitalism is in its death throes but threatens to take the entire world with it as its decay progresses week on week and Siberia soars to 38 degrees centigrade. This is not a rehearsal! What we do not need is mega profits, shareholder bonuses or off-shore bank accounts for mega rich individuals and corporations like IAG.
Only a revolutionary socialist society can provide the necessary change but it will not fall from the sky. As Marx long ago pointed out no ruling class in history has voluntarily relinquished power; we must fight to wrest it from them! All class conscious workers and socialists must stride towards that fight with the clear view that the seizure of the means of production and workers resistance must at first mean dual power, not partnership, in the workplace. Every effort to ruin working class lives must be confronted, every attack fought with practical steps of resistance including occupation and seizure. We have a world to win and the future must be ours! The alternative is repression, poverty, environmental catastrophe and ultimately, war.
(1) Jack O’Connor, Irish Water and the Troika, SD Bulletin January 2015 (Includes quote from Jack O Connor speech)
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3. DEBENHAMS WORKERS’ CAMPAIGN
Strikes and blockades during the coming depression
Following the voluntary decision by Debenhams directors to enter liquidation the closure of all Irish stores and the unceremonious disposal of their workforce has been announced. The story is the usual one of callous indifference to long term employees. Their union, Mandate, has correctly accused them of cynicism and opportunism; “when they decided to liquidate the company during a public holiday weekend in the middle of a pandemic”.
Debenhams plan to walk away and pay nothing. The State insolvency fund will be utilised to cover the barest legal minimum redundancy of 2 weeks wages per year of service, plus 1 additional week, leaving the employees, many of whom have worked decades with the firm and with Roches, the previous owners, with no enhancement to statuatory payments in a collapsed jobs market. This is in spite of the fact that an enhanced redundancy agreement was included in the workers’ contracts.
For global financial consortia the settling of these workers’ demands could be resolved easily. The demands are far from excessive, they merely seek the company to honour stipulations in their contract that agreed a top up of another two weeks redundancy pay per year of service on top of the basic statuatory deal. So far they have met with refusal. Even if enough pressure is applied and they are successful we are still left with almost 1000 redundant workers, not all of which will regain employment and some who, because of short service, will be left with very small redundancy payouts.
In response, and in order to allow them to legally raise their plight by mounting pickets, the workers voted to strike by an overwhelming majority. Of the votes distributed to the 957 staff 76% were returned in a postal ballot conducted by Mandate of which 97% were votes to take strike action.
The usual intention of strike action is to close down an employer’s operations forcing them to come to negotiations in a weakened position, especially if the strike has the practical support of the broader workers movement including sympathy action, but in this case the operation had voluntarily closed down forcing an alternative approach. In this case the workers action is to take the form of a blockade of the company’s stockpiles in the 11 retail outlets which are to be closed. These stores contain between €20 million and €25 million in stocks which the company is planning to remove leaving the Irish based operation with nothing and transfering the profits to the British headquarters.
As part of their campaign so far the Debenhams workers have effectively blocked what they described as an “insidious attempt” using a “type of sleight of hand manoeuvre” to remove goods from the Cork store on Tuesday the 26th May. By all accounts this was obviously not an all out attempt to recover company property but more heavy handed tactics may yet be used.
Despite the modesty of the workers’ requests for a improved redundancy package their action, if followed to its logical conclusion, challenges the ownership of the operation. Blockading the stores effectively puts that property and the interests of global capital in the hands of the workers who operated them and here it becomes obvious the imperialist nature of the enemy facing the 957 workers. The enterprise is partly owned by the bailed out Bank of Ireland, in which the government has a large stake, Barclays Bank, Silver Point Capital and Golden Tree.
In response to the events in Cork the Mandate statement made it clear that the workers actions were safely contained within strict legal parameters; “Our members, legally protected by an official ballot for industrial action, stood firm”. The statement goes on to say; “This union and its members will do everything within its power to halt the transfer of valuable assets from all eleven locations until a fair and satisfactory resolution to this dispute has been agreed.” A commendable move by Mandate indeed but this gives rise to practical questions on how any blockade, not just this one, can be maintained if it comes under sustained physical pressure.
The problem is that the legal parameters constraining the dispute gives picketers the right to ‘persuade’ but not to seize property, occupy stores or block entrances and if faced with determined scabs, possibly from the many private security agencies that infamously carried out evictions for the vulture funds, they will be left standing by while the company does as it pleases.
So then what?
We face an economic period frequently predicted as a “depression” which gives this dispute the significance of a minor bellwether in that the workers’ demands are so small they would in the past have been precisely the kind of fig leaf granted to union bureaucracies that would allow the larger goal of a close-down to go ahead smoothly.
The demand to protect all jobs has already been commonly replaced by the call for a redundancy package when the decision is made to shut down enterprises, this is the story going all the way back from Clery’s to Waterford Crystal and beyond and in the North going back to the Visteon plant in Belfast over a decade ago, it applies to Michelin, Gallaghers and almost every subsequent company failure.
These closures have been building in frequency and in an era of systemic crisis that is set to increase. Workers are increasingly being unceremoniously dumped and appeals to the ‘better nature’ of a government committed to the interests of capital or to unprofitable companies owned and controlled by faceless financial consortia to show mercy are extremely inadequate.
Occupations of factories have taken place before but against the background of a global capitalist crisis, and despite its tenuous nature, this attempt to blockade the Debenhams stores by Mandate members is a positive move, especially if the implications of the tactic are fully developed.
As Irish workers face in to another severe period of austerity and more battles such as this they are not alone. Internationally the working class faces a period of acute struggle and as workers seek ways to fight back the rules will be broken sooner or later which can only mean confrontation and State suppression. This will be no time to quail at the thought of falling foul of the bourgeoisie’s anti trade union laws relating to sympathy action, occupation, and flying pickets, the most essential tactics required for effective self defence.
Were that to happen the tables would be turned, the stores stocks would be in the workers hands and once appropriated the rubicon has been crossed allowing the shops to be reopened and and ran under workers control. When working class confidence rises as it will, this will be on the cards.
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