Twenty-Six County Minister for ‘Social Protection’ Éamon Ó Cuív announced this week that up to 10,000 unemployed people in the Twenty-Six counties will be forced into employment schemes or face the threat of losing their benefit payments. The announcement came in the same week as the publication of the live register figures for August, which indicated a further increase in unemployment. There are currently 455,000 people on the live register in the Twenty Six counties and an official unemployment rate of 13.8 per cent, a staggering 100 per cent increase since August 2008. The latest unemployment rate however, fails to take account of the thousands who have been forced to emigrate over the last 12 months as the Dublin government prioritises the continuing bailout of Anglo Irish Bank over tackling the unemployment crisis, indicating the state’s intention to provide welfare for the rich and workfare for the unemployed.
The Minister for ‘Social Protection’ has suggested that the new scheme will be initially run as a pilot involving 10,000 unemployed people but could be increased to 40,000 by the end of the year. Those forced on to the scheme will work in community projects for 19.5 hours per week, receiving €14 [£12] in addition to their unemployment benefit, but will face cuts to their payments if they fail to participate in the scheme. While details of this latest proposal have been deliberately vague, it is clear that it represents part of the Dublin government’s plans to introduce a ‘workfare’ programme whereby the unemployed will be forced to work for the dole. éirígí has reported on Ó Cuív’s pronouncements over the last number of months, predicting that the Dublin government would introduce a workfare programme as part of its wider war on the working class. Workfare programmes were originally promoted in the United States by the Clinton administration, which forced recipients of US Federal cash benefits into low paid jobs by cutting off their benefits after two years. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 1998 one in every three working people had jobs paying at or below the federal poverty level.
This is the type of programme that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are attempting to introduce in the Twenty Six counties under the guise of offering opportunities to the unemployed. While dressed up as a proposal that will ‘assist’ the unemployed to ‘re-train’ and part of a drive to tackle ‘welfare fraud’ the real intention behind this latest scheme is to use the current recession to drive the unemployed into low paid jobs and to force down wages and conditions in the wider economy. It follows on from the FÁS Work Placement Programme that offered full-time ‘jobs’ to the unemployed, so long as they were willing to work for free. Spuriously promoted as an opportunity for unemployed to gain work experience, it was in essence a blatant state promoted scheme of slave labour, whereby employers could benefit from the free labour of the unemployed on full-time contracts for a period of nine months. The coalition has further subsidised private capital through the Employer Job (PRSI) Incentive Scheme launched last June, which exempts employers from paying their share of PRSI for certain employees for a period of 12 months. When the Dublin government talks about job creation and tackling the unemployment crisis this is what it entails; forcing the unemployed into low paid jobs and offering subsidies to the business class. All of which is in the interests of creating a so-called ‘competitive’ economy: in other words an economy based on low wages for workers and high profit margins for the bosses.
There has been a confused response from the trade union leadership to this latest attack on the working class. ICTU President Jack O’Connor initially claimed that Congress was not opposed ‘in principle’ to the proposal so long as it was not used to drive down pay and conditions in the wider economy. That this is the essence of the proposal seems to have escaped Jack O’Connor’s attention and does not augur well as the 2010 budget approaches and the coalition government is busy preparing the ground for a renewed assault on the social welfare system and public services. The appointment of right-wing economist Colm McCarthy to chair a review of the semi-state sector demonstrates the government’s intention to further open up the public sector to private capital. Companies such as the ESB, Bord Gáis, CIE and An Post face the threat of privatisation as the state seeks to create new markets for capitalists to invest while providing the cash injection to maintain the state bailout of the private banking sector. The debacle surrounding the privatisation of Eircom offers ample evidence of the folly of placing vital state infrastructure in the hands of private capitalists. The proposal to sell of the semi-state sector in order to continue the bailout of the banking sector is short-sighted in the extreme and indicates the lengths the state is prepared to go in securing the interests of private capital.
We are just months away from the imposition of yet another austerity budget. The Dublin government has made its intentions clear, the rich and powerful elites in Irish society will continue to be protected and subsidised while the majority face cut backs, sell offs and forced labour. It is essential that the period between now and then is used to build mass unified opposition to the assault on the working class. Over the summer months there were mass rallies across the state against cut backs to local health services and currently plans are being developed to launch a major campaign against cuts in the community sector. It is imperative that these local struggles are linked up with campaigns by workers to defend both pay and conditions and public services. éirígí has been to the forefront in the campaign against NAMA and the bank bailout and is committed to playing its part in the coming struggles. It is time to make the rich pay.
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