Post sent by Desmond O’Toole – Dublin
Two hundred anxious and angry people met in a hotel in Dublin last Saturday (21st February) at a seminar sponsored by the PES and the Irish Labour Party. They were Labour members and trade union activists from across Ireland who had come together to discuss the “State of the [Irish] Nation.” In a few short months Irish people have seen the Celtic Tiger become the Celtic Mouse. A once vibrant and self-confident economy has been brought to its knees by reckless banking and political corruption. Ireland is now a place of fear – for jobs, for mortgages and for just meeting everyday needs.
The seminar was opened by Eamon Gilmore TD, the leader of Labour in Ireland, who condemned the incompetence of the conservative government that had presided over this catastrophe and also their slash-and-burn solutions to the crisis of driving down wages and cutting public services. Eamon demanded a better way with better thinking that put people first and depended on solidarity between all Irish people and with our partners in Europe.
The seminar then heard from a selection of economists. Intelligent people, no doubt, steeped in the discipline of counting numbers and speculating about markets, but who, with their differing analyses, proved the maxim that you can lay all the economists in the world end-to-end and they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion! They all did agree that the Irish economy is facing a meltdown of unprecedented proportions. The solutions of the majority of these economists, however, perpetuated the same failed perspective that had brought the Irish economy to its knees …. cutbacks in public services, cuts in wages and rapid deflation.
Sanity, and indeed hope, was restored by two politicians who have shown strong and persuasive leadership during this crisis: Joan Burton TD, Deputy Leader of Irish Labour, and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Joan made the important point that we could not afford to follow the path of deflation as they have done in Japan. That led to a “lost decade” for the Japanese. We could not afford a “lost decade” here in Ireland. Much better to follow the example of Scandinavian policy-makers and use the state to drive reform, to provide solidarity with those displaced by recession and to positively manage our way out of this crisis.
Then Poul spoke. He had flown in from Denmark that morning and was returning immediately after the seminar. A tiring journey, but one much appreciated by his audience. Poul took the bull by the horns. Like Joan Burton, Poul is credible, personal, direct and honest with his audience. This is Poul’s way with people and Dublin warmed to him. We have to do eight things Poul said, counting them off on his fingers:
1. Clean up the Irish banks.
2. Show solidarity between EU member states by issuing eurobonds that will bring down the cost of Irish government borrowing.
3. Use EU funds to keep people in work by paying for the training of those placed on short-time working or laid off.
4. Create a regulatory regime that is transparent, international and includes all financial actors.
5. Bring stability to people’s pension funds and use these assets to finance long-term, sustainable economic investment.
6. Defend the rights of working people across Europe and demand that these rights are respected.
7. Address the scandal of tax-havens and liberate the funds they contain to finance growth in the world economy.
8. Create and deliver a recovery plan for jobs that leverages pan-European solidarity.
This was the alternative narrative that we were waiting to hear. It was convincing, direct and carried a message of hope. Astonishingly for a Dublin audience we all rose to our feet and delivered an enthusiastic standing ovation for Poul. This is why the PES is different. This is why we are worthy of the people’s trust. The hope we offer is not blind optimism. It’s not a case of whistling as we pass the graveyard. The hope we offer is rooted in an intelligent, reasoned understanding of the nature of the crisis we are facing. It is rooted in the belief that solidarity between people and a commitment to use the enabling power of the State and its resources can help us manage our way out of this mess.
We are not some flotsam tossed about on the stormy waves of international markets. We can, if we choose, become masters of our own futures. Poul and Joan exemplify this alternative narrative. In Dublin, last weekend, we were able to replace anxiety with confidence, fear with hope and submission to anonymous market forces with belief in ourselves and in each other.