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Government attacks continue: Ó Cuív declares war on the unemployed

28/04/10

Éamon Ó CuívThe Dublin government’s war on the working class intensified this weekend. Having spent the past year slashing the wages of public sector workers and bizarrely blaming some of the lowest paid workers in the state for the economic crisis, the government now has the unemployed in its sights.

According to news reports of the weekend Fianna Fáil regional conference in Galway, the new Minister for ‘Social Protection’ (previously the Department of Social and Family Affairs) Éamon Ó Cuív “committed himself to identifying genuine jobseekers from those who are not really unemployed and using those savings to create more job opportunities in community work”. With 14 per cent unemployment and the government refusing to invest in a public works scheme it is unclear what type of ‘jobs’ will be ‘offered’ to the unemployed. But there is something crystal clear, the only section of Irish society benefiting from ‘social protection’ is the wealthy elite who have received a massive transfer of wealth to the tune of €80 billion [£69.5 billion] in public money.

Suggestions by Ó Cuív that there is a section of people who are “not really unemployed” is redolent both of the nineteenth century Poor Law, with its crude distinction between the so-called ‘deserving’ and undeserving’ poor, and the Thatcherite crusade against the poor and unemployed in 1980s Britain.

The dismantling of the British welfare state was a central goal of the Thatcher government and in order to achieve this the unemployed were cast as the ‘enemies within’ becoming the target of vicious attacks in the right wing Tory press. They were labelled ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefit cheats’ while Thatcher’s Employment Minister Norman Tebbit infamously told Britain’s three million unemployed to ‘get on their bikes’ and find a job.

The shocking legacy of both Thatcher’s and the subsequent New Labour attacks on the social welfare system in Britain was highlighted last January in a British government commissioned report ‘An Anatomy of Economic Inequality’ which shows that the richest 10 per cent in British society hold 100 times more wealth than the poorest ten per cent.

The Dublin government is enthusiastically championing the Thatcherite philosophy and is about to implement the next stage of its war on the poor with a full frontal assault on the welfare system in general and the unemployed in particular. The vicious cuts implemented in last December’s budget have clearly not been sufficient to satisfy the international bondholders and the IMF who now command the destiny of the Irish people.

Dublin dole queueThere are now almost 500,000 unemployed in the Twenty-Six counties and recent reports indicate that over the last six months thousands have emigrated; a development welcomed by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who told a BBC reporter last February that emigration was “not a bad thing” and in fact “young people wanted to enjoy themselves”!

That Coughlan would make such an assertion should hardly come as a surprise given that the political establishment in the Twenty-Six Counties has historically addressed the problem of poverty through the exportation of its people. Hundreds of thousands of young people were forced to emigrate during the recession of the 1980s, when unemployment reached a staggering 18 per cent. Treating the unemployed with dignity is anathema to the Dublin government, thousands of unemployed people have been forced to wait for up to sixteen weeks before receiving their first social welfare payment, a system clearly designed to encourage emigration.

Éamon O Cuív’s pronouncement to the Fianna Fáil faithful in Galway at the weekend indicates there will be a widening of the assault on the poor and unemployed, which commenced last December, when the government imposed a 4.1 per cent cut on all welfare payments, halved welfare payments for the young unemployed, and cut Job Initiative allowances and Community Employment schemes. While billions of euros is being shovelled into failed banks, AIB chief executive Richie Boucher is given a pension ‘top-up’ of €1.5million [£1.3 million] – (he was only forced to return it following widespread public outrage), and a former government minister Máire Geoghegan Quinn gorges on several pensions – the Dublin government is devising a scheme that will force the unemployed into low paid jobs with the threat that if they don’t take up the ‘offer’ they will lose their dole payment.

Essentially, the government is proposing to cut off the benefits of the unemployed in order to force them into finding jobs that do not exist: last October thousands of people queued for hours in the hope of getting a part-time Christmas job at Marks and Spencer in Dublin, while there were similar scenes earlier in the year when three retail outlets in the city centre advertised for part-time positions.

For the past year the government and right wing media have engaged in a vicious campaign of vilification of public sector workers and simultaneously pitched public and private sector workers against each other. It is now clear that a similar approach is to be taken with the unemployed.

The ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ unemployed will be with the latter being singled out for particularly vicious treatment. The airwaves and newspaper columns will no doubt be filled with talk of ‘dole fraud’, ‘welfare spongers’ and the need to ‘tackle welfare dependency’. Yet the real parasites and scroungers who will benefit from €80 billion [£69.5 billion] in public money continue to get off scot-free. Bailing out the rich elite in Irish society is according to Brian Lenihan “in the national interest”. Meanwhile the unemployed are simply expendable. If the government can effectively declare war on the working class, then the working class must respond in kind and declare war on the government. There is no other way.

 

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