It’s one law for bankers, another for rest

Mick Barry, Socialist Party TD for Cork North Central, an organiser in the Cork Cost Of Living Campaign, looks back on the issues which dominated a year’s campaigning and which brought people out onto the streets to demonstrate
It’s one law for bankers, another for rest

MAKING A STAND: Mick Barry (left) organising a cost of living protest in the summer

THE decision of the Government to lift the bankers’ pay cap and restore their bonuses is a slap in the face for every household in the country struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Just at a time when families will struggle to scrape together the euros to give the kids a good Christmas, news comes through that bankers will now be allowed to ‘earn’ more than €500,000 a year and receive bonuses of up to €20,000.

At the same time that the Government say bankers’ pay must be set by ‘market forces’, young nurses and teachers are forced out of the country precisely because the Government won’t pay them the going rate paid in other countries.

When it comes to workers’ pay and profits, the same double standard applies.

Multi-national corporations are expected to make more than a mind-blowing €200 billion in profits this year but wages continue to lag way behind inflation.

In the last year, the price of pasta, milk and butter has all risen by more than 20%. No household has seen their income rise by even half that amount.

It is true the Government made cost of living concessions in the Budget to the tune of €4 billion. These have kicked in in recent weeks, as the first tranche of the €200 energy credits and a range of one-off payments came through.

However, these would not have materialised if it wasn’t for pressure from below.

The mood in the country in the run up to the Budget put the Government under real pressure to go further with the cost of living package than they had originally planned.

I had helped organise a cost of living protest in June, but things moved up a gear in September, as 5,000 took to the streets in Cork, and 15,000 followed that example the following week in Dublin - concentrating Government minds still further.

They didn’t want 20,000 people on the streets swelling to 50,000 or 100,000 if people felt the Government simply didn’t listen. They didn’t want another water charges-style protest on their hands.

For these reasons, the Budget package swelled from €1billion to €2billion to €3billion to €4billion in the space of a fortnight.

Credit is due to all the students, anti-poverty campaigners, housing activists, trade unionists and political parties who helped establish the campaign, and all the individuals who spoke out, organised and participated in the marches at that time.

But while these actions forced the Government to spend more heavily on once-off measures we need a sustained movement to stop the profiteering that continues to go on all around us.

The Government has taken zero action to stop landlords from increasing rents or to stop supermarkets and petrol stations hiking prices. The result is that the extra money that was spent in the Budget goes straight from the pockets of the people into the pockets of the supermarket bosses, the landlords and the big energy companies.

That’s why we need price controls and the nationalisation of energy so it can be run on a not for profit basis. That’s also why we need to keep campaigning in 2023.

As we come towards the end of 2022, capitalism poses new threats for ordinary people in the New Year.

The housing crisis goes from bad to worse. When the temporary eviction ban - conceded under pressure from below - is lifted in March there will be a tsunami of evictions.

We need a campaign which points the finger at the Government, landlords, big builders and the land speculators, not at the victims of Putin’s war, whose homes and whose country have been devastated by bombs.

The other great danger we face in the New Year is the threat of recession.

Already we have seen at The Butcher’s Block and at Twitter how employers will act in a crisis. The sacking of one group of workers by text message and the other by email should act as a warning to workers across the country.

Tech workers were told that they were part of one big family and that there was no need for workers to organise.

The opposite is the case for all workers - with recession on the way there is a need to organise and organise again.

Ordinary people also need to organise for political change.

Replacing Micheál Martin with Leo Varadkar will do nothing to improve life for working people. A Fine Gael Taoiseach instead of a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach is like replacing Tweedledee with Tweedledum. We need a change of Government and a General Election can’t come soon enough to bring it.

But, at the same time, there’s little point in changing the Government if that government doesn’t challenge the greedy profiteers at the root of these crises.

Capitalism has given us profiteering, a housing crisis and the threat of recession. A for profit system can’t be made to work for the people.

In fighting for real Socialist change, James Connolly once said: “The day has gone for patching up the capitalist system, it must go”.

There is more than enough wealth in society to provide everyone with a decent standard of living, a decent home and a future. That wealth needs to be used not for the private gain and private profit of a few but for society as a whole.

That’s why we need not merely a change of Government but a change of system too.

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