In this state, administrative processes generally take a long time to complete, in many cases a very long time. For instance, for almost 500 days the government has prevented the holding of a by-election in Donegal, with an announcement today that the High Court will take two and a half weeks to deliver its judgement on this prolonged negation of the democratic will. Infrastructural projects, criminal investigations, tribunals, planning applications and restructuring programmes have often consumed massive amounts of time and money (much of the latter being diverted into the pockets of extravagantly well-paid private-sector professionals).
Just over 130 working days ago, the biggest restructuring programme in the history of the public sector was agreed between the government and representatives of almost a fifth of the workforce who are employed by the state. This process involves deep analyses of the service demands, work structures and activities of a third of a million workers in state employment across a wide range of activities throughout every city and town in the land. Following on from these analyses decisions must be made on how best to rationalise the services provided by these workers, and following on from these decisions the necessary alterations to systems and practices must be implemented. As is clear, at least to any objective person, this restructuring programme is massive in scale.
Subsequent to the Croke Park agreement in April there took place the democratic ratification by the various unions who were party to the deal. This process finished less than 90 working days ago. About 75 working days ago the government established the national implementation body to direct the restructuring programme.
Less than 15 weeks later there suddenly erupted a chorus of shrill voices, venting their indignation that this unprecedented process of transformation had not already begun to show tangible results. There have been repeated announcements, with obvious relish in many cases, of the impending death of the Croke Park deal. Of course, this has been presented as the result of foot-dragging on the part of the whole public service, despite the fact that hardly anybody outside senior management in that sector has yet been engaged in the programme.
Who are the people leading the charge in this latest round of anti-public sector attacks? What a surprise, they are the voices of IBEC, ISME, Independent Newspapers, FF and FG, all of which are right-wing entities that (a) cheered on or facilitated the business sector free-for-all which led more than any other factor to our economic catastrophe, and (b) have attempted to shift the blame for that catastrophe from our business elite onto the shoulders of the ordinary employees of the state.
These ‘journalists’, business representatives and politicians have based their renewed attacks on the failure to identify agreed restructuring – 75 working days after the implementation body was established. Given the idiocy, mendacity or lunacy of their proclamations on economic affairs over the past decade, their failure of reason or honesty should come as no surprise. However, perhaps these attacks form part of a carefully calibrated strategy, even if some of these right-wing allies are themselves unwitting players in that strategy.
Is it possible that the Croke Park deal is a con-job of grand deviousness? Could it be that the government suckered the unions into the deal fully in the knowledge that the unions’ part of the bargain would be subject by powerful right-wing commentators to a timeframe the narrowness of which renders impossible its deliverance? Is it possible that the national implementation body, under the auspices of the Dept of Finance and the Dept of An Taoiseach, was designed to guarantee a failure to move rapidly enough to satisfy the wolves in FF, FG, IBEC, ISME and their huntsmen in the print media?
In that scenario the government could and probably would make tens of thousands of state employees redundant, would impose further pay cuts for all remaining state employees, and would place all the blame for those measures on the shoulders of the very people suffering the redundancies and pay cuts. In short, the government would be satisfying the wish-list of right-wing commentators and politicians. The government line would of course be “we tried out best in good faith, but you didn’t keep your part of the deal”.
Given the social and industrial ineptitude of the ‘labour’ movement during the lifetime and death of the Celtic Tiger, it is eminently possible that the unions have indeed walked straight into a major trap, a trap that would likely spell the death-knell or complete irrelevance of those unions.
If the government has knowingly contrived such a trap, it was informed by the knowledge that they could rely on their friends in the media to ratchet up their ongoing campaign of irrational anti-public sector hatred.
Despite the obscenely hypocritical calls for “national unity” by some of those engaged in the demonisation of almost a fifth of the workforce, their campaign represents another element in the unravelling of what’s left of our society. In Ireland’s case at least, Margaret Thatcher’s vile assertion that “there is no such thing as society” could be close to realisation.