The people who get up early in the morning

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The citizens of many European countries are being confronted with the invidious option of choosing between aggressive neo-liberalism on the one hand and fascism on the other. Nowhere was this clearer than during the recent presidential election in France, when voters were asked to decide between the right-wing financier Emmanuel Macron and the National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

The dilemma may not be quite so obvious everywhere, but the trend is nevertheless all too evident.

Nor should we in Ireland be complacent. There is not, at the moment, a significant ultra-right movement in this state, but we are certainly seeing the emergence of an increasingly authoritarian neo-liberal government.


There is no shortage of evidence of this imperiousness in action. We have the Jobstown trial, with its vindictive attempt to punish people in a working-class area who confronted the state; and equally ominous is the blatant attempt to curtail the right to protest.     

Then there was the contemptuous treatment meted out to Bus Éireann workers as they struggled to retain hard-won terms and conditions. And then we, the people, had our queries brushed aside when we demanded to know how the Irish delegation had voted on Saudi Arabia’s membership of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.     

We could continue, but lack of space prevents us.       

Just as we were beginning to think that things couldn’t get much worse, we are now faced with the nasty prospect of Leo “people who get up early in the morning” Varadkar becoming Taoiseach. During a pitch for the leadership of Fine Gael, he made his right-wing credentials crystal-clear, claiming that “unfortunately there are a group of people, very often supporters of the far left, that believe they shouldn’t pay anything and that Apple, bondholders or billionaires should pay . . .” Adding to this crude piece of neo-liberal dogma, he stated that if selected as party boss he would curb the right to strike in certain circumstances, by introducing binding arbitration on trade unions—the thin end of a wedge designed to emasculate organised labour.

It would be unwise to treat these comments and proposals as mere electioneering. Varadkar is responding to the demands of a powerful section of Ireland’s capitalist class. They are an elite group within society determined to take every possible advantage from the confusion and demoralisation created by the financial crisis of 2010—a group that at the same time is fearful of the power displayed by working-class communities when they united around the anti-water tax campaign.

To meet the demands of this elite cabal, Enda Kenny’s probable successor is setting out his agenda, and it is frankly anti-working class.

Varadkar may well bob and weave in order to obfuscate his real intentions as he offers so-called clarifications. He now says, for example, that his reference to people who get up early in the morning should be understood to recognise those with long journeys to work, and that his proposal to curb strikes is merely an initiative to improve the Labour Court.

In spite of this cynical play-acting, Varadkar’s aggressive neo-liberalism is ingrained and is as calculated as his headline-grabbing stunt ostensibly designed to counteract welfare fraud. Worth noting in this context is the absence of any suggestion of preventing white-collar crime, or replacing the discredited ODCE.      

The minister for social protection (an oxymoronic title if ever there was one) is moulded in the Fine Gael forge and will seek to ruthlessly protect the interests of capital. There can be little doubt that the next leader of the original corporatist party will ensure that it stays true to the ethos of its blue-shirted founding fathers.

Under these circumstances, however, it is important to recognise that Leo Varadkar is not so much a personality as a product of his class. He may display certain irrelevant idiosyncrasies that set him apart, but in reality any other contender for the party leadership would follow a similar political and economic path. Ever since the Lehman Brothers crash of 2008, capitalism’s elite has sought to protect its position by forcing the working class to pay for the financial crisis through what is euphemistically called austerity. Therefore, so long as Ireland is governed by free-marketeers we will have to endure the consequences of being forced to live by the rules laid down by those forces and elements controlling the market.

In the first instance, this will mean making Ireland conform to directives emanating from those vested interests that manage the European Union. It is useful, therefore, to bear this in mind and consider the programme now advocated by Germany and France—the core powers within the union. The ruling class in both states is determined to intensify integration, reinforce the currency zone, and accelerate what they like to describe as liberalisation of the labour market.

In a nutshell, this means that fiscal control will be decided by French and German financiers via Brussels and thereafter implemented through regional parliaments performing the task of emasculating organised labour. Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach would be one of those peripheral satraps entrusted with the latter chore—presumably a labour of love for him.

What, therefore, is to be done? From the outset, it’s important to recognise that we have entered an era in which old-style social democracy has become irrelevant and redundant, or sometimes even worse. The programmes being advocated by those parties that believe it possible to engage with and moderate neo-liberalism are offering a dangerous illusion. They have failed spectacularly everywhere and, just as has happened to the Labour Party, they are distrusted by a majority of working people and have been left floundering.

Nor is this a matter of appearances and presentation, where the application of a slick marketing campaign coupled with clever spin-doctoring will facilitate their return to power. Neo-liberal capitalism has left little space for placating a compliant working class and has therefore rendered social democracy redundant.

It is important, therefore, that we as a class understand that social democracy is in terminal decline, and not just in temporary retreat. Our choices are now limited, albeit not to those offered by capitalism. We should be absolutely clear that we do not have to settle for either neo-liberalism or fascism. There remains the only and perfectly viable option for working people: that is, a workers’ republic.

To make this a reality requires, above all else, organisation and unity among the progressive currents in Irish society. The unthinkable alternative is a choice between socialism and barbarism. One option we cannot allow ourselves is to wait passively for events to dictate. We must continue to endeavour to build the people’s movement capable of transforming society into one fit for the working class.


Tommy McKearney This article first appeared in the Socialist Voice June 2017

© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com