SERVES me right for being so ungracious! Last week I poked fun at the extra fiver a week proposed for pensioners in the Budget and now - at time of writing anyway - it looks as if the plan might have been diluted or even scuppered altogether.
But maybe I’m mistaken and we’ll all be throwing our hats in the air yet, come Tuesday evening - what with the grey vote at stake and an election threatening every day now.
Talking of grey hairs, I got a few extra silvery ribs over the weekend after reading a report of Michael O’Leary’s rant against strike-threatening gardai, delivered at the Fine Gael pre-Budget fundraiser breakfast. He’d sack all 4,000 gardai if they didn’t turn up for work, and, although he didn’t actually say this, he would, presumably, sack all 18,000 ASTI teachers too if they ballot for industrial action on Friday, and anyone else rash enough to raise a grievance in these troubled times.
And there was I, wondering why we didn’t celebrate the centenary of the 1913 lock-out three years ago with the same spirit and enthusiasm as we celebrated the centenary of the rebellion. Now I know why. There was no need. The spirit of William Martin Murphy is alive and well, and dining on gourmet sausages with the main Government party in the Shelbourne Hotel. Connolly and Larkin, alas, are with the other O’Leary in the grave.
Mr O’Leary is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but who asked him for it? We’re anti trade union enough as it is in this country, without having the views of a demagogic bigwig foisted on us like this. Maybe Fine Gael should give him back the €550 he paid for the meal and try giving the rest of us a voice at a more reasonably priced fry-up someday.
Nobody, however, agrees with me. “But he tells it as it is,” they insist. “So does Donald Trump,” I retort, and suddenly a light comes on in their heads and they want Michael O’Leary for Taoiseach.
Now, I don’t know why there is such a jaundiced view of Trade Unionism, and why O’Leary’s outrageous comments haven’t provoked some anger. The trade unions are, after all, a vital part of any healthy democracy, but you’d think they were a virus the way some people react. Maybe it’s because the subject is not taught properly in CPSE classes, which, like most other subjects on the school curriculum may have been commandeered by some of the multinationals, who now dictate what they want from Irish education, and who won’t even allow a trade unionist within an ass’s roar of their plants. Or maybe it’s because we all regard ourselves as professionals now, and would prefer to work a 24 hour day to further our careers rather than rely on a trade union, with its working class connotations, to protect us.
Nobody likes industrial action of any kind, least of all those who are forced to vote for it. “But do they ever think of the inconvenience they cause for other workers or the threat to the economy?” I was asked. Tough! I lived through dozens of national strikes in my time, cycled 16 miles a day to and from school in a snowstorm during a bus strike in the early 1960s – when cycling was anything but cool – and I’d probably have starved to death if it weren’t for a friendly local shopkeeper who cashed my weekly pay cheque during a prolonged bank strike in the 1970s. We were all inconvenienced, but we got on with it.
Now nobody will accept inconvenience. With the results of the ASTI ballot due on Friday, the Department of Education mandarins, instead of burning the midnight oil to try and resolve some of the issues at stake, have asked for the Union’s “full co-operation” in putting contingency plans in place to keep the schools open, in the event of a strike or withdrawal of specific services. They’re also demanding at least two months’ notice of the strike to get the said contingency plan together in order to preclude any inconvenience.
Now, forgive me for being so Bolshie in the face of Brexit and other economic upheavals threatening on the horizon, but I thought the whole reason for industrial action was to cause enough inconvenience to make one appreciated. Even Michael O’Leary, for all his capitalist bluster, knows this. Surely Minister Bruton isn’t expecting striking teachers to ensure that everything continues as normal in their workplaces while they walk up and down outside with placards, after foregoing their pay packets. You’d think they were going on a break!
If the teachers do vote for strike action, I’m sure it won’t have been a decision lightly taken. The cost and inconvenience to themselves and their families could be enormous. But asking them to hang on for a couple of months and then co-operate fully to ensure that no-one will even notice their absence, is a bit like asking Anne Boleyn if she’d mind building her own scaffold.
Education is very important. As I said is this column before, the whole country is obsessed with education, and nobody wants to see children inconvenienced or classes disrupted. My own children are long gone from school, but if they were still there, I have to say I would consider it an education in itself for them to see, at first hand, trade-unionism at work and workers standing up for their rights. After all, they would hopefully be workers one day themselves.