Union leaders set to push us over the edge

AS we approach the December budget, the cries for “fairness” from the cosseted classes get louder and union bosses gird their loins for the mother of all showdowns with the Government.

The very people whose rampant benchmarking destroyed any hope of competitiveness in the real world are now prepared to defy logic and push the country over the edge.

Union leaders have been at best unhelpful and at worst dangerously misguided, and the so-called social partners have prevaricated and delayed, probably by years, a return to full economic recovery.

They have nothing to offer by way of reasonable solutions. Their constant harking back to past government mistakes is quite obviously a clumsy attempt to mask their own central role in precipitating our country’s lack of competitiveness.

While Taoiseach Brian Cowen will have to endure the brickbats that will undoubtedly follow positive government action, the prize will be well worth the effort.

Even now there is a rising tide of positive feedback from ordinary, decent people who see the need for fair and equitable salary cuts that will restore the competitive edge we lost through inequitable benchmarking.

Everyone knows this will mean some pain for all sections of society, with the possible exception of those on the lowest rung of the ladder. However, it will also mean bringing public sector pay into line with the private sector, which has already been drastically reduced through having to comply with the laws of supply and demand.

Public sector workers will still enjoy the safety net of secure employment and secure pensions which will, in the main, be unachievable in the private sector.

The cutbacks envisaged do not, as some might think, require heroic sacrifices on the part of the population as a whole. It means turning the clock back just six years when our country’s forward march seemed unstoppable and Joe Soaps from all walks of life began to swap stories of share price gains and exotic holidays, while many on the breadline remained anchored there and wondered what all the fuss was about. Social welfare recipients will still be well ahead of the European average.

I think Mr Cowen is genuinely motivated to effect real change. If he can continue to marshall the support of his troops, and if he is prepared for a short to medium term fight against the vested interests ranged against him, he can come out the other side with his head held high.

If, on the other hand, he weakens or fails to hold the line, he will return the country to third world status and his party to the political wilderness.

Niall Ginty

The Demesne

Killester

Dublin 5

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