The ESB and the Culture of Entitlement
June 26, 2013 Leave a comment
I note that hundreds of ESB workers gathered today outside the ESB headquarters on Dublin’s Lower Fitzwilliam Street. They don’t want to pay a €78.4 million annual dividend they owe to the exchequer, because the ESB pension fund is in a €1.6 billion shortfall and this would be hard. The unwashed workers of the private sector can only dream of the day they can say this to their creditors .
Forgive me for not shedding a tear for some of the best paid workers in the country (average salary: €85,000 before pension contributions). These are people who enjoy almost unparalleled job security in a semi-state company that operates in a tightly regulated market ensuring that they have no effective competition.
This is the organisation that demanded an old lady in Offaly, Teresa Treacy, be thrown in jail for refusing the ESB access to her own land where she tended a plot of native trees. Contrast this with the widely loathed outfit that is Shell. Shell in fact pleaded for the Rossport Five to be released from prison after they had violated a court injunction and interfered with Shell’s pipeline in Mayo.
ESB workers, admitted Brendan Ogle, secretary of the ESB group of unions, are “spoiled”. Undoubtedly a man of the left, he added:
“The trade union movement collaborated in the creation of the wealth stroke debt and we made sure that the gap between that those who have and those who haven’t in society grew through the eighties, through the nineties, into the noughties to the day the IMF arrived on the door.
And the trade union movement and the Labour party collaborated in that for 25 years and none of us did anything about it.”
I disagree with the popular idea that the gap between rich and poor increased in Ireland during the boom years. But there are different kinds of equality and inequality. Public sector and semi-state unions created a protected caste of workers before the 1990s, and they still cushion their clientele from market forces today.
The power of Ireland’s unions was well symbolized in Dublin’s unattractive Liberty Hall, for a long time the country’s tallest building. For decades, unions made sure that companies were run for the benefit of their workers, and not the customer. This led to absurdities like all banks being closed at lunchtime, the only time when most working people could actually go to the bank. Their power has diminished somewhat, but that sense of entitlement, that led the puzzlingly beatified union leader Jim Larkin to beat workers who refused to go along with his strikes in their own homes, is still with us.