Some comments on unemployment and emigration

by Barry Healy

Issues such as these are rarely visited by the mainstream media for one reason or another but it is recent coverage by this said media which made a compelling case for this article.  Since the beginning of capitalism’s latest crisis the media has stuck to what it knows, their collective ‘common sense’ if you like resulting in journalists pedalling the same line as has been used before without any real thought.  With some rudimentary analysis it is pretty obvious conditions are quite different to previous times of economic severity, like the 1980s for example, which would suggest there may be a different outcome this time.

Ireland has gone from boom to bust in a remarkably short period of time and in doing so displays starkly who really benefited greatest during the boom.  Even with the dramatic economic decline, people’s aspirations are greatly increased as a result of the boom years.  Having a job was no longer seen as a privilege but a simple expectation and many saw themselves living very comfortable lifestyles indeed.  Most people’s lifestyle ‘adjustments’ resulting from cuts, levies, taxes and of course unemployment are unprecedented in Irish society on many levels.  Even so the media continues to propagate that we are entering an era of mass emigration once again.  To date, however, this is untrue, with relatively small numbers leaving the country which surprisingly compare to those leaving during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era.

It’s unclear if this is a determined effort or shoddy journalism, but it’s obviously seen as the only solution in their eyes ahead of really radical and outlandish ideas like, let’s see, creating new jobs.  It’s become apparent the government is making a real effort to force another generation to the four corners of the world by targeting the young with brutal welfare cuts in an attempt to make it unattractive and difficult to stay in one’s own country. The young have borne the brunt of this recession so far with the Irish Times reporting before Christmas that joblessness among the under-25s was reaching towards 27 per cent, compared with 9 per cent for the rest of the population.  For young men the situation is even worse, with one in three in their early 20s out of work.

The major flaw in this traditional view, that emigration is just a necessary and natural part of Irish life, is that for now at least the entire western capitalist world is in the midst of the very same crisis as we are and Ireland’s traditional destinations for exporting its young such as Britain and America are in particularly bad shape.  The EU and Euro zone is not doing very well either and appears to be heading for more trouble with the Euro faltering and the re-emergence of market turmoil.  This has led to serious speculation by some economists that we will see a further recessionary dip in the near future with others warning that the EU’s economic future may now be decided on the streets of Greece.  So where does that leave Ireland?

It would appear that high levels of unemployment are here for some time and any talk of turning corners and green shoots of recovery is folly at best.  Nevertheless, it will not be until unemployed workers realise that the vast majority of them could be without work for quite some time yet that the trouble will begin, as most people have been led to believe this is a short blip.  In this scenario the young may become the problem which could explain the government’s actions, as emigration has served as a successful release valve for this state time and time again.  Apart from the usual issues or anger, frustration and impatience generally associated with being young they were promised much by a political class which has failed them.  Thus a poll of young people in the Sunday Independent on February 7 stated “more than three-quarters. . . say that they have no confidence in the political system to solve the economic crisis”. It is easy to see why with Leinster House reduced to a talking shop and none of the parties within offering a viable way forward, happy to score points on people’s misery.  However this poll didn’t ask what they would like to see take its place.

Is it unreasonable to suggest that faced with long-term unemployment people will become increasingly angry and frustrated? And they may want to have their say and to change things dramatically?  The question is whether we will see dramatic change or simply moderate reform, which papers over the symptoms but does not tackle the root problem, capitalism’s greed. Unemployed workers face great difficulties regardless of elections, as it is only in organisation and empowerment that they can take control of their own destiny.  Alas few parties, including smaller leftists groups, are interested in this as they see it as their job to represent people’s views rather than organise and empower.


Posted on March 4, 2012, in Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, Trade unions, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Some comments on unemployment and emigration.

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